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Marissa Lingen

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Hardest thing to understand [Feb. 10th, 2014|12:51 pm]
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So the hardest thing for me to understand about the Beatles’ arrival 50 years ago, from a firmly post-Beatles lifetime, is not any of this stuff, because whatever, critics don’t get things all the time, and particularly adult critics don’t get teen culture all the time. “Adult critics don’t get teen culture” is right up there with “something something teens sex oh noes” for stories they could recycle endlessly to keep newspapers running forever without having to think about it.


No, what I don’t get is: people thought their hair was long. Go look at the pictures, they’re all over major news outlets. That is what people in February of 1964 thought was “long hair” on men. That. It’s like, maybe a couple inches longer than Ed Sullivan’s hair? It was cut with a scissors instead of a clipper? Therefore “long hair”?


This was a world that had seen ten million portraits of Jesus as a white dude with shoulder-length hair. This world had seen the Founding Fathers, the Cavaliers, Confucians, Little Lord Fauntleroy. And circa 1964 Beatles hair was long?


The thing that is so profoundly weird about the 1950s and 1960s in America, fashion-wise, is that there was this historically bizarre confluence of affluence, female skill with needlework, and expectation of conformity. That exploded after–yes, there’s “this year’s style,” “this year’s colors,” we may grumble if we have a hard time finding shirts as long as we want or pants as narrow, but the range of choice is stunning, and the amount that’s accepted–sometimes accepted as mildly dumpy or unfashionable, but accepted all the same–once you’ve left the world of high fashion is staggering. Before that period, mass communication and mass affluence just had not reached that peak where very many people had more than a few things to wear.


So the Beatles showed up and everyone apparently went, “GASP LONG HAIR THOSE SHAGGY SHAGGY MEN MY GOLLY THE SCANDAL.” And it’s not that I find it hard to understand why having long hair was scandalous, although a bit of that too. It’s that they did not have long hair. It’s that I find it so hard to grasp a world where the range of permissible was that tiny.




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Comments:
[User Picture]From: brooksmoses
2014-02-10 06:49 pm (UTC)

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I think I need to get a haircut.

(I am perhaps more finely tuned to that particular distinction, because that's the level of shaggy that my hair gets when I feel about a month overdue for a haircut. But even so! That's only a few weeks!)
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-10 06:57 pm (UTC)

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See, but you do not have long hair! Definitively you do not!
[User Picture]From: athenais
2014-02-10 07:18 pm (UTC)

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It was not much fun to live during it. I still remember the shame of having the wrong length skirt as a pre-teen and how passionately the school district fought against allowing girls to wear pants even in snowy weather. The Beatles' hair was long on top, mostly, and that shaggy bangs stuff made my dad crazy when my brother tried growing his hair in. What I still don't understand is how having long hair equated to being disrespectful to authority.
[User Picture]From: sam_t
2014-02-11 04:23 pm (UTC)

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Possibly because the authority (personified) was telling them to cut it. This is a bit circular but that doesn't necessarily rule it out as a human thought process.

[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-02-10 07:58 pm (UTC)

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We were commenting on that, too, last night.

But we've all forgotten how hardcore the drive for absolute conformity was in those days. An A student could be kicked out of school if he didn't have white sidewalls. Not that most boys would dare have hair longish on the sides because THAT WAS GIRRRLY.

We all dressed exactly alike, and if anyone strayed, the hyper vigilant school authorities (and your peers) would come down on you like a ton of bricks.

