Tuesday, February 9, 2021

A landmark moment in the 20th Century

Happened on this day in 1964. The Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan for the first time, before over half of the US population.   That is, over half of Americans tuned in that night to see what the frenzy was about.  Imagine a broadcast today in which over 170 million tune in to watch.  

It's considered one of the most significant moments of the century, and lifts The Beatles up above most other entertainers and artists.  Few had the influence over their own art and industry as did The Beatles. None had the monumental impact on the very course of Western culture that they did.  But their story is so well known, the million to one chances that went their way and brought to them to that rendezvous with history almost the stuff of pop cultural myth, that it isn't hard to imagine there were bigger hands behind their rise to legend than their own. 

True, their actual contributions to that place in history was minimal.  They were merely the match lighting the fuse that caused the cultural explosion that would eventually bring down the 2500 year march of Western Civilization.  One does not need to have a good, positive impact for it to be an impact after all.  But the impact of The Beatles, often captured by their groundbreaking appearance on Sullivan, is impossible to deny.

It's not uncommon, for that reason, to see their appearance on Sullivan's show placed alongside other monumental events of the century: The Moon Landing, The March on Washington, the D-Day landings at Normandy, the Titanic, Pearl Harbor, and so on.  But it also goes to show you, with just a brief look at others on that list, that not all things worthy of remembrance are for the ultimate good.  You might say, when taken as a whole, the ultimate good events are dwarfed by those with more negative consequences.  Even from such seemingly innocuous events like four musicians playing on a variety show.  


  1. I think you overestimate their importance. Oh, they had a transient impact on the style of popular music, but even before they were born, there was music more scandalous than "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring". Not Mack the Knife, of course: that can be explained (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpSGtT_s7XA). They were talented, but if it had not been them, it would have been someone else -- and at about the same time.

    As for the last paragraph, prominence is not at all the same thing as importance. Christ was born in sufficient obscurity that He was laid in a manger; when He attracted the attention of the powerful, it only made them try to destroy Him, whether they be Herod or Caiaphas. Of course, there is the whole passage of 1 Corinthians 1:25-31. I strongly suspect that the course of events owe more to the prayers of unknown saints -- an obscure Polish widow or Irish grandfather -- than to presidents or popes. What applies to people applies also to events.

    1. Well, their importance is as I said. Not that they themselves picked up the cultural revolution and made it happen, but they were the kickoff, that cork popped off the bottle that brought the already percolating cultural revolution to spill forth. The pebbles that led to the avalanche you might say. One only needs to compare the cultural output of the mid-60s to that of the early 60s to see the difference, and not just in the world of music.

      Oddly, it wasn't their music that was the bone of contention. Others following them would push the envelope and make 'controversial music.' Their music was either disliked, or rather respected, especially for a couple rank amateurs at at time when most music was written by pro song writers and handed to the performers.

      I get the difference between prominence and importance. But there is a reason their appearance is typically seen as one of the significant moments of the century. There is a dividing line before their appearance and after, for better or worse. In fact, given where some of the other significant moments were and what has lasted, it makes you wonder just who had the bigger influence. Again, for better or worse (likely worse).

    2. No, usually just noticing that the already boiling counterculture revolution that was well under way just under the surface of Western society seems to have burst forth in the wake of their appearance on the World Stage. Not that Sullivan was *the* moment, but it's typically used as that big turning point, as turning points often are. After the fact, one goes back and see a massive shift in the cultural output, and cultural acceptance, of radically new morals and ideas by the mid-60s that were still being couched in euphemism and innuendo only a few years before. Given their sizeable direct influence on culture (beyond just the music industry), that's why it's common to see this as the 'photo op' moment right up there with other key events of the century like I mentioned.

  2. Actually that number is more impressive than you know. In 1964, the total population of the US was ~191 mil (give or take a few hundred thousand depending on what data you look at). That's 89% of the US population watching the Beatles.

    To give you some perspective, that would be the equivalent today of 293 mil Americans tuning in to watch something. (give or take some rounding).

    For further perspective, the vote total in 2020 (assuming it's legit) was only 159 mil.

    1. So you're saying The Beatles could have been president? :D


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