Part 1 - Creating celebrities and events with mass media
“Within the last century, and especially since about 1900, we seem to have discovered the process by which fame is manufactured.” – Daniel Boortsin
In his book The Image, published in 1962, American author Daniel J. Boorstin contends that modern visual mass media was compromising the values, expectations and fundamental worldview of the vast audiences it served. In it he says, “We risk being the first people in history who have been able to make their illusions so vivid, so persuasive, so ‘realistic’, that they can live them.”
He goes on to describe not only the process by which celebrities and fame are manufactured, but also how events or “pseudo-events” are staged for the express purpose of being disseminated to a mass audience.
Most notably, he draws a comparison with previous eras when fame was considered a consequence of greatness in word or deed, and how with mass visual media the essential appeal of celebrities, who are well-known simply for being well-known, lies precisely in their ability to personify and glamorize the commonplace, thereby making it easier for ordinary people to identify with them.
About a year later in Britain, while the Beatles were busy promoting their first LP, Secretary of State for War John Profumo’s shocking love affair confession and other forms of political unrest were dominating the news headlines. It wasn’t until Beatlemania had become too big to ignore that it began making front-page news. Creating the illusion of a sudden explosion, rather than the crescendo that it was.
The wild, stampeding hordes of hysterical fans was hard for most to interpret at first, most believing that it only contributed to the current “troubled mood” of the unraveling social fabric of a falling empire. Things quickly changed dramatically however when the papers began publishing quotes from the Beatles themselves.
G.K. Chesterson wrote of the lads, “Nothing is more English than the fact that a group of comrades is comic in their incongruity. They differ and do not quarrel; or they quarrel and do not part.” Speaking in unmistakably Northern working-class accents, yet possessing a quick-wittedness that reflected their grammar-school backgrounds and a confident eccentricity that could seem vaguely aristocratic at times, the Beatles were received by the press and the public as a comic composite of the English national character, cast in a newly flattering light: Classless by merging the traditional class identities, rather than the dissipation of all identity that many feared would come from a blurring of class lines.
And while conducting these banal interviews, the Beatles downplayed their fame while mocking the media, their own popularity and the reporters themselves. With a lack of deference, the Beatles treated the interviewers as fellow travelers in the world of show business, disarming the reporters while playing directly on their own misgivings about their work.
Reporter Dibbs Mather complained to John during an interview, “This is going wrong, I want to get a nice ‘personality bit”, to which Lennon replied, “I haven’t got a nice personality.”
And it was Lennon’s comment during the Royalty Variety Show that those not in the cheap seats should “rattle their jewelry” and the fact that it was so warmly received by the Queen Mum herself as well as the middle-aged, middle-class audience that really changed the reception of this rock group and the hysteria they were generating.
Having charmed the press, the royals and most of the public, the Beatles had now laid claim to a favorable place in the popular imagination to an unprecedented extreme. As a “self-sufficent, unsinister, hip brotherhood of very British rock ‘n roll musicians” they gave all of England a new hope. Lennon’s comment also showed that the youth could say and do whatever they wanted.
Excerpts from the book:
Part 2 – Charismatically challenging the status quo and winning the devotion of the young.
“It is devotion to the extraordinary and unheard-of, to what is strange to all rule and tradition… a devotion born of distress and enthusiasm.” -Max Weber
Though they were found appealing by both adults and teenagers, the kids’ response was on an entirely different level of interest, intensity, and above all, identification. If there was one perception that bridged the gap between teenage and adult appreciation of the Beatles, it concerned the detachment and amusement the group exhibited toward the subject of their own success. Underlying their self-mockery was the simple fact that the Beatles’ collective self-esteem was largely invested in the idea of themselves as musicians and performers, not show-business celebrities. They insisted it was their talent, and not the publicity, that lay at the root of their appeal. Yet what nobody could fully understand at the time was that the more cavalier the Beatles became about the four “fantastic beings” at the center of Beatlemania, the more fantastic they became in the eyes of their teenaged fans.
