Category: Popular Culture
Chanel’s collaboration with the Parisian artistic avant garde had been much more successful. As early as 1922 she worked with Jean Codeau, Picasso and the composer Arthur Honegger on a production of the classical Greek play Antigone; and from 1923 to 1927 she worked with Sergei Diaghilev and Codeau on ballet designs.
For the first of their joint works, Le Train Bleu, a fantasy about the Riviera, the dancers were costumed in bathing suits, pullovers and tennis or golf shoes, and the leading female role was a tennis player. So fashion, sport and the artistic avant-garde united to celebrate the modernity of modem life, and Chanel’s little black dress (American Vogue called it the “Ford of fashion”) became the epitome of modernist style.
The modernist movement in art transcended both national boundaries and those of artistic form, influencing all the arts from architecture to the novel. Visually, it was the embodiment of the ideal of speed, science and the machine. It was a love affair with a rationalist, utopian future, and in architecture and design this led to an ascetic functionalism that considered houses and flats as machines for living, fumiture and household artefacts as items for use, not ornament, and even human beings as machines.
More than almost any other aspect of mass culture, high fashion acted as a conduit for this esthetic, translating it into a popular language of pared-down design and understated chic. In architecture, the Bauhaus movement created buildings that used glass to reveal the inner workings of the design. They stripped away the superfluous ornament that had cluttered 19th-century architecture with what was now regarded as the sentimental idealization of a past recreated in pastiche.
In dress, too, the watchword was now functionalism; clothing was simply an envelope for the body, which it impeded as little as possible. If there was to be adornment of any kind, it was to be of the art deco variety. Art deco was so called after the Exhibition des Arts Decoratifs, held in Paris in 1925. This exhibition had in a sense inaugurated the idea of a lifestyle, though the expression was not then used. It included a Pavilion of Elegance, in which the fashion designs of Chanel and Poiret, among others, were displayed. They complemented the furniture, ceramics and architecture – throughout, the few ornamental motifs and bright colors permitted were definite, clean-cut and jazzy.
In literature and painting, part of the modernism of modem art had been that the work of art interrogated its own intentions and questioned its own form. Perhaps what Cecil Beaton was to describe as the “nihilism” of the Chanel look was modernist too: it not only mocked the vulgarity of conspicuous consumption but, in inventing a look that was universal, international and reduced to the minimum, it almost sought to abolish fashion itself, creating instead a classic look that defied the one essential of fashion – change. At the same time the geometric, angular design of women’s clothing imitated the clean, spare lines of modern abstract art and design. Woman was no longer treated as a voluptuous animal; she had become a futurist machine.
Fashion thus disseminated the new esthetic of the modernist avant garde across two continents, and radically altered the way in which erotic beauty was conceived. Fashion became, superfiicially at least, classIess, and the great thing for a woman was no longer to look grand, but simply to look modem.
For the first time the New World and the Old engaged in a mutual cultural exchange of style and imagery. Although Paris stillled the way, the vamps and innocents of Hollywood – Theda Bara, Gloria Swanson, Mary Pickford, Louise Brooks constructed new tastes in beauty, while the “lost generation” of American expatriates settled in Paris and the south of France. Some of these hoped to create a new art and a literature that would reflect the often excessive and even tragic pleasure-seeking of the postwar generation.
Emest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald and many others tried to be as well as to describe a modern breed of sexually free beings, women and men whose minds, hearts and bodies were as untrammeled by traditional nations of morality as their bodies were by constricting clothes. Fitzgerald’s characters “discovered” the Riviera in summer until then it had been only a winter resort – and the suntan became another sign of working-class toil to migrate up the social scale. It became the status symbol of the globetrotter, who need never work and whose wealth permitted this inversion of established tastes. Society ladies took care to become brown as navvies, and Fitzgerald’ s heroine wore only pearls and a low-backed white bathing suit to set off her iodine-colored skin as she lay on the Mediterranean sands.
Related Link: View more Popular Culture stories
In the autumn of 1929 came the catastrophe which so few had anticipated but which in retrospect seems inevitable–prices broke on the New York Stock Exchange, dragging down with them in their fall, first the economy of the United States itself, subsequently that of Europe and the rest of the world. Financial losses of such magnitude had never before been known in the history of capitalist society, and the ensuing depression was also unprecedented in scope.
