Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Girls Just Wanna Have Fun?

Day’s repertory raises some interesting questions about American culture and how societal perceptions were represented within her works. ‘A Guy is a Guy’, was published in 1952, written by Oscar Brand and was based on the song, ‘A gob is a slob’. The original version discusses a sexual encounter (in the most blatant manner). Day’s version alludes to sexual encounter in a much more concealed manner and results in marriage. How and why Brand chose to rewrite the song and ‘clean-up’ the lyrics raises some interesting questions about societal expectations and viewpoints whilst also addressing issues such as: morals, gendered roles and middle class ideologies.
The song was a success, reaching #4 on the Billboard chart and even today has a substantial amount of views on YouTube. It is connected with post-war ideologies and the move to middle class suburban life. Although woman became a ‘patriotic necessity’ during the war (entering the work force), their duties waned after the return of the troops, ‘Gender, not talent, was the most important qualification’ (David Halberstam, ‘The Fifties’, [New York: The Random House Publishing Group], 589). Women’s magazines encouraged women to embrace the new home-orientated life, glorifying their duties whilst also promoting the culture of consumerism to ease the burden of the mothers and wives duties. In many (if not most) of her performances, Day was portrayed as a virginal girl next door. Bingham states that there was ‘a cultural assumption that men are driven to initiate sex, while women are women are compelled to receive it, or reject it- deal with it somehow (Dennis Bingham, ‘‘Before She Was a Virgin …”: Doris Day and the Decline of Female Film Comedy’, Vol.45, No.3 [Cinema Journal], 11) thus suggesting that women are subordinate figures inept of holding any real sexual identity, men act, women react. Marriage is portrayed as the ultimate achievement, and all that goes with it was positively presented in the media. Halliwell states that, popular music in the 1950’s epitomised ‘mass culture’ and also suggested that, ‘Musicians and performers were never far away from politicised discourses about religion, race, sexuality and class’ (Martin Halliwell, ‘American Culture in the 1950’s’, [Edinburgh University Pres], 121) thus mass culture ideologies were imposed on all, almost like subliminal messages (you want/need this, these are your values, etc.)

In Day’s, ‘A guy is a Guy’, we are again subjected to a standardised audience’s perception. By solely analysing the lyrics we are exposed to a naïve young girl (fitting with Day’s virginal/ girl next door image). The song depicts mundane actions, ‘I walked down the street like a good girl should’. The line, ‘Like a good girl should’ is repeated at the beginning of each verse, re-iterating the importance of ‘appropriate behaviour’. The male character, is essentially acting inappropriately, yet his actions are somehow justified because, ‘a guy is a guy wherever he may be’. Although in the song Day says she initially avoids his advances, she does succumb. As a result of this ‘slip’ her parents arrange her marriage to the man. The song ends with an elusive sinister line, ‘and that’s what he did to me’. Throughout the song Day depicts the event, yet never offers any personal opinion on what occurred. Therefore, highlighting the idealised passive nature of women. With the addition of the music, Day sings in a sickly sweet naive manner. The vocal line rarely exceeds the octave range. There are male backing vocalists which really emphasises the male-dominated nature of this piece. There is also reference made to Wagner’s ‘Bridal Chorus’ from ‘Lohengrin’ and Mendelssohn’s ‘Wedding March’ from ‘A Midsummers Night’s Dream’. The inclusion of these two pieces may also offer us additional food for thought, perhaps exposing some hidden meanings. In ‘Lohengrin’ there is the motif of the ‘forbidden question’ and the prominent theme of unknown identity. In Mendelssohn’s work the notion of loveless marriages is approached (In Shakespeare’s text).

Women have been defined a role in the domestic setting and in this piece this is very much reflected. Any bit of freedom or actions are undermined; any personal thoughts are then controlled by marriage. Although the song alludes to sexual activity this has to be concealed (and has been done so most definitely in the delivery/ performance of the song).

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