“The Twist” dance instruction from the liner notes of
Ray Charles's 1961 album, "Do the Twist!"

The Twist was a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia. The Twist succeeded, as politics, religion and law could never do, in writing in the heart and soul of what the Supreme Court could only write on the books. -Eldridge Cleaver, Soul on Ice Eldridge Cleaver, a prominent leader of the Black Panther Party, wrote these words in 1968, the epoch of Sixties unrest. Prior to being struck by this ghetto-launched missile, suburbia was a monument to the Fifties1 ethos of white separatism and domestic bliss,


Throughout this paper I will use the terms “Fifties” and “Sixties” not in correlation with their dates (1950– 1959, 1960-1969), but in reference to the cultural eras they tend to connote. The Fifties (also to be referred to as the postwar era and Cold War America) will be defined as 1945-1963, or World War II through the British Invasion. Thus, I may refer to an event that takes place in 1962 as occurring in the Fifties. The Sixties I define as 1964-1969, or the British Invasion through the Stonewall Riots. If, however, I use


typified on television by Cleavers of an entirely different sort. From the utopian vantage point of Beaver, Wally and June’s happy home, it seems the height of improbability that the postwar era would culminate in the dizzying turmoil and tantrums of 1968—the year the North Vietnamese launched the Tet Offensive, student protests became violent revolts, the Democratic convention witnessed an explosion of civic discontent and corresponding police brutality, Richard Nixon was elected President of the United States, race-riots ravaged the nation’s capitol, The Beatles released their fragmented masterpiece “The White Album,” and Martin Luther King Jr., Robert Kennedy and Andy Warhol were shot. Poised on the verge of pandemonium, the neo-Victorian mythology, which characterizes Fifties popular culture is a rather understandable effort at zeitgeist repudiation—but the momentum of “change” could not be derailed by denial, no matter how shrewdly it may have been marketed. Technological innovation was both cause and consequence of the twentieth century’s many political, cultural and social transformations. Extraordinary devices such as the airplane, radio and telephone exceeded the very limits of the human body, and in the postwar era, transcendence was manifest anew with the debut of the television. Gary Simpson, NBC’s Television Director, wrote in 1955: Mr. Public views that television set in his home as a 20th Century electronic monster than can transport him to the ball game, to Washington D.C., to the atomic blast in Nevada—and do it now. The viewer is inclined to accept it as his window to the world, as his reporter on what is happening now—simultaneously. The miracle of television is actually Man’s ability to see at a distance while the event is happening (Spigel 1992, 99). The prefix “tele” means “distance," and with the widespread availability of “distance-

“1950s” or “1960s”, then I am referring to the actual years within the decade.


vision” in the Fifties, the human body (particularly those bodies most confined within the domestic space) experienced the liberation of overcoming itself in this way for the first time. What would be seen through this “window to the world” from the perspective of television executives was determined by the basic inquiry: where was watching done, who would be watching, and when? The answers were clear enough: (mostly) middle-class suburbia, (generally) mom in the daytime, dad at night, and the kids after school. Todd Gitlin, former president of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), recalls “the electric subcurrent of the Fifties was above all rock ‘n’ roll, the live wire that linked and bedazzled teenagers around the nation” (1993, 37), and it wouldn’t take producers long to determine that rock ‘n’ roll should feature prominently in teen-geared afternoon programming. Correspondingly, sponsors didn’t fail to notice that teenage girls in particular were not only more likely to be home directly after school to help around the house, but they were more avid consumers generally and “responsible for the majority of record purchases” (Coates 2007, 70) in the early days of rock ‘n’ roll. American Bandstand’s girl-friendly dance party became an after school television staple, where regardless of the distance between giddy fans at home and the teenage dancers in South Philadelphia, in 1960, Bandstand was the forum where they all learned how to “twist."2 Cleaver goes on to explain, “The Twist was a form of therapy for a convalescing nation." [Dancers] came from every level of society, from top to bottom, writhing pitifully though gamely about the floor, feeling exhilarating and soothing new sensations, release from some unknown prison in which their Bodies had been encased, a sense
2 The Twist refers the song, the dance and the cultural phenomenon. Generally, when I speak of the Twist, I am gesturing towards all three simultaneously and will thus signify it as: the Twist. However, when specifically referring to the act of twisting, I will write: twist. When I am referring to the song alone, I will write: “The Twist”.


of freedom they had never known before, a feeling of communion with some mystical root-source of life and vigor, from which sprang a new appreciation of the possibilities of their Bodies. They were swinging and gyrating and shaking their dead little asses like petrified zombies trying to regain the warmth of life, rekindle the dead limbs, the cold ass, the stone heart, the stiff, mechanical, disused joints with the spark of life (1968, 100). That Americans danced the Twist at precisely this juncture in American history, “gyrating” on the temporal borderline between the 1950s and 1960s, was as much an expression of cultural transition as its impetus. The Twist was a subversive agent hidden within the American Bandstand Trojan horse, permitted into the supervised domestic realm through television. The show was both an indication and solicitation of postwar transformation, particularly that of racial justice and sexual liberation. In the Twist these cultural sea changes collided. As Cleaver’s vivid words attest, the Twist was a symbol of integration engaged first and foremost by the audience of American Bandstand: young, middle class, white women, who launched the Twist to the level of a national craze. While the Twist has since been relegated to the inglorious register of American kitsch, in the early 1960s, it was an enormous cultural phenomenon. Chubby Checker’s single “The Twist” shot to number one on the Billboard charts in 1960 and again in 1961, the first and only time a non-holiday song has enjoyed a number one slot twice. The dance became a sensation, prompting a “twist” genre unto itself, with songs like “Peppermint Twist” by Joey Dee and the Starliters, “Twist and Shout” by the Isley Brothers (and later the Beatles), “Let’s Twist Again” and “Slow Twisting” by Chubby Checker, “Dear Lady Twist” and “Twist, Twist Senora” by U.S. Bonds, “Twistin’ the Night Away” by Sam Cooke, “Percolator (Twist)” by Billy Joe and the Checkmates, “Soul Twist” by King Curtis and his Noble Knights, and “Twistin’ Postman” by the Marvelettes, to name just a few, all charting Billboards top 40 between 1960 and 1963. The Twist even made it to the big screen an 4

extraordinary four times with the feature films Don’t Knock the Twist, Hey, Let’s Twist!, Twist All Night and Twist Around the Clock, which all premiered in 1962 to (unsurprisingly) less than rave reviews. Twist consumerism was so fanatic that one could buy Twist-themed books, hats, rings, games, dolls, comic books and Vaseline, if one so desired—and quite a few did. Even Richard Nixon was hip to the Twist craze, promoting his California gubernatorial bid with the “Twisting Nixonettes." A centerpiece of any analysis of the Twist, then, must be an investigation of consumerism and mass culture—the specter of aesthetic-decay and political impotency to appalled highbrows and counterculturists since the Industrial Revolution. Few eras have been so despised for brazen mass-mediated conformity than Cold War America, virtually epitomized by American Bandstand’s sanitized pop music platform. Months prior to the Twist’s debut, cultural critic Dwight Macdonald claimed: Mass Culture is imposed from above. It is fabricated by technicians hired by businessmen; its audience are passive consumers, their participation limited to the choice between buying and not buying. The Lords of Kitsch, in short, exploit the cultural need if the masses in order to make a profit and/or to maintain their class rule (Gans 1999, 31). Despite Macdonald’s grim forecast, enthusiasm for the Twist surged alongside the formation of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), the founding of the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech, Betty Friedan's release of The Feminine Mystique, and the passage of the Equal Pay Act in Congress. There is, in other words, some disconnect between the supposed passive audience’s acquiescence to the maintenance of Macdonald’s “class rule," and the lived realities of the consuming public in the 1960s. As Thomas Frank notes, “the meaning of ‘the sixties’ cannot be considered apart from the enthusiasm of ordinary, suburban Americans for


cultural revolution. And yet that enthusiasm is perhaps the most problematic and the leaststudied aspect of the decade” (1997, 13). The Twist: A Feminist Genealogy of Postwar Dancing provides one account of how the border between the liberated Sixties and repressive Fifties is not as fixed as commonly presumed. This thesis is an attempt to expose the false cliché of Fifties lock-step conformity animating historical memory, and an assertion that, especially when it came to the lives of middle-class white women, it was not in spite, but because of TV programs like American Bandstand and consumerist fads like the Twist that the seeds of the Sixties took root. In the words of Walter Benjamin, “the wish images embedded in many popular culture products are important not because they are radicalizing in themselves, but because they engage a utopian impulse within the imagination” (Enstad 1999, 206-7). The principle question guiding this study is this: If the Second Wave Feminist Movement was comprised largely of middle-class white women in the late 1960s and throughout the 1970s, how might they have experienced pre-revolutionary impulses as young girls in the Fifties? From the vantage point of historical hearsay and popular mythology, the political development of Baby Boomer3 women appears to lack continuity. The Twist provides a link between the repressive attitudes imposed upon girls in the Fifties to the women demanding social change in the Sixties and beyond. In this thesis, I argue that this link is forged in the convergence of three principle characteristics of the Twist craze: consumer subjectivity, sexual liberation and racial mixing. I do not mean to suggest that the Twist was the only or most important link between the Fifties and Sixties, but it is a compelling account of how radical politics may have been

3 Typically defined as those born between 1946 and 1964.


smuggled into the hearts, minds and bodies of young women, under the vigilant supervision of often disapproving parents. In particular, I place a premium on the access to black culture and politics in the Fifties and Sixties, as quite possibly the most crucial impetus for the radicalization of young whites—men and women alike. Todd Gitlin claims, Without the civil rights movement, the beat and Old Left and bohemian enclaves would not have opened into a revived politics. Youth culture might have remained just that—the transitional subculture of the young, a rite of passage on the route to normal adulthood—had it not been for the revolt of black youth, disrupting the American celebration in ways no one had imagined possible. From expressing youthful difference, many of the alienated, though hardly all, leaped into a selfconscious sense of opposition (1993 83). It must be addressed at the outset that in this thesis I make little mention of women of color and working class women of all races. This should not suggest that I believe “woman” or “girl” does or ought to imply white, wealthy women and girls, nor that I believe working class women and women of color do not play an important role in the Twist's genealogy. Rather, I am asserting that where the Twist becomes problematic, and therefore subversive, is its impact on white bourgeois culture in the Fifties particularly where white femininity encounters the symbolism of black sexuality in rock ‘n’ roll music and dance. The taboos therein are familiar, and will be given treatment throughout this thesis, but it is my contention that the friction of this intersection in particular imbued the Twist with its radical characteristics. Chapter One of The Twist: A Feminist Genealogy of Postwar Dancing accounts for American Bandstand’s history and the shaping of its white, female, middle-class demographic in which the dance found an audience. The pre-history and social uses of the Twist in the Fifties conclude the first chapter, setting the foundation for the analyses to 7

follow. Chapter Two steps away from direct treatment of the Twist to focus on consumer subjectivity, the “gender” of mass culture and how women have often been marginalized in the narratives of rebellion. Here, a larger historical context will be constructed regarding the circumstances of suburbia’s rise in postwar America. Finally, Chapter Three demonstrates how the Twist was a subversive agent in the postwar era, particularly as a symbolic form of racial integration, and a force undermining the “culture of containment” in Cold War America. I will conclude Chapter Three with reflections on the legacy of the Twist in the Seventies. To focus an academic inquiry on instances of meaning production through cultural consumption is to concede a degree of imprecision. The subtleties of consumer desire, pleasure and resistance are impossible to prove conclusively. I therefore seek not to offer a definitive narrative, but partial accounts of how a certain consumer demographic—in this case, young, middle-class white women—navigates the symbolic terrain of “culture." This thesis is thus an attempt at “genealogy” defined by Michel Foucault as “an examination of descent [which] also permits the discovery, under the unique aspect of a trait or a concept, of the myriad events through which—thanks to which, against which—they were formed” (1977, 146). That is, a method of writing history resting more on subjective interpretation than objective fact and a circular rather than linear narrative with the intent to determine how converging attitudes and events shaped the Twist’s cultural resonance with women’s history in mind. Finally, this thesis is a counter-narrative resting on the belief that the binaries between consumer capitalism and radical politics, commerce and authenticity in art, and mass culture and rebellion, are gendered binaries. What counts as “radical," “authentic” and “rebellious” is


frequently defined in opposition to a consumerism coded as feminine and epitomized by cultural products like American Bandstand. In the Fifties, bridges to radicalism were forged by young whites who assumed the symbolism of black marginalization through not only political discourses, but cultural ones— in particular rock ‘n’ roll music. These aforementioned binaries, however, deny the “capacity of popular music to transmit, disseminate, and render visible ‘black’ meanings, precisely because of, and not in spite of, its industrial forms of production, distribution, and consumption" (Ross 1989, 71). The Twist exposes the crucial affiliation between consumerism, black culture and women’s liberation in bringing radicalism to the mainstream -- in making counter-culture, culture at large.


Chapter 1 American Bandstand and the Twist Abstract:

In this chapter I will show that American Bandstand’s audience, and therefore the primary audience for the Twist, was young, white women. I will then examine the changing class and racial markings of the Twist by comparing it to twist dancing in the Ragtime era, demonstrating that the growth of the “mass market” undermines class signification in consumption, which allows for the wide dissemination of otherwise taboo commodities. Finally, I will show that as the first widespread parnterless social dance, the Twist disrupted heteronormative courtship rituals in dancing.

