Tuesday, April 29, 2008
I'm going to begin listing the letters to the Beatles that are illustrative of all of the above. These girls are rebels, outlaws, lunatics and poets.
One girl in our school said, "I'm going for Ringo and if any girl goes near him I'll kill her".
I have only one comment that that little statement, "what a way to go!"
The Beatles with Cassius Clay, 12th Street Gym, Miami, Florida (1964)
Beatlemania’s explosion was a product of its time in more ways than one. Elvis was perhaps the closest idol to incite hysteria on a scale hinting at something like Beatlemania, which would take place less than a decade after “That’s All Right” was first played on Memphis radio. Why, given his potential, didn’t “Elvis-mania” equal Beatlemania? Why has no teen “mania” ever done so? In Elvis’ case it must be noted that upon his debut, “Elvis was visibly lower class and symbolically black (as the bearer of black music to white youth)”1.
Indeed, only a few years prior, rock ‘n’ roll, then categorized as race, was understood to be quintessentially black music. With the Civil Rights Movement in full swing by the early ‘60s, racial tensions were no doubt rife in the years proceeding, and the American racist legacy that feared an encounter between black male sexuality and white daughters, was alive and well. The moral panic surrounding Elvis, rock ‘n’ roll and sexuality cannot be extracted from racist underpinnings—nor should a fear of adolescent sexuality be considered without special attention to the implication of daughters.
Yet, rock ‘n’ roll, ordained the official music of the boomer generation, could not be erased or suppressed. The solution? Import it. The British Invasion (to call it "invasion" is so masculinist given the fact that girls' consumer demand was what brought the Beatles here) made it possible to symbolically remove black roots from the music made by these boys who weren’t just white, they were British. In the American unconscious, they had nothing to do with blackness, and therefore rock ‘n’ roll could be re-imagined as white music, and mom and dad finally let their daughters, itching to participate from the beginning, go to the concerts, join the fan clubs, and parade their enthusiasm for rock ‘n’ roll’s extraordinary revolutionary sound waves through the Beatles.
We can finally therefore reject The New York Times’ David Dempsey’s explanation that the Beatles were “witch doctors who put their spell on hundreds of shuffling stamping natives”, and perhaps see Beatlemania as a breaking of the dam previously kept in place by parental policing of racial and sexual boundaries, with traceable historical roots.
The Beatles’ "unthreatening", white sexuality was constantly underscored in imagery, in this case, they are starkly contrasted to the ultimate virile black male, Cassius Clay, by submissively lying down before him, cowering as he beats his chest gorilla-like.
The popularity of this particular composition reflects not just an interest in reinforcing the raced identities of both parties in the interest of racist cultural subtexts, (the civilized white male vs. the animalistic, savage black male); it also exemplifies the symbolic expropriation of black music that takes place in the 1960s.
1)Ehrenreich, Barbara, Hess, Elizabeth Jacobs, Gloria, Lewis, “Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun” Adoring Audience : Fan Culture and Popular Media, Lisa A.(Editor). Florence, KY, USA: Routledge, 1992. P. 85
Thursday, April 17, 2008
Usually when people are so dismissive, I tend to feel that this is symptomatic of not being familiar with the Beatles more than anything else. Such is the case with my roommate. She more or less challenged me to change her views on the fabs last weekend, and so I've embarked on a new blog-project where I, in 10 posts, make a case for the Beatles, tailored of course to my perceptions of her aesthetics.
If anyone is interested (all none of you who read this), the blog is called "You Don't Like the Beatles" and will cease after the aforementioned 10 posts. In it, however, some of my reasons for liking the Beatles/interpretations of their music will be chronicled for any who cares to know.
Friday, April 11, 2008
“My own consciousness snapped into shape in 1964 at a Beatles concert. I still remember melting into a massive crowd of jumping, screaming girls, all thinking and feeling the same lascivious thoughts. It was my generation’s turn to let our libidos go public. I was twelve, just beginning to understand that sex was power: my first feminist epiphany. As the 60s tore on, the crowd of girls, now women, was still moving together, marching against the was in Vietnam.”
- Elizabeth Hess, “The Women” Village Voice (November 8, 1994), p.91
“The Playboy Adviser”
Playboy, March 1965 (p.38)
“It may seem sort of silly, but things have reached the stage where I’m getting a little worried. My daughter and a number of the other kids in the neighborhood have formed a real cult over the Beatles. They have built an altar in one girl’s bedroom and they burn candles and recite Beatle prayers they have written. Now their project is writing a Beatle Bible which starts out, “in the beginning the Beatles created rock and roll”. If they weren’t so darned serious about this, it would be pretty funny. But when Susan doesn’t go to church with us because they are having their own service in their Beatle church, I start to worry a little. Worst of all, we have to listen to that awful music over and over and over. What should we do?”
-M.D., San Francisco, California
“At Beatles concerts...kids found a community of worship, in which many white teenagers experienced the nearest thing they would ever know to the mass ecstasy of a revival meeting” -Magic Circles: The Beatles in Dream and History (143)
I think you are very sexy and I don’t even know what it means.
Your little fan,
I'd like to suggest that we take the sexual underpinnings of Beatlemania for granted. These girls were in many cases too young to be self-aware/reflective enough to name the nature of their fixation. Sexuality was certainly a part of the mania, but the more we tell the girls who obsess over teen idols that it is budding sexuality they are experiencing, the more the nuance and complexity of this phenomenon is forgotten. Does Shirley D. really have sexual feelings for Paul, or is she just told so?
I wonder if her feelings for Paul have more to do with identification than we think.
I saw you when you landed at Kennedy Airport in New York. I was almost killed and I was just six feet away from you. Everybody went crazzzy. I had an ankle sprained, my dress torn, a slightly scratched face, and a black eye.