Turn-of-the-century German sociologist Max Weber stated that societies have an inherently conservative drift: they favor the development of “institutions of daily routine”, beginning with the family and extending to priesthoods, professions, bureaucracies, and other hierarchical groups that seek to ensure the stability and continuity of social life by upholding the rule of custom, convention and law.
During periods of significant “psychic, physical, economic, ethical, religious or political distress,” however, the adequacy and authority of these stabilizing institutions may be called into question.
It is in such conditions that groups of people may turn to a seemingly autonomous figure who eschews all claim to traditional or institutional authority and instead gains and maintains power or influence “solely by providing his strength in life.”
Weber considered the dynamic tension between institutionalized routine and charismatic innovation to exist universally throughout culture – akin to that of mutation in evolutionary theory. He saw it as the embodiment of an irrational yet potentially creative force that challenged existing order and ran counter to the increasing rationalization and bureaucratization of modern industrial societies.
Over time, through a process he termed “routinization”, the innovations wrought by charismatic leadership may become the basis of a new institutional order.
After Weber’s death the world saw Bolshevism in Russia, Fascism in Italy, Nazism in Germany and Maoism in China. All of which were textbook charismatic movements, arising in conditions of severe distress, led by self-dramatizing outsiders who seized power and maintained it in a series of spectacular demonstrations of their “strength in life”.
Even Hollywood stars were once expected to inhabit the personas that were created for them. To behave otherwise was to invite professional ruin. It was the very rigidity of this system that enabled a later generation of film stars, like Marlon Brando and James Dean, to affirm their authenticity and enhance their popularity by openly chafing against the conventions and expectations of Hollywood.
Sigmund Freud picked up where Max Weber left off in regards to “devotion born of distress and enthusiasm”. However, the term Freud used was “ambivalence”. He describes ambivalence as the simultaneous presence of powerfully conflicting emotions such as love and hate, hope and fear, attraction and aversion. He also saw ambivalence as the trigger for a wide range of unconscious psychic “defenses” by which the mind seeks to manage the anxiety that arises from strong emotional conflict – such as repression and denial. But the defense he associated most closely with the response of groups of people to leaders was “idealization”, in which a state of ambivalence is resolved by attributing all of one’s positive feelings of love, hope or attraction to a suitable person, while either repressing negative feelings or else projecting them onto another suitable person.
On a one-to-one basis, idealization is similar to falling in love. In charismatic groups, these romantic idealizations are further organized and intensified by the process of “identification”, in which a person selects another more powerful figure as a role model or “ego ideal”. Having a chosen leader, the members of a group seek to share in the resulting aura of power by patterning their personalities on the idealized qualities of the leader and copying their characteristics.
Then there is a second form of identification that reaches a special intensity in charismatic groups – the identification of the group members with one another, which causes each member to feel personally enhanced, rather than threatened by the existence of others who feel the same way toward the object of affection.
Freud himself said:
“Originally rivals, they have succeeded in identifying themselves with one another by means of a similar love for the same object.”
Groups made anxious by uncertainty and ambivalence may seek to relive their anxiety by idealizing and identifying with a figure who suggests a sense of autonomy from the institutions and conventions that uphold the status quo – a figure who appears both to represent and resolve himself in the ambiguity, alienation and ambivalence of the situation. This can be seen as a characteristically adolescent state of rebellion in which the idealized parents of childhood are rejected in favor of freshly idealized figures drawn from the outside world. Teenagers are primed to identify with autonomous outsiders who give the impression of living by their own rules. Particularly in the modern industrialized world where adolescence has become an increasingly distinct, protracted stage of life.
Weber acknowledged a link between charismatic response and adolescent psychology when he wrote that “charisma is contrary to all patriarchal domination”. It is fraternal solidarity that poses the biggest challenge to patriarchal power in many spheres of life.
In March 1961, Vogue magazine published an article which popularized the word charisma when describing a person of “presence” “aura” or “magnetism”.