American Bandstand my hand a cat o nine tails on every tip of which was Clearasil I was worried because Dick Clark had told the camera man not to put the camera on me during the dance parts of the show because my skirts were too tight -Bill Knott, "And Other Travels" (1974) In his essay on postmodern literature and television, David Foster Wallace notes that “this stanza appears in [Knott’s] poem without anything you'd normally call context or support, it is in fact self-supported by a reference we all, each of us, immediately get, conjuring up as it does with Bandstand ritualized vanity, teenage insecurity, the management of spontaneous moments. It is the perfect pop image” (1997, 46). Wallace’s murky read of this teenage consumerist exhibition, the perfect pop image, stirs up a visual-equivalent to a pithy Warholism—at once resonant and banal. Wallace is right to presume that (I’ll amend) many of us “immediately get” Knotts’ reference, but it’s a strange truism to be conjured up by the mind of David Foster Wallace, 10

the tragic hero of Generation X. Perhaps it is precisely Wallace’s distance from the Bandstand era that provides him an ideal vantage point to theorize the odd phenomenon of teenage dance programs, transmitted to him from the Fifties through a ubiquity of portals familiar to the mass-culturally literate. The overripe nostalgia of American Bandstand retrospectives or (as is increasingly likely) ironical self-deprecation has crept insidiously into the fabric of pop iconography. Warping further into self-parody with each passing year, Dick Clark’s toothy-grin certainly does its part to tip the scales with regard to Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Newton Minow’s famous 1961 “Vast Wasteland” speech: Ours has been called the jet age, the atomic age, the space age. It is also, I submit, the television age. And just as history will decide whether the leaders of today’s world employed in the atom to destroy the world or rebuild it for mankind’s benefit, so will history decided whether today’s broadcasters employed their powerful voice to enrich the people or debase them. Debasement it is. If one were to derive his or her assessment from the musicological discourse surrounding the program today, American Bandstand seems to have rolled over anything that might be identified as “enrichment of the people" like a bulldozer. Popular music critics variously regard Bandstand as “a commercially viable ersatz” (Altschuler 2003, 176), generating “bland, soulless music” (Coates 2007, 69), written by “bored, middle-aged studio musicians” (Shaw 1980, 97), peddled to “shrill, screaming teenage fans” with a “dangerous lack of discrimination” (George 1988, 92) by Dick Clark, who ought to be nominated as “the heir to Satan’s throne” (Weinstein 1999, 60). Almost uniformly, American Bandstand is seen to have ushered in the inglorious era of “schlock rock” that furnishes the space between the mid-Fifties rock ‘n’ roll renaissance and the Sixties’ British Invasion with a catalog of cultural artifacts that may well be described as, at best: embarrassing; and at 11

worst: racist.1 It is not easy thing to defend American Bandstand and its artistic contributions, but critics’ sneering dismissals deserve a closer read in light of Norma Coates’ observation that the worst of all Bandstand’s offenses seems to be that “it was primarily aimed at girls” (2007, 69). Indeed, most of the scornful Bandstand rhetoric is unambiguously cast in gendered terms. Rock historian Jim Dawson summarizes the Bandstand formula in observing: [Clark] found it more convenient to spotlight local talent (which was rarely rock-androll) and more profitable to appeal to the softer segment of his audience, the ones who bought most 45-RPM records: young girls, characterized by writer Greg Shaw as ‘the ones in the suburbs who wanted big fluffy candy-colored images of male niceness on which to focus their pubescent dreams.’ This pandering to adolescent feminine tastes, coupled with Clark’s unprecedented power to turn a catchy record into a national sensation with only a few spins, brought about through unnatural selection what amounted to the degeneration of rock and roll into a safe, homogenized, easily digested curd, free of black or hillbilly regionalisms, performed either by wavyhaired, sparking-toothed Adonises in white sweaters or polite, light-skinned young blacks dressed up like bible salesmen (1995, 18). Bandstand’s success was built on the creed of white-bread conformity, notable for its ability to appeal to the feminized “mass market,” making Bandstand’s home, Philadelphia, something of a rock 'n' roll testing sample for the entire country. Between 1960 and 1963 it was a rule of thumb that if a record didn’t catch on with the Bandstand fans in Philly, it wouldn’t turn a profit anywhere. Conversely, if a record hadn’t gotten national distribution prior to its premier on American Bandstand, belligerent phone requests from Bandstand fans in neglected regions forced local DJs to obtain a copy to meet market demands (Gillett 1970,

1 The 1960-1963 era of highly commercialized rock ‘n’ roll, is noted for featuring many white covers of black
tracks. This period, with the help of American Bandstand, succeeded in coding rock as “white”, severing it from its black roots, which have only fairly recently been firmly re-established in rock ‘n’ roll histories.


207). It’s little wonder that girl-culture icon Phil Spector would regard Philadelphia to be “the most insane, most dynamic, the most beautiful city in the history of rock ‘n’ roll” (Jackson 1997, 41)—for the stretch of Bandstand’s market dominance, Spector’s sound was at the helm of a mechanized, unapologetically profit-oriented musical period where professional songwriters, lyricists and producers collaborated with the myopic intention of opening up young girls’ swooning hearts (and purses) to the teenage fantasies they were hawking. Yet it was due to this pandering to the masses that American Bandstand became a crucial platform for the distribution of rock ‘n’ roll in the early 1960s. Its candy-coated, reliably sanitized brand of pop music provided girls with unprecedented access to the stilltaboo music fresh on the heels of the 1950s, when rock ‘n’ roll (or as it was known until 1954, “Race Music” 2) was still treacherous cultural terrain. Dick Clark chaperoned a musical forum that “Mom and Dad could watch from home, along with the clergy, the media, the sexually uptight, and so on, if not with perfect ease, then at least with a great deal less discomfort than before” (Martin and Seagrave 1988, 107-8). Bandstand enabled the participation of young, white, suburban girls for whom more overt engagement with rock ‘n’ roll culture, as a symbolic catch-all for juvenile delinquency, liberal sexuality and Afroprimitivism had been limited if not prohibited on so-called moral grounds. It therefore has the flair of literature that Philadelphia’s original version of Bandstand

2 Legendary DJ Alan Freed called his New York WINS radio show "Rock and Roll Party," having used the term on and off between 1952 and 1954. In ’54 Freed began opening his show by saying “Hello, everybody, yours truly, Alan Freed, the old kind of rock and rollers, all ready for another big night of rockin’ and rollin’, let ‘er go! Welcome to the Rock and Roll Party number one!” (Giorando 2007, 137). Thereafter more or less, “Race Music” became “Rock ‘n’ Roll.”


premiered on ABC local affiliate television in 1952—the same year that Congress created the House Subcommittee on Legislative Oversight to investigate morals of radio and TV. Hosted by popular local DJ, Bob Horn, Bandstand invited local teenagers (aged 14 to 18) from the surrounding South Philadelphia Catholic high schools to come to the studio and dance to their favorite records. The idea for Bandstand was more utilitarian than inspiration: the teen dance formula was inexpensive and required little scripting or production to fill the afternoon hours before ABC’s national primetime programming aired. On the local level, Bandstand was nothing short of a phenomenon, with 1,500 teenagers lined up outside the WFIL-TV station hoping to get to dance the first day of its broadcast.3 The lucky few who made it on the show were launched into the glamorous world of regional celebrity as figureheads of a program that swiftly established itself as the centerpiece of teenage afternoons. Given Bandstand’s easy success, along with that of several teen dance programs across the nation, including the Clay Cole Show in New York and the Buddy Deane Show in Baltimore (the inspiration of John Waters’ 1988 film Hairspray!), it was poised after a few trial years to go national. Dick Clark, a relatively unknown adult-contemporary pop disc jockey, was cast to take the cherubic Horn’s place when the latter had worn out his Bandstand welcome after a number of unprosecuted crimes (possibly of the urban-myth variety), which included drunk driving, statutory rape of a sixteen-year-old Bandstand dancer and, most damningly from the point of view of producers, a face for radio. With a photogenic Clark at its helm, Bandstand

3 Producers had to form two lines, one for boys and one for girls, so that there would be an equal representation of each gender admitted into the studio. The reason for this was that eager girls far outnumbered the boys wanting to be on the show. This practice appears not to have been adhered to strictly under Clark’s reign, judging from the conspicuously uneven ratio of girls to boys in later Bandstand years.


became American Bandstand on August 5, 1957. The show was broadcast from Philadelphia for ninety minutes Tuesday through Friday afternoons from 3:00 to 4:30 and on Monday nights from 7:30 to 8:00. At the height of its popularity American Bandstand aired on over 105 TV stations, reaching 20 million viewers. As distributing popular music had been the charge of local DJs prior to Bandstand’s leap to national television, the paramount cultural contribution of American Bandstand was the centralization of the popular music market. With the exception of single television appearances, such as Elvis Presley’s watershed 1956 performances on the Milton Bearle and Ed Sullivan shows, never before had the commercial success of popular music been generated by such a monolithic top-down distributional model. Prior to what might be characterized as Bandstand’s musicological fascism, radio DJs used to offer the specialized services of their taste to the local market, for whom recordings were theoretically discerningly selected.4 From the early 1960s onwards, however, DJs were slated with the unskilled task of meeting demands of their consumers, who wanted to hear on the radio what they saw the kids dance to that afternoon on TV. In the Warholian tradition of looking to audio/visual media to be told “what to do, how to do it, when to do it, how to feel about it, and how to look how you feel about it,” (Bockris 2003, 56) teenagers across the country saw Bandstand

4 This, of course, was not always the case. The payola investigations of 1959 and 1960 prosecuted rock music DJs for accepting money from record companies in exchange for their endorsement and promotion. Though this had been a commonplace transaction since the early twentieth century, the Charles Van Doren scandal on NBC’s game show Twenty-One, (whereby Van Doren had been supplied answers ahead of time by producers to keep rating up), fueled consumer indignation towards the manipulation of the entertainment industry, and rock ‘n’ roll in particular, amid suspicions that the only reason rock music could’ve ever become so popular was by some such manipulation. Oscar Hammerstein, a member of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), claims, “there seems to be something funny to me that [rock ‘n’ roll] songs have been so popular,” (Szatmary 1987, 59). A great deal of DJs, including Dick Clark and Alan Freed, went before the House Special Committee on Legislative Oversight, resulting (for some) in public disgrace. Clark emerged more or less unscathed, but Freed’s career was destroyed.


as a crucial cultural resource. The rather arbitrary cast of Philadelphia teenagers became pop icons, role models, trendsetters and, perhaps most importantly—dance instructors. For its many influences on postwar culture, it remains the case that American Bandstand was first and foremost a dance show. The popularity of American Bandstand with young women in particular is not at all surprising considering the primacy of dance in the expressive and physical development of young women. This is not to suggest that men do not derive pleasure from social dance, but dance has long been a feature of youth subculture in which women and girls have had disproportionate impact and visibility. The reasons for this may be that dance is considered a “suitably feminine” pastime, as it is typically connected with discipline, grace and courtship rituals, but as Angela McRobbie points out, “this conformist role does not deny the way dance carries enormously pleasurable qualities for girls and women which frequently seem to suggest a displaced, shared and nebulous eroticism " (1984, 134). Beverly Bragg, (a featured personality on Bandstand) recalls her early impulse to dance: I was sitting in my bedroom flipping through the radio stations and I came across a black radio station in Philadelphia called WDAS and this music was different. I remember my feeling was that you just wanted to get up and dance. You felt it. You could feel it. You felt it in your soul. It was the kind of music that you felt, and you internalized and your body just went with it. And teenagers all over were having the same kind of experience (Mann, 1992). Paradoxically, Bragg’s portrait of subjectivity, “nebulous eroticism” and mesmeric spontaneity in rock ‘n’ roll dance would mark a shared teenage desire animating Bandstand’s significant impact in social dance: its standardization. Bandstand muted the heterogeneity of regional dance styles, supplanting them with nationally disseminated trends in much of the same way it streamlined the nationwide 16

popularity of radio hits. Whereas once social dances would spread organically through individualistic expression in response to new popular music, or the mutation of traditions within dancehalls, American Bandstand dancers or pop singers introduced new dances,5 demonstrated them to the audience, and instantaneously sparked a national “dance fad.” “[This] process was most clearly demonstrated in the vast publicity attached to the ‘twist,'” claims music historian Charlie Gillett who goes on to point out that for some, the Twist may be rightly seen as “an innovation as important as rock ‘n’ roll” (1970, 208).

The Rise of the Twist The Twist was American Bandstand’s biggest cultural export and one of the most successful dance crazes in history. Though the Twist was popularized in 1960 by a Philadelphia impersonation artist, Earnest Evans (nicknamed “Chubby Checker” in homage to Fats Domino), it was originally a 1958 B-side single from Detroit’s Hank Ballard and the Heartbreakers. Ballard built something of a reputation on his raunchy, poorly veiled doublespeak,6 which posed a problem for dollar-driven Clark. The song had the makings of a hit, but Clark was well aware that Ballard wasn’t likely to photograph well alongside the dreamy mugs of Frankie Avalon and Bobby Rydell. Coming from Ballard, “The Twist” sounded nasty.

5 This is not to say the Bandstand dancers innovated the dances they presented. Often dances on American Bandstand were taught to the white kids on the program by black kids who lived nearby in South Philadelphia. Jimmy Peatross, a dancer on Bandstand who introduced the popular dance “The Strand” claims, “we had to say we made it up on the air…we weren’t allowed to say that the black people taught us.” Petross went on to assert that Dick Clark had to hire bodyguards to protect Bandstand dancers from the rightfully indignant black community (Mann, 1992). 6 Ballard’s most famous record was the R&B hit “Work with me Annie” (1954). “Work,” in certain contexts, was a well-known euphemism for sex in the postwar black communities of Detroit.


“The Twist wasn’t nasty when you did it?” filmmaker Ron Mann asked Chubby Checker for his 1992 documentary, Twist. “Nothing’s nasty when I do it,” replied Checker. “I make everything nice.” Even Ballard concedes, “If Chubby hadn’t recorded that record, it wouldn’t be as big as it is today, that’s for sure” (Mann, 1992). The Twist underwent a feminized makeover, with apple-cheeked Chubby Checker stepping in for the more explicitly sexual Ballard, providing audiences with the “male niceness” so crucial to the success of most of Bandstand’s biggest stars. Checker was hardly what one would call a “teen idol,” but his teddy-bear image veiled what may otherwise have been the more overt sexual and racial7 undertones of dancing the Twist, effectively taking the song to the astonishing heights of its heavily merchandised success and widespread popularity. John Fiske claims that in order for something to be “popular”, “cultural commodities have to meet quite contradictory needs” (1998, 28). The more consumer projections a commodity can receive, or perceived needs it is able to meet, the more the public can “pluarlize the meanings and pleasures it offers, evade or resist its disciplinary efforts, fracture its homogeneity and coherence, raid or poach upon its terrain” (1998, 28). Considering the many uses it was put to, the Twist, it seems, was virtually up for grabs. Marshall Fishwick, Professor of American Studies at Washington and Lee University called the Twist “a valid manifestation of the Age of Anxiety; an outward manifestation of the anguish, frustration, and uncertainty of the 1960s; an effort to release some tension

7 In Chapter Three I will expand upon “relative blackness”. Though both Check and Ballard are ethnically black, Checker is often regarded as effectively “white”.


which, if suppressed and buried, could warp and destroy” (Giorando 2007, 58). From Eldridge Cleaver’s point of view, the Twist was a method of integration, which gave “back to middle-class whites their bodies” (Buxton 1990, 432) Cultural historian Charles Panati observes that "from the standpoint of social dance [the Twist] was important for two reasons: It was the first dance strictly for the individual and not for the couple, and it was the first dance of the rock era to cross the generation gap from teen to trendy adult" (Giorando 2007, 187). Dr. Joost A. M. Meerlo, Associate in Psychaiatry at Columbia University claims "the dance craze is the infantile rage and outlet of our actual world" (Frith 1996, 130). Finally, as Dick Clark himself explains, the Twist’s popularity “didn’t have so much to do with the dance itself as much as the fact that everybody was dancing it” (Giorando 2007, 189; emphasis mine), which is to say: it was popular because it was popular. Precisely why something becomes a “fad” or a “craze” cannot be fully known, but it remains an important point of socio-historical inquiry. “The passion we feel for our fads is as strong as patriotism, or mother love,” observes sociologist Rolf Meyersohn, adding, this passion “is an authentic feeling, a real feeling, something to be taken seriously” (Skolnik et al. 1978, 1). Fads speak to a shared consumer desire unconfined by the rules of market segmentation, which otherwise indicate social, cultural, or economic affiliation. Though there will be further analysis on mass culture to come, it is important to first note that the Twist was not always in this charmed position within consumer capitalism. In an earlier incarnation, the “twist” was without Bandstand’s stamp of mass-market approval, and consequently occupied a far different social location in the American cultural landscape.

