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March 21, 2015 1:33 PM   Subscribe

the idea of disco demolition night as white male reaction to a genre oriented around women/poc/queer folks is something i reflect on a lot for cultural context for gamergate
posted by p3on at 1:44 PM on March 21, 2015 [17 favorites]

Some of us just didn't like the music.
posted by jonmc at 1:48 PM on March 21, 2015 [7 favorites]

You'll be hard-pressed to find a greater disco True Believer than me. I have an endless thirst for rare groove, obscure tracks, hard to find international tracks, etc. I consider Neil Bogart to be a kind of personal hero, Saturday Night Fever a cultural monument, and even love throwaway flicks like Thank God it's Friday and Can't Stop the Music. Further, my number one stop on the Time Travel agenda is Studio 54 in the summer of 1977. I've read the books, bought the records, seen the films, and have the bona fides. Hell I even bought the Disco Demolition documentary dvd for like $35.
Having said all that, I don't think the popular narrative about Disco Sucks being a racist, homophobic backlash is all that accurate. In 1979, Disco—as it was being reacted to—was the most white mainstream arguably aggressively heterosexual craze going. What I think people were really reacting to was the monoculture and disco's near-absolute takeover of it. It was inescapable and it was everywhere. And when you only have 3 TV channels and 2 pop radio stations, that shit is bound to get on your nerves when even Bob Hope is getting his Tony Manero on.
While I'm sure racist and homophobic lunkheads were well represented amongst the Disco Demolition Army ranks, I really don't think that stuff is what was driving it.
posted by Senor Cardgage at 2:31 PM on March 21, 2015 [16 favorites]

A lot of disco did suck, especially after 1977

you take that back!
posted by en forme de poire at 2:46 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

Having said all that, I don't think the popular narrative about Disco Sucks being a racist, homophobic backlash is all that accurate.

Wasn't there a pretty good FPP that made a strong case for this being true, though?

In my experience, having DJed quite a bit of disco/disco house over the past 5-7 years it feels like there's still a cultural undercurrent of that stuff percolating along. The prototypical frat boy bro type "fuccboi" 18-20s white male immediately jumps to calling it gay/"f***y". And it doesn't feel like the same way that kind of guy would call say, my little pony or mario party gay. It's more of a "this is literally reading homoerotic to me and it makes me uncomfortable" sort of reaction.

Say what you will, but the fact that i've not only read up on the history of this but seen the reaction of that kind of slur spurting homophobic asshole guy to it really makes me believe that was there then too. And shit, my parents remember it that way.
posted by emptythought at 2:56 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

It was inescapable and it was everywhere. And when you only have 3 TV channels and 2 pop radio stations, that shit is bound to get on your nerves when even Bob Hope is getting his Tony Manero on.

This is the thing that's hard to get across to people who weren't there, or even, I guess, to people who were there but liked it. It wasn't like it is now, where you have more choice in media. It really was everywhere, and that really sucked for those of us who didn't like it.

I was still a kid at the time, but I just really really didn't like the music I was hearing. I didn't get a lot of radio stations, I didn't have much money to buy records, and as a result, I had very little choice in what I got to listen to. For a while there, there were only two radio stations that I got decent reception on. One was disco, and the other was country (there may have been old people stations that were out of the question as well, but if there were, I didn't count them.) So I babysat and did chores and read magazines and ordered records by mail based exclusively on reviews, because I didn't have any other way to listen to anything I wanted to hear.

I'll certainly entertain the notion that there was an element of racism and homophobia to some of the anti-disco sentiment, but I can tell you first hand that a lot of it was a grassroots reaction to its complete pervasiveness. I was firmly in the "Disco sucks" camp at the time, and it was entirely motivated by the lack of choice. I was hardly going out of my way to be offended by it.
posted by ernielundquist at 4:17 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

yes and yes and yes again, and, because yes, as a matter of fact this is a hill worth fighting for, I'll quote myself from the not so distant past ...