The Beatles’ northern working-class Liverpool roots made them outsiders. Their clothes and hair made them unconventional and also made them look like a band of brothers, preserving their love for one another while mostly showing indifference to the girls hurling themselves at their feet.
A totemic band of brothers, a troop of girls, an idealized devotion born of psychic distress and shared enthusiasm. Taken together, the theories of Weber and Freud provide the sociological and psychological background for a serious understanding of how and why the Beatles phenomenon first took hold in Britain in 1963, spread to America the following year, and then went on to serve as the personification of a spirit of social and cultural upheaval that reached throughout the industrialized world during the second half of the 1960s.
-Most of all, however, it seems the one factor that generated such a powerful charismatic response among British, and later American, teenagers, was the critical twist they brought to their newfound fame: their insistence on skewing the very conventions of show business. For the true measure of the Beatles autonomy in the eyes of the teenage fans lay in their willingness to turn the entire “process by which fame is manufactured” into grist for the mill. By mocking the pretension of their celebrity and inviting their fans to share with them the happy joke of their success, these four fantastic figures seemed to pass back into real life. They didn’t directly challenge society, they challenged the phony, predictable, patronizing world of show biz, which by then had become an integral part of society.-
By not taking their sudden success too seriously and mocking the celebrity machine, they not only provided comic relief to a strange artificial world, but they also bit the hand that fed them – both Very appealing to teenagers.
Part 3 – Unleashing “bedroom culture” onto the streets
Central to their challenge against the celebrity machine was their identity as a group. While the media usually focused on individual stars, the Beatles embodied the sovereign identity and solidarity of a group with undeniable clarity. They were understood to be a band in both senses of the word. And by reconciling the adverse images of the group and star, they appeared to reconcile the adverse ideologies of working-class solidarity and middle-class ambition. Just as they had assuaged the anxieties of many adults about the young, the Beatles relieved the apprehensions of many young people about what adulthood held in store. And suddenly, young men everywhere began forming music groups with their pals. Sure, social symbolism was partly the reason, but the main inspiration was the simple fact that it drove the teenage girls wild.
Girls had gone crazy over entertainers before, and crowds have expressed volumes of zeal at sporting events and political rallies in the past, but never to the extent that the crowd of such single-minded enthusiasm posed some danger to itself. The girls’ behavior at Beatle events had an unhinged intensity that had not been seen before – not in such numbers, and least of all, not in Britain.
Psychiatrists all over England were explaining the obvious in their newspaper interviews; that the word hysteria describes involuntary conversion of psychological stress, or specific frustrated impulses, into symbolic symptoms or behavior. One went on to say that you don’t need to be a genius to see that the frenzy of the girls at Beatles concerts suggested simulation of orgasm.
The Daily Mail wrote: "Screaming like an animal, and wearing almost as much leather as one, the young girl writhed and shook in some private ecstasy."
Feminist Barbara Ehrenreich went on to add that "Sex was part of the excitement, it was rebellious to lay claim to sexual feelings. It was even more rebellious to lay claim to the active, desiring side of sexual attraction. To assert an active, powerful sexuality by the tens of thousands and to attract maximum attention was more than rebellious, it was revolutionary. At the same time, the attraction of the Beatles bypassed sex and went straight to power."
To grasp what the Beatles meant to the hard-core teenage girls who worshipped them so enthusiastically, one should note that prior to the summer of 1963, girls served as silent partners in the youth culture of postwar Britain. While working-class boys were expected to live out their social lives on the streets, social lives of girls were more centered in their homes, where they would gather with friends and gossip, read magazines, model clothes and makeup and generally pass the time. Very few of whom had any emotional involvement with boys of the non-fiction variety.
At an age when teenage girls fantasize about enduring emotional relationships and romance, the male pop idol was a fixture of the female “bedroom culture”. Record-listening had a potential for intimacy that was perfectly suited to the intimate, confidential tone of many popular love songs. When enjoyed in solitude, records encouraged a fantasy that you were the only one listening: the only one for him. For many girls, their most intense experience of pop music had become one that was best enjoyed alone, accompanied by the face and quivering voice of a singer who himself sounded marooned on some distant, reverberative shore.
