Graduation Year

2016

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Ph.D.

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

History

Major Professor

David K. Johnson, Ph.D.

Committee Member

K. Stephen Prince, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Julia F. Irwin, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Andrew S. Berish, Ph.D.

Keywords

Gender, Capitalism, Transnational, Rock Music

Abstract

This dissertation offers a cultural history of the 1980s through an examination of one of the decade’s most memorable cultural forms – hair metal. The notion that hair metal musicians, and subsequently their fans, wanted “nothin’ but a good time,” shaped popular perceptions of the genre as shallow, hedonistic, and apolitical. Set against the backdrop of Reagan’s election and the rise of conservatism throughout the decade, hair metal’s transgressive nature embodied in the performers’ apparent obsession with partying and their absolute refusal to adopt the traditional values and trappings of “yuppies” or middle-class Americans, certainly appeared to be a strong reaction against conservatism; however, a closer examination of hair metal as a cultural form reveals a conservative subtext looming beneath the genre’s transgressive façade. In its embrace of traditional gender roles, free market capitalism, and American exceptionalism, hair metal upheld and worked to re-inscribe the key tenants of conservative ideology. Historians have only recently turned an analytical eye toward the 1980s and by and large their analyses have focused on the political and economic changes wrought by the Reagan Revolution that competed America’s conservative turn over the course of the decade. This study adds to historical understandings of the decade’s political history by telling us how non-political actors – musicians, producers, critics, and fans – shaped and were shaped by the currents of formal politics. Though heavy metal music and the rise of conservatism seem to share little common ground, by putting these two seemingly disparate historiographies into conversation with one another, we gain a clearer picture of the breadth and depth of conservatism’s reach in the 1980s.

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