The Prehistory of the Twist 19

Doing the “twist” was a central feature of Ragtime dancing (known also as “new” dancing, “tough” dancing, “animal” dancing, “half-time” dancing, “coon” dancing and “nigger” dancing), which peaked in the United States in 1898, and again in 1917. A precursor to Jazz, Ragtime music originated in African American communities in the late nineteenth century and was one of the earliest instances of racial expropriation in American popular culture. Early civil rights leader James Weldon Johnson writes, The first of the so-called Ragtime songs to be published were actually Negro secular folk songs that were set down by white men, who affixed their own names as composers. In fact, before the Negro succeeded fully in establishing his title as creator of his secular music the form was taken away from him and made national instead of racial. It has been developed into distinct musical idiom by which America expresses itself popularly, and by which it is known universally (Berlin 1980, 6). Ragtime coincided with “new technical means of mass music communication (recordings and piano rolls) and a vastly expanded publishing industry” making it “possible to introduce trends on a nationwide basis, creating a degree of national homogeneity” (Berlin 1980, 32), and wrest it somewhat from its black roots to be “sold” to urban—predominantly immigrant—audiences. Ragtime numbers rested upon the model of lyrical dance directives in the same format of postwar dance instruction songs. Among the more popular ragtime hits was the unaccredited “Ballin’ the Jack,” which explains: First you put your tow knees close tight Then you sway ‘em to the left, Then you sway ‘em to the right Step around the floor kind of nice and light Then you twis’ around and twis’ around with all your might (George-Graves 2008, 59). Suggestions of “twisting” also litter Jelly Roll Morton’s “Winin’ Boy Blues” in which he 20

sings, "mama, mama, why look at siss, she's out on the levee doin' the doggoned twist" (George-Graves 2008, 55). Perry Bradford’s “Messin’ Around,” Clarence ‘Pine Top’ Simith’s “Pine Top’s Boogie Woogie,” Jim Clark’s “Fat Fanny Stomp,” The New Orleans Owls’ “New Twister,” and “The Baltimore,” to name just a few, all similarly lyrically command their listeners to “twist.” A striking parallel between twist dancing in Ragtime and the Twist in the 1960s is that both were periods of heightened racial mixing—the former coinciding with the Great Migration and the latter with the Civil Rights Movement. As dance critic Sally Banes notes, "[d]uring the course of the twentieth century the dance instruction song consistently reemerged in times of heightened racial consciousness or change…as a subtle component of an ongoing struggle between black and white America that includes provisional and partial reconciliations" (2007, 127).8 The dance instruction song mediated racial mixing (or appropriation) with the disembodied authority of a song lyric commanding that black and white bodies move the same way—a preemptive act anticipating and structuring the inevitable fusion of cultures and races. Certainly this kind of lyrical containment would take on further significance given the parallel anxieties about sex and gender in both the Ragtime and postwar periods. Condoms became widely available in the late nineteenth century with the invention of vulcanized rubber in 1843, offering accessibility to birth control previously unseen. The significance of this innovation was usurped only by the invention of the birth control pill in 1960—the year of “The Twist’s” debut.

8 This “mediation” was not without conflict and resistance on both sides. Thelonious Monk, one of the founding fathers of bebop, has said of the genre, "we're going to create something they can't steal because they can't play it," (Ross 1989, 68) casting the dance instruction song genre of Ragtime and the early '60s in direct conflict with Monk’s separatist design.


Further, there was a tremendous population boom in the Ragtime era, whereby the number of people in the United States tripled between 1880 and 1910 from 14 to 42 million. This was mostly due to the influx of European immigrants who typically depended on the income their sons and daughters working in urban industrial centers brought home, prompting a surge of young women to enter the job market. While these young women worked long hours for meager wages, they nevertheless enjoyed an extraordinary level of autonomy as new cultural and social centers such as theatres, movies, amusement parks and shopping strips catered to the consumerist desires of the “New Woman”—a modern, independent and public agent. Historian Nan Enstad observes, “working women’s public mobility allowed them to enact public subjectivities within consumer culture” (1999, 163), and reciprocally, spaces of consumerism enabled women’s public mobility. Dancehalls were a major public recreation center for these urban women and by 1910, there were over 500 commercial dance halls catering to them throughout Manhattan (Peiss 1987, 88). Dancehalls were important urban fixtures providing young women with an enclosed space to engage in after work recreation, because they were considered somewhat less morally unsound than alternative street cultures. It is unsurprising then, that when it came to Ragtime dance, “young women took the lead” (Savage 2007, 125). This considerable degree of autonomy and freedom for young women laboring in urban centers in the early twentieth century was not without a reactionary bourgeois counterpart, which hurried to quarantine their daughters in the private sphere from such behavior, deviant for being (amongst other things) unmistakably working class. Catherine Beecher’s Victorian household guide, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, secured its place as a foundational middle-class domestic guide in the alongside the industrial growth of urban 22

cities. In her chapter on “Domestic Amusements” Beecher warns that recreational activities within the household are to “prepare the mind and body for the proper discharge of duty,” and anything interfering with this “must be sinful” (Spigel 1992,14-15). Lynn Spigel notes,“at the heart of [Beecher’s] advice was a clear distinction between domestic and public amusements. Dancing, for example, was an activity that would have been associated with dance halls and brothels” (1992, 15). Beecher writes, “even if parents, who train their children to dance can keep them from public balls (which is seldom the case), dancing in private parlors is subject to nearly all the same mischievous influences,” (Spigel 1992, 15) making it clear that it was not the context of dancing, but the dance itself that needed to be suppressed within the bourgeois domestic sphere. In other words, what happens “out there” (the brothels and dancehalls) must not be permitted “in here” (the middle-class home). Beecher and her readers were enforcing borders that, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries could still be identified and policed; borders that postwar mass media would not just traverse, but destroy. The Twist, Class and Subversive Uses The crucial difference between twisting in the Ragtime era, and the Twist on Bandstand was class—or lack thereof. Although Ragtime was an early instance of massculture, it still fell within the discernible boundaries of class. The young women who twist danced to Ragtime music in urban centers were predominantly working class immigrants, whose “respectability” was compromised (in the view of bourgeois Anglo-Saxon society) by the very circumstances of their birth. In the postwar era, however, the sheer uniformity of mass-culture by way of streamlined industrialization and undiscriminating media apparatuses 23

such as the television left the affluent middle class “uncertain how to express their new status” (Doris 1999, 13) through expressive commodities. Popular culture was displaced from class coding and the American populous was increasingly displaced from class disparity itself. In postwar America, there was for the first time a middle class large enough to constitute a “mass”. Postwar cultural critic Dwight Macdonald describes this process with the term “Masscult”: Like the early capitalism Marx and Engels described in The Communist Manifesto, Masscult is a dynamic, revolutionary force, breaking down the old barriers of class, tradition and taste, dissolving all cultural distinctions. It scrambles everything together, producing what might be called homogenized culture…the process destroys all values, since value judgments require discrimination, an ugly word in liberaldemocratic America. Masscult is very, very democratic, it refuses to discriminate against or between anything or anybody. All is the grist to its mill and comes out finely ground indeed (2007, 209).

The conformity that Macdonald derides takes on a double significance with the Twist, as it is not just distributed through the standardized medium of television, but in “doing the Twist” its consumers become physically synchronized. This bears a similarity to sociologist Siegfried Kracauer’s conception of the “mass ornament” whereby girls who dance in large choreographed formations mirror the capitalist production process in which “everyone does his or her task on the conveyor belt” (1995, 78). Yet, as previously mentioned, in this regulation of what may otherwise be spontaneous movements, the dance instruction song

9 Andy Warhol would also find mass culture democratic, though with a decidedly (and predictably) more approving spin: “What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking...All of this is really American” (1977, 100-101).


anticipates and mediates potential problems (racial, sexual or otherwise) that may arise from the perceived racial and sexual symbolism of shaking one’s ass, operating as a licensing agent for the taboo movements the Twist requires. Like another fad of the postwar era, the Hula Hoop, the Twist mechanized the act of provocatively moving the hips, releasing the dancer or hooper of his or her “culpability”. In the case of young girls whose chastity was often vigilantly guarded, this license to dance was an important tactic of sexual expression in rock ‘n’ roll culture. As Lawrence Grossberg explains, “in [rock ‘n’ roll’s] resurrecting of the body as the site of pleasure, in the ways it makes space for and inserts the female body and voice into its physical and social environment, it may challenge hegemonic constraints on sexuality, desire, and even gender construction” (1990, 116). Another important aspect of the Twist phenomenon is the fact that one dances the Twist alone. While there certainly have been dances that involve “breaking away” from one’s partner such as the Lindy Hop (also known as the Jitterbug), the Texas Tommy, and the Charleston, the Twist at no point requires an actual partner be present. In terms of the popular meaning production this feature invites, gender and sexuality are paramount. While it is clear that the majority of Bandstand watchers were girls, there is also reason to believe a significant portion of American Bandstand’s audience was comprised of their mothers. ABC issued a press release in 1957 to affiliate stations airing American Bandstand, alerting them to the appeal of the program to housewives (presumably to spike the price of advertising domestic products on commercial breaks) and on air Clark unabashedly implored the “housewives” who were watching to “roll up the ironing board and join us when you can” (Jackson 1997, 69). Given nine-to-five schedule of most white-collar employees (in the 25

“model” Fifties family, the husbands), housewives were without dance partners, making solo dancing crucial to their full participation with the program. Partnerless dancing would also take on political significance within the queer community. Dance historian Tim Lawrence points out that “the Twist emerged along with the first discotheques in New York City at the beginning of the 1960s” (2008, 201), one of many urban centers where men prohibited by law to dance together. “If dancing is an articulation of the wider world,” Lawrence writes, “the history of social dance in the United States has been intertwined with the shifting yet resilient practice of patriarchal heterosexuality” (Lawrence 2008, 200). The Twist made it possible to overcome the heterosexual courtship ritual implicit in social dance, not only liberating homosexuals from possible legal repercussions for their supposed transgressions, but also liberating social dance itself from a heteronormative premise.10 By resurrecting the body as a “site for pleasure” in dancing alone to rock ‘n’ roll music which is seen to trigger displaced, “nebulous eroticism”, the Twist was the first widespread autoerotic social dance and marks the decisive end of formalized partner dancing to popular music. With Chubby Checker crooning to his audience, “C’mon baby, let’s do the Twist” through their radios and televisions, no prohibition from dancehalls, enforced segregation, bigoted laws, curfew or isolation could intervene in the sensual pleasures of dance, nor stop the rock ‘n’ roll party happening every afternoon on TV, in the living room.

10 The Twist would be so central to pre-Stonewall gay club culture that Lawrence hypothesizes the widespread closing of many gay clubs in metropolitan areas prior to the rise of Disco was due to the declining popularity of the Twist in the late 1960s.


Conclusions Through the mass-distribution made possible by TV and the popularity of American Bandstand, the Twist reached consumers to whom it may have otherwise remained obscure or forbidden. Though American Bandstand, girl culture and the Twist, are dismissed in most popular music histories for being emblems of conformity, “white washing”, and mindless consumerism, they were crucial points of access for an female audience that had been excluded from earlier manifestations of rock ‘n’ roll—then known as “the devil’s music”. In this light, the mocking rock critics who nominate Dick Clark as “heir to Satan’s throne” (Weinstein 1999, 60) are not so far off the mark. However, from the perspective of his loyal viewers in the Fifties, Clark was not so much Satanic—as Virgilian.


Chapter 2 Cold War America, Mass Culture and Counterculture Abstract:

In this chapter I will step away from direct treatment of the Twist to set up larger historical and cultural contexts in which the dance found its audience. After covering the history of postwar suburbia, I will explore girls’ patterns of consumption and how anti-mass media and counterculture discourses position their dissent against “the feminine consumer”. Finally, I hope to prove that it is through mass media and consumerism that rebellion was possible not only for the counterculturists, but for supposedly conformist suburban white girls.

Postwar America and the Suburban Exodus “It is the peculiar triumph of society—and its loss—that it is able to convince people to whom it has given inferior status of the reality of this decree,” wrote James Baldwin in 1955. We take our shape, it is true, within and against that cage of reality bequeathed to us at our birth; and yet it is precisely through our dependence on this reality that we are most endlessly betrayed. Society is held together by our need; we bind it together with legend, myth, coercion, fearing that without it we will be hurled into that void, within which…the foundations of society are hidden (1955, 18). Baldwin’s stirring essay on the “protest novel” in his postwar collection Notes of a Native Son rails against the niceties of American culture for the refusal to confront its moral ambiguity in the mid-Fifties, a position sharply in focus for Baldwin as one of the preeminent voices of black America. Though Baldwin’s indignation is triggered by protest literature, he is referring to Fifties media in general when he calls it “a mirror of our confusion, dishonesty, panic, trapped and immobilized in the sunlit prison of the American dream” (1955, 17). Postwar popular culture is, in a word, misleading. It is apt for Baldwin to make these observations in the climate of Cold War America,


with its most widely circulated cultural artifacts loaded with eager smiles and affected geewhizzery—a desperate play at innocence that veers so drastically from postwar social and political realities, it has the look and feel of sinister parody. But then, popular culture makes no truth claims, and oftentimes it is precisely against difficult realities that a culture is erected, or, in Baldwin’s estimation, set as a trap for our collective panic. The 1950s are breathlessly situated just on the other side of two World Wars, totalitarian genocide, and the monstrous spectacle of the atomic bomb. Domestically, the American imagination was panicked on the visceral edge of nuclear annihilation, morbidly preparing for a man-made apocalypse beneath school desks, while a political reckoning was fomenting in the increasingly politicized Black Church and Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt was in full swing. The storms of the Sixties were brewing and the instinct to take cover within the fortress of “home” drove a corresponding impulse to secure its borders. From the turn of the twentieth century, industrialization, urbanization, the Great Depression, and World Wars I and II have variously destabilized the ideal of the “traditional home” necessitating the labor of young women and mothers in the public sphere. Given the affluence and comparative placidity of the 1950s, a growing middle class “invested an enormous amount of cultural capital in the ability to form a family and live out of a set of highly structured gender roles” (Spigel 1992, 2).1 This reinvestment was shored up by the era’s extraordinary population boom, in which 78.2 million babies were born between 1946 and 1962. Further, Americans enjoyed an economic surge that enabled the return of a patriarchal “family wage” to coax women into a stabilizing role within what was increasingly
1 This is not to say that Fifites women were “in the home” nearly as much as is typically presumed. Between 1940 and 1960, the number of working women doubled (Rosen 2000, 19), and “by 1955, more women worked in the labor force than had during World War II” (Rosen 2000, 19). As I will expand upon later, this fact does not preclude the imposition of an ideal to the contrary.


