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Transmission and Transgression

The History of Rock 'n' Roll on Television


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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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Kenton, Gary, author. Title: Transmission and transgression: the history of rock ‘n’ roll on television / Gary Kenton. Description: New York: Peter Lang, 2020. Series: Visual communication vol. 9 | ISSN 2153-277X Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2018028628 | ISBN 978-1-4331-5304-4 (hardback: alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4331-5309-9 (paperback: alk. paper) | ISBN 978-1-4331-5310-5 (ebook pdf) ISBN 978-1-4331-5311-2 (epub) | ISBN 978-1-4331-5312-9 (mobi) Subjects: LCSH: Rock music on television. Classification: LCC PN1992.8.M87 K46 | DDC 791.45/6578—dc23 LC record available at DOI 10.3726/b14573

Bibliographic information published by Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek. Die Deutsche Nationalbibliothek lists this publication in the “Deutsche Nationalbibliografie”; detailed bibliographic data are available on the Internet at

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