I've had my share of ginned-up controversies over the years, from making it to Fox News in 2011 for suggesting philosophical attention is due the question when violence is justified, to being blasted in the National Review in 2004 for eviscerating an incompetent Harvard Law Review article, to the attempt to take down the PGR in 2014 because I sent cranky e-mails to miscreants.
But I seem to have really crossed a line now: I suggested that Soundgarden was the best rock band of the 1990s.
I've gotten an astonishing number of angry e-mails about this, and now the crowd has mobilized against me:
We, the undersigned, are compelled to speak out against the marginalizinggrunge-centric remark posted on your blog on May 18th -- not least because Leiter Reports is the most widely read philosophy blog, with a readership including countless vulnerable early career scholars, many of whom sacrificed a life in rock n' roll in order to contribute to the profession. How are such scholars supposed to react to the blanket, unqualified announcement by "the most powerful person in academic philosophy" that Soundgarden was the greatest band of the 1990s? Consider that a typical applicant for a junior faculty position today might have only been born in 1990 and not have had the experience of being aware of the rock music of the 1990s as it was being made. Consider, as well, that many young scholars will be alert enough to recognize, from your weekend posts, your expertise in the history of rock music and yet too historically muddled to suspect that it does not extend so seamlessly into more recent decades. Should a fan of Bikini Kill, Boredoms, Free Kitten, Fugazi, Helmet, the Jesus Lizard, the Pixies, Rodan, Shellac, Sun O))), Thrones, or Unwound think twice now before betraying their "inferior" musical tastes? Or is it even riskier to try to play along? Imagine inviting friends to an APA afterparty listening session of Screaming Trees only to find out that those overseeing their tenure cases consider it "the wrong kind of grunge."
You should know that your words do actual damage. For many mid-career scholars, being caught up in the grunge explosion was a thrill that quickly devolved into embarrassment. For them, Soundgarden and its associated acts are so interwoven with the whole wretched life-stage of looking over one's shoulder to see what the cool kids are up to that it is impossible to evaluate on its own merits. How is one even to take your remark? "The greatest rock band of the 90s was Soundgarden-before-they-were-cool?" That would have been a band from the 80s. Behold, even as we try to sort out the meaning of your proclamation we are confronted by the darkest parts of our souls!
Obviously your privileged position, pompous sense of expertise, and studied attempt to empower rock n' roll philosophers has blinded you to your noise- and punk-phobia. Perhaps you simply will never understand how patronizing this sort of "outreach" is, and how suffocating is the atmosphere of repression and fear your "free speech" creates!
Signatures not included. There are just too many, and we prefer anonymity anyway!
I abjectly apologize for the harm caused, and promise to wear a hair shirt every time I listen to Soundgarden from now on. May the mob take pity on me.
(My thanks to philosopher Curtis Franks [Notre Dame] for bringing this to my attention.)