There had always been business crises; economists had come to take them as normal and even to chart a certain regularity in their occurrence. But this one dwarfed all its predecessors: no previous depression had remotely approached it in length, in depth, and in the universality of impact. Small wonder that countless people were led to speculate whether the final collapse of capitalism itself, so long predicted by the Marxists, was not at last in sight.
On October 24, “Black Thursday,” nearly thirteen million dollars worth of stocks were sold in panic, and in the next three weeks the general industrial index of the New York Stock Exchange fell by more than half. Nevertheless, it was by no means clear at first, how severe the depression was going to be. Previous crises had originated in the United States–this was not the great novelty.
What was unprecedented was the extent of European economic dependence on America which the crash of 1929 revealed. This dependence varied greatly from country to country. Central Europe was involved first, as American financiers began to call in their short-term loans in Germany and Austria. Throughout 1930 these withdrawals of capital continued, until in May, 1931, the Austrian Creditanstalt suspended payments entirely. Thereafter, panic swept the Central European exchanges as bank after bank closed down and one industry after another began to reduce production and lay off workers.
Meantime the crisis had reached Great Britain. In September, 1931, the country went off the gold standard, to be followed two years later by the United States and nearly all the other financial powers of the world. The great exception was France: with a balanced economy and relative selfsufficiency, the French held off the crisis longer than anyone else–not until 1932 did its effects become really severe. But late involvement did not help the country in the long run: for France was the slowest and the least successful of the major powers in pulling itself out of the Depression, which left a wound in French society that was far from healed when the Second World War broke out.
The fall in production and the fall in prices everywhere reached unprecedented depths. In Germany–which was hit worst of all–production had fallen by 39 per cent, at the bottom of the Depression in 1932, and prices by only slightly less. In France, which was stubbornly holding to the gold standard, the price level in 1935 was just over half what it had been in 1930. But of all the manifestations of the Depression, unemployment was most grievous and most clearly left its mark on the whole era.
In this respect, France was the least seriously affected: the number of those out of work never rose above 850,000. But here as in Italy and in the agricultural nations in general, there was much semiemployment and concealed unemployment in the countryside. In Britain, the jobless numbered nearly three million–between a fifth and a quarter of the whole labor force. And in Germany unemployment mounted to the horrifying total of six million; trade-union executives estimated that more than two-fifths of their members were out of work entirely and another fifth employed only part time. With roughly half the population in desperation and want, it was no wonder that the Germans turned to the extremist leadership that they had so narrowly avoided in the crisis of 1923.
Elsewhere social unrest never reached such grave proportions, but throughout Europe governments and peoples felt themselves on the edge of a precipice, as the turbulent and questioning mood of the immediate postwar years returned with redoubled intensity. As had occurred during the war, a crisis situation evoked state intervention in the economy on a massive scale. Governments found themselves forced to resort to all sorts of measures of which the conservative disapproved.
These measure gradually came to follow a common pattern: most countries turned inward, trying to save their own economies without reference to, or regards for, their neighbors, through raising tariffs and setting up schemes for currency pooling and block buying abroad; they sought to relieve the sufferings of the unemployed through extended subsistence payments, on the model of the British dole, and to provide new jobs through vast programs of public works and, eventually, through rearmament.
Most of these measures were mere palliatives, however, undertaken in skeptical and hesitant fashion, and only after years of delay had robbed them of maximum effect. Furthermore, a number of them were of doubtful merit. The turn toward economic nationalism probably did as much harm as good–constricting the volume of world trade and still further reducing Europe’s share in it. In Europe, as in the United States, the only policy that brought much lasting benefit was direct provision of new employment by the government. Even this was far less effective in its original form of public works than in its subsequent guise of war production.
On both sides of the Atlantic, only rearmament proved a sufficiently powerful antidote to the Great Depression. It is sobering to note that the great power which was the most successful in pulling itself out of the slump–Nazi Germany–was also the one which plunged most whole-heartedly into preparation for war. Thus, by the mid- 1930’s, the economic and social struggles of the decade were blending imperceptibly into the origins of the Second World War itself.