I'm sure that race and sexuality had something to do with the anti-disco backlash of the late 70s, but please don't imply that the overall musical/cultural experience of it very much did suck big time. By which I mean, in a very short period (1974-77), this fresh new sound went from being a nice part of the overall mix that made for the pop music stew of the time to THE OVERWHELMING DOMINANT ingredient, to the extent that you couldn't really taste anything else (kind of like a recipe with way too much cilantro). Add to this the fact that, as always with pop trends, the stuff that got the most exposure was usually the thinnest in terms of genuine quality, and you ended up with a perfect storm of SUCK by about 1978.


posted by philip-random at 4:22 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

The impression I gathered of disco in Australia was not that it was associated with African-American people or gayness but rather with “wogs”, i.e., people of Greek and Italian heritage. This had different connotations; they were still an Other, but associated with a showy, hot-blooded Mediterranean hypermasculinity (as distinct from the workaday Anglo-Celtic blokeyness that was the non-Other). These clichés lived on for some decades, to the point where, some time around 10-15 years ago, there was a DJ playing post-ironic disco nights in Melbourne whose stage name was Chestwig (i.e., a reference to the distinctly un-Anglo hairy-chestedness of disco as a genre).
posted by acb at 6:11 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

I was in highschool when this happened. I hated disco because it wasn't Led Zepplin, I didn't like dancing or the fashions. As an acid head it was obviously coke music, it was no fun to get high to. Had nothing to do with sexuality that i was aware of.
posted by doctor_negative at 6:47 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

As a high school senior in 1977, my wardrobe consisted of about thirty concert tour t-shirts (probably half of which were Dylan shirts) and one black t-shirt that said, simply, Disco Sucks. It was all about changing the world, in my teenage mind. Disco was mindless, repetitive pap to me. It had absolutely nothing to do with sexuality or race. Different strokes, I guess.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 7:12 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

It's funny to mention the musical "monoculture" in this context, AM Radio & FM Radio both went through different sorts of golden ages in terms of diversity of content in the early 1970's. The Disco Sucks backlash probably came out of gradually having less Rock music on AM Radio. Then Burkhart/Abrams killed radio as we know it, and it hasn't recovered since.
posted by ovvl at 8:23 PM on March 21, 2015 [2 favorites]

I was very very young (5 years and younger) when disco was still a thing and my earliest musical memories consisted of what was to become known as New Wave. That being said, while I sort of agree that the decline of disco consisted in part due to the dudebro-backlash phenomenon, a large part of it was that disco of the late 70s was... for lack of a better term... insipid. Even worse, the ubiquity of the format meant that it was harder not to listen to disco then it was to listen to it. You didn't have to be racist or homophobic or misogynist to hate disco; it was simply a matter of being sick of hearing the same musical format for nearly a decade for the most part.

Now that being said, I've turned around a bit on the musical form of disco in recent years. I started to realize that some of the bigger acts of the time (Bee Gees, Village People) did have a catalog of music that was actually very much worth listening to despite how much I hated their biggest hits. I'm not necessarily becoming a disco fan in my old age, but I'm starting to backtrack a bit on my overall hatred of the form in general.
posted by surazal at 8:30 PM on March 21, 2015 [1 favorite]

Disco's one of those easy targets musically, but there's a lot of catchy, good music in there. It wasn't all about the SCENE with all the posturing and hookups and drugs and Studio 54 and all of that.

Then there's shit like "Fly, Robin, Fly."

On the other hand, Scissor Sisters, so...
posted by ostranenie at 9:02 PM on March 21, 2015 [3 favorites]

I really, truly just hated the songs.

I never, ever thought there was a social justice issue in it. It just sucked.
posted by disclaimer at 12:54 AM on March 22, 2015

Am I correct that the anti-disco revolt never caught on in Europe? I saw a documentary once about Studio 54 and was completely baffled. I assumed that the financial corruption was what people were rebelling against.
posted by Omnomnom at 2:41 AM on March 22, 2015

The stuff that is still listened to is actually pretty good - some of it is brilliant - but it's important to remember that at the time those of use who mostly got our disco from the radio were treated to a barrage of godawful novelty songs like Disco Duck, Kung Fu Fighting, the inevitable Dance The Kung Fu, The Bertha Butt Boogie, Get Dancin and so on. At the time that was what disco was to me more than anything else and those songs truly do suck.
posted by lordrunningclam at 7:26 AM on March 22, 2015 [3 favorites]

I also really truly just hated the songs I heard snatches of on tv and the radio, and yeah, the mono-culture aspect of it. It was also portrayed, at least in the press, as kind of the anti-protest music movement - the don't worry, be happy and just dance music. The we are so tired of songs with "meaning" music. That felt like a slap to those who hoped some positive change might come out of the 60s and the antiwar and other political movements (and protest songs) of the 60s and early 70s.

