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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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Heartfelt thanks to friends and mentors: Stephen Mantin (and clan), Anneke Corbett, The Mad Peck (a.k.a. Dr. Oldie, the Dean of the University of Musical Perversity); I. C. Lotz (a.k.a. Vicky Hollmann), Sol Jacobs, Thomas Berry, Steve Sumerford & Evelyn Smith, Bill Adler & Sarah Moulton, Larry & Claire Morse, Marnie Thompson & Stephen Johnson, Ken & Mary Alice Knight, John & Robin Davis, Nick Divitci, Terry Austin, David Marc, Ben Gerson, Ken Emerson, Robert A. Hull, Lenny Kaye, Earl Kirmser, Roswell & Holly Sue Angier, John Clayton & Sharon Dunn, Robert Somma, Andy Schwartz, Chris Capece, David Unger, Paul Mills, Tom Miller, Harry Duncan, David Smyth, Alan Betrock, Charlie Gillett, Danny Schechter, Nick Tosches, Molly Mullin, and Tim Jurgens. I want to single out Richard Meltzer, who bro\oes to Simon Frith, the first scholar to pay close attention to the interplay of rock ‘n’ roll and television.

Gratitude to my academic mentors/colleagues: Lance Strate, Phil Rose, Tom McCourt, Thom Gencarelli, Robert Barry Francos, Michael Grabowski, Andrew Chrystal, Brian Cogan, Jeff Einstein, and the entire Media Ecology Association, an intellectual community worthy of both names. Thanks to my editors, Susan Barnes, Kathryn Harrison, Janell Harris, Jackie Pavlovic, and Erika Hendrix at Peter Lang for making the book better and ushering it through the publishing process.←xi | xii→

And lastly, a shout-out to a few of those who have provided consistent nourishment for my rock ‘n’ roll soul: Ray Davies, Marvin Gaye, John Lennon,...

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