Related Link: View more Popular Culture stories
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
“Without music, life would be a mistake.”
“It is not a lack of love, but a lack of friendship that makes unhappy marriages.”
“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
“I’m not upset that you lied to me, I’m upset that from now on I can’t believe you.”
“And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”
“It is hard enough to remember my opinions, without also remembering my reasons for them!”
“There is always some madness in love. But there is also always some reason in madness.”
“You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist.”
“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that in the process he does not become a monster. And if you gaze long enough into an abyss, the abyss will gaze back into you.”
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
“In heaven, all the interesting people are missing.”
“Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.”
“There are no facts, only interpretations.”
“We should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”
“The man of knowledge must be able not only to love his enemies but also to hate his friends.”
“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself.”
“I cannot believe in a God who wants to be praised all the time.”
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how.”
“No one can construct for you the bridge upon which precisely you must cross the stream of life, no one but you yourself alone.”
The best Irish coffee recipes take into account the preference of the drinker. Irish Coffee or Gaelic coffee, as it is sometimes known abroad, is a perfect after dinner drink. Having made Irish coffees in Ireland, Spain and the States, I consider myself to be pretty good at it by this stage. I learnt how to make Irish Coffee in the late 70’s when I started working in my father’s bar.
At the time, Ireland was more of a tea drinking nation and the coffee was instant and secondary to the experience. Since then things have changed.
In my recipe for Irish Coffee, I still consider the whiskey to be the most important ingredient but I am a lot more about taking into account the tastes of the drinkers. So if people don’t like strong coffee, I use less and add a little boiling water to the coffee. If it’s late in the evening, I often use good decaffinated coffee so that people aren’t awake all night. And if people are worried about the calories, I reduce the amount of cream.
You can buy all sorts of special glasses for Irish coffees but I use a medium size wine glass most of the time which is perfectly good.
An Irish Coffee Recipe – Ingredients
1inch/2 cm of Irish whiskey at the bottom of the glass. (Don’t use your 100 year old whiskey- just a normal decent brand such as Jameson is fine). Do not heat the whiskey itself. While it might traumatise the purists, if you don’t have Irish whiskey, use Scotch whiskey instead. It will still be a Gaelic coffee!
Good coffee made to the strength preferred of the die-hards. (You can add boiling water to the rest to reduce strength in glass for others)
A little less than 1 inch or 2cm of whipped cream per person. The cream must be whipped lightly so that it can be poured. You don’t want it to be too thick.
1-2 teaspoons sugar per whiskey (My preference is for brown sugar)
Some boiling water.
Put a spoon in glass to prevent cracking and add a little boiling water to heat the glass. Dispose of the water once glass heated.
Put in whiskey with one-two spoons of sugar. Mix well.
Add the coffee to one inch (2cm) of top of glass. Stir well to make sure sugar is dissolved.
This is the only tricky part. Take a table spoon and put it with back turning up against the side of the glass, just at the top of the coffee. Pour the cream gently over the back of the spoon.
Well done. If your Irish coffee is well made, you will have a dark brown or black glass of coffee with some delicious whipped cream on top.
Irish Pub Culture – more than drinking.
Irish Pub Culture and Irish Pub Life is a much talked about subject at home and abroad. While the number of pubs in Ireland is falling dramatically because of the current economic crisis, a smoking ban and changing lifestyles, the pub as an institution remains an important part of Irish tradition. Below is an introduction to Irish pubs and pub etiquette in Ireland.
Background to Irish Pub Culture
For all its fame and excesses, the best part of Irish drinking pub culture is the social aspect. Traditionally, the church, pub and the local football club were the three main social outlets for people in rural Ireland. The pub had the habit of following the other two. By that I mean that people went to the pub after Mass or after a football match. The pub was where the village met, stories were exchanged and the ‘craic’ (fun) was had.
Irish People rarely drank at home until recent years, because the social aspect was a vital part of enjoying alcohol. The atmosphere, warmth and friendliness of Irish pubs is such that the idea has been exported around the world. There is hardly a city anywhere on the planet that does not have at least one, if not several, Irish pubs.
