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1960s surfsploitation films: Sex, the bikini and the active female body

Ormrod, Joan (2018) 1960s surfsploitation films: Sex, the bikini and the active female body. Film, Fashion & Consumption, 7 (2). pp. 147-163. ISSN 2044-2823

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Abstract

From 1959 to 1966, approximately 66 Hollywood films were produced to exploit the surfing craze. Surfsploitation, the surf craze of the early 1960s, crossed music, comics, television, advertising and films. Films, especially, focused on the importance of the bikini in their promotion. The bikini, a liminal piece of clothing, conceals and yet reveals the naked body. The film’s producers emphasized the appeal of the bikini in the films’ cross-media promotion, which promised sex but delivered inane plots, dependent on comedy, pop music and fantasy for their continuing appeal. In the early 1960s the bikini was perceived as an erotic item of clothing from Europe. To appeal to American perceptions of the garment, in fashion and consumerism it was repackaged as related to sport and fun for the female teenage body. Comparing promotional and advertising materials of consumer culture with that of the films, this article explores how the bikini articulated notions of the active yet passive female body in this era on the cusp between the reactionary 1950s and the emergence of second-wave feminism of the late 1960s. Although the promotion from the films promised sex, they were highly moral. Yet the representations of the active female body in the films and their promotional materials reveal the debates around female agency for the early 1960s, an era when girls had to negotiate the societal demands of the reactionary 1950s with the demands placed upon women by second-wave feminism of the later 1960s.

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