Children of the Revolution: Bolan, Bowie and the Carnivalesque
David Bowie and Marc Bolan were two glam rock stars who, in the 1970s, presented audiences with carnivalesque ‘alternatives’ to everyday reality. As a time of crisis and transformation, the 1970s in Britain has been characterised as a period of particularly difficult socio-economic turmoil, in a still relatively conservative society – particularly in relation to conventional norms of identity, ‘authenticity’, gender and sexuality. Bolan and Bowie, through their performance personae and narrative spaces, provided both a form of ‘escape’ from the lived experience of these socio-economic difficulties, and a counter-hegemonic alternative to these aforementioned norms. That is, their ‘alternate identities’ challenged conventional norms of authenticity and of identity itself, and their ‘alternate sexualities’ presented audiences with counter-hegemonic representations of gender and sexuality. Moreover, their ‘alternate realities’ were carnivalesque, Otherworldly narrative spaces that their alternate identities inhabited, providing an escape from the difficulties of life in 1970s Britain. In this thesis, I explore these various ‘alternatives’ through a Bakhtinian framework in order to discuss the ways that they represented, in Bakhtin’s terms, a carnivalesque ‘second life of the people’ – a social safety valve and escape from these increasingly difficult socio-economic conditions. In chapter one, I place Bolan and Bowie within the context of 1970s Britain, and within the context of the glam rock genre. I explore the ways that glam has been framed as either reactionary or radical, and I align my own research with the latter approach. In chapter two, I discuss the ways that Bolan and Bowie adopted the ‘carnival mask’, presenting their counter-hegemonic ‘identities’, and in chapter three I explore their non-normative representations of gender and sexuality in terms of Bakhtin’s ‘world upside down’ and the ‘lower bodily stratum’. In chapter four, I discuss the ‘Otherworlds’ that these ‘identities’ inhabited – carnivalesque spaces – which inverted conventional hierarchies and presented a radical, utopian critique of British contemporary life under capitalism.
Advisor: Overell, Rosemary; Nicholls, Brett
Degree Name: Master of Arts
Degree Discipline: Department of Media, Film and Communication
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: David Bowie; Marc Bolan; glam rock; rock music; popular music; carnivalesque; Bakhtin; 1970s
Research Type: Thesis