Show Less
Restricted access

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.

The baby boomer generation is largely defined by two media revolutions: the beginning of the television industry in 1948 and the rise of the popular music industry starting in 1955 – the latter assisted by the ways in which radio, in the face of television’s cultural onslaught, was reinvented into a local and short-form medium for music promotion. Of course, much has been made of the consequence of television, while scholarly analyses of popular music's influence have been few and far between – something scholars like Gary Kenton find unfortunate and nearsighted and have sought to remedy. This book by Kenton, however, offers something more, and something no one has offered before. It is a superb, welcomed examination of the interrelationship between these two defining media of the boomer generation, but with emphasis on how popular music has impacted the boomers in a more pronounced and profound way than television ever did. -- Thom Gencarelli, co-editor of Baby Boomers and Popular Culture: An Inquiry Into America’s Most Powerful Generation and founding chair of the Communication Department at Manhattan College

Gary Kenton combines a rock journalist’s know-how with scholarly erudition in this engrossing study of the intersection of television and rock ‘n’ roll. His fascinating thesis is that when rock ‘n’ roll emerged in the 1950s, its presentation on American TV generated rock mania among teenagers and “rockaphobia” among adults, planting the seeds for the 1960s generation gap. Kenton fills a crucial hole in the literature, uncovering the roots of the “condescension and contempt” with which rock ‘n’ roll was depicted on TV, particularly in its portrayal of minority artists. Transmission and Transgression is a pioneering work of media ecology for anyone wanting to understand rock ‘n’ roll through the lens of the often-disapproving television camera. -- Parke Puterbaugh is a lifelong music journalist, former senior editor for Rolling Stone magazine and longtime consultant for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. His latest book is Phish: The Biography.

Jean Baudrillard rubs shoulders with Soupy Sales in Gary Kenton’s encyclopedic history and indictment of television’s emasculation of rock ‘n’ roll. Anyone who rushed home from school to watch American Bandstand, stayed up late to catch Midnight Special, or glommed onto MTV will revisit old memories in Transmission and Transgression, find new food for thought, and discover the missing link between Alan Freed and Andy Warhol. -- Ken Emerson, author of Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era and Doo Dah! Stephen Foster and the Rise of American Popular Culture