likely to be a suburban home.2 Encouraged by an artful brew of development legislation,3 85 percent of all new housing was built on the periphery of central cities between 1946 and 1958 and was promptly filled with middle-class families in white-flight from not only the velocity of urban growth in the postwar boom, but the maelstrom of terrifying changes that had so far constituted the Greatest Generation’s embattled foundation. The suburban concept “was a consensus ideology, promising practical benefits like security and stability to people who had witnessed the shocks and social dislocations of the previous two decades” (Spigel 1992, 2) and wanted, at long last, to escape them. In this sense, the exodus to the suburbs wasn’t just a physical mass relocation, but an attempt at a temporal one. Fifties suburbia was built upon the collective fantasy of a return to innocence circulated largely by mass media advertisements and television programming that operated as promotional agents for “ideologies which naturalize class and gender identities” (Sharpe and Wallock 1994, 20) blissfully outside, beyond or before the harsh realities characterizing the decade’s prelude. Fantasies of “simpler times” mapped outside of city limits signaled “the fundamental values underlying [suburban] life … [which] include the belief in female subordination, class stratification, and racial segregation” (Sharpe and Wallock 1994, 56).4 These “values” were enforced by the supposed moral leverage of a

2 The economic boom lasted from 1945 to 1973, and was the longest in American history. (Gitlin 1987, 12) The gross national product rose from $213 billion to $503 billion in the 1950s and the personal per capita income increased from $1,526 in 1950, to $2,788 in 1960 (Szatmary 1987, 54). 3 Including the Housing Act of 1949 (providing contractors financial incentives to construct single-family suburban homes), the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1956 (which funded 41,000 miles of interstate roads), and the GI Bill providing mortgage loans to veterans. 4 Leerom Medovoi writes, “the suburban home relocated the worker both physically and imaginatively at a distance from the site of production, where worker consciousness might be nourished; in its stead, it offered


return to quasi-Victorianism, with prudishly regulated social scripts of familial and marital bliss that seem to have rested upon the logic of “fake-it-till-you-make-it.” In the Fifties, suburbia had every look and feel of a conspiratorial project forging a “strange completion” of “the Puritan utopia of a ‘city upon a hill’…in the flat-lands of the American suburb” (Gitlin 1987, 14) a new lease on the future by a return to the past—the utopia of a blank canvas upon which to project desirable, if dishonest, images. “In the suburb one might live and die without marring the image of the innocent world,” writes Lewis Mumford, describing suburbia as “asylum for the preservation of illusion” (Nicolades 1996, 88). These illusions found no greater propagandist than FCCregulated television networks, which were “crucial dispensers of America’s master idea of itself,” reassuring Americans that their postwar affluence bespoke “a common destiny” (Gitlin, 1995, 64). Between 1948 and 1955, televisions appeared in two-thirds of American households—an unsurprising acquisitional rush given the fact that the suburban middle-class was newly displaced from urban recreations and quite frankly needed something to do. The sheer isolation of suburbia made the task of passing time a central drama in the lives of those most marooned within the domestic sphere and in light of this, one might say the psychological survival of the Friedanian housewife presupposed the television. It is a mistake to presume that all women were listlessly trapped at home in the 1950s but “even while married women increasingly took jobs outside the home, popular media typically glorified the American housewife/mother who tended to her family on a full-time basis,” (Spigel 1992, 33) leveraging at least the ideal of the model matriarch on a generation

an environment that reorganized life around the pleasures of private consumption” (Medovoi 2005, 18). Furthermore, Blacks, Latinos and Asians were kept out of the suburbs through tactics such as “readlining” (the discriminatory practice of denying services by banks and the Federal Housing Administration) and racially restrictive covenants.


of women already participating in a highly self-conscious social makeover.5 Where women of the Greatest Generation chose not, or were unable, to live up to the pristine image of postwar normative femininity (suffering from a “problem with no name”), the opportunity to secure success was invested disproportionately in their daughters. Girls of the Baby Boom generation were subject to a particularly marshaled conception of proper womanhood, being as they were often compensatory mechanisms for the perceived failings (of various sorts) of the first generation postwar family. Historian Wini Brines observes, "during this decade, a girl was more likely than ever to be confined at home and kept under the watchful eye of a mother intent on preserving her daughter's respectability and marriageability” (Warwick 2007, 23). It is not an innovation of the 1950s that daughters acted as an emblem of the “respectability” in the middle-class household, but given the access and pervasiveness of idyllic models of young women’s behavior (or, as was feared, models to the contrary) through the media, parents needed to be especially watchful. In mass consumerism, agents of socialization were not limited by, or unique to, financial, cultural or geographical specificity. They were imposed monolithically upon an emergent youth market that was generating unprecedented visibility as its purchasing power came radically into focus.

5 Betty Friedan illustrates the ideal suburban housewife: “She was the dream image of the young American women and the envy, it was said, of women all over the world. The American housewife--freed by science and labor-saving appliances from the drudgery, the dangers of childbirth and the illnesses of her grandmother. She was healthy, beautiful, educated, concerned only about her husband, her children, her home. She had found true feminine fulfillment. As a housewife and mother, she was respected as a full and equal partner to man in his world. She was free to choose automobiles, clothes, appliances, supermarkets; she had everything that women ever dreamed of” (1968, 3).


Teenagers and Consumerism In January 1945, the New York Times Magazine published “A Teen-Age Bill of Rights,” an article less notable for its stipulated “rights” than the official coinage of the term “teenage.” In the postwar era, middle-class families had enough surplus income to provide allowances for (or indulge the wishes of) their children coming of age in a culture of plenty. The “teenager,” thus, became an important consumer demographic to properly label and cater to. As Tom Wolfe writes in The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby: The war created money. It made massive infusions of money into every level of society. Suddenly classes of people whose styles of life had been practically invisible had the money to build monuments to their own style (Wolfe 1966, xv). The “teenager” is an effect of market segmentation, which would further be partitioned between genders, with the habits of consumption between them being markedly disproportionate. Historian Kelly Schrum goes so far as to assert that, based on the genesis of adolescent consumption, girls were the first “teenagers,” wherein the term takes on feminine connotation. Whether or not Schrum’s supposition is correct, the word “teen” has imbedded itself in girl culture so extensively (with publications such as Teen Beat, 16, Seventeen, and idioms such as “Teen Queen,” “Teenybopper,” “Sweet-Sixteen” and so on) it seems to suggest that “teenage” is more intrinsic to the identity construction of young girls than that of young boys (as “teenager” is a demographic defined by trends in consumerism, it is revealing that the epochal “sixteen” is a gendered age). In other words, girls buy more stuff. “You are the bosses of the business” Seventeen Magazine proclaimed to its readers in its debut issue, putting an empowering spin on what is typically seen as girls’ consumerist pliancy to strategies of marketing, and zealous commodity fetishism (Savage 2007, 441). Girls’ notorious susceptibility to trends in style and tactics of advertising renders the


“teenage girl” metonymic for “shopper.” This occurred not just in market research but literary archetype with Vlamir Nabakov writing of Lolita in 1955, “She it was to whom ads were dedicated: the ideal consumer, the subject and object of every poster” (Nabakov 1955, 136). However one may choose to frame the power dynamics in consumer capitalism, Seventeen’s salute to girls’ relative purchasing power reflects social and economic realities, particularly in the realm of culture. In an industrial society where all cultural arts on a mass scale depend upon widespread consumption for basic notoriety, it follows that the teenage girl would bear significant influence upon popular culture, and as we have seen, it is pop music (and by extension social dance) where her preferences are disproportionately felt. By 1960, teenagers were projected to be responsible for 70 percent of record purchases—and the majority of buyers were girls (Coates 2007, 70). The girl-friendly late Fifties and early Sixties testifies to the muscle of girl-culture,6 nowhere flexed so impressively than in the launch of market-dominating Dick Clark with his pack of Philadelphia-bred Teen Idols twisting every afternoon along with the girls at home; and selling music that rock historian Charlie Gillett describes as “mostly crass stuff, impressive for its single-minded pursuit of the lowest common denominator” (1970, 23). That is, the masses.

Mass Culture as Woman In the Fifties, studies condemning mass culture enjoyed extraordinary mass-market

6 Beyond American Bandstand, the Brill Building in New York (closely associated with Phil Spector) and early Motown were both oriented toward a feminine audience with the tremendous success of the “girl group sound” in this period, and “the main buyers of girl-group records were, in fact, young women” (Warwick 2007, 343).


success7 with such notable titles as David Reisman’s The Lonely Crowd (1950), C. Wright Mills’ White Collar: The American Middle Classes (1951), William Whyte's Organization Man (1956), John Kenneth Galbraith’s The Affluent Society (1958) and Herbert Marcuse’s One Dimensional Man (1964) at the helm of the iconoclastic crusade. Though it is unfair to conflate the scholarship of these varied works, their authors do share a basic anti-mass culture premise, variously recounting the process by which mass culture is detrimental to the moral stature of the American public. The subject at the center of these sociological studies is the no-one-in-particular suburban man, whose white-collar, hierarchical vocation puts him in a feminized position of dependence in the work place; and (alas) finds little hope for redress at home, so thoroughly undercut is his masculinity in suburbia’s domestic and consumer culture.8 C. Wright Mills’ White Collar places a premium on the adverse effects of commodity consumption observing that the “white collar man has no culture to lean on except the contents of a mass society that has shaped him and seeks to manipulate him to their own ends” (1950, xvi) making him “excellent material for synthetic molding at the hands of popular culture—print, film radio and television” (1950, xvi) and ultimately, his dependency on consumerism renders the suburban patriarch a “political [eunuch]” (1950, xviii). David Reisman's The Lonely Crowd laments the decline of "inner directed" (stoical individualists)

7 “No one in the United States defends conformity,” writes Old Leftist Daniel Bell, “[e]veryone is against it. And probably everyone always was” (Frank 1997, 12). 8 This archetype of the emasculated patriarch crops up in numerous parenting manuals of the era (a warning to such men that their sons may turn out “queer”) and in popular culture, most notably 1955’s Rebel Without A Cause. James Dean (as Jim Stark) moans in his famous “you’re tearing me apart” monologue, “She [Mrs. Stark] eats him alive and he takes it. It is a zoo. If he had the guts to knock Mom a cold one—then maybe she’d be happy and then she’d stop picking on him because they [the mother and grandmother] make mush out of him! You know mush!...Now I tell you one thing: I don’t ever want to be like him…How can a guy grow up in a circus like that?”


with the rise of "other directed" men (susceptible to advertising and the manipulations mass media). Just as Mills explicitly genders the negative effects of mass culture, it is not, I believe, unfair to recast Reisman’s “inner-directed” and “other-directed” in their vernacular forms: “macho” and “sissy.” Reisman’s terms also parallel the beat dichotomy of “hip” and “square,” wherein "the implied polar opposite of the hipster is presumably the feminized "square" who is conformist, suburbia-bound and linked to the feminine consumer culture which emerged in the 1950s" (Penner 2005, 144).9 In these postwar anti-conformity campaigns, the conspicuous absence of women as subjects of sociological concern is sensible because they are the very end-point that the embattled men in gray flannel suits yearn to evade. Women, we are led to infer, are beyond rescuing for they are other-directed, sissies, and squares by nature. Perhaps more pressingly, femininity is not only the castrated ends of a society built on mass culture—it is the gender-identity of the means. In his seminal essay, “Women as Mass Culture,” Andreas Huyssen notes, “[t]he fear of the masses in this age of declining liberalism is always also a fear of woman, a fear of nature out of control, a fear of the unconscious, of sexuality, of the loss of identity and stable ego boundaries in the mass” (1986, 52). The characteristics commonly attributed crowd-mentality mirror negative female stereotypes— marked by a propensity to hysteria, excess and triviality. In an effort to distance themselves from their subject of inquiry, “culture critics have often expressed their disdain for mass media in a language that evokes contempt for those qualities that patriarchal societies ascribe

9 Norman Mailer’s notable 1957 essay “The White Negro” corroborates the binary theory I’m positing. Mailer writes, “One is hip or one is square…one is a rebel or one conforms, one is a frontiersman in the wild west of American night life, or one is a square cell trapped in the totalitarian tissues of American society, doomed willy-nilly to conform if one is to succeed.” In Mailer’s binary, where one pole harbors the hip, rebel, frontiersman, it’s not much of a leap to suppose with which side women and girls might conceptually align.


to femininity” (Huyssen 1986, 61). Certainly counterculturist rock ‘n’ roll criticism (such as Gitlett’s “lowest-common denominator” theory and Jim Dawson’s pejorative illustration of Dick Clark’s audience) provides compelling testimony to Hussein’s thesis. Dawson, who has written on the Twist, makes no attempt to contain his sanctimonious scorn for the topic, characterizing the Twist era as “an echo of the mid-Fifties rock and roll revolution, which by 1960 had limped into an inglorious dead period of overgroomed whelps whining and whimpering along with prerecorded instrumental tracks” (1995, xii). As Dawson’s hyperbole demonstrates, counterculturist contempt for mass culture takes a defensive and over-compensatory tone that is markedly different from that of the OldLeftists (such as Macdonald, Greenburg, Reisman and Mills). The objections of the latter hinges predominantly on fears surrounding trends of aesthetic and cultural mediocrity, but there is little sense that the scoffing Old-Leftists feel that they are in danger of succumbing to the “masscult” or finding themselves trapped in some suburban white-collar quagmire. Their critical leverage rests on the firm belief that they theorize from a vantage point well above it. In the case of the Baby Boomers, however, Hussein’s theory of the “loss of identity and stable ego boundaries” strikes, quite literally, too close to home. How, after all, is one to be Emersonian having grown up with TV? Can modernity accommodate masculinity?

The Rebel and Counterculture For New Left radical Tom Hayden, the Twist and analgesic mass culture were so synonymous that a derisive reference to the dance merited a place in the brief but landmark Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) foundational document, “The Port Huron


Statement” (1962). Hayden scolds the pre-radical University campus as “a place of mass affirmation of the Twist, but mass reluctance toward the controversial public stance.” The Twist, Hayden was pained to make clear, was everything the SDS was not. Hayden marks both his own and his movement’s identity by defining itself against the mass-cultural milieu in which he came of age. Identity-construction was central to the Baby Boomer experience. Influential postwar psychologist Erik Erikson writes, “the study of identity…becomes as strategic in our time as the study of sexuality was in Freud’s time” (Medovoi 2005, 1). When it comes to the formation of postwar masculinity, the two are, of course, inseparable. With the influential work of Erikson and the heightened sense of “self” accompanying market segmentation and advertising to specialized demographics (not to mention an emphatically pro-individualist political ideology operating on all levels of society in the Fifties, positioning the capitalist west against Soviet Communism), the very concept of “identity” as it is understood today, was an innovation of the postwar era.10 In a period mired in the girl-culture mainstream, where identity and ego boundaries are under the threat of erasure, the suburban (masculine) “identity crisis” preceding Sixties radicalism prompted young people to launch icons of dissent in opposition to the monolithic Bandstandism saturating American media. As theorist John Fiske points out, “all social allegiances have not only a sense of with whom, but also of against whom: indeed, I would argue that the sense of oppositionality, the sense of difference is more determinant than that of similarity” (1998, 24; emphasis original).