So the Beatles were startling because they had really, really long hair (comparatively) and even more startling, they didn't wear a sport jacket and ties! Shock! Decadence! Order and civilization were FALLLLLINGGGGGG!
[User Picture]From: akitrom
2014-02-10 08:14 pm (UTC)

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Nore did they wear hats, in a time when just about every man did.
[User Picture]From: sartorias
2014-02-10 08:23 pm (UTC)

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Were hats for men still hanging on back east and in Europe? In L.A. only old men wore them, and women in formal occasions (or to go on a plane) by 1960. My dad, who was ultra super conservative, never wore a hat, our teachers did not wear hats, and I don't recollect any neighborhood dads wearing hats when they left for work. Suits, ties, and wingtips, yes.
[User Picture]From: miz_hatbox
2014-02-10 09:21 pm (UTC)

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Right. I thought that John F. Kennedy didn't like to wear hats, and when he stopped wearing them, all the other men stopped wearing them too, and haberdashery never quite recovered. (Say... maybe there was an angry haberdasher on the grassy knoll...)
[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2014-02-10 10:20 pm (UTC)

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That's what my husband has always said, but it sounds like they were already on their way out before that? The president not wearing one might have just been a definitive sign that it was no longer required in any sense of the word.
[User Picture]From: p_j_cleary
2014-02-10 08:15 pm (UTC)

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I'm growing my hair out, to a conservatively-long style (past the ears, but not quite to the shoulders) and I have panic about how long it is now, and how "acceptable" it will be should I need to, say, look for work or something.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-10 08:32 pm (UTC)

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But industry matters a great deal there, and also I think you would still not look at the Beatles' pictures from 1964 and say, "Those are some long-haired men."
[User Picture]From: wshaffer
2014-02-10 08:40 pm (UTC)

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Yeah, the tiny range of what was acceptable and the lack of historical awareness was weird. One of John Lennon's childhood friends (Pete Shotton, I think) wrote a memoir in which he talks about his father being scandalized by the tight Teddy Boy style trousers that the kids all wanted to wear when they were in high school, and then a few years later, his father being happily clad in drainpipe trousers and being scandalized by those "newfangled bell-bottoms". Could people literally not remember what they'd worn in their own lifetimes?
[User Picture]From: jhetley
2014-02-10 08:40 pm (UTC)

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I recall more controversy over that Evil Rock 'n Roll than their hair, really. Because Rock 'n Roll was Evil. And also, kinda sorta Black . . .
[User Picture]From: houseboatonstyx
2014-02-10 08:49 pm (UTC)

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Before that period, mass communication and mass affluence just had not reached that peak where very many people had more than a few things to wear.

High school class of '62, we had closets full of different dresses. It was just that you couldn't wear them all the same year, unless you changed the hemline. So mostly, you just kept the wrong hemlined ones in the closet till another year, when that length would come round again.

Then there was a year of mini-skirts as the strict standard. Then next year the markets tried to drop the skirts down below the knee, like WWII. Couldn't lengthen the mini-skirt. The WWII length skirts had all been shortened and fiddled with too many times, they wouldn't go that long either.

So we all rebelled. We got hippie back to the land long comfortable elastic waist skirts, at all different lengths. Stopped wearing bras too. They had to make new window mannequins with nipples.
[User Picture]From: miz_hatbox
2014-02-10 09:26 pm (UTC)

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My grandmother told me once about the year of the Strict Standard Miniskirt (accept no substitutes).

She worked for a school, and had to supervise the playground as part of her duties. During that winter, if female school employees showed up in pants (as one might be tempted to do because it was cold out), they would be sent home. But a teeny miniskirt? No problem.
[User Picture]From: halfmoon_mollie
2014-02-10 10:12 pm (UTC)

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It was an era of butch cuts. We called them brush cuts. At least where I went to school (I was 12, 50 years ago). Their hair WAS long. For then. For now? I laugh.
[User Picture]From: swan_tower
2014-02-10 10:24 pm (UTC)

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I was thinking pretty much this when I watched Apollo 13 again the other night, because Jim Lovell gives his son grief for how long his hair's gotten while he's on vacation. And I'm looking at the kid going, dude, if he cuts off any more he's going to be bald. O_O
[User Picture]From: madwriter
2014-02-10 11:35 pm (UTC)

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This has probably been said already, but the vogue of the late 50s to early 60s was short, short hair. What we now would consider military crew cuts, I suppose.