While it is hard to put a value on the contribution of the pub to the social fabric of Ireland, it is just as hard to measure or ignore the fact that a lot of alcohol comsumption can be over the top in Ireland and binge drinking is all too common. Nevertheless. enjoyed sensibly with good company, a social drink in an Irish pub among friends or friendly strangers, can be hard to beat.
Origin of Word Whiskey
The word whiskey comes from ‘uisce beatha’, meaning ‘water of life’ in Irish Gaelic. Scottish people spell whiskey without the ‘e’, ‘whisky’. While there are hundreds of Scotch whiskies there is a much smaller number of Irish ones, the most well known being Jameson and Bushmills.
Pint Drinking in Ireland
If you simply ask for ‘a pint’ in an Irish pub, you will be given a pint of stout, the black beer called Guinness . However, in Cork, Murphys or Beamish are more common stouts than Guinness .
While common in England to ask for a half as a ‘half pint’, in Ireland the term is a ‘glass’, so you may ask for a ‘glass of guinness’
A common beer or ale in Ireland is ‘Smithwicks’ (which you pronounce ‘Smithicks’) which a lot of my foreign non Guinness drinking friends prefer.
Ordering a Drink in Ireland
You pay for drinks after receiving them unless you are ordering food at the same time. It’s a normal part of Irish pub culture for a barman will expect to be paid after he gives you a drink or round of drinks, so to stay on his good side, have the money ready. But don’t make a big display of showing your money to all either – nothing annoys Irish people so much as someone showing off.
Tipping in Irish Pubs
You generally do not tip barmen in Irish bars but if there are waiters, often called lounge girls or lounge boys, tip them occasionally. Don’t expect to find waiting staff in small or country pubs. You may have to go to the bar to order.
While in England it is customary to pay for an occasional drink for the barman, in Ireland it is much less common.
Irish Round System
If you are in company, it is customary for each person to buy a round of drinks. This round system is still a very strong part of Irish pub culture but if the group is very large, it is also increasingly common to split into small groups of three or four for the purpose of buying rounds. It’s common to hear the expression ‘Whose round is it?’ or ‘It’s my round’.
If you do not feel like another drink, then don’t skip when it’s your own time to buy. Do it on someone else’s round. Leaving the pub before buying your round can be considered bad form, depending on the company you are in. You will get away with it once but it will be frowned upon at best after that.
Don’t try and keep up with round system if you don’t feel like drinking anymore. Most people are understanding and you shouldn’t feel pressured to keep on drinking though you may have to put up with a little slagging (teasing). For that reason, however, it’s a good idea to buy your round early!
Irish pub culture experience
It’s common to begin a chat with the barman, the guy beside you in the pub or even with the stranger standing beside you at the urinal in the toilet (restroom).
Yes, Irish people do not say ‘bathroom’ except in a house and do not use the word ‘restroom’ at all. Very occasionally you will hear the word ‘lavatory’ but the word ‘jacks’ is particularly common around Dublin.
Sunday afternoon is a common time to see a Gaelic football or Hurling match on TV in an Irish pub. It can be a very passionate affair particularly in the middle of summer as the All-Ireland Championship gets in to full swing.
‘Slagging’ is a big part of Irish pub culture. It really means making fun of someone and can be hilarious at times. Occasionally it can seem very close to the bone. Listen rather than participate but if you become the victim, remember that most of the time the aim is not too offend but to have fun, so just laugh it off.
If you offer to buy someone a drink, it is polite in Ireland to reply ‘Ah, no’ even though a person may be dying to accept. So you may have to offer at least twice if not two or three times.
Ireland’s no smoking ban
While the smoky Irish pub is a much exported image, it is no longer a part of Irish pub culture. Since 1997, there has been a smoking ban in almost all public buildings. The law is respected (surprisingly) almost everywhere. Hence, Irish pubs now often provide a sheltered area for people to smoke outside.
It is also quite common to see a group of smokers standing in front of a pub smoking. If you are a smoke, you can take it as an excuse for chatting to strangers as you light up.
The ways in which society may amuse itself around, in any country and at any time, an exceptional opportunity for the display of wealth and the assertion of social importance. Thorstein Veblen has graphically demonstrated this conscious or unconscious motivation in many forms of recreation.
