The Deserving Police

In the United Kingdom, there have been some serious questions about whether musical composition constitutes bona fide academic research.

It seems to me another call being made to the Deserving Police.  The job of the Deserving Police is to make sure that nobody on God’s green earth gets a goody from a government or other goody-dispensing authority (like, say, a public university department) that they did not rightly Deserve (because, of course, what people Deserve is always self-evident and easy to calibrate).

In the U.S., the Deserving Police go around snooping into the grocery lists of shoppers using food stamps and EBT cards, and sound the alarm if the shopper is purchasing something nice for themselves, like a candy bar, or ketchup.  (Since there have been calls in some states to ban the purchase of ketchup with food stamps, this is not an exaggeration.)

In the U.K., apparently, the Deserving Police are more sophisticated and lofty in their aspirations.  They investigate whether or not composers are receiving undeserved doctorates that are institutionally held to be on a par with the doctorates of the musicological colleagues.

I also can’t help but notice that this argument strikes as an invitation to a back-door re-litigation of the argument about whether or not pop music is a bona fide subject for academic study.  (The Deserving Police are very interested in this question too: do musicologists and music theorists concerned with pop music Deserve, capital-D intended, the same professional status as musicologists and music theorists concerned with self-evidently prestigious and worthy classical music?)  It seems interesting to me that the Deserving Police became interested in the research status of composition more intently when composers themselves became less interested in obligatory fugues and more interested in appropriating hip-hop samples as is often done by electroacoustic composers.

I’m going to sidestep the arguments pro and con on all fronts just to say, generally speaking, that life on the Deserving Police Force strikes me as a very petty, very unhappy waste of time.

-Robert Gross

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