My Master’s Degree is complete: A relieved summary

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Was it worth going to my graduation ceremony? It was just the same as last time, except as an MA, I got to wear more purple.

It’s been quite some time since I have posted a show-off article about my exploits, but today marks such an important occasion that I can’t resist marking it. On 30th September 2015, I received an email from the head of my Masters degree course stating the grade of my dissertation. I almost fell off of my chair when I spotted the word ‘distinction’. I was so stunned that I couldn’t bring myself to celebrate. On 17th November 2015, I finally graduated. My certificate says I’m a ‘Master of Arts’. Ooh, fancy.

After two years, I have completed a Masters Degree in Multimedia Journalism at Southampton Solent University. About bleeding time. I’m not sure whether I’m most happy about the result, or just a relieved that it’s over, but either way, Hallelujah. Here is a quick summary of the conundrums that I faced during my studies and the subjects that I covered.

NME AND THE MOST TERRIFYING SOUNDING ESSAY I HAVE EVER WRITTEN

NME: The Doomsday Catalogue. Apparently.
NME: The Doomsday Catalogue. Apparently.

The very first assignment submitted was the most terrifying sounding essay that I had ever submitted, entitled The Doomsday Catalogue: An Examination of ‘Gatekeeping’ at NME 2013. While the title made it sound as the entrance to the NME offices was a journey to hell, it was an examination of David Manning White’s ‘gatekeeping’ theory. I explored whether it survives when applied to recreational journalism, such as reviews of media, especially by troubled contemporary magazines. Considering the reformation of NME’s distribution, I clearly chose a very appropriate case study. It wasn’t the most thrilling of assignments, and since the end of the unit (entitled ‘Advanced Multimedia Theory’) have winced at even the utterance of certain academic figures who I felt were cited far too often. Seriously, has no one every written about the media aside from Manuel Castells?

POSTMODERNISM AND IMPOSSIBLE MUSIC

This assignment was probably the most enjoyable to write, which surprised me, because this unit had come across as drivel a lot of the time. Each student only found a couple of weeks to be appropriate to them, with all other subjects escaping them (hence why I struggled on the subject of posthumanism, but more on that in a moment). However, this entanglement meant that I was far more comfortable with choosing unusual subjects whether it be something that I was used to, or simply for my own amusement. This led to a four-thousand word essay entitled Mainstream Etudes: Impossible Works of Art and (Post)modernism. It was an analysis into how pieces of music that are impossible to perform perfectly by a human, fall into the divide of Modern and Postmodern, and how the introduction of context and current culture throws answers into doubt. This included studying tracks such as Gyorgy Ligeti’s Etude 14A (a piano piece deemed to difficult for human performers), and Aphex Twin’s ‘Tamphex’, a hardcore techno track that sampled a 1990s tampon advertisement.

Considering how case studies in lectures had been primarily political subjects, or centuries old (18th Century philosopher Immanuel Kant was a mainstay of lectures), I was very worried about how the lecturers would appreciate my subject, and was relieved with the distinction that it received. It was this grade that led to my choice for dissertation subject.

WHY IS THERE NOT A FIFTY SHADES OF GREY: THE VIDEO GAME?

Video games have been brought to pornography. Why doesn't pornography belong in video games?
Video games have been brought to pornography. Why doesn’t pornography belong in video games?

This presentation was fun to construct, but the performance itself was the most terrifying that I have ever done. In all seriousness, the most difficult situation that I faced throughout the course was the inevitable difficulty of applying very old theories to present day situations, something that I was quite uncomfortable with to begin with as my specialty was modern culture – in particular, media and entertainment. With this came both some of the most intriguing opportunities of subject, and my worst nightmare.

I had written about video games before all the way back in college, studying video game soundtracks to be precise – what musical attributes connote various elements (fire, water etc.) in the Legend of Zelda games. My subject this time wasn’t nearly as comfortable to discuss, but I apparently impressed one of the markers by taking such a daft sounding subject so seriously: Why would a Fifty Shades of Grey video game be so controversial? After all, the book was a massive success, the film had been released, so why would the world be so upset about a video game? This was discussed in the context of posthumanism.

