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Youth, hysteria and control in Peter Watkins’s privilege

Hyder, Rehan



Nick Bentley

Beth Johnson

Andy Zieleniac


Peter Watkins’ 1967 film Privilege signifies a key representation of youth culture and popular music within the long-standing tradition of British films set against the backdrop of the music industry. This filmic tradition that emerged alongside post-war youth subcultures (starting with titles like Expresso Bongo in 1959) has consistently provided a critical engagement with the exploitative elements of the music industry in films such as Stardust (1974), Breaking Glass (1980) and Brothers of the Head (2005). The proximity of Peter Watkins’ film to the contemporaneous phenomenon of Beatlemania and widespread teenage fan ‘hysteria’ marks out Privilege as a key text in the representation of popular music and its function within post-war youth culture. Watkins’ explicit linking of the popular music industry with the dominant ideologies of the state (including politics, consumer culture and religion) clearly draws on the ideas of the Frankfurt School, particularly Adorno’s work on popular music and conformity. The depiction of the compliant megastar, Stephen Shorter as the lynchpin of a wider commercial strategy of corporate consumption extends the scope of the British music film narrative and anticipates contemporary developments in media synergy. The common theme of the manipulation of the pop idol within this sub-genre of British cinema is extended in Privilege as a means of controlling and manipulating youthful fandom and youth culture. The overt connection between pop stardom and fandom to existing theories of power and control exercised by the culture industry sets up Privilege as the most important critical filmic narrative dealing with youth culture and the music industry.
This chapter explores how these ideas of standardisation and conformity are reflected in the near-future narrative of Privilege and reflect how such concepts have informed the post-war tradition of British cinema that focuses on the machinations of the music industry.


Hyder, R. (2018). Youth, hysteria and control in Peter Watkins’s privilege. In N. Bentley, B. Johnson, & A. Zieleniac (Eds.), Youth Subcultures in Fiction, Film and Other Media (179-196). London: Palgrave Macmillan

Publication Date May 1, 2018
Deposit Date Dec 11, 2018
Peer Reviewed Not Peer Reviewed
Pages 179-196
Series Title Youth Subcultures in Fiction, Film and Other Media
Book Title Youth Subcultures in Fiction, Film and Other Media
ISBN 9783319731889
Public URL
Publisher URL