10 Prior to this period, “identity” was in relation to larger affiliations such as “national identity,” “cultural identity” and so on. As Medovoi notes, “identity” only became used as an adjective (“identity crisis,” “identity politics”) in the 1950s.


The “Other Fifties” has become a useful term for cultural historians in search of a way to speak about this “alternative” side of postwar culture operating on the opposite end of the cliché continuum, a linking of teenage alienation, Mad Magazine’s perversions, hysterical naked-minded Beats, heady existentialism and rock 'n' roll bad boys—masculine repudiation of the smothering mothering 1950s consumer culture. The pervading characteristic in the artifacts clustered beneath the terminological reaches of the “Other Fifties” is the renunciation of the domestic space, mirroring Freud’s psychosexual dynamic of the young man “breaking away” supposedly central to the development of normative heterosexuality. Historian Sheila Whiteley notes, “A large part of the psychological impetus of any rebellion is an urge to separate from the mother. Male rebellion is a re-enactment of the primal bread that constitutes the male ego” (1997, 2). In so far as mass media is perceived to be a feminine and feminizing force, so too must it be rejected and contested with a reactionary culture: counterculture—another neologism of the postwar era.11 Counterculture has its roots in the practices of adolescent subcultures comprised of predominantly working class young men, who took “already coded materials from their everyday landscapes…and [molded] them into desirable shapes, and into social practices and stylish postures” (Frith and Goodman 1990, 67). As will be explored further in Chapter Three, these pre-coded materials are often poached from African American cultures, and refashioned to signify the “otherness” of alienated white youths.12 This practice, described by

11 The term was coined in 1968 by sociologist Theodore Roszak in his influential text the Making of a Counter Culture: Reflections on the Technocratic Society and Its Youthful Opposition. 12 This is well exemplified by Elvis Presley’s greased black hair, molded into shapes meant to imitate black men’s processed hair, which became a popular counterculture style for young white men across the nation. The complex racial identifications at play in this instance (that is, Elvis imitates black men imitating white men), indicates the many ways race is constantly being re-coded in mass media and popular culture.


Umberto Eco as “semiotic guerrilla warfare,” (1979, 150) is a symbolic act of violence against mass-cultural hegemony.13 Yet, the paradox of oppositional culture is that in order for the innovations of these subcultures to capture widespread attention, they must be appropriated and distributed by the very industry they were meant to evade; and it is precisely this transition of oppositional culture from the creative tactics of the working class to middle-class appropriation that constitutes the precondition of what we call “counterculture”. Subculture indicates a “state of being” on the margins of mainstream society. Counterculture, however, indicates an act: the self-conscious choice to be oppositional. This, I’ll posit, is why black culture is almost never grouped in with “counterculture” in the postwar era, despite its undeniable influence on christened counterculturists. Black and working-class identity are predetermined by firmly set economic and social structures. It requires the privileged, male, middle-class to elect marginalization or symbolically align themselves with those excluded by power structures in order to fashion a countercultural identity. Given the primacy of symbolism in “rebel” identity construction, it is unsurprising that lavishly valorized heroes and icons (as opposed to mere pop singers, movie stars and celebrities) are leveraged in popular media to codify the otherwise nebulous counterculture ideology. “What are you rebelling against?” a shopkeeper asks Marlon Brando in the iconic rebellion film, The Wild One (1953). “Whadda ya got?” Brando responds—Brando is a rebel without a cause, the

13 Antonio Gramsci defines hegemony as “the myriad ways in which the institutions of civil society operate to shape, directly or indirectly, the cognitive and affective structures through which men [and women] perceive and evaluate problematic social reality” (Dow 1996, 9).


prototypical counterculturist. Gitlin writes, in The Wild One “rationalism to Brando…is a collaboration between weaklings: a woman [the love interest] and a mild-mannered authority figure [her father]” for the rebel “to be without either purpose or technique is to be not only subversive but strong, autonomous” (1987, 32)—masculine. Autonomy is a key concept to the postwar “rebel,” whose iconic avatars (from Jack Keroac’s roadphilic beats, to J.D. Salinger’s brooding Holden Caulfield, to James Dean’s Jim Stark) mark their heroism by setting out “on the road”—away from home, from mom.14 The hypocrisy of counterculture’s individualist, anti-mainstream, anti-mass media (implicitly anti-feminine) postures rests on the inescapable fact that they exist within (and are largely formed by) consumer capitalism. Brando and Dean may be countercultural icons, but capitalists with an economic investment projected them on to movie screens. Thomas Frank writes: The countercultural style has become a permanent fixture on the American scene, impervious to the angriest assaults of cultural and political conservatives, because it so conveniently and efficiently transforms the myriad petty tyrannies of economic life—all the complaints about conformity, oppression, bureaucracy, meaninglessness, and the disappearance of individualism that became virtually a national obsession in the 1950s—into rationales for consuming (1997, 31). Rebellion sells—but it’s important to note that real “resistance arises from the ways in which these signifiers are consumed by the young, [and] used in ways that are divergent or contradictory to their manufacturers’ oppressive intent” (Frank 1997, 17). Thus, even if true “rebellion” may not be possible against consumer capitalism while within consumer

14 Not only in the sense the consequences for the escaping the domestic sphere to set out “on the road” alone would be far graver for the would-be iconoclastic young white girl than her celebrated brothers, but that she is likely to become the renounced “mom” herself, women and girls are largely precluded from the “Other Fifties” by definition.


capitalism, subjectivity through consumption is.15 What one does with the product once purchased, or how one interprets mass media once perceived, is up to the consumer who often cloaks products in meanings that are not necessarily preferred by their makers.16 Antonio Gramsci’s notion of a built-in “safety valve” giving the illusion of consumer resistance is endemic to any assertion of consumption-side subjectivity but far from attempting to expose the cant of counterculture, it is my contention that there is progressive (though not revolutionary) potential in “semiotic guerilla warfare”. Expressive commodities especially (art of all kinds) do not necessarily bolster capitalist ideology by virtue of the fact that they are produced and consumed within the capitalist system. After all, The Communist Manifesto is stocked and ready for purchase at most bookstores. Capitalism “does not necessarily know what it is doing, apart from making money” (Dyer 1990, 412); but depending on the prerogative of the individual consumer, he or she may be both conscious and in control of what an act of consumption is “doing”. Even if predicated on false notions of cultural revolt and renunciation of implicitly feminine domesticity and consumerism, the “rebel” fantasy—and the consumerism that bolsters it—does have subversive potential, for it engages with the radical imagination. Through the supposedly hegemony-inducing tactics of the marketplace, Fifties oppositional

15 I define “consumer subjectivity” in the way the term is used by Nan Enstad as “The particular way that an individual becomes a social person, part and product of the corner of the world she or he inhabits” (1999, 13). Subjectivity formation is “a process of becoming that is never completed. It is based on the premise that who one is neither essential nor fixed, but is continually shaped and reshaped in human social exchange” (Enstad 1999, 13). 16 Perhaps the best defense for this assertion is queer “camp” culture, which self-consciously subverts preferred (hegemonic) meanings to construct oppositional and empowering ones. Consider the iconographic fate of Judy Garland; deployed by MGM as an emblem of ideal heteronormative femininity, Garland’s symbolic prominence in gay culture is a notable instance of “semiotic guerilla warfare”. Her image was poached from the mainstream, and re-coded to signify queer pride. For more, see Susan Sontag’s seminal “Notes on Camp” (1966), or Richard Dyer’s Stars (1999).


culture became mass culture and was therefore made available to the suburban kids who would pour into Universities in the Sixties with these images of dissent in mind. In this case (to debatable degree) oppositional symbolism manifested in action. Consumerism in the Fifties ignited the desire for the kind of meaningful change that the post-Fifties New Left would strive for, forcing the vehemently anti-mass-culture Old Left to eventually concede, “the continuity of radicalism in the 1950’s was possible not through politics but through the culture” (Bell 1971, 24; emphasis mine).

Conclusions: Consumer Subjectivity for Women in Mainstream Culture The cultural Fifties operates as a binary. On one end there is a conflation of suburbia, conformity and femininity; on the other there is “the road”, rebellion and masculinity—all concepts, as I have shown, that are pitched through gendered rhetoric.17 Though the “Other Fifties” is rightly viewed as an important early manifestation of what would become much more radical cultural dissents in the Sixties, its public displays obfuscate the very real plays at subjectivity operating on the other end of the spectrum—within the private suburban home. Phil Cohen points out that “several decades of work by male social scientists had done little or nothing to challenge the popular view that youth was boys being boys, usually in the street, while girls went on practicing being little wives and mothers somewhere else, usually indoors, where from this vantage point they were both out of sight and out of mind”

17 Again, there are, of course, infinite “Fifties” depending on the subject position from which one views the era. African Americans, Japanese-Americans, or any other number of identities, would not necessarily find their experiences along this white middle-class binary which is nevertheless the dominant cultural account of the Fifties and therefore the one I have chosen to complicate.


(Driscoll 2002, 259). Though largely invisible, dissent was a reality of the lives of young girls, who, just like the countercultures, invested mass culture with subjective meanings. Mass culture was an especially crucial locus of meaning-production for young women who were often limited to what could be gleaned from TV, magazines, and radios in the cloister of the private sphere. John Fiske has noted the propensity of women and girls in particular exhibit for consumer-based productive activity whereby given commodities become vessels of often unintended meanings projected by subordinated groups with little access to the means of producing commodities themselves (1989,151). The formation of subjectivity through the act of cultural consumption (in its varied forms) is central to the libratory qualities I ascribe to the Twist where the moving female body becomes not only a method of consumption, but the tableau on which the commodity takes on complex and subversive implications (more on this in Chapter Three). There is no resolution to be found here in the consumption-side subjectivity vs. production-side exploitation debate. For all the contentious literature theorizing this powerdynamic, it seems that the most likely scenario that the relationship is just that: dynamic. Yet the successes of Sexual Revolution and Second Wave Feminist Movement, undermine the notion that a repressive Fifties ethos held a monopoly on meaning production. Either white women at the helm of both movements, overcame the ideological brainwashing of consumercapitalism as girls or—as seems more likely—found methods of liberation therein. Daniel Bell notes, “changes in cultural practice and life-styles necessarily interact with social structure, since works of art, accoutrements, records films and plays are bought and sold in the market” rendering the market an important access point for political inquiry for that is where the “social structure and culture cross” (1971, 36). The more “popular” a


cultural item is, the more social structures it crosses, augmenting potential “change in cultural practice and life-styles”. To “consume” then, is not to merely to receive, but to circulate meanings, and this is perhaps done most effectively in what is most widely circulated: the mainstream. From this perspective, dreaded feminine “mass culture” becomes a crucial tool of dissent. What kinds of meanings young girls in the Fifties would seek in the products they consume? It depends on their fears and desires. The protagonist of Caryl Rivers’ postwar-set novel Virgins, laments: That was the worst of all, I thought, a life where nothing ever happened. I looked around me and saw women ironing dresses and hanging out clothes and shopping for food and playing maj-jong on hot summer afternoons, and I knew I couldn’t bear to spend my life that way, day after day with nothing ever happening. The world of women seemed to me like a huge, airless prison where things didn’t’ change. Inside it, I thought, I’d turn gray and small and shrivel up to nothing (Brines, 1992 135-6). In her history of the Women’s Movement, Ruth Rosen quotes an anonymous Second Wave Feminist who remembers the Fifties as “a deep and bitter lesson” that “[women] couldn’t take lightly. It reverberated through the core of our beings, and we resolved not to let it happen to us; we resolved to be different” (2000, xi). Middle-class girls had an investment in breaking up the traditional bourgeois value system that held them (at least psychologically) prisoner. Their desire to break free, however, was not dormant until coaxed out by the student movements of the Sixties. These desires were present at a young age, and reflected in not just what they consumed (the Twist), but how (on the body) and where (in the home) they consumed it. Looking back on the postwar era, formerly anti-mass culture Old-Leftist Daniel Bell admits, “the breakup of the traditional bourgeois value system, in fact, was brought about by the bourgeois economic system—by the free market, to be precise” (1971, 37). 45

Chapter 3 Race, Containment and Dancing Beyond the Sixties Abstract:
In this chapter, I will examine the Twist in the context of racial integration. First I will discuss the “strategic self othering” of young whites who “identify” with black culture, and position as well as problematize white women within that narrative. I will then posit that the Twist symbolically integrates the body, rendering “twist” dancing within the white suburban home an act of subversive consumerism. Finally, I will consider the legacy of the Twist through 1968 and into the 1970s.

The Romanticist Continuum and Racial Appropriation In “Hairspray,” the spherical Mrs. Edna Turnblad (played by the male actor Divine) and her baby-blimp daughter, Tracy (Ricki Lake), come out of the Hefty Hideaway wearing mother-and-daughter dresses and walk down the street with their bosoms proudly preceding them. It’s Baltimore, but they’re like floats in the Mardi Gras. Their snazzy new outfits didn’t cost them anything: the proprietor of the shop has just asked Tracy to model for him. She’s the newest celebrity in town: each day, right after high school, she goes to appear on “The Corny Collins Show,” where she and the other hotshot teen-age dancers do novelties like the Pony and the Roach. It’s 1962: Chubby Checker time…” -Paulene Kael, The New Yorker, 1988 In 1988, gross-out filmmaker John Waters released Hairspray!, a musical comedy based on the Buddy Deane Show, Baltimore’s take on Philadelphia’s Bandstand with Dick Clark. One would be hard-pressed to envision a more appropriate creative force behind the subject matter than Waters, whose keen sense of the banal and grotesque in popular culture renders Pauline Kael’s final judgment of Hairspray! as “a piece of pop Dadaism,” a redundancy—in Waters’ work, the terms are synonymous. Armed with tacky aesthetics, social conscientiousness, and good humor, Waters brings to life both a celebration of, and revolt against, the phenomenon of local teen rock ‘n’ roll shows as the Rabelaisian Tracy


Turnblad and Baltimore’s marginalized black community infect the prudish Fifties with the riotous spirit of the Sixties through dance. Hairspray! is a salute to the triumph of somatic deviants, who leverage the forum of rock ‘n’ roll television to stage a mutiny against bourgeois norms by inserting the avantgarde body into the expanding cultural panorama. It is no accident that the subject position through which John Waters posits his subversive reflection is feminine. The liberated female body is often an impetus for change in other realms of American culture. As Carole Pateman notes, women’s bodies are strictly marshaled in “crisis periods” because they “have traditionally been perceived as figures of disorder,” and “potential disrupters of masculine boundary systems of all sorts.” “[W]omen exist on the borderlines of the symbolic order,” Pateman continues, both the “frontier between men and chaos,” and, Elaine Showalter adds, “dangerously part of chaos itself, inhabitants of a mysterious and frightening wild zone outside of patriarchal culture” (Showalter 1990, 8). Pateman’s formulation smacks of the rhetoric similarly deployed to conceptualize and condemn the “chaos” of Afro-Primitivism and the perceived “wild zone” beyond the boundaries of white, Western identity. Blackness and femininity are linked concepts in the variously Platonic, Romanticist and Neitzschian spectrum polarizing “nature/body/Dionysian” and “culture/mind/Apollonian,” where the essential traits of blacks of both genders and women of all races find themselves conflated within the sensual realm of depravity, permittivity, anarchy and most of all, sexuality. Indeed, the anxiety pervading this polemical rhetoric, vigilantly reinforced by innumerable boundary systems, reveals a fear of a primitive backslide—the sense that mankind’s grip on “reason” and “progress” is tenuous and puny beside the dark forces of nature visited upon them by unruly bodies.