I was excruciatingly nervous beforehand, but loosened up a little after watching half of the room’s jaws drop when I began by reading a short excerpt of the book (note, I hadn’t told anyone aside from the lecturers what I would be doing), against a backdrop of a Powerpoint reading ‘WARNING! EXPLICIT CONTENT!’. I’m disappointed that I never got to see a recording of that moment.

HOW SUBMITTING THIS WEBSITE AS AN ASSIGNMENT BECAME A NIGHTMARE

Of course, I have already discussed seemingly silly things, but whether Fifty Shades, or tampon adverts, part of the appeal came from showing how theories could be seriously applied to subjects that my Mum always seemed disappointed in (regretting asking how my day had been when explaining that I had just handed in an assignment about penis and vagina synonyms). However, when the assignment is a portfolio as opposed to academic study, there are no such excuses.

Well, I found an excuse for silliness, albeit by accident. First of all, for my own amusement, I wrote a (very) crude blog post on the subject of grindcore band Anal Cunt’s EP Howard is Bald. Special thanks go to Earache Records for sharing the post on social media, as hits came in their thousands. As one of the most viewed pages on my blog, it needed to be included as a centerpiece of my project. Secondly, I also wrote a review of Babymetal’s first performance in London – a subject that went uncovered by large publications at the time, leading again to a huge amount of hits.

I’m not convinced that the lecturers were overly impressed. It was all so playful. While I followed the rules of writing for entertainment journalism, it was hardly academically prowess. Either way, it got a merit, so I must have done something right.

THE DISSERTATION

Perfect Pussy's limited edition vinyl release of Say Yes to Love, contains Meredith Graves' menstrual blood. Why?
Perfect Pussy’s limited edition vinyl release of Say Yes to Love, contains Meredith Graves’ menstrual blood. Why?

Looking back at my Music Journalism degree, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed writing its dissertation (an analysis of the concept of ‘experimental music’ and how it applies to the avant-garde in popular culture, focusing upon Radiohead’s Kid A), and in choosing my own subject, I felt that I could do the same thing. As it turned out, this was much more difficult. First of all, there was the scale. At 25,000 words, it was much more weighty. The dissertation was entitled Forgiven: Authenticity and the Premium Box Set. The subject was that of ‘authenticity’ and the oversized box set, in alternative culture – uncovering textual elements that explained why expensive novelty items are frowned upon by alternative culture when released by popular artists, due to being commodities, whereas alternative rock figures (examples including Radiohead, Nine Inch Nails and Perfect Pussy) are revered for it – a massive contradiction. The investigation began by treating the alternative artworks as high scoring and ‘good’. However, I letter uncovered how they aren’t necessarily good, but are ‘forgiven’ for their inauthentic sins.

I got to interview many great people for this assignment, including:

  • Andy Copping: Vice President of Live Nation UK.
  • Jason Danzelman: Lead vocalist of Verses.
  • Matthew Davies-Kreye and Patrick Lundy: Members of Funeral For a Friend.
  • Dai Griffiths: Music academic
  • Peter Lee: Lead vocalist of Lawnmower Deth
  • Emma Bardill and Digby Pearson: Artist Liaison and Founder (respectively) of Earache Records. This was especially noteworthy as I asked about their recent release of the World’s Shortest Album, only to get a seven-word-long response from Pearson. Subtle.
  • Steve Portnell: Founder and owner of Portsmouth-based record shop Pie & Vinyl.

I can’t express how overjoyed I am with my result for this assignment. One outstanding criticism was how in uncovering the scale and complexity of the situation discussed, that there may have been too much to discuss, and both markers subsequently suggested that this would function very well for a PhD proposal. In fact my tutor was so enthusiastic about the prospect of a PhD, that a lot of the feedback discussed not of ‘if’ indulge in a doctorate, but ‘when’. While I plan to take an extended break from academia in favour of reinforcing a career in journalism, it’s great to know that if one day an academic career intrigues me, then I may be equipped to pursue such aspirations in the future.

But for the time being, thank goodness it’s over!

The Class of 2015. The guy at the back in desperate need of a haircut? Yeah, that's me.
The Class of 2015. The guy at the back in desperate need of a haircut? Yeah, that’s me. Special thanks to everyone there. You were all lovely.
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