|By Robert Prechter, originally published as a Special Report in the July 2010 Socionomist|
September 21, 1964: Reporter: “Can you explain why these kids do it?”
Ringo: “No. Every day, we’ve been asked that, and we still don’t know why.”
Reporter: “Do you think you’d have to be a sociologist, a psychologist, of the times?”1
“Why the mayhem started, and why it was necessary to those causing it, will forever remain a mystery, defying social psychologists and historians then as now.”3*
A sociologist, of the times or not, cannot shed much light on the appearance and disappearance of the mass adoration of certain people, much less of the changes from adoration to vilification and (sometimes) back again. But a socionomist can.
The extreme popularity and unpopularity that some people achieve in society is regulated by social mood. Social mood trends have outlets of expression, and one of them is the creation of, and then the adoration and/or vilification of, public figures. When the public finds individuals or ensembles (such as sports teams or musical groups) upon whom they can project their positive or negative feelings, those people become public figures.
The public does not choose such individuals entirely by chance. They have characteristics that allow people to project their feelings onto them. People who become popular representatives of positive social mood might be intelligent, lovable, talented, clever, funny, urbane, handsome, beautiful or sexually attractive, or have several of these traits. People who become popular representatives of negative social mood might be intelligent, provocative, driven, rebellious, daring, harsh, arrogant, melancholy, comforting or vulnerable. Fame rarely lights on just anyone. At the same time, however, millions of people share such traits, and they do not become famous. The combination of ambition, circumstance and the trends of social mood work to place certain people in the public eye. Exertion alone cannot do it; many people try and fail to become famous. Circumstance alone is rarely enough; talent and effort must be part of the package. But once these factors combine for a person at the right time with the trend of social mood, he or she can achieve fame. Thereafter, such people’s popularity is strongly, if not exclusively, buffeted by social mood.
One can link the fortunes of dozens of stars to social mood trends. Whether the individual is Carol Burnett, Bill Clinton, Perry Como, Bill Cosby, Miley Cyrus, John Edwards, Herbert Hoover, Michael Jackson, Michael Jordan, Marilyn Monroe, Richard Nixon, Elvis Presley, Ronald Reagan, Franklin Roosevelt, Shakespeare, Frank Sinatra, Britney Spears, John Travolta, John Wayne or any other such public personality, one can observe the waves of social mood shaping stars’ periods of success and failure. The ultimate star-maker is the public, and how the public feels determines how it views, and treats, its stars.
There are bull market stars and bear market stars. Bull market stars tend to be more revered, because positive mood encourages more loyalty than does negative mood. Almost no person or ensemble is consistently popular through a bull and bear market. Social mood regulates people’s choice of media heroes, and when mood changes, so does the focus of adoration or vilification.
On rare occasion, an object of acclaim can succeed in both positive and negative social-mood environments, but some change in social mood usually ushers in the popularity. Rodney Dangerfield, for example, toiled in obscurity for many years until his sad-sack, “I don’t get no respect” routine caught on in the bear market of the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Yet by skewing his image to that of a lovable guy, he stayed popular through the 1980s bull market. Most comedians, in contrast, clearly represent bull markets or bear markets. Bill Cosby was riding high in the bull market decades of the 1960s, when he recorded popular comedy albums and starred in two TV shows, and again in the 1980s, when his Bill Cosby Show was the highest ranking sitcom of all time. Richard Pryor, on the other hand, was a bear-market comedian, who was popular throughout the 1970s until the end of the 16-year bear market in the constant-dollar Dow in 1982, the year he won the last of his five Grammys. The vast majority of public figures are either “bull market” or “bear market” heroes, as they represent society’s positive or negative feelings.
The rarest of stars have a feel for public mood and know when to press their cases. It is said that after Napoleon’s initial period of success had ended, a rabid fan approached him and demanded that he return to prominence and lead France again; Napoleon replied, “While my star is rising, nothing can stop me; while my star is falling, nothing can save me.”27 When reporters asked Jerry Seinfeld why he announced retirement when his show was so popular, he simply said, “[I] want to go out on top. It’s time.”30 Most stars overstay their welcomes, and when the trend of social mood shifts, they become has-beens. Others achieve relatively unstained immortality by conveniently (for their legacy, at least) dying near their peaks in popularity, as did John Kennedy, Marilyn Monroe, Jimi Hendrix and Cleopatra.
In 1985, “Popular Culture and the Stock Market” (reprinted in Pioneering Studies in Socionomics), first proposed the socionomic regulation of famous people’s public experience. To illustrate this idea in detail, I can choose few better examples than the most popular band of the past half-century. Many people living today have a relationship with the Beatles. Such readers will be able to hear and feel—as opposed to simply read about—the band’s story and its connection to social mood.
The Beatles were a quintessential bull market band. Their counterparts to some degree in the U.S., the Beach Boys, have a nearly identically timed record of early struggle, success and collapse. To contrast the Beatles’ period of popularity with that of a bear market hero, I end this essay with a review of the fortunes of another performer: John Denver.
