You Call That Music?

Who decides what's "good" and what's "bad"?

January/February 2016

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You Call That Music?

Illustration: Mark Matcho

If you want to start an argument, criticize someone else’s musical taste. What would college be without an obnoxious classmate making smug declarations about why his or her favorite artist is great—and yours isn’t.

Now comes a philosophy course to sort this all out.

“Can Good People Like Bad Music?” examines what differing tastes reveal about art, other people and ourselves. For example, says the course description, “Is there reason to think that some music is ‘objectively’ better than other music? Can we say that those who like ‘bad music’ are missing something, or mistaken in their tastes?”

While we’re pretty sure Mötley Crüe (for example) qualifies as “bad,” this topic offers ample ground for robust dissent. The discussion-based course asked students “to come to class ready to share, debate, and scrutinize their own musical tastes.”

The goal, says instructor Willie Costello, is “to understand what it means to disagree about art.” And, perhaps, to have a comeback when Mr. Hip trots out his manifesto on the virtues of Band You’ve Never Heard Of.

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