It is clearly evident throughout American social history. The worthy citizens of eighteenth-century Philadelphia vied with each other in the magnificence of their banquets, loading their tables with massive silver plate and serving such a choice selection of imported wines that the visiting John Adams stood amazed at the “sinful feasts.”
The planters of Virginia rode to hounds in close imitation of the English country squires whose social status they sought to emulate in every possible way. Merchants of New York and Boston were already aspiring to yachts in the 1850’s, their sons to membership in the exclusive boating clubs, while all the fashionable world sought out Saratoga or Newport as a step upward on the social ladder.
It was in the latter half of the 19th century, however, the Gilded Age of American civilization, that society most flagrantly bent its pleasures to display. The newly rich born of industry’s great advance since the Civil War-owners of railways, coppermines, textile-mills, steel-plants, packing-houses, and cattle ranches.
A little band of idle rich held the final redoubt in the fashionable world of the 1880’s and 1890’s, and the families of the new plutocracy felt it essential to prove beyond shadow of doubt that they too were idle and rich. It was not in the American tradition, which esteemed riches and abhorred idleness, but urban society was running after strange gods. And, in any event, the new plutocrats generally supplied the riches and left it to willing wives and a younger generation to demonstrate the idleness.
Concert singing, visits by foreign musicians, and orchestral playing also revealed a growing taste among the sophisticated for more serious music. Jenny Lind had paved the way for the tours of European artists in the middle of the century, and Ole Bull had made two memorable visits. In the 1890’s Ysaye, Paderewski, Fritz Kreisler, Adelina Patti, Melba, Calvéé, and Madame Schumann-Heink were all on tour. Symphonic music had had its start with the organization of the New York Philharmonic as early as 1842, but it was not until 1878 that this orchestra had any real rival. In that year the New York Symphony Orchestra was established, to be followed in another three years by the Boston Symphony, and in 1891 by the Chicago Orchestra. Walter Damrosch and Theodore Thomas were adding a new interest to the musical scene.
Grand opera also had become firmly established. It had long been a distinctive feature of the social life of New Orleans, and there had been various attempts to introduce it in New York and other cities. Troupes of Italian singers had come and gone; elaborate opera houses had been opened-usually to fail after one or two seasons. “Will this splendid and refined amusement be supported in New York?” we find Philip Hone asking in 1833. “I am doubtful.” And for almost half a century his doubts were largely justified. It was in 1883 that the Metropolitan Opera House, costing nearly $2,000,000, provided grand opera with its first really permanent home in America.
With the first post-war boom in the 1860’s, observers began to note that New York society was becoming entirely based upon wealth, social prestige being won by those who had the most splendid carriages, drawing-rooms, and opera boxes. George Makepeace Towle has described the balls and assemblies-ladies in sparkling tiaras, suppers of oysters and champagne, fountains gushing wine or sprays of perfume. He was somewhat horrified by “so unceasing a round of glittering gaiety and dissipation.”
The advance of the new millionaires was picturesquely described as “the Gold Rush” by representatives of older social traditions. “From an unofficial oligarchy of aristocrats,” Mrs. John King Van Rensselaer sadly wrote, “society was transformed into an extravagant body that set increasing store by fashion and display.”
Nor was New York alone in this competitive rage for showy display. A sycophant press might boast that its ornate fancy-dress balls and ten-thousand-dollar dinner parties were the most expensive ever known, but the world of fashion throughout the land was closely following its lead. There was an epidemic of gaudy magnificence in the amusements of what went for society. One Chicago magnate brought an entire theatrical company from New York to entertain a group of his friends, and a wealthy woman in another city engaged a large orchestra to serenade her new-born child. San Francisco was notorious for its “terribly fast so-called society set, engrossed by the emptiest and most trivial pleasures.” A fortunate miner who had struck it rich in Virginia City drove a coach and four with silver harness; another had champagne running from the taps at his wedding party.
“The movie is the art of the millions of American citizens,” an English writer in the Adelphi discovered, “who are picturesquely called Hicks-the mighty stream of standardized humanity that flows through Main Street… The cinema is, through and through, a democratic art; the only one.” Nor would this commentator have had it otherwise.