Isn’t it WONDERFUL?
I adore you all,
Furthermore, Beatlemania wasn't part of what cultural critics condescendingly refer to as girls' "bedroom culture". It, like many other social movements of the sixties, was a call to action. Beatlemania give young white girls an opportunity to participate in the violence of the sixties. Contrary to stereotype, violence can as seductive to girls as we let it be to boys.
Below are some quotes from a 1964 Time Magazine article. It's one of many good examples of how the Beatles were originally a) understood to be "for girls" and b) trivialized early on by elite journalists. The two are, of course, connected. Even more "of course," this embarrassing legacy on the part of Time Magazine is kept on the d/l.
Adults may not dig, but how could 20 million teen-agers be wrong? The Beatles are fab. The Beatles are great. The Beatles are different. The Beatles are cool, cool, cool, cool, cool.
All week long, the four young British singers progressed through scenes that might have been whimsically imagined by Dante. Whether it was New York or Miami, teen-aged girls by the massed thousands closed in as if to devour them. They pressed in and literally over the Beatles' limousines, standing on hoods and tops, screaming. On a brief trip to Washington, hundreds of grotesquely clawing hands reached toward them through the massive iron bars that partition Union Station. At a sell-out concert in Manhattan's Carnegie Hall, the Beatles stood on the stage in a hail of their beloved jelly beans, while flashguns intermittently lighted the great interior like night artillery, and they boomed their electrified rock 'n' roll into the wildly screaming darkness.
Real Fuel. All this seemed redolent of flackery, and the Beatles were certainly well publicized. But no press-agent can light a blaze like that—he can only strike a match here and there and pray to the pressagents' god. The Beatles are being fueled by a genuine, if temporary, hysteria. In every part of the U.S., teen-agers are talking about little else, and superthatch Beatle-size wigs are being sold by the hundreds of dozens. But part of the Beatles peculiar charm is that they view it all with bemused detachment. If they are asked why they think they qualify as, well, four Rockmaninoffs, they disarmingly concede that they have no real talent at all.
"Why do you wear so many rings, Ringo?" demanded one reporter.
"Because I can't fit them all through my nose."
"What do you think of Beethoven, Ringo?"
"I love his poems."
What did the Beatles think of the unfavorable reviews they got in the New York Times and the Herald Tribune?
"It's people like that who put us on the map."
How do they rate themselves musically?
"Average. We're kidding you, we're kidding ourselves, we're kidding everything. We don't take anything seriously, except the money."
Monday, April 7, 2008
Popular Music and Society, Summer 2000.
“In challenging such traditions, the Beatles were to accomplish much more. By undermining the divisions, hierarchies, and conventions of sexuality in the early 1960s, the group was exposing the possibility of alternatives. It has been pointed out that the young women who participated in the feminist movement in the late 1960s and early 1970s were from the same generation who had seen in the Beatles a first opportunity to revolt against the structural and cultural constraints embedded in a highly sexualized society. In 1964, “cracks were beginning to appear in the walls restraining female energy and sexuality” (Dougls 121. It is ironic that John Lennon’s later support for the feminist movement, which he saw as a belated attempt to recompense his self-confessed earlier sexism, should be inspected and largely rejected by many who had first been alerted to the politics of change by the singer himself: “Beatlemania was the first mass outburst of the sixties to feature women…it was the first and most dramatic uprising of women’s sexual revolution” (Ehrenreich et al 85).
1967's Sgt. Pepper signifies the advent of the "rock intellectual" where rock is taken away from the people and given over to the elite "artistic institution". When rock becomes art, women are--as is always the case-- excluded. The "Early Beatles" are thus devalorized for speaking for and to largely women and girls, and fade into the background of the "Later Beatles" who are unwitting representatives of the male establishment.
In this moment, rock'n'roll ceases to be a rebellion.
*1/2: A Critique of Rock Criticism in North America
Popular Music, Vol. 20, No. 1. (Jane., 2001), pp. 47-60.
“Sergeant Pepper was released at a time when the “ideology of rock” was being codified by a new generation of writers who were legitimating “their” music in terms of an aesthetic tradition into which they had been educated’, Negus (1996 p. 154) writes, ‘Crucial to the meditation of Sergeant Pepper were the opinions of a new occupational group, the professional rock journalists.’ (Negus 1996, pp. 154-5)”
“For most rock critics, then…the issue in the end isn’t so much representing music to the public…as creating a knowing community, orchestrating a collusion between selected musicians and an equally select part of the public—select in its superiority of the ordinary undiscriminating pop consumer” (Simon Frith, 50)
This is, of course, a gendered distinction, and a perfect example of how history is rewritten subtly with a masculine bias. Why, before Sgt. Pepper, it would be quite accurate to call Beatlemania a "culture", and after all, did the elite art connoisseurs not purchase-- consume-- Beatles records? Can we justifiably call Beatlemania "passive", and so-called thoughtful (read: quiet, observant) listenership "active"?
The use of adjectives and verbs here is fairly arbitrary and can easily be imagined in the reverse order, yet it somehow rings true given pre-established gender biases and stereotypes. The words "passive" and "consumption" out of context do indeed connote "feminine", do they not? So there we have it. Women are eternally passive consumers, men are eternally active "culturists" -- no critical thinking required! So let us sound the horns! Ring the bells! Strike up the orchestra for Sergeant Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band is the greatest rock album of all time!
And thus-- women are erased. Ta-Da!
Frith adds sarcastically, “it was obvious that “A Day in the Life” mattered more than “She Loves You,” addressed issues other than teenage fun. Rock, in other words, described a more ambitious music than pop” (60).
Yet, “…American Beatlemania further suggested that it was precisely its vast popular appeal that made rock and roll..an urgent, relevant, political medium” (65).