extreme enthusiasm for the Beatles pop group, as manifested in the frenzied behaviour of their fans in the 1960s.
"Are teenagers different today? Of course not. Those who flock round the Beatles, who scream themselves into hysteria, are the least fortunate of their generation, the dull, the idle, the failures: their existence, in such large numbers, far from being a cause for ministerial congratulation, is a fearful indictment of our education system, which in 10 years of schooling can scarcely raise them to literacy."
"If the Beatles and their like were in fact what the youth of Britain wanted, one might well despair. I refuse to believe it – and so will any other intelligent person who casts his or her mind back far enough. What were we doing at 16? I remember reading the whole of Shakespeare and Marlowe, writing poems and plays and stories. At 16, I and my friends heard our first performance of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony; I can remember the excitement even today. We would not have wasted 30 seconds of our precious time on the Beatles and their ilk."
"Before I am denounced as a reactionary fuddy-duddy, let us pause an instant and see exactly what we mean by this “youth”. Both TV channels now run weekly programmes in which popular records are played to teenagers and judged. While the music is performed, the cameras linger savagely over the faces of the audience. What a bottomless chasm of vacuity they reveal! The huge faces, bloated with cheap confectionery and smeared with chain-store makeup, the open, sagging mouths and glazed eyes, the broken stiletto heels: here is a generation enslaved by a commercial machine. Behind this image of “youth”, there are, evidently, some shrewd older folk at work."
Paul Johnson, "The Menace of Beatlism", February 1964 (excerpts)
Teenagers "screaming themselves into hysteria" seemed to be an important aspect of Beatlemania. Shortly after their visit to New Zealand, Taylor carried out empirical research but found "no evidence from the Hysteria Scale of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory to support the popular opinion that the enthusiasts were hysterics (...). It was concluded that 'Beatlemania' is the passing reaction of predominantly young adolescent females to group pressures of such a kind that meet their special emotional needs." (Taylor, 1966). As the Beatles had a great many female fans, people were perhaps more likely to call them hysteric since hysteria was traditionally considered to be a female disease.
In 1841, fans of Hungarian composer and pianist Franz Liszt showed "a level of fanaticism similar to the Beatles" (via). Soon the term "Lisztomania" was coined, characterised by "intense levels of hysteria" (via). Before the Beatles, there was Liszt, there was Elvis, there was Sinatra. The "mass hysteria" surrounding the Beatles, however, was unprecedented.
"Prior to the Beatles’ arrival on the music scene in 1963, young girls were typically quiet followers of the postwar culture, resigning themselves to domestic responsibilities and stricter parental control."The Fab Four, when they started, had no "overtly masculine overtones", their style deviated from the traditional hyper-masculine image at the time. The "moderated type of masculinity" may have added to their allure among young female fans. It is also argued that their collective image contributed to their mass appeal amongst teenage girls. Unlike Presley and Sinatra - who were the lead singers in the centre accompanied by a band or an orchestra - the Beatles performed without hierarchical roles. Since women are said to rather create collaborative groups which they prefer to hierarchical structures, their collective image may also have been particularly appealing to female fans. In addition, the Beatles covered "girl group material", wrote songs about sensitivity, romance, collectiveness, transformed "female dependence into male vulnerability". A great many songs were directly addressed to their (female) fans. In "She Loves You", for instance, the man is encouraged to apologise to her, which was new at the time. Their portrayal of women was more positive; women were not idealised but fully-formed characters, the image of love was egalitarian. And, it was the 1960s, a decade marked by the Beatles and women's search for liberation.
"The women’s movement didn’t just happen. It was an awareness that came over you—that you could be your own person. For many of us, that began with the Beatles. They told us we could do anything." Marcy Lanza, quoted in Pelusi, 2014
"As Jonathan Gould notes, the Beatles were able to provide a “socially and emotionally secure environment for the expression of female assertiveness, aggression, sexuality, and solidarity” with their unique image and empowering lyrics. This musical environment allowed for the expansion of Beatlemania, a collective hysteria where girls wept, screamed, and fainted at the mere thought of seeing their idols in person. Such is the influence of the Beatles’ music that even today, the group remains one of the most popular and well-loved of all time. From the 1960s onwards, Beatlemania spread “Across the Universe,” forever leaving its mark as one of the most notable influences on the gender revolution that grew into the unrelenting musical and pop culture phenomenon, one that is still remembered and celebrated today." Cura, 2009
"Individually, teenagers are isolated and worried and scared all the time of whether or not they're doing the right things and wearing all the right clothes, but everybody liked The Beatles so everybody was equal, we were all in it together." Clerc
::: A taste of Beatlemania in the 1960s: WATCH
::: Beatlemania, Liverpool & L.A. fans, 1982: WATCH, the sound of the first seconds: LISTEN
::: Beatles welcome home, London, 1964: WATCH
::: Beatles take over Holland, Amsterdam, 1964: WATCH
::: Beatles in Sydney, 1964: WATCH
::: Beatles in Hamburg, 1966 (in German): WATCH
::: Beatles fans get interviewed, 1964: WATCH
::: More Beatles fans: WATCH
- Cura, K. (2009). She Loves You: The Beatles and Female Fanaticism. Nota Bene: Canadian Undergraduate Journal of Musicology, 2(1), Article 8. 104-113.
- Pelusi, A. J. (2014). Doctor Who and the Creation of a Non-Gendered Hero Archetype. Theses and Dissertations, Paper 272. Illinois State University.
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