The attempt to educate the public to higher standards of taste except through the movies’ natural evolution in response to a gradually maturing public sentiment was pious humbug. Europe had failed to realize the possibilities of the moving picture and was hiding behind that “singularly putrescent hypocrisy that masquerades as ‘artistic culture.'”
The reigning stars during the thirties also revealed how diverse moving-picture entertainment had become. Micky Mouse rivaled Greta Garbo, and the Dionne quintuplets competed with Clark Gable. Lawrence Tibbett and Zazu Pitts, Will Rogers and Jean Harlow, Adolphe Menjou and Shirley Temple, Bette Davis and James Cagney, Mickey Rooney and Vivien Leigh, each had an enthusiastic following.
The movies’ success in reaching such a broad public had long since had a most far-reaching effect on other forms of entertainment. From nickelodeon days they had been gradually drawing off the patrons of the popular melodrama, the devotees of variety and burlesque. They now dominated more completely than ever the whole field of commercial amusement. The people’s theatres were either closed or made over into movie palaces, variety shows were so reduced in number that the old two-a-day vaudeville circuit was completely disrupted, and the doors of the local opera houses (unless they too were wired for sound) were everywhere boarded up. The triumph of the movies over the popular theatre was complete.
The legitimate stage which was primarily centered in New York — the theatre of classical drama, sophisticated comedy, problem play, and also musical revue — remained a vital force. It was perhaps more important in some ways than in the nineteenth century. If vaudeville had left it free — or forced it — to go its own way without considering entertainment that would appeal to the urban workers, it was now more than ever the arbiter of its own fashions. It could encourage playwrights — Eugene O’Neill was the country’s leading dramatist — who really had something to say. It could present plays dealing with social problems, and musical comedy that deftly satirized the current scene.
The 1930’s saw a revival of stock companies, especially summer stock; other cities followed the lead of New York with its Theatre Guild and Group Theatre; the International Ladies Garment Workers’ Union staged a musical skit which played on Broadway and toured the country; and the Federal Theatre Project became for a time an active force in the theatrical world. Under such stimulating influences there also sprang up a mushroom growth of community theatres with some five hundred thousand amateurs playing before an estimated annual audience of fifteen million.
Escapism that is not an escape from or to anywhere, but an escape of our utopian selves, has always been present in the idea of Camival, where the inhibitions which bind us to conventional roles are loosened. It is our Camival selves that we take on holiday, and the holiday resort – from Atlantic City to Blackpool to Pattaya – has always been a place of loosened inhibitions. If it is the crime of popular culture that it has taken our dreams and packaged them and sold them back to us, it is also the achievement of popular culty’ne that it has brought us more and more varied dreams than we could otherwise ever have known.
Popular amusements had more generally evolved from diversions that were originally available only to the wealthy. The theatre in America had at first been primarily class entertainment, the democratic audiences in the large playhouses of the mid-nineteenth century, as we have seen, offering a marked contrast to the more exclusive theatre patronage of the colonial period.
And from this gradually democratized theatre had developed the even more popular minstrel shows, burlesque, and vaudeville. But the first appeal of moving pictures was to the masses rather than the classes. They were cheap and popular from the very beginning. The support which in time enabled them to raise their standard of entertainment came entirely from their nickel-paying customers.
Their early development along such unashamedly popular lines was not by any means inevitable. It was in part due to the class of people who happened to take them over. The outstanding figures were Jewish garment-workers or fur-traders who bought up the penny arcades, and then the nickelodeons, to merchandise films as they would any other commodity. And their dependence on a mass market led to their continuing to place emphasis on quantity rather than quality.
They were not troubled by an artistic conscience, not concerned with culture, in promoting this profitable business. But at the same time what might superficially be dismissed as merely shrewd commercial tactics represented an approach to the development of this new amusement which would not have been possible in any other country. It reflected a democratic concept of the general availability of popular entertainment which was thoroughly American.
Related Link: View more Popular Culture stories
As the Vietnam War shook the country’s faith in their government, it also influenced writers, philosophers and theologians to question the metaphysical implications of these events. Vietnam, the first rock’n’ roll war, was also the first television war, with combat footage on the nightly news.