The anxiety that animalistic passions are rattling the gates of civilization manifests itself in the oppressive and repressive tactics deployed upon bodies thought to represent, and more importantly, elicit “devolved” behavior. As we have seen in Chapter Two, the “savage,” “feminine” and “childlike” mind are all descriptives for group-thought and crowd mentality, against which the masculine, white, individualist must strive. Curious, then, that the mid-Fifties was “the precise moment when black culture should have become a symbol for the way millions of non-blacks wanted to be in the world” (Lhamon 1990, 39). Norman Mailer famously defined the “hipster” (that is, the white male rebel of "Other Fifties" culture) as the “White Negro”: the white man who aligns his alienation with the plighted, (in Mailer’s words) psychopathic, black man. It is the chic existential malaise of the hipster, gleaned from the romanticized tragedy of black America, which liberates him from the responsibilities of the future-oriented, domestically bound Organization Man. This condescending “strategic self-othering,”1 central to the rebel-identity of whites in the 1950s, is typified in the seminal Beat text, Jack Kerouac’s On the Road: At lilac evening I walked with every muscle aching among the lights of 27th and Welton in the Denver colored section, wishing I were a Negro, feeling that the best the white world had offered was not enough ecstasy for me, not enough life, joy, kicks, darkness, music, not enough night…wishing I could exchange worlds with the happy, true-hearted, ecstatic Negroes of America (2003, 180). In a burlesque of Kerouac’s vagabond negrophilia, Hairspray!’s carefully mothered and well-fed, Tracy Turnblad admits, “I wish…I wish I was dark skinned.” “Tracy,” her Elvis-look-alike boyfriend responds, “our souls are black even though our skin is white.”

1 Kobena Mercer observes that postwar “appropriation and articulation of black signs as an iconic element in the cultural expression of oppositional identities within white societies” signifies a “dis-affiliation from dominant self-images, a kind of strategic self-othering” (Breines 1997, 58).


John Waters’ parody of the White Negro’s earnest, if misguided, yearning to inhabit the “black struggle” is distinctly the insight of a man whose dubious honor it is to be named “Twist Champion” of Baltimore, Maryland. Waters is well aware that the supposedly subversive tactic of self-serving whites who immerse “themselves in ‘blackness’ to indulge their felt sense of difference” (Lott 1995, 51) is in fact so pedestrian that even a figure as guileless as Tracy presumes ownership of the black plight. Leslie Fielder describes this propensity for cross-racial identification in white men (himself included) who are “permitted to pass our childhoods as imaginary Indians, our adolescence as imaginary Negroes, and only then are expected to settle down to being what we really are: white once more” (Lott 1995, 53). Similar to the young white adolescent male vagabondage between Allen Ginsburg’s “negro streets” and the comforts of his home, society more or less indulges the nomadic racial-identity of white males in a manner that is strictly prohibited to their stationary sisters. It is important to note that the Mailer and Kerouac’s romanticized “Negro” is also the eroticized “Negro.” The “existentialism” and “ecstasy” associated with black masculinity is fused with the hyper-sexualized stereotype of black men. In “The White Negro” Mailer conjures up a raunchy vision of the “noble savage”: Knowing in the cells of his existence that life was war, nothing but war, the Negro (all exceptions admitted) could rarely afford the sophisticated inhibitions of civilization, and so he kept for his survival the art of the primitive, he lived in the enormous present, he subsisted for is Saturday night kicks, relinquishing the pleasures of the mind for the more obligatory pleasures of the body, and in his music he gave voice to the character and quality of his existence, to his rage and the infinite variations of joy, lust, languor, grown, cramp, pinch, scream and despair of his orgasm” (Lott 1995, 5455). Blackface minstrelsy historian Eric Lott claims that representations of black men by white men in minstrel shows are often overtly phallic. Depicted with long coattails hanging between their legs, or with a comical placement of a walking cane or pole, blackface 49

characters implied an “appreciation of black male sexuality” (1995, 120) that veered often into what can be described as both masculine envy and homoerotic desire. Blackface women (called “wenches” in the minstrel show) were coded as masculine beings as well, fashioned as having too-long noses or making use of phallic props to cast of her as a representative of virile black male sexuality (these “wenches” were typically portrayed by male minstrels in drag). In blackface performance, “the black male seems the real object of scrutiny,” making it difficult to “distinguish [miscegenation] fears from homosexual fantasies, or at the very least envy, of black men” (Lott 1995, 121). Whatever the complex identification process of the minstrel performer (and later the “White Negro”) Lott makes clear that the act of crossracial identification is often implicitly or explicitly sexual. Cultural historian Alice Eschols claims, “since the days of blackface minstrelsy, black masculinity has driven whites’ fascination with ‘blackness’” (2002, 187; emphasis mine), recasting Tracy’s wish to be “black skinned” as not only an instance of identification with “blackness”, but a sexual fascination with black men. In other words, blackness, sex, and masculinity are conceptually linked, which complicates strategies of white female “rebellion” through identification, however imagined, with black culture.2

2 It is important to be clear about the particular symbolic interplay between black men and white women in United States mythos that I’m hinging much of my argument upon. There is much to be said of the symbolic and realized tactics by which the white patriarchy maintains its racial and sexual dominance pitched through a variety of practices and discourses, that I cannot possibly do justice to in the space of a footnote. I will therefore limit myself to the archetypal scenario of lynching in the Antebellum South, which I believe best illustrates a dynamic that is obliquely manifested elsewhere in a multiplicity of scenarios. In essence, the white male reifies both gender and racial hierarchies by rhetorically positing the white woman as the symbol of white purity against the black male. By coding black men as hyper-sexual, and therefore prone to rape white women, violating “white purity” with unwelcome miscegenation (as cannot be the case with white men and black women—that is, in as much as the violation of “white purity” would be carried out against the white man’s will), the black male becomes a threat wielded against white women. Consequently, women “need to be protected” or avenged by heroic white men. This reinscribes the latter’s masculinity and former’s subordination. Further, to counter the black man’s freedom (such as it was after “emancipation”), which implicitly grants him claims to “the patriarchal province of masculine power” (Weigman 1993, 240),


Racial Mixing "Rock 'n' roll" literally means "sex”—that is, one person "rocks" and the other "rolls." As such, racial-mixing on a rock ‘n’ roll dance show in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement with an overwhelmingly white, female, audience was a delicate, and potentially dangerous matter. Although Hairspray! ends happily with the successful integration of the Corny Collin’s Show, its real-life counterpart self-destructed amidst the racial upheavals of the early 1960s; a fate evaded by Clark, who diplomatically had Bandstand integrated in 1957. Yet despite Clark’s progressive move, black dancers were seldom seen mixing with whites on the dance floor. The persistence of segregated dancing on a supposedly “integrated” program reveals that especially from a white woman’s or black man’s perspective, the stakes of identifying cross-racially in any capacity were far higher than those for the “White Negro,” and American history is stained with blood to prove it. Only a week prior to American Bandstand’s national premier, the legendary rock DJ, Alan Freed, was slated to host a Bandstand-like rock ‘n’ roll dance show on ABC called Big

the white man enacts his heroism by lynching and castrating black men under the premise of a rape claim, removing the over-determined phallus of the rapist and placing him in a femininized position, thus “retaining hegemony over the entire field of masculine entitlements” (Wiegman 1993, 243). This narrative, played out in the Antebellum South (and elsewhere) with disturbing frequency, ensures the white man’s control over both sexual and possible political alliances that may be made between black men and women and white women. The absence of black women as a symbolic “player” in the archetypal lynch-myth further serves the white man’s purpose of distancing himself from a history of rape. The black male and the white woman become over-determined categories in relation to one another, whereas white men and black women are underdetermined so that the exploitive relation between them remains obscure in realm of cultural symbolism. My contention is that elements of this powerful and lasting mythos continues to animate (at varying degrees and with notable exceptions) categories of blackness as “masculine” and femininity as “whiteness.” The ubiquity of this informs the logic of the important anthology But Some Of Us Are Brave: All the Women Are White, All the Blacks Are Men: Black Women's Studies (Hull, 1982) as well as the feminist theory deployed in much scholarship done on the Clarence Thomas and Anita Hill trial, collected in Toni Morrison’s Race-ing Justice and En-genering Power: Essays on Anita Hill, Clarence Thomas, and the Construction of Social Reality (Morrison, 1992).


Beat. However, Freed’s program was cancelled after its third episode when a guest artist, 15year-old Frankie Lymon (of Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers; most famous for the hit “Why Do Fools Fall in Love?”), invited a white girl to dance with him on camera. This drastic penalty for Lymon’s innocent gesture seems a pop-metonym of the far graver consequence visited upon 15-year-old Emmit Till, who was brutally murdered for doing no more than whistling at a white woman only two years before Big Beat was pulled from the ABC’s lineup. In light of the extreme repercussions for inter-racial transgressions, it is hardly surprising that even when blacks were allowed to perform or appear on camera as studio audience members, they were “discouraged” from dancing with partners outside of their race. Civil Rights leader Julian Bond remembers that Bandstand “always had a black couple. Usually a black couple, never more than one. A couple because they always had to have someone to dance with. Each other” (Altschuler 2003, 40). The Twist's intervention on this taboo was double edged. In one sense, the absence of heterosexual pairing by virtue of the solo-mechanics of the dance enabled less-problematized racial mixing in dancehalls and on television, but insofar as the act of “twisting” was coded to be black, it gave rise to nearly as many moral panics as it resolved. In 1962, sociologist Marshall Fishwick observed that “parents forbid [the Twist] individually and some towns communally” who found the dance so objectionable as to “[draw] such descriptive epithets as barbaric, erotic, inhuman and satanic,” (Giorando 2007, 189). As the Twist's popularity spread, so, too did the fears surrounding it. Eldridge Cleaver may be right that “the twist succeeded, as politics, religion and law could never do, in writing in the heart and soul of what the Supreme Court could only write on the books,” but he’s missing the most crucial


canvas of racial “writing”: the body. The twisting body was an integrated body. Inasmuch as the “Africanist dancing body is [considered to be] vulgar, comic, uncontrolled, undisciplined, and most of all, promiscuous" (Gottschild 2003, 18), white women dancing the Twist were not just indulging in highly taboo cross-racial (and perforce sexual) identification, they were traversing the somatic configuration of white, feminine “decency”, becoming what Mary Russo calls “the feminine grotesque”: The classical body is transcendent and monumental, closed, static, self-contained, symmetrical and sleek; it is identified with the ‘high’ or official culture of the Renaissance and later, with the rationalism, individualism, and normalizing aspirations of the bourgeoisie. The grotesque body is open, protruding, irregular, secreting, multiple, and changing; it is identified with non-official ‘low’ culture or the carnivalesque, and with social transformation (1994, 8; emphasis mine). The grotesque body, then, is not merely transgressive, it is transformative: it threatens the “containment” of the rational, individual, body. The moral panic surrounding the Twist in the Cold-War era takes on a highly charged political connotation in this light. After all, the Cold-War era is also known as the “Containment Culture” whereby socio-cultural characteristics of the 1950s and early 1960s are seen to mirror the political rhetoric of United States Ambassador George Kennan’s thesis for stifling the growth of Communism through “containment” initiatives, which would eventually lead the United States ingloriously into Vietnam. “If containment thus names a foreign and domestic policy,” observes Alan Nadel, “it also names the rhetorical strategy that functioned to foreclose dissent, preempt dialogue, and preclude contradiction” (1995, 14). Wini Brines adds to Nadel’s formulation by noting “the political and sexual repressions, the red scare, and the feminine mystique…were often connected in the public mind. Fears of communism and female sexuality melded, leading to a policy of containment for both” (1992, 15-16). The fortified cultural borders around postwar 53

suburbia keeping “undesirables” out, while trapping their daughters within, discloses a crucial mapping of Cold War “morality”, which hinged on segregation, separation and isolation.

Infection and Containment Despite its rhetorical primacy in political and social discourse, “containment” alone is an insufficient term for the kind of tight-lipped paranoia we’ve come to associate with postwar culture. Communism wasn’t just perceived to be external antagonism; it was imagined, perhaps more disturbingly, as an infection spreading silently within US borders. “Ignorance of Communism, Fascism, or any other police-state philosophy,” proclaimed Dwight D. Eisenhower at his inauguration as president of Columbia University in 1948, “is far more dangerous than ignorance of the most virulent disease” (Jacobs 2001, 121). Certainly fears of invasion regarding the racial upheavals of the postwar era are selfevident, as blacks were entering white schools, businesses and communities in the push for integration through public policy. Irrational fears of racial contagion, however, were a more subtle but parallel phenomenon, whereby integration was not just something that could occur by way of legislative action, through the mind and body as well. “What is more contagious than to live side by side with a rather primitive people?” psychoanalyst Carl Jung asks, going on to explain “[t]he inferior man has a tremendous pull because he fascinates the inferior layers of our psyche. Below the threshold of consciousness the contagion meets with little resistance. Just as the coloured man lives in your cities and even within your houses, so also he lives under your skin, subconsciously” (1964, 508). Though Jung wrote these words in the Modernist era, they speak to the racial somatophobia pervading Fifties racial rhetoric.


