sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3

Andrew Hunt: Beatlemania in America

The "happiness machine" that was the Beatles continues to generate scholarly interest. Andrew Hunt, Professor of History at the University of Waterloo, explores Beatlemania in the United States, particularly during its peak between 1964 and 1966. Beatlemania "shone a spotlight on complex issues such as race and gender, conformity and authenticity, generational divides and consumerism, religion and technology." (1) Ultimately, however, Hunt depicts its most important legacy as connecting young Americans to something "epic," forging life-long feelings of joy, purpose, and generational identity.

Beatlemania in America's seven chapters proceed chronologically from 1964 - when the Beatles landed in New York seventy-six days after Kennedy's assassination - through the band's breakup in 1970 and subsequent afterlives. Topics include their early marketing juggernaut, which surpassed previous crazes around Elvis Presley and Frank Sinatra; debates over long hair on males; anti-Beatle actions; African American reactions to the band; and the Beatles' late period in which they became more sonically adventurous but alienated many original fans. Hunt focuses solely on the US with no eye to Beatlemania in other countries, such as West Germany (where comparisons between Beatlemania and Nazi rallies surfaced more than once).

Hunt draws primarily on memoirs and contemporary press accounts. The book captures particularly well how Beatlemania was discussed in local papers and syndicated columns, offering glimpses beyond metropolitan centers. These reveal multifaceted reactions at the time from both adults and youths. Hunt also cites the fan club magazine Beatles Monthly and other fan-generated publications.

The book is at its best when discussing the spectrum of fan behavior. Hunt takes seriously fans' obsessions and the meanings they ascribed to the group. He shows the social and emotional connections Beatles fandom facilitated as it opened provincial Americans up to the wider world. Fandom was particularly emboldening for young females, from the energetic girls who staffed local fan clubs to teens who ran away from home to follow the band. It encouraged pushing against adult rules, if not outright rebellion. It was also a site of creativity, from bedroom shrines to fashions. In some cases, teen writers or photographers were hired by local news outlets to present youth perspectives and challenge unsympathetic adult narratives.

Hunt's look at African American reactions to Beatlemania is also interesting. He brings Black fans out of the shadows and reveals the range of opinion among activists and intellectuals, particularly in light of the Beatles' early refusal to play segregated halls and consistent expressions of support for civil rights. Hunt even uncovers correspondence from the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee about the possibility of a Beatles fundraiser in 1966 - an idea that turned out to be merely wishful thinking.

The book is less successful on the level of analysis. Hunt rehashes familiar stories of the Beatles' evolution from teenybopper idols to serious musicians. Their importance and greatness are taken as a given; talk about them as a fad is dismissed. Yet there was a faddish element about them - more serious consideration of that could shed light on how youth-driven consumer capitalism was changing American society. Apart from some discussion of the origins of 1966's "bigger than Jesus" controversy, there's little on how marketing or media competition were reshaping the 1960s. Hunt alludes to postwar prosperity and gives many examples of fan clubs led by white suburban kids but does not link these to larger considerations of class or social mobility. Youths' very desire to participate in Beatlemania was historically contingent and worth unpacking more.

Elsewhere, Hunt paints debates over Beatlemania during its prime years as having little to do with ideology, but the elite condescension of a William F. Buckley, for example, was of a piece with conservative politics. Many anti-Beatle actions look like early versions of the culture wars in which the US is now mired, such as a right-wing "Committee for Public Information" robocalling New Jersey households with a warning that the Beatles were part of a Communist plot for world domination. (Communist states, for their part, saw the band as a plot to undermine socialism.) Hunt's look at the "Paul is Dead" hoax concludes that this US phenomenon "dovetailed with the country's long history of conspiracy thinking" (161) - how exactly? After Lennon's "bigger than Jesus" comments, how did the record burnings staged by small-town radio stations fit into the larger history of conservatives' political uses of pop culture?

Another missed opportunity is the lack of engagement with the literature on fan studies. While Elvis is mentioned several times, there's no consideration of the two fandoms in relation to each other. Hunt presents Beatles fan communities as cohesive and positive, but fandoms can also have elements of conformity and exclusivity. Lennon's murder could be read as the ultimate example of fan culture as pathology. Hunt's upbeat assessment of Beatles fandom would be more persuasive had he engaged debates within cultural studies and the historiography more fully.

Perhaps most glaring in a work in which teenage girls figure prominently is the lack of deeper discussion of sex and gender. Hunt provides many examples of sexualized descriptions of fan behavior and moral panics about girls claiming "too much" freedom, such as the two who flew off to the UK, causing a police manhunt and a national media frenzy. Citing Christine Feldman-Barrett, Hunt points out girls' leading role in Beatles fan culture. [1] He rightly credits their intelligence and agency, but Barbara Ehrenreich's landmark article on Beatlemania as a catalyst for second-wave feminism is not cited. [2] Charged comments about masculinity - such as columnist Amy Vanderbilt advising immigrants that "we do not like long hair on men in this country" (54) or Gallup respondents crying "we have enough queers around now" (55) - go unanalyzed. Hunt tends to treat media reports on "hysterical" audiences as mere hyperbole rather than dig into what they can tell us about the US at the time. While he correctly concludes that fan practices "helped to eventually topple the era's conventional gender norms," (57) he relies on generic explanations about American society in transition rather than explore the specifics of those transformations. While there's value in not treating fandom as a proxy for ostensibly more important issues (as historical works on pop culture often do), Hunt leans too far in the other direction.

This work offers a useful, accessible introduction to Beatles fandom in the US. However, readers seeking deeper analysis of the links between Beatlemania and larger sociopolitical questions may need to look elsewhere.


[1] Christine Feldman-Barrett: A Women's History of the Beatles, London 2021.

[2] Barbara Ehrenreich / Elizabeth Hess / Gloria Jacobs: Beatlemania: Girls Just Want to Have Fun, in: Lisa Lewis (ed.): The Adoring Audience. Fan Culture and Popular Media, New York 1992, 84-106.

Rezension über:

Andrew Hunt: Beatlemania in America. Fan Culture from Below, London: Bloomsbury 2023, XI + 227 S., 13 s/w-Abb., ISBN 978-1-350-29156-0, GBP 21,99

Rezension von:
Julia Sneeringer
City University of New York
Empfohlene Zitierweise:
Julia Sneeringer: Rezension von: Andrew Hunt: Beatlemania in America. Fan Culture from Below, London: Bloomsbury 2023, in: sehepunkte 24 (2024), Nr. 3 [15.03.2024], URL:

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