Academic journal article American Studies

BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll

Academic journal article American Studies

BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll

Article excerpt

BEGINNING TO SEE THE LIGHT: Sex, Hope, and Rock-and-Roll. By Ellen Willis. Minneapolis: Minnesota University Press. 2012.

Now in its third pressing (in 1981, 1992, and 2012), Ellen Willis' essay collection Beginning to See the Light remains both relevant and insightful. The late Willis, a prominent cultural critic, journalist, and feminist activist, offers a wide variety of pieces on topics ranging from Janis Joplin, Woodstock, and the Sex Pistols to Easy Rider (1969), Alice's Restaurant (1967), and Deep Throat (1972), to the nuances of anti-semitism, American white supremacy, and US foreign policy.

One of Willis' clear talents is an ability to articulate complex concepts with a precision that makes them seem simple, if not obvious. For example, in her essay on the Velvet Underground, Willis describes the emergence of punk rock as a decade long struggle by rock and roll "to reclaim its identity as a music of cultural opposition, not only distinct from but antagonistic to its own cultural conglomerate" (115). In her critical review of Deep Throat, Willis complicates popular understandings of free love, reminding the reader, "The revolt against Victorian morality has always had its leftand right wings" (68). Willis returns to this concept in an essay on her reluctance to join a feminist crusade against pornography, and today's reader will see in the debate hints of the imminent rise of the American right. Applying her analytical lens to yet another topic close to her heart, Willis presents the position of Israelis as a "classic Jewish bind," in which they represent white oppressors to Palestinians but merely Jews to the West (244). …

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