An ARC/ABC duet that should top the hit parade

The ARC-funded Centre for the History of Emotions’ prime purpose has finally been revealed. It is to provide ongoing employment for a small number of people, some of whom are known to me personally, and liked by me as well. (I’m not sure if the feeling is mutual, seeing as I have been somewhat ubiquitous in the Australian of late, dissing precisely this kind of piffle-driven ARC grant. But life goes on.)

So you can imagine how pleased I was to receive the following press release from a colleague.

My Life As A Playlist

A song for every significant moment of your life

Is there a particular song that reminds you of a significant moment in your life? What do you feel when you hear that song? What songs would you choose for your wedding, your birthday, your funeral?

The ARC Centre of Excellence for the History of Emotions (CHE) and the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) launched My Life As A Playlist, a major cross-platform project produced by ABC Arts on Monday, 16 September 2013.

Presented by ABC Radio National’s The Inside Sleeve host Robbie Buck, My Life As A Playlist is an interactive website where you can curate a personal soundtrack to your life.

My Life As A Playlist will roll out over five weeks from September 16, with each week featuring a new theme – unusual, offbeat things like love and heartbreak, weddings, birthdays, etc, and all on Radio National, Local, and Triple J.

You know, just last week a nice philosopher chap took people like me to task for criticising the ARC’s funding of projects like this, because it’s wrong to have governments looking too closely at the ARC. Apparently people like me are spearheading a covert campaign to destroy the humanities. (In between times, we steal arts funding and funnel it into Nazi science projects, inventing mind-control devices that will force Australians to vote Coalition forever.)

Guess what? People like me don’t need to engage in a campaign to destroy the humanities. The humanities in academia have done that all by themselves, by precisely this kind of project. My Life As A Playlist is just the world’s most expensive iPod, but it’s being sold to us as some kind of discovery along the lines of penicillin. From the press release:

Robbie Buck said: “I love the way music can act as chapter headlines for our past. Looking back at the highlights – and lowlights –in our own lives, there’s always a soundtrack attached to it. Music possesses that wonderful capacity to boost our spirits in celebration and bolster our moods in commiseration. And there’s nothing quite like the emotional rush of hearing a piece of music that’s closely attached to a major point in your life, even many years later. It’s this aspect of My Life As A Playlist that’s so exciting, along with its ability to share those experiences with the rest of the nation.”

Robbie Buck is someone who earns his living working as a DJ on the ABC, so we can understand why he is so excited about this. It will keep him in work for a bit longer and ensure that his place in the ideological echo chamber – ABC, ARC, Triple J, Abbott666 – is not cast into doubt by any independent thought along the lines of, ‘Hey, exactly why are Australian taxpayers funding this again?’

But it’s not all beer and skittles down at the ABC/ARC. Fear not – very hard academic research is taking place, with much furrowing of brow and brisk clacking of tablets. From the press release:

The results will feed into the Centre for the History of Emotions’ research exploring musical choices, emotions elicited, personality and social context. CHE will examine the history of the socio-emotional uses of music across time and culture, offering a history of emotions perspective on why and how we use music in our lives.

Professor Jane Davidson, Deputy Director of CHE said: “The central focus of the academic project is on how we have used and continued to use music as a means of emotional regulation at individual and communal levels. Through a partnership with the ABC, the creation of this website has given CHE the opportunity to engage with the Australian public in a fun yet meaningful way to collect important data about music, personality, culture and history.”

… Prof Davidson and research fellow Dr Sandra Garrido (both of The University of Western Australia) have developed this research project and will collect new data about current interactions with music and associated beliefs and attitudes surrounding those musical behaviours and connect these to their extensive historical research data.

Phew. And there was me thinking it was just half-baked undergraduate fantasy writ large. I stand corrected.

The most embarrassing thing is just how dated these playlists are going to look in about half an hour’s time. It reminds me of the gold record that was sent into space attached to the Voyager craft. But hey, at least that had Chuck Berry.

I don’t grudge these people their colossal stroke of good fortune, and only worry that when the money runs out, they may not have much to do with their time. But to call this ‘academic research’ is an insult to people who do actual academic research. To fund it with taxpayers’ money is an insult to Australian taxpayers. And to share the joy on the national broadcaster is an insult to anyone who hasn’t been insulted already.

If ever there was a clarion call for an incoming government to examine the ARC and ABC very closely, this is it. I don’t need to say anything; they can say it all themselves.


Philippa Martyr blogs at Transverse City

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