The Beatles and their admirers have aroused widespread interest and attention. Fifty million dollars worth of goods bear their name as this article is written. These include wild Beatle wigs, Beatle sweaters, Beatle shirts, Beatle hats, Beatle buttons, etc., etc.
To most adults, the ear-piercing sounds, the jungle screams, and the strange body movements of teen-age Beatle fans are the hardest part of the Beatle-mania burden.
All kinds of speculations and explanations have been published about the Beatle fad. But one aspect seems to have escaped the observers’ attention, namely the sexual involvement of the youngsters.
This is amazing since similar fads of past decades—the Sinatra frenzy and the Presley mania—should have convinced even the most sex-blind layman that it is the sex drive that time and again tosses millions of teenagers into hysterics.
Indeed, the sex glands are clearly guilty in the astounding audience response to the “art” of these mop-topped popwailers from Liverpool. The self-forgetfulness of the young adorers is similar to sexual abandon.
Shrill shrieks break through the moaning—”Yeah, yeah, yeah”—that seem to push toward a climax. Boys here and girls there jump up and down as if they couldn’t hold the contents of the bladder any longer. Some, breathlessly exhausted, drum the rhythm on a neighbor’s chest; others move buttocks, hips and pelvis as if they were galloping on a horse. For some the performance ends when they faint.
Sexual excitement may not be the only trigger to the release of such actions, but it certainly plays an eminent role in bringing this release about. There is even less doubt about the involvement of sexual feelings when two twelve-year-old girls exhibit to each other the signatures of their heroes printed on their panties while they rock ‘n’ roll with the beat of a Beatle record.
Beatle dolls (made of plastic) are passionately hugged in bed. Smaller ones, made of sugar candy, are enjoyed with immense delight. There are even chocolate-cake Beatles that appeal especially to children as young as 5 or 6.
In their attempts to convince parents that the children’s crusade to the lands of the beat is an innocent lark, some writers emphasize the “peculiarly sexless appeal” of the Beatles. A comparison would seem to confirm this judgment.
Frank Sinatra’s crooning warmed up all the longing for wickedness in the bobby-soxers’ hearts; Elvis Presley tried to bulge with sex appeal; the four Liverpoolers appear as if they had intentionally removed themselves from sex competition.
“The way they wag their wigs” is considered cute and funny by their audience but definitely not sexy. Indeed, the mop-style hair-do, adopted in imitation of that of a German female photographer, not only gives them a clownish note, but it also blurs the line between the sexes.
However, this very fact has shaped their appeal to the youngsters who unexpectedly took the clowning seriously.
For if the Beatle enthusiasts are compared with the Presley and Sinatra fans, one difference becomes immediately evident: the majority belong to younger age groups.
The ages of Beatle fans spread as far down as 9 years and include about 30 per cent boys. The solid nucleus consists of girls, 12 to 15 years old, still before or briefly after their first menstruation.
These age groups are characterized by distinctive qualities which every parent and every teacher recognizes.
“Puppy love” is a well-known cliche on the screen and in printed fiction. The treatment usually varies between “haw-haw, how funny,” and “oh, how pitiful they are.” For there they stand, these youngsters, filled with desire for each other yet unable to express it, clumsy, and as a result sometimes so hostile that they thwart their own hopes and intentions.
The cliche may be corny, but it does have some truth. And those mop-headed singers act as if they were pals of the youngsters, partly representing, partly making fun of their clumsiness and their appearance.
Appearance is important. Affected by an awkward but unconquerable irregularity of growth, the older child and the young adolescent feel rather self – conscious. They express their feeling in grouchiness or aggressiveness. The parents are no great help.
Since these youngsters are hard to live with, the adults often show their disappointment. The children don’t like to be cuddled, patted, or kissed. Daddy’s little girl all of sudden spits hatred or sheds tears if father jokingly slaps her on the buttocks.
The snooping mother may find outcries of indignation in the 12-year-old daughter’s diary like the following: “I saw Him touch Her breast. And She let Him.” She may not know that Him and Her are she and her husband.
Sex becomes a problem. The children have become conscious of sin and social prohibitions. And their judgments are usually stricter than the rules require. On the other hand, they may giggle over a word that almost sounds like a well-known obscenity or sex term.
This apparent sexlessness is mirrored in the apparent sexlessness of the Beatles. Their uncouthness dramatizes the pre-adolescents’ aversion to washing and grooming.
In other ways, too, the Beatles provide a safety valve. The frustrations of pre-adolescence and early adolescence are considerable. Overrating their maturity, the young people desire independence, but at the same time they are afraid of it.
The direction of the sex urge is not yet definitely determined. Homosexual thoughts stir feelings of guilt, heterosexual desires arouse feelings of inadequacy.
Confusions and frustrations of this kind seek an outlet in aggression. Yet aggression is not tolerated in our society.
The Beatles give them a legitimate opportunity for both second-hand and direct relief. The Beatle records themselves are an attack on cultured ears. Participation in a live performance does even more for them.
A girl of 15 was asked why she didn’t listen to her four heroes on television rather than standing in line for hours to see them on the stage. She replied: “I didn’t come to listen, I came to scream.”
And that has become an essential part ,of the performance: yelling, pounding, stomping and singing along so loud that the performers themselves cannot be heard. This is an outlet for approval and for defiance. It raises their self-confidence.
Sometimes it also raises the courage to such a pitch that walls and seats and anything breakable cannot withstand destruction. Most often, fortunately, the mood remains within bearable limits, a mere flailing, a noisy rebellion against the demands of a not quite understood world.
Yet a happy rebellion. For those shaggy-haired idols offer the children identification as well as emotional outlets. They are a cool, cynical lot —as cool and unconcerned as their admirers would like to be.
Unperturbed, they admit that they can’t even sing and that they care about nothing except money. Cool. Courageous. Their admirers can see themselves replying to prying adults in similar words.
Hence there is truth in what a 14-year-old girl said when she was interviewed: “They lift my morale.”
But at the same time, the rhythm translates erotic tendencies into movements and moans, a wakening sex force that operates on a deeper level.
These half-adolescents know themselves to be sexually unattractive. They are prevented by the social conventions of the adult world from expressing their sexual urges. Their own group code keeps them from expressing their sentimental wants.
But here, following the lead of those uncombed scrawny fellows with their undisguised backstreet accent, they can admit, amidst tears, aggressive screams and burlesquing, that they too want to hold a hand.
Dr. Beigel, formerly professor in the Dept. of Psychology, Long Island University, is a consultant in personal and sex problems, author of “Sex from A to Z,” editor of “Advances in Sex Research,” and secretary of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sex.