I know I’m getting “series” happy, but I can’t resist this epiphany: Teen Idols! Right?

Teen idols in pop culture have provided an excuse for young girls to express themselves, often publicly (as with concerts), though privately as well (organizing in fan clubs, etc.). Girls– so often encouraged to be quiet, docile and most of all asexual–flip the bird to established culture norms when the bright smile of a teen idol captures their hearts. All must be sacrificed in the name of love!

Shout out to teen idolizing boys– I know you were there too, but the constraints of masculinity disallowed participation in the idol movement of your youth! Feminism is for everyone, no?

I find that women are often embarrassed to talk about the extremity of their girlhood teen idol crushes, usually because the object of their fixation is deemed a representative of “low culture” by the male elite cultural critics who fear what they don’t understand.

“Male identity is constructed around every man’s pride in his independence. As a result, the masculine paradigm can never quite accept fandom in general” (402)

-Caught in a Trap? Beyond Pop Theory’s ‘Butch’ Construction of Male Elvis Fans
Mark Duffett
Popular Music, Vol. 20, No. 3 Gender and Sexuality. (Oct., 2001), pp.395-408.

Though it’s often a source of shame (I remember having to buy Hanson fan magazines for my older sister who cowered in the supermarket parking lot– while I secretly wrote Leonardo DiCaprio poetry in my bedroom like a tortured Emily Dickenson), with a little prying, I’m usually able to coax out of most girls an admission that being in love with their teen idol was an early experience in euphoria and self-determination (albeit consumerist in nature).

My theory is that there is a lot more to the teen idol phenomenon than most cultural critics suggest. The official story is that young girls, afraid of their sexuality and adult men, fixate on safe, androgynous movie or pop stars in a kind of puberty-aided escape fantasy.

This is certainly part of it, but there is a lot more going on. I’d like to suggest over the course of this series the following:

1. Teen idols reverse “gaze theory” in which women and girls are typically thought to be subject to the “phallic gaze”* and internalize their domination by adopting a male gaze towards themselves and all other women. Teen idol imagery, frankly, undermines this theory. *Bop* Magazine is like Hustler for eleven year olds— before they were taught not to look.

*Interestingly, teen idols often self-destruct later in life, unable to deal with being treated like, well a girl.

2. Teen idols often serve young girls as a male cultural representative with whom they feel profound identification (could this be another reason for the androgyny?).
3. Girls learn to express themselves and form opinions outside of their family’s aesthetics and allows them a tame experience of rebellion as well as generational identification.
4. Girls learn to organize in the form of fan clubs and concerts.
5. Teen idol subculture is a form of feminist awakening, whether or not it comes to fruition later in life.

Over the course of the next few weeks or months, I’ll give my analysis of teen idol culture whilst I feature for your pleasure a hall of fame of some of our favs! *swoon*

Teen Idol #1: David Cassidy
For some reason, Cassidy is in the upper echelon of teen idoldom, though The Partridge Family was only on the air for four years, and wasn’t that popular a show to begin with. Nevertheless, his idol appeal has proven transcendent. He was at the top of his game in the early seventies, and one of the highest paid music performers of his era. When the hysteria-machine finally winded down, Cassidy-related merchandise raked in $500 million internationally.

Cassidy-mania was at one point so frenzied that a young female fan was trampled to death at a concert, while 13 others were hospitalized. And so, a feminist rebel dies in the name of love, not war. March on!

What I’m trying to say is: the guy was cute.

Read all about him from a vintage feature in 16 Magazine.

Of course, I Think I Love You:

…porn for 12 year olds! Titillating!

And the Partridge Family reminding us that they’re lily white. :

Do you dare deny it fellow soldiers?