It’s clear from any angle that The Beatles had an incredible impact on the world in the sixties, but I think it’s evident stating they “changed the world” is going too far, and in actual fact they merely reflected a changing world. Source 18 mentions the view that “The Beatles changed the world in the sixties”, and it references to some of the contemporary debates from the decade, which the four-man band had an influence on: “legalization of drugs, the war in Vietnam” and “traditional and alternate religions”.
Ian Inglis also declares them as one of the “twentieth century’s more significant achievements” which is true to an extent – some of their views and actions on the decades disputes were eye-openers to society. Although, source 18 also makes the comment that the band are “innovators”, which is supported by source 17’s view they’re not the “architects” of the “new youth culture”. This shows it the counter argument: they voiced a shifting world and society.
To say the Beatles “changed the world in the sixties” holds some truth – they were the first band to speak out about the Vietnam War, the first band to openly experiment with alternate religions and criticize other traditional faiths and the only band to publically call for the legalization of marijuana. So source 18’s view that the four men were “prominent across a wide range of categories” including “historical, sociological, cultural and musical” and that “their opinions were sought out, heard and acted on” is obviously evident – especially when relating to the bands protests against the Vietnam War.
Perhaps one of the bands most famous demonstrations, in 1965, sent shock waves through the country – the Beatles were the first band to be honored with the nations highest award, but Lennon rejected his to protest against Britain’s involvement in the war with Vietnam. He also coined the renowned phrases “make love not war” and “give peace a chance”.
It’s obviously apparent that the band voiced and shaped some of the strongest protests against the cruel war – they helped to expose to society how bad the situation was in Vietnam, giving the conflict details higher awareness than before. Without their high profile protests, it’s hard to say
how the population would have reacted to the horrifying circumstances of the war, but the Beatles gave them a route to take, they used the population to support their view against conflict and unnecessary deaths, therefore this argues that the band changed the world to manipulate their opinions.
Supporting this is the negativity in source 16,Lennon says “the same idiots are running everything” – his insulting words, aimed at the government, are acceptable considering the war is still current in 1971 when the statement is made, he’s angry at the pointless fighting and deaths- much like the rest of the population.
The Beatles involvement with alternate religions made headlines and influenced a higher awareness in the world; therefore this could also argue the view that they changed the world. “Indian Mysticism” and “Transcendental Meditation” were two of the faiths they experimented with, however it was their dismissal of the Christian/Catholic belief that was the bigger impact – source 18 supports the idea they made “significant achievements” in the “cultural category”. George Harrison was the first member of the band to experiment with a new religion – Hinduism which he took interest in after being handed a book on reincarnation during the filming of “Help!” in 1965, the other members shortly followed suit.
Their choices to explore other faiths and cultures became high profile and famous decisions – 65 reporters followed the four men when they travelled to India in February 1968, where they advanced in meditation classes and followed the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi religion. All of this was new and exciting or shocking to western civilization – no one of high status had done outrageous things like this and therefore it encouraged the more rebellious youth culture to change.
Not only did their views on alternate religions make headlines, so did their opinions on traditional faiths. August 1964, the Beatles press officer said the band were “so anti-Christ they shock me which isn’t an easy thing” – this opinion is furthered by Lennon’s 1970 song “God” in which he sings “I don’t believe in Jesus” and “I don’t believe in Bible”.
Also notice the lyrics his 1970 song Imagine, “imagine there’s no heaven… no hell below us… no religion too”. The sixties was still a time where traditional faith was strong, people went to church every Sunday and the contraceptive pill was only legalized in 1961 – so for the four men to openly express they’re non-believers, it was shocking. New youth culture would have seen it as an escape to live life with more freedom, as the older and younger generation gap was wider than ever – young people looked up to the band as idols.
The famous four lead this contemporary debate more than other factors did – they helped to shape a new younger religious culture, supported by source 17, they made new religion and dismissal of the traditional “instantly chic for the millions of fans who looked to the group for guidance”.
Furthermore, the Beatles drug use was constantly in the press during the sixties – a time where the world learnt more and more about different pills, inhalants and injections. Source 18 states that the Beatles opinions on the “legalization of drugs” were “sought out, heard and acted on” – particularly in 1967 when the four young men called for the ‘legalization of marijuana’ through an advertisement in The Times.
This was a big thing – it was a fairly new drugs in UK and American culture, before the sixties tobacco and alcohol were the only widespread drugs. Although their plea didn’t work, the advertisement still created higher awareness of the hallucinogenic drug, which encouraged more people to try or use it. In 2004, Paul McCartney admitted they used drugs as an influence to most of their music – including “Got to Get You in my Life” which was about cannabis and confessed the infamous suspicion that “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” was about LSD. By the late sixties the band had managed to change how the youth spent their time – the younger generations now started to hang out in private open areas, listening to their psychedelic rock, growing their hair long, dressing in colourful clothes and taking mind-altering drugs – the hippie era had begun.
Although, it seems to me, it’s more evident that the Beatles didn’t “change the world in the sixties”, but in fact they merely reflected a changing world – this opinion is supported by both source 17 and 18. It’s stated by Allan Kozinn in source 17 that “although they seemed to be the leaders of the new youth culture, they were by no means its architects” which is also supported in source 18 by the inclusion of the words “innovators” and “spokesperson” – these words infer that the four men were imitating original views and opinions.
Source 16 also agrees with this opinion to an extent – Lennon often had a controversial provenance when talking to the media or the press, in this instance he would be saying “it’s still the same society and world, yet the middle class people follow our stupid ways” which refers to the “it’s exactly the same”, “the bourgeois system” and “we dressed up” comments.