To the racist imagination, the threat of black “contamination” was not a simple matter of space, but of time. The “primitive man” in the vicinity of the “civilized man” triggers the subconscious memory of the latter’s formerly savage self, which is potentially transformational, and risks placing him on the “nature/body/Dionysian” side of the Platonic spectrum—a devolution against which the chorus of racist cultural moralists predictably chime. The Musical Courier claimed in 1913 that Ragtime was "a national disaster," as "symbolic of the primitive morality and perceptible moral limitations of the Negro type. With the latter sexual restraint is almost unknown, and the wildest latitude of moral uncertainty is conceded" (Savage 2007, 124). And in 1930, Catholic bishop Dubuque denounced what he understood to be black dancing as "evil" and "communistic" (emphasis mine), decrying that "we permit jam sessions, jitterbug and cannibalistic rhythm orgies to occupy a place in our social scheme of things, wooing our youth along the primrose path to hell” (Giorando 2007, 324). Writing on twist dancing in public spaces, New York Times columnist Arthur Gelb observes "a grotesque display every night from 10:30 to 3 o'clock...The elite of the social set and celebrations of show business have discovered the Twist, performed to rock 'n' roll and are wallowing in it like converts to a new brand of voodoo. Cafe society has not gone slumming with such energy since its forays into Harlem in the Twenties” (Gelb 1961, 39). Though the inventory of racist epithets condemning popular music and dance could outfit libraries, their outrage may be rooted in a nuanced form of gender-anxiety. As touched upon in Chapter One, social dance is method of cultural expression where women have traditionally dominated. With dance in twentieth century United States increasingly influenced by black culture, women are the perceived templates upon which black and (often working class) identities are inscribed. Dance historian Julie Malnig writes:


The historical reasons for the protests against social dance have typically focused on apprehensions of sexual promiscuity and lower-class rebellion, as well as longstanding Protestant taboos against the body. Invariably, the arguments always come back to fears of (and for) the feminine: that the dancing would wreak havoc on the morals and sexual development of women and girls, threaten their roles as keepers of the domestic sanctity of home and hearth, or tempt their susceptible sexual natures. Their arguments and the way they were cast interest me most here: at a time of intense cultural change, when ideas about women’s behavior and suitable demeanor were actively and openly debated and gender relations literally played out on the dance floor (2008, 73-74). Malnig’s succinct expression of the gendered problematics that tend to accompany innovation in social dance is helpful to our purposes, but it is not necessarily on the “dance floor” where these ideas were “played out” when it came to the Twist. In a culture of containment, where the white, female body is strictly marshaled in order to maintain moralistic gendered borders by vigorously maintaining her chastity, and remain well within the enclosed suburban community (built away, quite deliberately, from racially-mixed urban areas), dancing the Twist in the living room was the germ of a larger “infection” spreading throughout the nation. With the Twist, integration was smuggled into the suburban home by the person most repressed and vigilantly policed therein. Commenting on Elvis Presley’s use of “black dance” on the Milton Bearle Show, folk musician Butch Hancock observed that it was “the dance that everybody forgot. It was the dance that was so strong it took an entire civilization to forget it. And ten seconds to remember it" (Marcus 2003, 126). By “everybody,” of course, Hancock means white people, who in “remembering” the dance, desired to similarly relocate their bodies in that “space of fun an license outside (but structured by) Victorian bourgeois norms” (Lott 1995, 51). The priggish moral outrage surrounding Elvis’ television appearances is familiar enough—to have a white man “dance black” not just “out there” somewhere, but in the suburban living room on TV, was a shocking violation of white separatism. Yet it was one thing to have 56

domestically-bound suburban daughters see Elvis—It was quite another when the Twist taught them to become him.

Conclusions: Dancing Beyond the Sixties The Twist (as well as other catalysts for racial, sexual and political consciousness raising) was an important cultural intervention in the lives young white women, many of whom would go on to participate in the Civil Rights Movement and the various activisms of the New Left in the Sixties. Through these political affiliations, white, middle class female activists and radicals came together and developed the feminist consciousness that eventually prompted them to split from the New Left, which could not (or refused to) accommodate the feminist agenda. Likewise, the black leaders of integrated Civil Rights organizations became increasingly incensed with white participation, and formed new associations centered on the separatist agendas of “Black Power”. Ironically, the politics of “identity” that initially gave alienated youths the psychological impetus to engage in “oppositional” culture, quickly became “identity politics” as the feminist, black and gay rights movements each split from the centralized New Left, and effectively tore it apart. “[The separation] undermined [the Left’s] raison d’etre” writes former SDS president Todd Gitlin. “What, after all, was Liberalism without grateful lower classes to be liberal for?” (1995, 135). Without support from a diverse and united front, the more quixotic political expectations of the student New Left were dashed (indeed, backfiring into a lengthy Conservative era), and the Sixties marched into what Tom Wolfe labeled the “Me Decade”:


the Seventies.3 Counterculture historian Ken Goffman writes: By 1972, that bubble burst and it became clear that the hippest generation was mostly made up of ordinary, selfish, unimaginative human beings ready to make accommodations with the particulars of capitalism and the customary requirements of adulthood—ready to drop back in and compromise with the system. Particularly among those who had been on the front guard of the counterculture movement, these changes were viewed through a thick haze of disappointment (2005, 311-12). This myopic defeatism of the mainstream New Left is deeply misguided. The Sixties were anything but a failure considering the victories of the Civil Rights Movement and the beginnings of the Feminist Movement, which peaked in the supposedly “selfish” and “unimaginative” Seventies. In the Seventies, the United States Supreme Court issued their verdict on Roe v. Wade, the Gay Rights movement took off, Ms. Magazine was launched, The National Black Feminist Organization was formed, the first U.S. battered women’s shelters opened, Harvey Milk was elected to public office, and Soul Train (in the Bandstand tradition) premiered on afternoon TV in the tradition of the Black Pride/Power movement gaining momentum across the country—to name only a handful of drastic changes American society underwent in the “Me Decade”. It reveals the white, male bias in cultural history that radical social movements of the Seventies remain largely overshadowed by the hyper-mythologized Sixties. Reflecting on the pejorative cultural treatment of the Seventies, Ruth Rosen writes, “as an historian, I was appalled that pundits had already packaged the [Seventies], without recognizing the birth
3 In the Seventies, the Fifties were already warping into sentimental cliché, with the popularity of television shows like Happy Days (1974), and films such as American Graffiti (1973) and Grease (1978). Stranger still, the 1970s marked the “Ragtime Revival”, when in 1971, Joshua Rifkin’s rendition of Ragtime composer Scott Joplin’s work was nominated for a Grammy, and the film The Sting (1973) starring Paul Newman and Robert Redford, featured a Ragtime soundtrack, bringing Scott Joplin’s 1902 classic “The Entertainer” into Billboard’s top 40 in 1974.


of a revolution that would irreversibly transform American culture and society” (2000, xiii). This obfuscation of women’s history is typical, but I’d like to suggest that another reason for the dismissal of the Seventies is that a generally unapologetic embrace of consumer capitalism characterizes its popular culture. In the Seventies pretenses of taking down “the man”, or subverting “the system” got little mainstream play. That it was also a period of real, lasting change, spearheaded by what can be seen as the most successful progressive social movement in history—the Women’s Movement—is politically inconvenient for proponents of “the revolution”. Nowhere was this revelatory consumerism more evident than in the next great American dance craze after the Twist: Disco. Queer theorist Richard Dyer explains, “capitalism constructs the Disco experience” (1990, 412) by offering glamorous images and utopian commercial spaces within which “an oppressed group can take [commodities] and use to cobble together its own culture” (1990, 413). Indeed, the same could be said about the Twist, within which aspects of the consumer experience converged to liberate oppressed identities through dance. Music theorists Jeremey Gilbert and Ewan Pearson observe, Within post-war popular culture, dance cultures have been particularly associated with young women and gay men on the one hand, and with the cultures of the African diaspora and of dispossessed working class young men4 on the other. All of these groups for one reason or another have been denied access to full masculine subjectivity (1999, 83-4). The Twist was the precursor to Disco as a dance marked very explicitly by these

4 Although Disco valorizes glamour and consumption, its roots are unambiguously working-class. Music critic Adam Kopkind has pointed out the prevalence of the word “weekend” in Disco lyrics. “Workingclass kids toil all week and wait for their one big shot at fun, escape and dreams on the weekend…Quite the other way with rock culture” going on to note, “Hippies hang out all week and can’t tell Saturday night from Tuesday Afternoon” (Eschols 2002, 181). Cultural critic Alice Echols adds “Disco’s fantasy of the good life, of upward mobility, betrayed its working-class roots just as rock’s bohemian fantasy of downward mobility betrayed its middle-class roots” (2002, 181).


identities denied access “to full masculine subjectivity”—and who found methods of liberation in the realm of popular (or mass) culture. The vitriol spewed at Disco takes on racist, sexist and homophobic nature in this light. 5 One Rolling Stone editor explains that rock critics have been resistant to Disco because “it was something that existed outside of the rock & roll population that we belonged to personally…It was a different audience, blacks and gays and women” (Echols 2002, 163)— precisely the identities whose separatism crippled the New Left’s political platform, and for whom the Twist was most liberating. American popular music is rooted in black music, and therefore American social dance is rooted in the African American experience. Though “White Negroism” romanticizes the supposed existential “authenticity” of black men, it is through commodification and mass distribution that black art (and its sometimes revolutionary meanings) has been made available to white audiences. One method of policing these meanings is to cast stigma on those black artists outside of the prescribed boundaries of authenticity (structured by white fantasy) by marketing themselves to the wrong (queer, female, “too” mainstream) audiences.

5 On Thursday July 12, 1979, hundreds of what appear to be predominantly white men congregated in the Comiskey Park baseball stadium in Chicago to burn Disco records for an event called “Disco Demolition Night”, promoted by disc jockey Steve Dahl, who dubiously claims to have coined the phrase “Disco Sucks”. So many people turned out to set fire to Disco albums that the event became a near riot. Many cultural critics have since observed the obvious undertone of homophobia, misogyny and racism informing the uncalled for violence of this night, as well as anti-Disco rhetoric generally. Despite its wide-spread aesthetic and sociological condemnation, Disco has been liberating for disenfranchised groups. Former Black Panther, member of Chic and legendary music producer Nile Rogers recently claimed in an interview, “Disco was the only time we were equal. No one cared whether you were black or white – no one even knew. We were using the culture and the clubs to elevate our thinking. It was revolution in a primal way… If you think about it, the whole movement was run by women, gays and ethnics: Donna Summer, Gloria Gaynor, Grace Jones… I mean the Village People were revolutionary! People who would never even stand in a room with a gay person were dancing to San Francisco, and that’s what was so subversive about disco. It rewrote the book” (O'Rorke, 1999).


In so doing, they are no longer considered to be sufficiently “black”.6 Chubby Checker’s alienation from black music history despite the historical importance of the Twist can be accounted for in this way. Furthermore, white women’s consumerism and constructed or “authentic” black culture have a history of progressive partnership. From the mass-market, highly merchandised success of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)—a seminal text of women’s culture, and incitement of women’s participation in the abolitionist movement, to Ragtime and Jazz dancing in the early twentieth century (as covered in Chapter One), to the Twist in the Fifties and Disco in the Seventies—this union in consumption, though not unproblematic, has shaped many significant cultural epochs in both racial and sexual liberation in American culture. Thus, notions of “selling out” as somehow a form of “Tomming” or “white-washing” for black artists, may be a method of undermining the commercial and subsequently political union of women’s and black culture. Given that “no music before or since [rock ‘n’ roll] has so directly called attention to itself as ‘popular’ and ‘commercial,’” (Ross 1989, 71), notions of an art-commerce binary in popular music (informed by the gendered logic of the “Other Fifties”–Fifties binary in Chapter Two, and reflected in anti-Disco rhetoric) is not only fundamentally illusory, but inimical to the progressive potential of popular music and dance. The Twist was not merely epiphenomenal to progressive sexual and racial politics. It constructed an autonomous and unregulated consumerist space (the body itself), which broke
6 The propensity to situate Motown and Disco music as instances of “white washing” or “selling out” reveal this kind of policing in popular music histories and criticisms. Motown built its success on female consumerism (Fitzgerald 1995), and has been variously referred to as “white bread soul” (Robinson 1989, 214), “corny” (George 1986, 140) and even “appalling…ill-conceived mush-mallow” (Cummings 1976, 14), in mainstream rock music criticism. Further, it is worth noting celebration of white artists who traverse racial boundaries (Joe Cocker, Janis Joplin) by “singing black” and the dismissal or condemnation of black artists who “sing white” (Diana Ross, Donna Summer).


down the boundaries keeping coherent ethnic, sexual and gender identity in place and thus undermined methods of dominance invested in their construction. In American culture, it has been by way of mass media that this progressive (imaginative and realized) union of black and white female identities has been possible, and the eradication of cultural quarantine, inevitable.


Conclusion Let us now revisit Eldridge Cleaver’s statement: The Twist was a guided missile, launched from the ghetto into the very heart of suburbia. The Twist succeeded, as politics, religion and law could never do, in writing in the heart and soul of what the Supreme Court could only write on the books (1968, 228). To run with this metaphor, the Twist may have been developed in black communities (first in Ragtime, and later with Hank Ballard and the Heartbreakers’ “The Twist”) but it was launched from American Bandstand studios, and therefore struck, specifically, the white, female, audience of American Bandstand positioned and bound in the “very heart of suburbia”. The principle civic upheaval of the early 1960s—the Civil Rights Movement— wrote itself on the heart, soul and body of young girls dancing in their living rooms, many of whom would one day galvanize the principle civic upheaval of the 1970s: The Women’s Movement. The Twist phenomenon links white, female consumer subjectivity and black culture, revealing the libratory potential of this union. In studying the Twist, we recognize how culture can be navigated and subverted with progressive if not revolutionary tactics. These instances of subversion have not only been overlooked generally (as women’s history is often overlooked) but they have been in particular policed and obfuscated by an art/authenticity— commerce binary. This binary is shaped by gendered discourses in music criticism and history, disseminated throughout popular culture and hardened into common-knowledge. However, the highly commercial symbolism proceeding the political upheavals of the Sixties (mass-culture and counterculture alike) and the capitalistic spaces of social dance coinciding


with the social transformations of the Seventies, stand as testament to the capacity of consumer subjectivity to inspire real change. One must nevertheless be weary of conjuring up utopias. It should always be kept in focus that within consumer capitalism, African Americans of both genders and women of all races have historically been exploited and oppressed as commodities themselves. While this genealogy accounts for subversive methods employed by marginalized peoples in the Fifties through consumption, it does so advisedly. The Twist: A Feminist Genealogy of Postwar Dance recognizes and honors the power of about small evasions, consumer pleasures and resistance, the seeds of dissent and the democratization of revolutionary thought in the osmotic reaches of “mass culture”. Whether or not these methods of cultural navigation are enough to bring about meaningful equality is a question that I will pose, but not presume to answer. We can, however, recognize victories, both large and small, as we trace a narrow avenue of American culture from World War II to the height of the Feminist Movement. The path is strewn with wreckages: legal and cultural segregation, separatist suburban ideologies, strictly marshaled femininity, repressed sexuality and gender inequality—all variously defaced, and some destroyed. In this, we see that Cleaver’s metaphor of the Twist-as-missile is apt: it did strike—and it was explosive.


