Rebellious Soul: "Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes so Different, so Appealing?"

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Rebellious Soul
A Walk on the Wild Side
Curated by Leo Yuan

Richard Hamilton, "Just What is it that Makes Today's Homes so Different, so Appealing?", 1956

"Are you going to let your emotional life be run by Time Magazine?
I'm obsessed by Time Magazine.
I read it every week.
Its cover stares at me every time I slink past the corner candystore.
I read it in the basement of the Berkeley Public Library.
It's always telling me about responsibility. Businessmen are serious.
         Movie producers are serious. Everybody's serious but me."
                                                                                                              ---America, Allen Ginsberg.

Though Time Magazine doesn't appear in this 1956 collage by Richard Hamilton, the work did find its sources all from contemporary magazines. The template of the room was from the Ladies Home Journal; the body-builder was Mr. L.A. in 1954; the image of the planet on the celling came from Life Magazine etc. Indeed, the collage was a collection of popular culture icons, and soon enough, became a symbolic work of British Pop Art movement of the 50s. It revealed a we-don't-know fascination or satire about American trivial culture, one that empowered Pop culture, but nevertheless, seemed a bit ludicrous in this very representation of Pop Art. And the middle-class life depicted in this collage, with pin-up girl, television set, movies, recorder, canned ham, vacuum cleaner, and Ford emblem, was so "appealing," that we find ourselves laughing at that huge all-day sucker, and the ad on the stair that reads: "ordinary cleaners reach only this far." The obvious American affluence of new machines and goods truly worked as a bad advertisement here. But, you see, it's the 50s.

The American 1950s saw the growing population of the middle-class, and the booming of suburbs, automobiles, mass-produced culture, and everything that associated with it. At the same time, the 50s also witnessed the strong opposition of such bourgeois influences: communism, the Beat generation, and the subversive culture of the 60s that inspired by it. I remember in the film Revolutionary Road, (another example of anti-bourgeois), April, played by Kate Winslet, always talked about moving to Paris, in which another cultural revolution was taking place. (The following sentence contains a spoiler, sorry). The film ends in tragedy, and they never made to Paris. The suburb life of the 50s suffocated them.

Although it is hard to tell from Richard Hamilton's collage that such a life could be so toxic, the revolt against it was inevitable. Like the rock & roll music, rebels always find a way to alter minds and change the status quo. And every time we read the Beat generation, listen to Bob Dylan, or sing along to  rock&roll songs, we are showing our rebellious soul. And we need to remember that.

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