But this does remind me of how my elderly aunt and other folks from my grandparents' generation hated beards (including mine), because everyone in their youth was clean-shaven...despite the fact that everyone in their grandparents' generation had beards down to their chests.

This also reminds me that my father, who was a teenager in the 1950s, thinks to this day that the Beatles ruined music.
[User Picture]From: mrissa
2014-02-10 11:52 pm (UTC)

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Yes, I understand what the "vogue" was. But there's a difference between "this is what's fashionable" and "we do not seem to understand any variety beyond what is fashionable." Long hair on men is not currently very fashionable, but we know it when we see it; we know it exists beyond the current set of fashions. And we know that hair shorter than the current set of fashions exists, too.
[User Picture]From: madwriter
2014-02-10 11:56 pm (UTC)

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*Shrug* It may just be the same as people not being able to understand anything they don't personally accept or like themselves.
[User Picture]From: sprrwhwk
2014-02-11 06:16 am (UTC)

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It lingers on in places. I got a fair bit of crap when I started growing my hair out in late high school, at a stage of length when it was reasonable for me to joke that I was a reject from the Beatles. Still do get questions, occasionally, from relatives, about when I'm going to cut my hair.

(In case you need more to dislike him for, C.S. Lewis has a bit in the Screwtape Letters about how men growing their hair long and women cutting their hair short is one of the elder demon's projects, as I recall. I suspect hair about the Beatles' length is what he's referring to.)

That sense, that the range of the permissible is so small, is all part of why I left that place, and why I'm happier to have done so.
[User Picture]From: ethelmay
2014-02-13 02:30 am (UTC)

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Huh. I can't find that bit. Are you sure it's in Screwtape?
[User Picture]From: sprrwhwk
2014-02-13 03:56 am (UTC)

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I would swear it is, because I would swear that Screwtape is the only long-form Lewis I've read except Narnia, and I can find another instance of Lewis airing the same sentiment, but I can't come up with any memory of having read The Pilgrim's Regress.

I do find some bits about male grooming (beards, or lack thereof) in Screwtape, but they're not about hair specifically. Much more about female ideals of beauty, not entirely surprisingly. (The book I read was a library copy, and I'm having dubious luck turning things up on Amazon's "search inside this book" feature.)

So, uh. Yeah, that C.S. Lewis. But maybe not that sentiment exactly in Screwtape.

Edited at 2014-02-13 03:56 am (UTC)
[User Picture]From: papersky
2014-02-11 01:03 pm (UTC)

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This is something I have seen improve over the course of my adult life.

I was thinking about it when I re-read a John Wyndham time travel story a little while ago -- in the story a woman time travels and meets her future self about seven years on, and there is this thing with fashion where before she realises she's in the future she walks down the street and has a horrible realisation that last year's skirt that she put on thinking it was OK is now awful and unacceptable and frumpy and she was wrong and is now mortified and dashes into a clothes shop, and then when she is back in the past wearing her future skirt, she thinks how awful the skirt she bought in the future was and dashes in to the same clothes shop... and I suddenly thought that when I read this in 1980 it made perfect emotional sense to me, and now it is something from another world, as much as Gissing's thing with the man who embezzled money because his hat blew off and he couldn't be seen without a hat.

These days there is fashion, yes, but it is so much better. So very very very much better. I love living in the future. I plan to do a lot more of it!
[User Picture]From: minnehaha
2014-02-12 07:32 pm (UTC)

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It seems the extraordinary way in which everything changed in 1963 is not apparent from here.

I wonder at my own surprise at this. </p>

K.

[User Picture]From: ethelmay
2014-02-12 08:33 pm (UTC)

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I think part of it was the myth of progress. We were supposed to have, as a society, and as it were, outgrown long hair on men.