By the early-60s, the pop recording industry was catering directly to the teenage female listeners, and into this cloistered community of prematurely lost souls and lonely hearts that the Beatles burst, dispensing a fantasy that was made to be shared, turning the languid, self-pitying world of teenage romance inside out. Here, for the first time, was a group of lively, attractive boys, each with his own distinctive attributes, among whom a group of girls could choose and, by their choices, define themselves – not only in relation to the Beatles themselves, but in relation to one another as well.
Within the group of friends was the comforting awareness that in this fantasy there was a boy for every girl. The Beatles suggested that you could fall in love, and have your friends fall in love alongside you, and together share in the special world of happiness, success and fun that these four boys appeared to share with one another. Then came the need for the serious fan to experience the Beatles firsthand.
What England witnessed during the summer of 1963, was the “bedroom culture” spilling noisily onto the streets. The response to the Beatles and their music provided a socially and emotionally secure environment for the expression of female solidarity, assertiveness, aggression and sexuality.
-The girls had in affect become active participants in the phenomenon of Beatlemania.- And with a lack of women on the police force, it soon dawned on the girls that there was no effective way for anyone to stop them. And the thrill of uninhibited participation was made possible by a sense of permission that came from the head-shaking, wooo-singing Beatles themselves, who were quoted as saying that the girls had a right to scream if they want to. This represented a form of license so alien to the everyday experience of adolescents that it had to be tested before it could be accepted as real, which they did by screaming and mobbing and giving expression to every ounce of distress and enthusiasm they could muster, leading each other over the brink of self-control. And the Beatles passed the test by granting their fans a share in the autonomy they had taken for themselves.
For those that would rather just read a brief synopsis, I have prepared one here:
*Mass media has the power to create celebrities and events.
In 1963, England was in the middle of political turmoil and sex scandals, this caused a delay in the reporting of the rise of Beatlemania to the general public. So when it was eventually covered, it appeared to many as sudden explosion.
*Soon after, the Beatles were endeared to the press, the royalty and to most of the public. Most notably, they mocked the media and their own celebrity status, which won the devotion of their teenage fans.
*The Beatles relieved the anxieties of the teens while charismatically challenging the status quo. In turn, the teens idealized and identified with the Beatles, who served as their autonomous leaders.
*The Beatles being a group and not just one star, meant that the female fans could fall in love with the one of their choice along side their friends. This provided a social and emotional security with which to take the “bedroom culture” to the streets. Now the girls could assert themselves and test the limits of their collective power.
*The Beatles were permissive of the girls’ hysterical behavior, which gave unprecedented license to continue. They were allowed to contribute in their own way to the thrill of Beatlemania with their screaming and mobbing.
*Not only was it rebellious at the time for these girls to express sexual desire, and to gain such attention without consequence, it was revolutionary – it gave young girls an extraordinary power. Meanwhile boys everywhere were starting rock bands and emulating everything the Beatles did.
Also, see the Please Please Me post
and the With the Beatles post
to learn how the music was crafted for maximum impact to capture the hearts of the female fans.
Here’s an even more brief synopsis:
The 6 principles behind Beatlemania:
1. Celebrities and events can be created through the mass media.
2. These “fab four” were endeared to the press and the public.
3. With their charisma and autonomy, they challenged the status quo of show business and pop culture. This relieved the anxieties of their teenage fans, which won their devotion, idealization and identification.
4. A social and emotional security was created for the female fans with which they could take their “bedroom culture” to the streets.
5. The Beatles were permissive and allowed them to be partners in Beatlemania by contributing with their hysteria.
6. The female fans acquired an unprecedented, revolutionary form of power.
And, of course, I would also add a 7th principle, which includes how the music on their early albums was crafted in such a way as to make the maximum possible direct emotional impact on the female audience.