Also with Lennon’s statement we have to consider that in 1971 the band had split – this is the same year as the statement was made; therefore it’s going to be negative.
Source 17 states that the Beatles had the “ability to detect trends early” and made them “instantly chic for millions of fans” – I think it’s evident this was the case for their involvement in the protests against the Vietnam War.
The four young men didn’t create the anti-war views and opinions, they already existed among millions of people considering the UK was only just getting better after World War 2, the men simply gave the ideas a louder voice, they catalyzed the protests into the media so larger amounts of people would see and agree. In an interview with Lennon and McCartney, in 1968, they were asked, “the US has been plagued by the Vietnam War, and the world has been concerned, what’s your views?” in which Lennon replied, “it’s another piece of insanity.” In the question we can understand that the rest of the world had the same views as the Beatles did, the four men are repeating the views to create higher awareness and support – evidence of media manipulation.
Two years earlier, during a press conference in New York, George Harrison made a similar reply to a similar question: “it’s just war is wrong and it’s obvious it’s wrong” – using the word obvious shows that he knows it’s a widespread opinion.
Through all of this we can see that the band weren’t alone on their views and opinions – in fact I think that most of their ideas they will have heard before from their elders. They use their popularity and status to showcase the concerns the public have had for many years, the issue of the Vietnam War is horrifying and disturbing to many of the younger and older generations – most people would want a stop to it straight away, source 18 supports this argument through the words “innovators” and “spokespersons”.
Arguing this even further is their 1968 song “Revolution” which includes the lyrics: “we all want to change the world, you tell me that’s evolution’, this inclusion of the words “we” and “you” makes it sound like their voicing the we as the population (including themselves) and the you is the government/constitutions. Musical influences and voices are used again by Lennon in 1971 in his song “Imagine”: “imagine there’s no countries… nothing to kill or die for… imagine all the people living in peace”. I don’t think it can be said the Beatles changed the world’s opinion on the Vietnam war – here it’s evident that they all have the same view and they simply gave it media coverage and a larger voice due to their popularity.
Again, the argument is strengthened by the fact the Beatles religious views didn’t become widespread, nor did they introduce them to the UK in the first place – their alternate religions and the high profile reports about these different faiths were not the initial introduction of them into British society. Since amendments were made to the ‘British Nationality law’ in the 1940s, people from the commonwealth islands (including India) had been immigrating to the UK for nearly 20 years – this meant that people of the Hindu and other religions had already introduced these faiths into British society and the world was already changing to be more cultural before the Beatles choice to follow them.
The band only created higher popularity for these faiths amongst the population. Also their views on Christianity and Catholicism weren’t widely accepted; 1966 John Lennon made the statement the Beatles were “more popular than Jesus” which created uproar in America, especially in the south that are strong Catholics. Younger generations burned all their merchandise and refused to accept the band as role models again. There was no change here taken place, only rejection of the new – which opposes sources 17 and 18. However source 16 does support this: “the whole bourgeois system is exactly the same”, Lennon recognizes that they didn’t change the world due to religious or other issues.
Despite this, the view that they reflected a changing world is once more reinforced by their drug use mentioned in source 18, which before seemed to be solely created by them – but according to Paul McCartney, they were introduced to drugs, before they became famous, whilst they were in Hamburg. He stated, in 2004, that they “felt everyone was doing them” and they were “told to inhale this, but it did nothing for me” when talking about Benzedrine.
This tells us that it wasn’t the Beatles who initiated drug use, but in fact others introduced them to it. Also, relating back to the ‘legalization of marijuana’ advertisement, we have to consider that it also had signatures from sixty-four other celebrities, including the Rolling Stones who were infamous for their drug and alcohol use, which suggests it was a widespread movement not a singular band who lead the way into the psychedelic era. The wheels of the hippie period had started turning, originating in America in the early sixties, a long time before the Beatles arrived on the drug scene.
Seemingly America influenced the Beatles into taking the harder drugs, such as LSD, not visa versa, just the bands music, media coverage and opinions expressed the issue with hallucinogenic drugs more than they’d been dealt with before.
All in all, I think although it could be argued that the Beatles changed the world in the sixties – they created leading protests against the Vietnam War, they introduced new religions to the younger generations, they were brave enough to announce their dis-belief in the tradition faiths and created the start of the psychedelic era – all of which received great support from the new youth culture. Source 18 supports this thoroughly: “the Beatles changed the world in the sixties… twentieth century significant achievement”, source 17 also upkeeps the argument: “instantly chic for millions of fans who looked to the group for guidance”.
But, it’s evident that the four men’s involvement with the Vietnam War protests were only echoing the public’s opinions, that drug use was popular before the band became famous and their religious views didn’t have an affect on the world – the Beatles only followed the crowd and their status expressed the issues. Which is again supported through both source 17 and 18: “although they seemed to be the leaders of the new youth culture, they were by no means its architects”, “innovators” and “spokespersons”.
In conclusion I think you can see the shifting world influenced the Beatles views and opinions and it was their famous status that seemed to express new ideas to the youth and society – they gathered their anti-war, alternate religions and drug use by things they experienced happening in the moving world of the sixties. Source 16 also disagrees with the statement that the Beatles “changed the world in the sixties”, Lennon says, “nothing happened”, that the world was “exactly the same” and the band “dressed up”.
Despite it seems he’s recognizing no change, he does notice the four men had a slight influence – “middle-class with long hair”, their trademark look was popular which they had adopted from the late 50s ‘mod’ fashion and the changing ‘hippie’ fashions. In conclusion, I don’t think the Beatles changed the world in the sixties, I think it’s evident that the band merely reflected the changing world, giving it a louder voice due to their famous status.
Courtney from Study Moose
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