Ambition and Effort
The Beatles were ambitious and aimed high. They repeatedly stated out loud to themselves their ultimate goal: to reach “the toppermost of the poppermost.” During the early years of frustrated goals, the Beatles’ single-mindedness was a key ingredient in letting their talent develop and producing the ultimate result.
The Beatles also put in the effort. Norman Chapman, the Beatles’ drummer for a few gigs in 1960, later recalled, “Everything they did and said was directed at making their sound better and better, day by day.”32:132 Sam Leach, Liverpool music promoter, wrote, “The Beatles kept up a blistering pace… John and Paul pushed each other to the limit.”18:76-77 Alf Bicknell, their driver from 1964 to 1966, wrote in his diary, “They never stop those two.4g …there was always something to do and I could not actually say that I had a full free day.4b Epstein’s personal assistant Tony Bramwell said, “I don’t think anyone worked as hard as the Beatles. They hardly ever had time off, hardly ever had a holiday….”6:113, 228 Derek Taylor, former press officer for the band, quoted one of them as saying, “The reason we were twice as good as anyone else is we worked twice as hard as anyone else.”13:56 Paul added later, “God bless their little cotton socks, those boys worked! They worked their little asses off! Here I am talking about an afternoon off and we’re sitting there writing! We just loved it so much. It wasn’t work.…We were always pushing ahead.13:56,167 If you look at any of those books that say where the Beatles were working, you find we hardly ever had a day off.”2:v4 Ringo: “We put in a thousand percent.”2:v8 “We never stopped…. We didn’t know how to stop this band.”2:v2 Their efforts paid off, not only in the musicianship and songwriting but also in the recordings: “It is extremely difficult to think of a remake of any Beatles song that is superior to the original.”13:301 Obsessive focus and hard work built the foundation upon which they could fulfill a role as icons of their age.
Circumstance was the second important factor in the mix. In November 1960, England terminated its program of two years of National Service in the military. “Given their age difference[s], the Beatles could never have existed had National Service been maintained.”24:55 Or consider: Had the Beatles been as few as five years older when they met in 1957-1958, they surely would have given up on careers as pop stars before 1963 arrived. Many musicians and singers, trying to repeat Elvis Presley’s experience, followed just such a path to oblivion.
Other happy circumstances are well documented: the bizarre string of chance events32:99-151 that led to the Beatles’ booking in Hamburg, which pushed them to improve; their exposure to the young German exis (existentialists, a loose cultural group akin to American beatniks) and their peculiar haircut, which the Beatles amended to their own taste; a teenager’s request for an obscure foreign 45 (on which the Beatles played back-up) coupled with store owner Brian Epstein’s fussy determination to fill every customer request; Epstein’s decision to see the Beatles perform; his homosexuality, which charged his attraction to them; his fortunate encounter with the last available record label in London, whose parent company had already rejected the group; George’s cheeky joke at George Martin’s expense that turned the company’s potential dismissal of the band into a mutual bonding session; Martin’s keen pop sense despite having never recorded pop music; and Ringo’s last-minute availability.
Some important circumstances were of a personal nature. To a man, the Beatles disdained traditional behavior; every member of the pre-Beatles incarnation of the band—the Quarry Men—who quit or were dismissed wanted normal lives. But the Beatles—even Paul, who had top grades and a bright academic future— quit school to play music, without a clue as to where such rash decisions would lead them. The group’s democratic choice of a collective name, rather than one featuring a leader (“X and the So-and-So’s,” a construction popular at the time), would allow fans to identify with any one of them, paving the way for their broad appeal. Their wit, honesty, self-assurance and engaging personalities are well known and documented, and without them they could not have won over Brian Epstein (who noted “their personal charm”31e), George Martin (who found their intelligence and laconic humor sufficient reason to work with them) and the worldwide press (to whom the Beatles always gave honest or humorous responses to questions instead of show-biz clichés). The Beatles had a cocky stubbornness in insisting upon writing their own singles, and once they began, they “definitely had an eternal curiosity for doing something different.”20:4 Other important circumstances were their compatibility and closeness. Paul: “We work well together. That’s the truth of it. It’s a very special thing…
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Most economists, historians and sociologists
presume that events determine society’s mood. But socionomics hypothesizes
the opposite: that social mood regulates the character of social events. The
events of history—such as investment booms and busts, political events,
macroeconomic trends and even peace and war—are the products of a naturally
occurring pattern of social-mood fluctuation. Such events, therefore, are not
randomly distributed, as is commonly believed, but are in fact probabilistically
predictable. Socionomics also posits that the stock market is the best available
meter of a society’s aggregate mood, that news is irrelevant to social
mood, and that financial and economic decision-making are fundamentally different
in that financial decisions are motivated by the herding impulse while economic
choices are guided by supply and demand. For more information about socionomic
theory, see (1) the text, The
Wave Principle of Human Social Behavior © 1999, by Robert Prechter;
(2) the introductory documentary History's
Hidden Engine; (3) the video Toward
a New Science of Social Prediction, Prechter’s 2004 speech before
the London School of Economics in which he presents evidence to support his
socionomic hypothesis; and (4) the Socionomics Institute’s website, www.socionomics.net.
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