Music, Moral Panic, and the Media

Institution: Carleton University
Category: Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Language: English

Course Description

When popular music and moral panic collide, we’ll become intersectional musicologists who explore why some types of music cause some listeners to “clutch their pearls” and respond with panicked reactions.
But why study moral panics in the first place?
1) Believe it or not, moral panics are everywhere! Even though we’re studying moral panics and music – once you can define a panic, you realize they’re everywhere.
2) Moral panics require us to confront challenging questions about our histories and current societal issues.
3) Moral panics reveal a lot about societal power structures and who they affect. On the other hand, they can also help solve problems through careful and thoughtful analysis rooted in empathy and intersectionality.
(Critcher, 2006)
Through an interactive musicological analysis, students will be challenged to explore various case studies across genres, including Ragtime, Jazz, Rock n’ Roll, Heavy Metal, Pop, Hip-Hop, and Rap. To tackle these case studies, students will learn about moral panic frameworks and how to use them for analysis. Students will also be given a brief introduction on how to listen actively to music, reflect, communicate, and discuss what we’re hearing. To enrich this process, students will learn music theory basics, including chord qualities, scales, grooves, rhythms and metres.
For each case study, students will be given a brief historical/ethnomusicological summary of the genre and example. Then they will be tasked with actively listening to different pieces of music. Next, students will be challenged to think critically about the music, moral panic and its intersections with race, class, gender, and sexuality. Finally, we’ll critically discuss the public’s panicked responses to the music. One of music’s most remarkable qualities is its ability to bring people together; conversely, one of moral panic’s most potent qualities is its ability to drive people apart and cause harm. How can we name this phenomenon while it’s happening and prevent future panics?
This course aims to help students hone their ability to listen closely and critically, not just to the music, but also to the panic discourses surrounding the music. Our objective is to ask big questions, to think deeply and empathetically about the information at hand, and to forge connections between music, how we understand ourselves, and those around us.
(This course has a significant focus on elements of critical race theory and the historical manifestations of anti-Black racism in early forms of Western popular music. The course will contain mature themes, including sexuality and strong language. There will be mentions of violence, substances, and the satanic panic. It is my utmost concern to approach the course material from a trauma-informed perspective to maintain a safe space for everyone in the room, ensuring suitability and inclusion for all learners. This course is likely not suitable for anyone under the age of fourteen unless given permission from a parent – questions about the material are welcome and encouraged if you are unsure.)
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