Works Consulted Allyn, David. 2001. Make Love Not War: The Sexual Revolution: An Unfettered History. New York: Routledge. Altscheuler, Glenn C. 2003. All Shook Up: How Rock ‘n’ Roll Changed America. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Austin, Jake. 2005. TV-A-Go-Go: Rock on TV from American Bandstand to American Idol. Chicago: Chicago Review Press. Baldwin, James. 1955. Notes on a Native Son. Boston: Beacon University Press. Banes, Sally. 2007. Before, Between and Beyond: Three Decades of Dance Writing. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Banes, Sally. 1994. Writing Dancing in the Age of Postmodernism. Hanover: University Press of New England. Bell, Daniel and Irving Kristol, eds. 1971. Capitalism Today. New York: Basic Books. Berlant, Laruen. 2008. The Female Complaint: The Unfinished Business of Sentimentality in American Culture. Durham: Duke University Press. Berlin, Edward A. 1980. Ragtime: A Musical and Cultural History. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Bordo, Susan and Alison Jaggar, eds. 1992. Gender/Body/Knowledge: Feminist Reconstructions of Being and Knowing. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Brines, Wini. 1992. Young, White, and Miserable: Growing Up Female in the Fifties. Boston: Beacon Press. Brockis, Victor. 2003. Warhol: the Biography. New York: Da Capo Press. Brown, Mary Ellen ed. 1990. Television and Women’s Culture: The Politics of the Popular. London: Sage Publications. Buxton, David 1990. “Rock Music, the Star System and the Rise of Consumerism.” On Record: Rock Pop and the Written Word. by Goodwin, Andrew and Simon Frith eds. New York: Routledge. Cair, Christopher. 2007. The American Counterculture. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.


Cleaver, Eldridge. 1968. Soul On Ice. New York: Random House. Coates, Norma. 2007. “Teenyboppers, Groupies, and Other Grotesques: Girls and Women and Rock Culture in the 1960s and early 1970s”. Journal of Popular Music Studies.Volume 15 Issue 1: (65 – 94). Cummings, T., 1977. “Gospel songs in court: from rural music to urban industry’. Journal of Popular Culture, 11, p. 551-67. Dawson, Jim. 1995. The Twist: The Story of the Song that Changed the Word. Boston: Faber and Faber. Dixon, Brenda. 2003. The Black Dancing Body: A Geography from Coon to Cool. New York: Palgrave Macmillian. Doris, Sara Kathleen. 1999. Pop Art and the Contest Over Culture. PhD diss., Northwestern University. Douglas, Ann. 1977. The Feminization of American Culture. New York: Alfred A. Knopf. Dow, Bonnie J. 1996. Prime-time feminism: television, media culture, and the women's movement since 1970. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Driscoll, Catherine. 2002. Girls: Feminine Adolescence in Popular Culture & Critical Theory. New York: Columbia University Press. Duffett, Mark. 2001. “Caught in a Trap? Beyond Pop Theory’s ‘Butch’ Construction of Male Elvis Fans.” Popular Music. Vol. 20, No. 3: 398. Dyer, Richard. 1999. Stars. London: The British Film Institute. Dyer, Richard 1990. “In Defense of Diso” On Record: Rock Pop and the Written Word. by Goodwin, Andrew and Simon Frith eds. New York: Routledge. Eco, Umberto. 1979. A Theory of Semiotics. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Emerson, Ken. 2005. Always Magic in the Air: The Bomp and Brilliance of the Brill Building Era. New York: Viking. Eschols, Alice. 2002. Shaky Ground: The Sixties and Its Aftershocks. New York: Columbia University Press. Fiske, John. 1989. Understanding Popular Culture. New York: Routledge. Fitzgerald, Jon. 1995. “Motown Crossover Hits 1963-1966 and the Creative Process.” Popular Music. Vol. 14, No. 1: 1-11.


Foreman, Joel ed. 1997. The Other Fifties: Interrogating Midcentury American Icons. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Foucault, Michel. 1977. “Nietzsche, Genealogy, History.” In Language, Counter-Memory, Practice: Selected Essays and Interviews, ed. D.F. Bouchard. Ithica: Cornell University Press. Frank, Thomas. 1997. The Conquest of Cool: Business Culture, Counterculture and the Rise of Hip Consumerism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Friedan, Betty. 1968. The Feminine Mystique. New York: Penguin Frith, Simon. 1981. Sound Effects: Youth, Leisure, and the Politics of Rock’n’Roll. New York: Pantheon Books. Frith, Simon and Andrew Goodwin, eds. 1990. On Record: Rock, Pop and The Written Word. London: Routledge. Gens, Herbert, J. 1999. Popular Culture and High Culture: An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste. New York: Basic Books. George, Nelson. 1986. Where Did Our Love Go: The Rise and Fall of the Motown Sound. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. George, Nelson. 1988. The Death of Rhythm & Blues. New York: Penguin. Gillett, Charlie. 1970. The Sound of the City: The Rise of Rock and Roll. New York: First Da Capo Press Giorando, Ralph. G. 2007. Social Dancing in America: A History and Reference. Westport: Greenwood Press. Gitlin, Todd. 1993. The Sixties: Years of Hope, Days of Rage. New York: Bantham. Gitlin, Todd. 1995. The Twilight of Common Dreams: Why America is Wracked by Culture Wars. New York: Metropolitan Books. Gitlin, Todd. 2003. The Whole World is Watching: Mass Media in the Making and Unmaking of the New Left. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Goffman, Ken., R.U. Sirius, and Dan Joy. 2005. Counterculture through the ages: from Abraham to acid house. New York: Random House. Goode, Judith and Jo Ann Schneider. 1994. Reshaping Ethnic and Racial Relations in Philadelphia: Immigrants in a Divided City. Philadelphia; Temple University Press.


Gottschild, Gramsci, Antonio. 1971. Selections from the Prison Notebooks of Antonio Gramsci. New York: International Publishers. Grossberg, Lawewnce. 1990. “Is there Rock After Punk?” On Record: Rock Pop and the Written Word. by Goodwin, Andrew and Simon Frith eds. New York: Routledge. Guglielmo, Jennifer and Salvatore Salerno, eds. 2003. Are Italians White?: How Race is Made in America. New York: Routledge. Hakanen, Ernest A. 1988. “Counting Down to Number One: The Evolution of the Meaning of Popular Music Charts”. Popular Music. Vol. 17, No. 1: 95-111. Hanna, Judith Lynn. 1998. Sex, and Gender: Signs of Identity, Dominance, Defiance, and Desire. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Heath, Joseph and Andrew Potter. 2004. Nation of Rebels: Why Counterculture Became Consumer Culture. New York: Harper Collins Publishers. Hennessy, Rosemary. 2000. Profit and Pleasure: Sexual Identities in Late Capitalism. New York: Routledge. Hull, Gloria, T. ed,. 1985. But Some of Us Are Brave. New York: Feminist Press. Huyssen, Andreas. 1986. After the Great Divide: Modernism, Mass Culture, Postmodernism. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Inglis, Ian. 2003. “Some Kind of Wonderful: the Creative Legacy of the Brill Building”. American Music. Vol. 21, No.2: 214-235. Jackson, Stevi and Shaun Moores, eds. 1995. The Politics of Domestic Consumption: Critical Readings. Hertfordshire: Prentice Hall. Jackson, John A. 1997. American Bandstand: Dick Clark and the Making of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Empire. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Jacobs, Travis Beal. 2001. Eisenhower at Columbia. Edison: Transaction Publishers. Jamison, Andres and Ron Eyerman. 1994. Seeds of the Sixties. Los Angeles: University of California Press. Jung, Carl. 1964. Civilization in Transition. London: Routledge. Kael, Paulene. 1988. The Current Cinema: God’s Pickpockets. The New Yorker, March 7. Kaplan, E. Ann. 1987. Rocking Around the Clock: Music Television, Postmodernism, and


Consumer Culture. New York: Methuen. Kelley, Karen and Evelyn McDonnell, eds. 1999. Stars Don’t Stand Still in the Sky: Music and Myth. New York: New York University Press. Kerouac, Jack. 2003. On the Road. New York: Penguin. Killen, Andreas. 2006. 1973 Nervous Breakdown: Watergate, Warhol and the Birth of PostSixties America. New York: Bloomsbury. Kirby, Michael. 1971. Futurist Performance. New York: Paj Publications. Kolocotroni, Vassiliki, Jane Goldman And Olga Taxidou, eds. 1998. Modernism: An Anthology of Sources and Documents. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Koskoff, Ellen, ed. 1987. Women and Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective. Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Kracauer, Siegfried. 1995. The Mass Ornament: Weimer Essays. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Leach, William. 1993. Land of Desire: Merchants, Power and the Rise of a New American Culture. New York: Vintage Books. Lawrence, Tim. 2002. “Beyond the Hustle” Malnig, Julie, ed. Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Lhamon, W.T. Jr. 1990. Deliberate Speed: The Origins of a Cultural Style in the American 1950s. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Lock, Alain. 1925. The New Negro: Voices of the Harlem Renaissance. New York: Simon and Schuster. Lott, Eric. 1995. Love and Theft: Blackface Minstrelsy and the American Working Class. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Lorde, Audre. 2007. Sister Outsider: Essays and Speeches. New York: Crossing Press. Lucino, Stefano. 2001. From Paesani to White Ethnics: The Italian Experience in Philadelphia. Albany: State University of New York Press. Lynes, Russel. 1949. The Tastemakers. New York: Harper & Brothers. Macdonald, Dwight. 2007. “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” Jumonville, Neil ed.. The New York Intellectuals Reader. New York: Routledge.


Mailer, Norman. 1957. “The White Negro”. Dissent Magazine. Malnig, Julie, ed. 2002. Ballroom, Boogie, Shimmy Sham, Shake: A Social and Popular Dance Reader. Chicago: University of Illinois Press. Mann, Ron. 1992. Twist. Alliance Entertainment. Marcus, Greil. 2003. Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Marcus, Griel. 1975. Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music. New York: Penguin Group. Martin, Linda and Kerry Seagrave. 1988. Anti-Rock: The Opposition to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Hamden: Archon Books. McClary, Susan. 1991. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender, and Sexuality. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. McDonnell, Evelyn, Powers, Ann, Eds. 1995. Rock She Wrote. New York : Delta. McLeaod, Kembrew. 2001. “*: A Critique of Rock Criticism in North America”. Popular Music. Vol. 20, No. 1: 47-60. McLuhan, Marshall. 1964. Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man. Corte Madera: Gingko Press. McRobbie, 1984. Angela and Nava, Mica, ed. Gender and Generation. Atlantic Highlands, N.J : Distributed in the U.S.A. by Humanities Press. McRobbie, Angela. 2000. Feminism and Youth Culture. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Macmillan Press, McRobbie, Angela. 1990. “Settling Accounts with Subculture” On Record: Rock Pop and the Written Word. by Goodwin, Andrew and Simon Frith eds. New York: Routledge. Medovoi, Leerom. 2005. Rebels: Youth and the Cold War Origins of Identity. Durham: Duke University Press. Mills, C. Wright. 1950. White Collar: The American Middle Classes. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Morrison, Toni, ed. 1992. Race-ing Justice, En-gendering Power. New York: Pantheon Books. Nabokov, Vladimir. 1955. Lolita. New York: Vintage. Nehring, Neil. 1997. Popular Music, Gender, and Postmodernism : Anger is an Energy. Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.


Niebuhr, Reinhold. 1952. The Irony of American History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Nicolades, Becky. 2006. How Hell Moved from the City to the Suburbs: Urban Scholars and Changing Perceptions of Authentic Community. In The new suburban history, ed. Kevin M. Kruse and Thomas J. Sugrue, 80–98. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. O’Brien, Lucy. 2002. She Bop II: The Definitive History of Women in Rock, Pop and Soul. New York : Continuum. O'Rorke, Imogen. 1999. Interview with Nile Rogers. The Guardian. December 13. Peiss, Kathy. 1987. Cheap Amusements. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Paglia, Camille. 1990. Sexual Personae: Art and Decadence from Nefertiti to Emily Dickinson. New Haven: Yale University Press. Paglia, Camille. 1994. Vamps and Tramps. New York: Vintage Books. Palladino, Grace. 1996. Teenagers : An American History. New York : BasicBooks. Penner, James Lon. 2005. Pinks, Pansies & Punks: The Rhetoric of Masculinity and the American Literary Culture from the Depression to the Sexual Revolution. PhD diss. University of Southern California. Pini, Maria. 2001. Club Cultures and Female Subjectivity: The Move from Home to House. New York: Palgrave. Reisman, David. 2001. The Lonely Crowd. New Haven: Yale University Press. Reynolds, Simon. 1995. The Sex Revolts : Gender, Rebellion, and Rock’n’Roll. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Robinson, W. with Ritz, D. 1982. Smokey Inside My Life. McGraw Hill: London. Rosen, Ruth. 2000. The World Split Open: How the Modern Women’s Movement Changed America. New York: Penguin Books. Ross, Andrew. 1989. No Respect: Intellectuals and Popular Culture. New York: Routledge. Russo, Mary J. 1994. The female grotesque: risk, excess, and modernity. Boca Raton: Taylor & Francis US. Savage, John. 2007. Teenage: The Prehistory of Youth Culture 1875-1945. New York: Penguin Books. Schrum, Kelly. 2006. Some Wore Bobby Sox: The Emergence of Teenage Girls' Culture, 1920-


1945. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Seltzer, Mark. 1992. Bodies and Machines. New York: Routledge. Sharpe, William and Leonard Wallock. 1994.“Contextualizing Suburbia”. American Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 1 pp. 55-61. Sharpe, William and Leonard Wallock. 1994. “Bold New City or Built-Up 'Burb? Redefining Contemporary Suburbia”. American Quarterly, Vol. 46, No. 1 (Mar., 1994), pp. 1-30 Shaw, George. 1980. “The teen idols.” Rolling Stone Illustrated History of Rock & Roll. New York: Rolling Stone Press, pp. 96-100. Skeggs, Beverly. 1997. Formations of Class and Gender: Becoming Respectable. London: Sage Publications. Smulyan, Susan. 2007. Popular Ideologies: Mass Culture at Mid-Century. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Sontag, Susan. 1966. Against Interpretation and Other Essays. London: Macmillan. Spigel, Lynn. 1992. Make Room For TV: Television and the Family Ideal in Postwar America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Susman, Warren I.. 2003. Culture As History: The Transformation of American Society in the Twentieth Century. Washington: The Smithsonian Institution Press. Szatmary, David P. 1987. Rockin’ in Time: A Social History of Rock-and-Roll. Upper Saddle River: Prentice-Hall. Thomas, Helen ed. 1993. Dance, Gender and Culture. London: The Macmillan Press. Trilling, Lionel. 1950. The Liberal Imagination. New York: The New York Review of Books. Wallace, David Foster. 1997. A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again: Essays and Arguments. New York: Back Bay Books. Warhol, Andy. 1975. The Philosophy of Andy Warhol: From A to B and Back Again. New York: Harcourt. Warwick, Jacqueline. 2007. Girl Groups, Girl Culture: Popular Music and Identity in the 1960s. New York: Routledge. Waters, John. 1988. Hairspray!. New Line Cinema. Weigman, Robyn. 1993. “The Anatomy of Lynching”. American sexual politics: sex, gender, and


race since the Civil War, John C. Fout, Maura Shaw Tantilloed, eds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Whiteley, Shelia. 1997. Sexing the groove: popular music and gender. New York: Routledge. Whiting, Cecile. 1997. A Taste for Pop: Pop Art, Gender and Consumer Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wolfe, Tom. 1966. The Kandy-Kolored Tangerine-Flake Streamline Baby. New York: Bantam Books.