An Interview with My Aunt: 1960s Media and Rural Perspective

For this interview I talked to Karen, my maternal aunt. She was born in 1953 – she is currently 59 years old – and grew up in Whatcom county in northwest Washington. She grew up as the second child in a family of two girls and three boys. The area she grew up in was for the most part rural and much of her life revolved around school and the horses she rode and cared for. Despite having some problems remembering back 40 plus years, Karen was able to share certain insights into the way she consumed media as a child and teenager.

Unlike the recollections in the Hains, Theil-Stern and Mazzarella article, Karen remembered her interactions with media as specific events rather than general memories of favorite or memorable pieces. For instance, when I asked what music she liked to listen to, she simply responded “I probably listened to a lot of country music” rather than giving a specific artist. On the other hand, at the end of the interview, she recollected both the first time she saw the Beatles on television and the way she found out Elvis died. She even remembered the name of the specific show – the Lauren Folk show in Poulsbo – where she first saw the Beatles. After remember this event, she revealed that she did listen to the Beatles frequently growing up and that they were among her favorite groups. This may simply suggest that certain people remember their experiences with media in different ways. It may also suggest that media generally was less important to my aunt than specific events that directly impacted her life.

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Another significant insight into the way Karen consumed media as a teenager is her reflection on female media figures. Unlike the interviewees in the Hains, Theil-Stern and Mazzarella article who often identified particular women who they read about or looked up to, Karen remembered more generally negative images of women than positive ones. For instance, she was unable to identify any particular female character or personality with whom she identified but did isolate negative images of women in the media. When first asked what sort of images of women she saw in the media, Karen replied “a lot of Barbie dolls.” She recalled seeing many “sexy” images of women. Seen in ads and television shows, Karen described these women as “scantily clad, thin” and almost always white. Considering that many of the images that Karen witnessed during her childhood existed during the late 60s and early 70s, it is possible that this proliferation of sexy images reflects what Gauntlett terms the “Cosmo factor.” The fact that Karen does not recall domestic images of subservient women but instead “sexy” images of women may suggest that she was on the cusp of the media movement that redefined women outside of the home. However, unlike Gaunlett’s suggestion that this heralded a new liberatory form of media, my aunt saw the proliferation of these images as negative and untrue to reality. She recalls speaking to her mother and sister about the way the images were not real and the need to not internalize their commentary on what it meant to be a woman. Ultimately she felt that these images had little effect on her femininity. “I’m sure they had some effect,” she said, “but less than they had on most people.”

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Many of the seeming departures from what one would expect of media consumption patterns of a teenager in the 60s seen in Karen’s testimony may reflect the fact that she was not what one would term average for her demographic. Unlike many others, Karen saw media as something that was only moderately important in her life. While she remembers many news milestones like the first moon landing and President Kennedy’s assassination, she cannot remember seemingly less important matters, like her favorite television show or specific stars she followed. Additionally, she grew up in a rural area and was more interested in her horses than in pop culture. Instead of reading Cosmopolitan or Seventeen, Karen read horse related magazines like Western Horses. She also was more apt to listen to John Denver than Elvis. In this way, Karen seemed to differ from the Hains, et. al. respondents in two significant ways. First, she sees media as less pop cultural elements and more as global current events. This creates a vision of media that is less based on individual media personalities and stars and more about events that somehow impact an individual’s life. For instance, while she did not recount watching Elvis, she did remember the way she had found out that he had died. Second, it can be said that she was not part of the “girls generation.” If one simply looks at the decade Karen was a teenager, it becomes clear that she consumed media over a decade after most of the women interviewed by Hains. Additionally, she was culturally more aligned to rural living than to the sort of media that proliferated in cosmopolitan areas. Ultimately this suggests a rural/urban split in the way that individuals consume media that merits further investigation.

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One thought on “An Interview with My Aunt: 1960s Media and Rural Perspective

  1. Love this post, Michelle — and it absolutely supports the claim made by Mazzarella et.al. that there’s no “one” history of girls’ media, but many — and they can contradict and confirm each other in so many surprising ways. I’m curious about the labeling of images as “sexy” — was that something that someone else labeled them (and thus encouraged your aunt’s scorn) or something that she assigned retrospectively?

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