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Mods and Rockers

The Mods and Rockers were two conflicting British youth subcultures of the early-mid 1960s.

Gangs of mods and rockers fighting in 1964 sparked a moral panic about British youths, and the two groups were seen as folk devils. The rockers adopted a macho biker gang image, wearing clothes such as black leather jackets. The mods adopted a pose of scooter-driving sophistication, wearing suits and other cleancut outfits. By late 1966, the two subcultures had faded from public view and media attention turned to two new emerging youth subcultures - the hippies and the skinheads.

Contrasts

Rockers, who wore leather jackets and rode heavy motorcycles, poured scorn on the mods, who often wore suits and rode scooters. The rockers considered mods to be weedy, effeminate snobs, and mods saw rockers as out of touch, oafish and grubby.

Musically, there was not much common ground. Rockers listened to 1950s rock and roll, mostly by white American artists such as Elvis Presley, Gene Vincent and Eddie Cochran. Mods generally favoured 1960s rhythm and blues, soul and ska by black American and Jamaican musicians, although many of them also liked British R&B/beat groups such as The Who, The Small Faces and The Yardbirds.

Physical conflicts

John Covach's Introduction to Rock and its History claims that in the UK, rockers were often engaged in brawls with mods. BBC News stories from May 1964 stated that mods and rockers were jailed after riots in seaside resort towns on the south coast of England, such as Margate, Brighton, Bournemouth and Clacton. The mods and rockers conflict led sociologist Stanley Cohen to coin the term moral panic in his study Folk Devils and Moral Panics, which examined media coverage of the mod and rocker riots in the 1960s. Although Cohen admits that mods and rockers had some fights in the mid-1960s, he argues that they were no different than the evening brawls that occurred between youths throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, both at seaside resorts and after football games. He claims that the UK media turned the mod subculture into a negative symbol of delinquent and deviant status.

Fights occurred where territories overlapped or rival factions happened upon each other. As noted above, there was an urban/rural split, meaning that the groups could only fight if brought together for some reason - most often the seaside during summer. The film Quadrophenia, on the other hand, depicts some violence within London. Mods sometimes sewed fish hooks into the backs of their lapels to shred the fingers of assailants. Weapons were often in evidence; coshes and flick knives being favoured. The conflict came to a head at Clacton during the Easter weekend of 1964.

Round two took place on the south coast of England, where Londoners head for seaside resorts on Bank Holidays. Over the Whitsun weekend (May 18 and 19, 1964), thousands of mods descended upon Margate, Broadstairs and Brighton to find that an inordinately large number of rockers had made the same holiday plans. Within a short time, marauding gangs of mods and rockers were openly fighting, often using pieces of deckchairs. The worst violence was at Brighton, where fights lasted two days and moved along the coast to Hastings and back; hence the Second Battle of Hastings tag. A small number of rockers were isolated on Brighton beach where they – despite being protected by police – were overwhelmed and assaulted by mods. Eventually calm was restored and a judge levied heavy fines, describing those arrested as Sawdust Caesars.

Newspapers described the mod and rocker clashes as being of "disastrous proportions", and labelled mods and rockers as "sawdust Caesars", "vermin" and "louts". Newspaper editorials fanned the flames of hysteria, such as a Birmingham Post editorial in May 1964, which warned that mods and rockers were "internal enemies" in the UK who would "bring about disintegration of a nation's character". The magazine Police Review argued that the mods and rockers' purported lack of respect for law and order could cause violence to "surge and flame like a forest fire".

Cohen argues that as media hysteria about knife-wielding, violent mods increased, the image of a fur-collared anorak and scooter would "stimulate hostile and punitive reactions" amongst readers.As a result of this media coverage, two British Members of Parliament travelled to the seaside areas to survey the damage, and MP Harold Gurden called for a resolution for intensified measures to control hooliganism. One of the prosecutors in the trial of some of the Clackon brawlers argued that mods and rockers were youths with no serious views, who lacked respect for law and order. Cohen says the media used possibly faked interviews with supposed rockers such as "Mick the Wild One". As well, the media would try to get mileage from accidents that were unrelated to mod-rocker violence, such as an accidental drowning of a youth, which got the headline "Mod Dead in Sea

Eventually, when the media ran out of real fights to report, they would publish deceptive headlines, such as using a subheading "Violence", even when the article reported that there was no violence at all. Newspaper writers also began to use "free association" to link mods and rockers with various social issues, such as teen pregnancy, contraceptives, amphetamines, and violence.

References in popular culture

  • Clockwork Orange, a contemporary novel, (first published in 1962) is in part is a commentary on Mods and Rockers as the adolescent extremes of the day.
  • The conflict between mods and rockers was the butt of a joke in The Beatles' film A Hard Day's Night. At a press conference, a reporter asks Ringo Starr, "Are you a mod or a rocker?", to which he replies, "No, I'm a mocker.
  • The 1979 film Quadrophenia, based on the 1973 album of the same name by The Who, commemorated the Mod subculture and its clashes with Rockers. The album and film are considered by many to be the authoritative historical fiction documents on the subject of Mods and Rockers.
  • The 1981 song "Rumble In Brighton" by rockabilly band Stray Cats was inspired by the mods/rockers conflict.
  • The Kinks' 1973 and 1974 concept album Preservation: Acts 1 & 2 has some parts of the story line relating to and lamenting the life and conflicts of both groups.
  • The American Cinematheque's Mods & Rockers Film Festival in Hollywood — presented annually since 1999 — took its name from the expression mods and rockers, but uses the term in a far broader sense than the common definition. A few of the movies it shows are specifically about the mods and rockers era and feature some aspects of the tribal culture. However, most of the films are included in the festival for being either "mod" (as in modern) or "rockers" (as in featuring rock music.)
  • The mods and rockers conflict was cast into a near-future setting in the graphic novel The Originals, by Dave Gibbons. In the comic, the mods were represented by the Originals, who rode hovering scooters, and the rockers were represented by the Dirt, who rode hovering motorcycles. Gibbons was a mod in his youth, perhaps leading to the less than flattering name given to the rockers.
  • British comedy The Mighty Boosh makes reference to the character of Vince Noir being a mod, particularly in series one episode Jungle, which also mentions another character, Tommy, as being a rocker who journeys down to Brighton on weekends and headbutts mods off their scooters.

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