The Silliest Degree on Earth

Jonathan Bellman

Liverpool Hope University  is now offering a Master of Arts degree in The Beatles,
Popular Music and Society.  (No Oxford Comma [a.k.a. Harvard Comma or Serial Comma]; this is England.)  In fact, let me just quote from the newsy website, though adjusting it for American usage:

————

Liverpool Hope University has launched a brand new MA in
The Beatles, Popular Music, and Society, the first of its kind in the world.

The new course, which can be studied both full and part
time, covers four modules with specific issues relating to The Beatles and
Popular Music, consisting of four 12-week taught modules, plus a dissertation.

Mike Brocken, Senior Lecturer in Popular Music at Hope,
said, “There have been over 8,000 books about The Beatles but there has never
been serious academic study and that is what we are going to address.

“Forty years on from their break-up, now is the right time
and Liverpool is the right place to study The Beatles. This MA is expected to
attract a great deal of attention, not just locally but nationally and we have
already had enquiries from abroad, particularly the United States.

‘”The Beatles, Popular Music and Society’ marks a seminal
advance in popular music studies. For the first time in the UK and possibly the
world, a postgraduate taught course is offered to research into The Beatles,
the city from which they emerged, the contexts of the 1960s, technology, sound
and songwriting and the industries that have set up in their wake to capitalize
on tourism in the city of Liverpool.”

—————

I’m all for seminal advances, of course.  Still, I can’t get over the idea that this is a Liverpool cash-in on the Beatles for people who actually can’t qualify to study popular music and society at another English University, such as the Open University.  Studying popular music is not unheard-of in Great Britain, for heaven’s sake.  A graduate degree in the Beatles?  To what purpose?  I have a nightmare-vision of the applicant pool, or the new-student mixer:  slightly batty senior citizens and people my age—middle-age, we’ll say—who dress oddly, still occasionally wear their Beatle-wigs and Ringo-boots and whose eyes gleam just a little weirdly.

The Beatles, bless them, weren’t and aren’t a discipline.  Sure, study Musicology and do a dissertation on them, or study Cultural Studies and do a dissertation on them, or Psychology or whatever else.  But a degree in the Beatles per se?  How would that make you anything but a laughingstock?  “Well, I’ve really spent most of my time with the verses of “In My Life”; I’ll have to go review George Martin’s double-speed piano solo and get back to you before answering your question definitively.  This really isn’t my area; I’m an Earlyist, and my dissertation was on pitch bending and blues inflections in the Tony Sheridan sessions, so this is well outside my sub-specialty…”

The global economy is in free-fall and Liverpool Hope University launches a Beatles degree. Sheesh.  I’m sure there are Beatles fans all over the world who should be given the degree on the spot for work already accomplished.

About jonathanbellman

Professor of Music History and Literature and Head of Academic Studies in Music at the University of Northern Colorado. Author, *The _Style Hongrois_ in the Music of Western Europe* (Northeastern University Press, 1993), *A Short Guide to Writing About Music* (2e, Longman, 2008), *Chopin's Polish Ballade: Op. 38 as Narrative of National Martyrdom* (Oxford University Press, 2010), Editor, *The Exotic in Western Music* (Northeastern University Press, 1998), author of bunches of articles and reviews and so on. Likes to play the piano, the mandolin, and even guitar sometimes. A. M. and Jo Winchester Distinguished Scholar at UNC, 2011.
This entry was posted in Academia, Pop Aesthetics, Pop Culture. Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to The Silliest Degree on Earth

  1. Tim Walters says:

    It would be worth it if they’d called it “Master of Fabology.”

  2. Peter (the Other) says:

    “pitch bending and blues inflections in the Tony Sheridan sessions”
    Made me laugh enough that I had to straighten my Beatle wig and pull up my boots.
    UK MAs are a different animal from those awarded in the US (one year duration etc., that is structured to fall in what would be the fourth year at Uni). Besides, most of the “new” Universities in the UK are making the education of us Yanks a profit centre (spelling intentional). Still, a good deal compared to most US schools.

  3. David Cavlovic says:

    I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: in less than 100 years, the Beatles will be considered a quaint passing fancy, the “Biedermeier Period” of Rock, but it will be groups like The Who who will be studied for their progressive stances and crafts.

  4. Franz Satriani says:

    I’ve seen enough ridiculous papers along these lines at conferences, but now one can get a degree in this?
    Does English Lit offer a Masters in romance novels?

  5. jonathan says:

    Not to my knowledge. Yet!

  6. rootlesscosmo says:

    From “Backbeat”:
    John Lennon: You know what it is I like about Liverpool, Mr. Sutcliffe?
    Stuart Sutcliffe: No, what is it you like about Liverpool, Mr. Lennon?
    John Lennon: I was hoping you’d tell me.

  7. Phil says:

    Got world wide publicity which means people will look at the Hope University site and may even opt to do another course.

  8. amber says:

    Educational cutbacks obviously haven’t hit their schools. My university cuts the master’s program in music theory, and their’s adds the Beatles. Something’s wrong.

  9. Justin says:

    Yes, the MA in the UK is a completely different beast. Perhaps it would have been more prudent to make the Beatles an “MA Pathway” within their MA degree instead, as the University of Nottingham did with their MA pathway in “Robin Hood Studies” (no joke). That pathway is in the History Department for those who are curious: http://www.nottingham.ac.uk/history/courses/Robin_Hood_Pathway.php
    UK degrees have much less face-to-face time with teachers than in the US, with an emphasis on creative and original ‘research’ at an earlier level, and perhaps less emphasis on drilling home concerns and facts of a said ‘discipline’, usually because there is not enough time to do that and perhaps an assumption that that material was covered at A-level. There are certainly pros and cons to that system (which I don’t have time to debate), but as someone coming from an institution that has “Robin Hood Studies,” an MA in the Beatles doesn’t look all that odd…(I think that I need to get out more!)

  10. Barquentine says:

    This reminds me of the college teacher in Don DeLillo’s novel “White Noise” who wants to establish a department of Elvis Studies.

  11. Jonathan says:

    My heavens. Robin Hood Studies. And academic satires like Elvis Studies are so common because they ring so true!

  12. G says:

    This is exactly the kind of crap that has ruined popular music for me. The idolization of the mediocre, the building of of quasi religious iconography, the aggressive stance of those who love the music only because their told…
    The history of rock and roll is a frightening tale of conformity.

  13. none says:

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  14. Sean DeChant says:

    They actually have a similar degree in “Popular Music and Culture” (minus the Beatles) at Western Ontario. I personally feel this a necessary discourse in new musicological scholarship; the notion of excluding “pop” culture reflects unnecessary distinctions in research.

  15. Jonathan says:

    “Popular Music and Culture” is one thing; “Popular Music and the Beatles” quite another. I have absolutely nothing against studying popular music in culture or in other contexts, and agree that to exclude it is bad for any number of reasons.
    UWA is, might I add, a known research center. Hey-kids-let’s-do-the-Beatles at an all-but-unknown place sends a very different message.

  16. Rachel Cowgill says:

    Interesting discussion!
    Those who want to know more about the content of the Masters degree in The Beatles, Popular Music and Society should take a look at the programme page on the Liverpool Hope University website:
    http://www.hope.ac.uk/postgraduate-2009/the-beatles-popular-music-and-society-ma.html

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