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Transmission and Transgression

The History of Rock 'n' Roll on Television

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Gary Kenton

When MTV (Music Television channel) was established in 1981, an executive claimed that they had "integrated the most powerful forces in our two decades, TV and rock ‘n’ roll." In fact, this problematic relationship began in the mid-1950s, when the advent of rock ‘n’ roll represented a musical and cultural revolution. The backlash against the music and the youth culture from which it emanated, described here as "rockaphobia," was reflected in a process of adulteration, racism, and co-optation by television programmers, spearheaded by American Bandstand. This interplay between rock ‘n’ roll and television played a significant role in alienating baby boomers from the mainstream, motivating them to create their own countercultural identity. This social migration helped to delineate the boundaries that would be identified in the 1960s as the generation gap.

Transmission and Transgression uses an interdisciplinary approach informed by media ecology, the theoretical framework which recognizes that each communication technology, or medium, creates its own unique environment, independent of content. This analysis allows the author to identify inherent technological and sensory incompatibilities between the medium of television and the cultural practice of rock ‘n’ roll, and to place these tensions within the broader shift of physiological emphasis from the traditional, tribal world dominated by the ear to the modern world which privileges the eye. Even in its remediated, diluted form, rock music has occupied a significant niche on television, and this book is the most comprehensive summary, celebration, and analysis of that history.

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Chapter Eleven: The Respect Era, Part 1

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chapter eleven

The Respect Era, Part 1

Chronologically, the Respect Era begins in the mid-1960s and moves forward to the present day. As Cedric Clark applied it to the portrayal of minority groups on television, the Respect Era denoted that Blacks were finally given “a full range of roles” (Harris 65). Although the analogy to rock ‘n’ roll is imperfect—the focus here is on the representation of a cultural expression rather than the portrayal of a race—significant advances were made in the presentation of rock ‘n’ roll on television that certainly approximate respect, at least in business terms. Accommodation may be a better term than respect. While the quantity of rock ‘n’ roll music on television certainly increased in the 1960s and beyond, and performance parameters established by American Bandstand were expanded and less stringently enforced, the trivializing and marginalization of rock music did not disappear.

Despite the greater incidence of rock ‘n’ roll on television in the 1960s, there was an utter failure on the part of the networks to keep pace with the proliferation of records, groups, and sounds. While Beatlemania was the subject of much news and entertainment coverage, the music was peripherally and superficially represented. The Beatles were on the cusp of a musical and cultural revolution that television was not equipped to cover. In addition to the predictable antipathy on the part of the establishment to new music, fashions, and hairstyles, there was no←175 | 176→ suitable...

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