Johnson tried assiduously to manage television coverage of the war, pundits debated endlessly about whether television had “brought the war home” or had trivialized it as just another interruption in the stream of commercials, and whether the scenes of carnage and the reports of American atrocities had numbed its audience or had increased anti-war sentiment or street violence.
Television reporting was brutally attracted to scenes of violence and dissent – they made good pictures. By the end of the 1960s political groups denied conventional access to the media had recognized the staged act of violence as an effective means of gaining attention. Terrorism happened for the television camera.
Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, saw the media as his enemy.
Although his1968 campaign was an object – lesson in the packaging of a candidate’s image, his attitude had been indelibly marked by his failure in the televised debates with Kennedy in 1960. Even before the Watergate Senate hearings topped the ratings in 1974, Nixon and his staff regularly denounced television’s “nattering nabobs of negativism.”
In common with most Western television systems, the Federal Communications Commissions Fairness Doctrine enforced the provision of equal time for the expression of opposing views on any given issue. Its effect was to secure the middle ground for television itself, and to make its presenters the arbiters of political dispute. Television’s credibility relied on its apparent neutrality, something that marked it out from the partisan allegiances of newspapers.
By the late 1960s television news was expected to be profitable as well as prestigious. CBS Evening News cost $7 million to produce in 1969, and made a profit of $13 million. The need for pictorial content meant that television took to “managing” the production of news in ways reminiscent of the “yellow press” at the beginning of the century. Needing to deliver stories with both drama and immediacy, journalists passed from gathering news to creating it, in the form of predictable and manageable events such as press conferences and publicity stunts.
American youth, on one hand, are brought up in the knowledge of American history, which includes many well-known and glorified examples of “rugged individualism,” and are encouraged to emulate this “truly American” trait. On the other hand, however, American youth are constantly challenged to conform to national and patriotic standards requiring high degrees of conformity to majority opinion.
Although these conflicting values have of course been a natural part of any era, they appear to have been unusually intense during the late 1960’s when dissent and counterdissent concerning the war in South Vietnam ran high. Some of the basic questions that emerged for the sociological observer concerned the surprisingly widespread public opinion which perceived dissent not as an expression of independent individual thinking and believing but as subversive and “un-American” conduct.
The music took shape amid the creative ferment and changing dynamics of the mid-60s, as popular music became more overtly political; opposition to the Vietnam War mounted; and the civil rights movement grew to encompass different minorities who began organizing and demanding changes to the status quo.
Television news stimulated an ever-growing cynicism and disaffection with politics by its emphasis on dissent and disagreement. At the same time the medium itself became the vehicle for the normal. It existed to sell viewers to advertisers, and advertisers were little interested in showing their wares to black ghetto-dwellers, for example, who might want the proffered consumer goods but lacked the wherewithal to purchase them. Television’s largest advertisers – the manufacturers of automobiles, cosmetics, food, drugs, household goods and, until 1971, tobacco – wanted the networks to supply them with a middle-class audience for their sales pitch.
In the late 1960s the American networks discovered that a detailed study of the audience provided them with a way of selling advertising time at higher prices by selecting programs aimed at a wealthier, educated audience. Fewer shows were aimed at middle-aged, middle-class viewers in large towns and rural areas. More programming was directed at a younger, urban audience with more money to spend. The controlled irreverence of Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In, launched in 1967, was one gesture toward this audience.
In October 1982, film audiences around the country cheered as they watched a Vietnam vet named John Rambo single-handedly take down a posse of blood-hungry policemen and National Guardsmen in the Oregon wilderness. A rousing populist fable that reflected the public’s growing discontent with the political establishment, Rambo: First Blood became a world-wide box office hit, spawning two sequels and transforming Sylvester Stallone, fresh off the success of Rocky, into one of the biggest stars of his generation.
Most notable, however, was John Rambo’s ascension to the ranks of global icon, a position which, two-and-a-half decades later, is undiminished. One can still find Rambo mudflaps and shopping bags in the Far East, Rambo T-shirts in Africa and Rambo action figures in Central America.
