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“The Silent Partner”: Tonearms and Modular Masculinities in U.S. Midcentury Hi-Fi Culture
Published online by Cambridge University Press: 20 June 2022
Advertisements for audio equipment in midcentury magazines, such as High Fidelity and HiFi Review, shaped the constructions that determined how masculinity was modeled, embodied, and fashioned in the United States at midcentury. A hi-fi setup was a material expression of self and masculinity that could be ever tweaked, refashioned, and adjusted. Tonearms, however, were (and still are) delicate, troublesome, and, when improperly calibrated, capable of destroying record grooves. Manufacturers, advertisers, and magazine contributors who strategically gendered other technologies as masculine—such as amplifiers and speakers—struggled to imbue tonearms with the same virility, toughness, and power. If the hi-fi system served as an embodied simulacrum of the masculine self, then the tonearm was a necessary and omni-present symbolic point of gendered questioning in masculine identity formation. In this article, I argue that the tonearm is a site of fluidity and ambiguity within a modular masculine system, and I demonstrate that the discourses around tonearms in 1950s hi-fi magazines provide an alternative window into discussions of gender and sexuality in United States print culture. Through image analysis and close reading of advertisements and equipment reviews, I decentralize hegemonic masculinity and make room for readings that draw upon feminist and queer theory. More broadly, I submit that mid-twentieth-century hi-fi discourses do not produce a single brand of anxiously conforming maleness, but rather an array of modular masculinities.
- Research Article
- Copyright © The Author(s), 2022. Published by Cambridge University Press on behalf of the Society for American Music