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What is Quality?


In Studies in Narrative, the last book we read was Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. This road book is more philosophical than anything, and the main question that is raised again and again is, “What is quality?” When you sit down to try and define what quality is in your own words it becomes fuzzy. One dictionary definition that I think is simple and sort of to the point is: Quality (n): high grade; superiority; excellence.


Instead of trying to define quality with a sentence, I believe a better way would be to come up with an example of a movie, a television series, and a musical artist that I deem to have quality. Not only do I like these 3 examples, but also I think even looking past my personal preferences, these are 3 things that most people can admit as to having quality even if they personally don’t enjoy it. The idea of quality is that, by looking past your emotions and personal preferences, you should be able to recognize when quality is present.



Here are my 3 examples:

Apocalypse Now

My mother is not a big fan of movies. At least, most modern movies; sure, she loves a classic Disney movie and such, but most movies nowadays she has trouble liking due to inappropriate content and violence. Especially with violence; she finds most violence contrived and senseless with no purpose for the film. Yet one of her favorite movies is Apocalypse Now, which is a highly disturbing film with gory violence. Though the violence is hard to watch, she somehow is able to look past the violence and see the movie for what it’s meant to convey. The violence is entirely justified and even necessary to have the impact it does. She is able to appreciate the film even though, by her standards, she probably would not even want to watch it in the first place.

Pushing Daisies

            This TV show is my favorite show of all time. Over the years, other series have fallen in and out of my favor, or I watch a season or maybe two. But I continue to watch all the episodes of this show, which was sadly cut after only 2 seasons even after rave reviews and winning Emmys. What makes this show different from anything else that was or is on TV is 1. It does not have to do with silly romances between teenagers trying to find themselves 2. Though it has to do with death it does not involve ghosts or vampires or anything of the usual supernatural sort. Ned has the strange blessing/curse to bring dead things back to life with the touch of his finger; but there are complications to his power, such as: after bringing someone back alive, if he touches them again they go back to being dead forever; and if they are alive for more than 60 seconds something else must die to take its place. Not only was the premise to the show fantastic, it created one of the most pure and beautiful romances I’ve ever seen on TV and its impossible struggle to overcome its impossible obstacle. Additionally, the surreal-like/bright cinematography, detective mystery premise with a twist, and the wonderful occasional voice-over narration added a sense of magic and fantasy that is not seen in real life.

Of Monsters & Men

I just discovered this band from Iceland (they sing in English, don’t worry). They have been described as ‘Iceland’s Mumford & Sons’ but they are very different. This six-man band has one woman who sings in harmony with the other, male lead singer. They use a variety of acoustic instruments including guitar, piano, trumpets, drums, and fuse with some electronic keyboard/sounds. Their lyrics are beautifully poetic and the less happy songs have a sad beauty as well. The thing that I marveled at is, in their studio version of their most popular song, “Little Talks,” trumpets constitute the main melody; when I watched a live version that was on youtube, they did not use a trumpet but the song was just as perfect as the studio version. To me, if a band has meaningful and intricate songs that they perform just as well (or even better) live, they are doing something right.

What do YOU think is quality?

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