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"Running like big daft girls." A multi-method study of representations of and reflections on men and masculinities through "The Beatles"

By Martin S King


The aim of this thesis was to examine changing representations of men and masculinities in a particular historical period (“The Sixties”) and to explore the impact that this had in a period of rapid social change in the UK and the legacy of that impact. In order to do this, a multi-method study was developed, combining documentary research with a set of eleven semi-structured interviews.\ud The documentary research took the form of a case study of The Beatles, arguing that their position as a group of men who became a global cultural phenomenon, in the period under study, made theme a suitable vehicle through which to read changing representations of masculinities in this period and to reflect on what this meant for men in UK society. The Beatles’ live action films were chosen as a sample of Beatle “texts” which allowed for the Beatles to be looked at at different points in the “The Sixties” and for possible changes over that time period to be tracked. Textual analysis within discourse analysis (based on a framework suggested by van Dijk [1993], Fairclough [1995] and McKee [2003]) was used to analyse the texts.\ud Ideas advanced by the Popular Memory Group (1982) about the interaction of public representations of the past and private memory of that past were influential in the decision to combine this piece of documentary research with interviews with a sample of men, in an age range of 18 to 74. The interview stage was designed to elicit data on the perception of the participants of the role of representation (with particular reference to the Beatles) of masculinities on them as individuals and their ideas about how this may have had an impact in terms of longer term social change.\ud Ehrenreich’s (1983) notion of a male revolt in the late 1950s, an emergence of a challenge to established ideas about men and masculinity, was also influential, particularly as it is an idea at odds with the “crisis in masculinity” discourse (Tolson, 1977; Kimmel, 1987; Whitehead, 2002) at work in a number of texts on men and masculinity. Examining further Inglis’ (2000b : 1) concept of The Beatles as “men of ideas” with a global reach, the chosen Beatle texts were examined for discourses of masculinity which appeared to be resistant to the dominant. What emerged were a number of findings around resistance, non-conformity, feminised appearance, pre-metrosexuality, the male star as object of desire and The Beatles as a global male phenomenon open to the radical diversity of the world in a period of rapid social change. The role of popular culture within this process was central to the thesis, given its focus on The Beatles as a case study. However, broader ideas about the role of the arts also emerged with a resultant conclusion that “the sixties” is where a recognition of the importance of representation begins as well as a period where representations of gender (as well as class and race) became more accessible due to the rise in popularity of TV in the UK and a resurgence in British cinema.\ud The thesis offers a number of ideas for further research, building on the outcomes of this particular study. These include further work on the competing crisis/ revolt discourse at work in the field of critical men’s studies, ascertaining female perspectives on representations of masculinities and their impact, further work on the Beatles through fans and an application of some of the ideas at work in the thesis to other periods of British history

Topics: HM, HS, HT, M1, ML, MT
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