Related Link: View more Popular Culture stories
Between the wars, and even more in the 1950s, the love affair of black-and-white photography with high fashion gave birth to the frozen perfection of the fashion image. The sharp lines, dark shadow and white light dramatized the angular, exaggerated creations of the New Look period particularly well.
American photographer Richard Avedon captured the self-dramatization, the confidence, sophistication and self-mockery of haute couture in his work for Harper’s Bazaar in the early fifties. Avedon and others loved to place their glacial or cavorting models in bizzare or incongruous situations.
By 1960 a new generation of photographers was seeking inspiration from the grainy images of the new cinematic realism of British films such as Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Room at the Top. Their work displaced line drawings as the main medium for fashion illustration, but was at times even more mannered, while the search for novelty could lead to downright eccentricity in choice of angles or location. At times the fashion photograph seemed less to attempt to convey information about the latest styles than to capture the mood of an ensemble, or even to suggest a whole lifestyle.
The fashion photographs of the 1960s made of a high fashion a performance, a street event, a triumph of the will. They also transformed photographic models into celebrities and stars, while the photographers themselves -David Bailey, Lord Snowdon, John French- became household names, heroes of the swinging sixties. Michalengelo Antonioni’s film Blow Up -often taken to epitomize “Swinging London”- involved just such a fashion photographer as its main character.
In the 1970s, the imagery became even more mannered and eccentric, or else banal. Black models appeared more frequently, but models tended to become ever more precious, while some photographers, notably the German Helmut Newton, flirted with an imagery drawn from soft pornography.
Related Link: View more Popular Culture stories
Rock and roll, which the industry learned to ride to a staggering new sales volume, also jarred that industry into new patterns: new companies, new small-group recording economics, new audience definitions, and new relationships to radio broadcasting. Some of the story can be told in terms of technical innovations. Television as the surging home entertainment medium turned radio stations toward the disc jockey format of record programming.
New sizes, speeds, and materials for the records themselves may have had wide implications. Belz makes an interesting analysis of the cultural meaning of the shift from 78 to 45 rpm records, as streamlining the experience of recorded music toward casualness, especially for young audiences, while their parents bought the more substantial 33 longplaying records that emerged at the same time in the early 1950s. The later movement of rock and its audience into long-playing records reflects the triumphing cultural and economic power of the same young generation, along with a growing seriousness and self-confidence of the makers of rock music.
The relationship of popular culture to ideology in the 1960s and into the 1970s has become of interest to academic sociology, although the alarmed interest of politicians has given way to accommodation. The relationship of the entertainment favored by highly visible classes of teenagers and young adults to the behavior of that audience, and especially its use of drugs, is probably now still too current an issue for full perspective and confident judgment.
The history of popular music suggests that it is very unlikely that musical entertainment can induce new behavior, or even introduce new ideas to the audience it must court in order to sell itself. Though popular music has been blamed in the past for undermining community standards or otherwise damaging society, it is a new phenomenon for popular music to have the pervasive presence that prosperity and the portable radio and tape deck have given it lately, and for such conspicuous economic power to be vested in a youth audience. The history of popular music that is now happening cannot be fully schematized and managed by the patterns of earlier popular music. Its development has always been contingent, surprising, and even discontinuous except when we rationalize it with hindsight, and it is continuing that unpredictable development now.
As rock has evolved in the last quarter of a century and brought, among other things, self-conscious seriousness to popular music, it has prompted an immense volume of reportage and analysis, much of it empty but some perceptive and judicious. The attention that rock has demanded has occasioned the first widespread, serious critical attention to the popular arts in general. Nostalgia, publicity promotion, and the university environment of a part of the proprietary audience of rock have contributed to the growing critical and scholarly interest in popular music of the past as well as the present. We are in the process of discovering a heritage; it is certain to contribute to the understanding of our own culture.
At the same time, vested interests knew that the teenage market was now too valuable to be put in jeopardy. Part of the answer was Top 40 programýning, which came to the fore in the later 1950s. Besides coping with the separate problem of disk jockeys’ so-called “play-for-pay” deals with record companies, the Top 40 system introduced a measure of control into the music being heard over the air. By a very neat twist, hard promotion turned that controlled segment of available records into something that the teenage market found irresistible.
Related Link: View more Popular Culture stories