Uneasily situated between counterculture images projected by James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause (1955) and the dawning of the “Age of Aquarius” a decade later, there emerged a motion picture interlude of innocence on the beaches of Southern California. It was fostered by Gidget (1959) and then thirty “surf and sex” movies that focused on young, attractive bodies and beach escapades rather than serious social causes.The films, argues Kirse May, “created an ideal teenage existence, marked by consumption, leisure, and little else.” Stephen Tropiano explains how their popularity helped shape “the archetypal image of the American teenager” and, reinforced by the surfin' sounds of Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, and other recording groups, “turned America's attention to the Southern California coastline,” where “those who never set foot on its sandy shores were led to believe that life on the West Coast was a twenty-four-hour beach party.” This study examines a notable film of this genre to determine how musclemen were exploited to exhibit this playful spirit and how their negative reception reinforced an existing disregard toward physical culture. Muscle Beach Party illustrates how physical culture served other agendas, namely the need to address American fears of juvenile delinquency and to revive sagging box-office receipts within the guise of the “good life” of California.
Beautiful Beach Bodies and Muscle Heads: California's Endless Summer Movies in the Early 1960s
john d. fair (PhD, Duke, 1970) is the author of seven books, including British Interparty Conferences: A Study of the Procedure of Conciliation in British Politics, 1867–1921 (Oxford University Press, 1980), Harold Temperley: A Scholar and Romantic in the Public Realm (University of Delaware Press, 1992), Muscletown USA: Bob Hoffman and the Manly Culture of York Barbell (Pennsylvania State University Press, 1999), and Mr. America: The Tragic History of a Bodybuilding Icon (University of Texas Press, 2015). He retired as a professor of history from Auburn University at Montgomery (1997) and Georgia College & State University (2012). He is currently adjunct professor of kinesiology at the Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports at the University of Texas, Austin.
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John D. Fair; Beautiful Beach Bodies and Muscle Heads: California's Endless Summer Movies in the Early 1960s. California History 1 May 2020; 97 (2): 112–123. doi: https://doi.org/10.1525/ch.2020.97.2.112
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