It was only when I met my friend Nadia in the mid 70s that I got a bit better understanding of a different meaning of disco for some people. She grew up in a N. New Jersey suburb of New York City and she loved to escape to NYC and go to disco clubs and dance. She is black, and said it was incredibly freeing to just dance - black, white, gay, straight - in the disco clubs of the day. At that point I decided to categorize it as just not my cup of tea, but to leave the active hatred behind.

We also started to have other things to occupy our time, in NJ at least.
posted by gudrun at 8:13 AM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

I'm reading a great book about the rise & fall of Disco right now: Turn The Beat Around by Peter Shapiro. It was recommended to me by The Card Cheat and now I'm recommending it to anyone interested in Disco, Music, History and/or New York. Seriously, this book is fantastic!
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 10:23 AM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Honestly a lot of the other reasons I've heard for people rejecting disco (too repetitive, radio saturation, "bad" politics/message) sound really similar to the backlash against rap in the 90s...
posted by en forme de poire at 12:55 PM on March 22, 2015 [2 favorites]

much of the hip hop in the 90s needed to be backlashed against. But don't take my word for it. Listen to these guys ...
posted by philip-random at 7:00 PM on March 22, 2015

I'm reading a great book about the rise & fall of Disco right now: Turn The Beat Around by Peter Shapiro.

Haven't read the book but the publisher's blurb certainly indicates it's one of the jumping off points for some of the current dodgy historical revisioning ...

As a genre, disco radically re-defined the sensibility of the seventies to the extent where reactionary rockers felt the need to launch a paranoid 'Disco Sucks' campaign at the end of the decade.

I mean, that's at best half-correct. The culture was redefined and reactionary rockers were marginalized ... but so was everybody else who wanted to hear ANYTHING that wasn't disco on the radio. In Vancouver for instance, you barely even heard Bruce Springsteen's Born to Run when it was new and fresh (1976), such that when he came to town in 1978, he played a comparatively small hall (maybe one-fifth of the capacity that the Village People played to the previous year).
posted by philip-random at 7:13 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

Honestly a lot of the other reasons I've heard for people rejecting disco (too repetitive, radio saturation, "bad" politics/message) sound really similar to the backlash against rap in the 90s...

Well, yeah, any time you get media saturation of one specific genre or style, you get a backlash from those who don't like it for any variety of reasons. That seems to be pretty much the natural order of things. Big media discovers a formula, plays it into the ground, increasing numbers of people get sick of it, which creates backlash and discontent, and new formulas grow out of that backlash.

If you're implying that the sole or primary similarity is racism or classism or heteronormativity, that's a pretty serious accusation.

I am telling you right now that the disco I thought sucked was largely the domain of straight white men, at least as far as I was aware. It was slick, formulaic, excruciatingly repetitive AND derivative corporate garbage, and it was played to death, everywhere.
posted by ernielundquist at 7:42 PM on March 22, 2015 [4 favorites]

Well, I can only speak from personal experience to the backlash against rap because the disco heyday was before my time. I'm certainly not accusing anyone of being a secret Strom Thurmond or whatever. It just struck me that the grounds on which the two genres were criticized were similar, in ways that go beyond mere radio saturation.

For instance, looking back now, I can say that of course 90s hip hop wasn't above reproach or completely non-problematic or anything. But I also think the way in which that music was disproportionately criticized by a certain type of middle-class suburban white person (and here I totally include myself) as, e.g., uncreative, larcenous, repetitive, materialistic, politically harmful, etc., was definitely shaped by racist currents in society. I think those cultural currents encouraged (white) people to devalue the way in which that time period's hip-hop was creative and/or had value, and overvalue the way that genres associated with whiteness were creative/had value. I know I personally didn't really give hip hop the musical respect that it really deserved until much later because I bought into some of those critiques at face value. So I can see how something similar might have happened for other artistic styles, time periods, and people.
posted by en forme de poire at 8:52 PM on March 22, 2015 [1 favorite]

I may have told this story in a previous thread, but this is a good excuse to tell it again. I was 5 years old (almost 6) when Disco Demolition Night happened - and Steve Dahl was my family's next-door neighbor at the time. I saw the news footage and became convinced that he was going to break into our house, steal my Sesame Street Fever record, and burn it too. I was so freaked out about this that my mom actually had to get him to come over and tell me that he was not going to take my record.

(I still have that record at my parents' house.)
posted by SisterHavana at 11:39 PM on March 22, 2015 [9 favorites]

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