Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Pop Musicology

So, I'm taking this awesome seminar on popular music studies with Prof. Theo Cateforis, who may well be my new hero. This class involves lots of academic reading (which is generally less problematic for this class than for, say, Media Law), but fortunately, given the subject matter, the essays are usually quite lively and interesting.

I wanted to share my favorite passage from the readings for today's class, which deals with the problems of developing an effective musicological approach to popular music, because it is amazing. Read on.

In fact, musicologists sometimes approach music with the same attitude that gynecologists (quite rightly!) approach female sexuality: gingerly. In both situations, a concerted effort is made to forget that some members of society regard the objects of their scrutiny as pleasurable. The staff historian takes the vital information (date of birth, height, weight) of the patient. Up into the stirrups goes the song. And the theorist, donning "objectivity" as a methodological rubber glove to protect against contamination, confronts the dreaded thing itself. Graphs, pitch charts, semiotic dissections, guidelines of political correctness - the Pap smears of musicology - are marshalled to detect pathological deviation, to reduce the threat of individuality to normative order. The song is buried under a barrage of theoretical insights, and...it doesn't kick butt any longer.
- Susan McClary and Robert Walser, Start Making Sense! Musicology wrestles with rock (1988)

And after we discussed this and a more heavily theoretical reading, we analyzed the Black Eyed Peas' "My Humps." Awesome.

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