Let It Rock?: The Decline of Easy Access Concerts for SDSU Students and the Rise of Commercialized Elitism [Lens: Class]



Figure 1: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.

As we approach the 121st birthday of San Diego State University, tomorrow March 13th, 2018, it is essential to look back at the important aspects of American culture that has greatly influenced the campus culture.  One major theme that has been prominent throughout the last seventy years of the university, are the various concerts on campus for students, as well as the general public to enjoy.  Particularly, the 1960’s to 1980’s saw a tremendous amount of inexpensive, featuring big name and upcoming artists, on campus which increased students’ exposure to various counter culture and mainstream genres.  Unfortunately, this era of open concerts to students has come to an end and is overshadowed by the commercialization and elitism of mainstream concert producers and artists which exclude a vast majority of students from taking part in this important area of American culture.   I argue this major decline in inexpensive on campus concerts for students stems from the extreme commercialization and elitist culture within the music industry, as well as a lack of support from the University, which has a major negative deconstructive impact on the social and political development of SDSU students.

According to research conducted by Dr. Seth Mallios of the Anthropology department at SDSU and published in his book, Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State, he discovers a major downward trend in on campus live shows from 1970 (Mallios, 9).  In Figure 2 below, one can easily see the stark contrast from 1970 having 926 live shows on campus, to the current decade only having 114 is a major decline in easy access to musical events (Figure 2).


Figure 2: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.

The 1970’s witnesses an explosion in live popular music at SDSU, which hosted hundreds of acts in rock, jazz, blues, folk, reggae, and more.  Dr. Mallios asserts that SDSU, “Quickly became a premiere venue for many popular music genres and was the epicenter of Southern California’s soft-rock and country-rock movements, as well as hosting punk-rockers” (Mallios, 2).  Big name acts such as, The Ramones, Bob Marley, Tom Petty, Blondie, Patti Smith, Iggy Pop, and many more all performed on campus for inexpensive prices for students (Figure 3).


Figure 3: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.

Associated Students and various Greek organizations on campus insured that these concerts were inexpensive for students to promote the social atmosphere on campus.  However, these student-friendly concerts did more than just provide a fun social setting, but were also the centers of various counter culture protests/movements (Dowd, 11).  Many of these concerts during the 1960s and 1970s allowed students to congregate for various anti-war demonstrations, as well as meet other like-minded students to form student organizations, including the Aztec Free Speech Area (Mallios 5). Ticket prices in the 1970s for students for these major shows ranged from $2.00 to $5.00, which equates to $9.52 to $23.79 in 2018 dollars (CPI Government Inflation Calculator).  This allowed students back then a cheap way to experience new counter culture music, meet other students, and engage in an era of American Culture music that was extremely influential.  Many members of the community often fought the students-first mentality, especially for the more popular concerts, but during this decade Associated Students and the University held strong to this belief and continued to ensure students came first by pricing tickets fairly for students (Figure 5, 6, 7, 8).  In Figure 4, Mallios states the University ground rules for max tickets per members of the general public as well as ensuring the students had a plentiful amount of tickets to purchase (Figure 4).


Figure 4: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.


Figure 5: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.


Figure 6: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.


Figure 7: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.



Figure 8: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.

Music is a very powerful medium and is an essential part of American Culture, therefore it should be available to the student population and those trying to find their place in society (Dowd, 31).  At the level of the social group music facilitates communication which goes beyond words, enables meanings to be shared, and promotes the development and maintenance of individual, group, cultural and national identities (Brant, 24).  Clearly, these earlier decades were a time of important socialization and counter culture movements for students who were given the opportunity to engage with these concerts, however this is simply not true for today’s Aztecs.  Within the past decade, SDSU students have been subjugated to an overall decline in concerts, price gouging by ticket companies, and a growing class divide between elitist culture in regards to the music industry.  First off, SDSU has not done its part to book lower to middle tier musicians for cheap musical performances for students at smaller campus venues.  In the past these were escapes for students to unwind and engage in new subcultures of lesser know musical genres, however the University has ceased booking these acts as they are not major money makers (Mallios, 310).


Figure 9: Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015.

The 2000’s have been dominated by headline acts at Viejas Arena, which can seat over 12,000 people, without giving special pricing for SDSU students.  I believe this negatively affects students who are left without a crucial piece of American Culture and are forced out of these now “exclusive” events which were once open to all.  Individuals and companies now engage in ticket scalping (when single buyers buy up dozens of tickets and immediately sell them off at rates too expensive for most), again perpetuating this class division (Leavitt, 129).  This commercialization of concerts has led to businesses coming in to make extreme profits off the music industry leading to elitist culture.  For example, almost all shows on campus now have VIP access tickets which allow those with money to enjoy special perks, and even basic access tickets are inflated in price due to the emphasis on profit.  In the earlier decades, money was still exchanged and artists were paid, but now these events are less about counter culture and music, but rather how much companies can make off the individuals.  Any show at Viejas Arena will showcase many vendors selling overpriced merchandise, refreshments, and VIP experiences.  It has turned into a major business venture for these concert companies, the University, and the artists, which unfortunately has excluded SDSU students.  Currently, SDSU students only have one subsidized concert on campus, Greenfest, which sells $15 tickets to SDSU students for a fairly popular artist.  However, these concerts are few and far between and still center on commercialization rather than enjoyment of true American Culture.  Based off the analysis from Dr. Mallios it is clear the the kind of acts at SDSU have changed, going from various counter culture movements to commercialized mainstream acts, as well as a decline in the amount of acts (Mallios 7).  This increases revenue for the University, but greatly limits exposure to new types of music and excludes these performances from students who cannot afford the inflated prices.

Overall, SDSU was once a thriving hub for artists of varying levels of fame, a variety of genres, and always put students first in regards to ticket sales and concert experiences (Mallios 11).  This has drastically changed for the worse, as the commercialized nature of music has limited the majority of on campus concerts to mainstream massive concerts, with no protections for students.  Price gouging and elitist culture has limited the important aspects of music in American Culture for current SDSU students and stunted their chance to be individuals within the music culture. Therefore, if students are to once again receive a constructive aspect of American Culture, the University needs to take a stand against the recent phenomenon of commercialization in music, in order to allow SDSU students importance social experiences within the concert scene.

Works Cited:

Brant, Marley. Join together: Forty years of the rock music festival. Hal Leonard Corporation, 2008.

“CPI Inflation Calculator.” U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, data.bls.gov/cgi-bin/cpicalc.pl?cost1=4&year1=197001&year2=201801.

Dowd, Timothy J., Kathleen Liddle, and Jenna Nelson. “Music Festivals as scenes: examples from serious music, women’s music, and skatepunk.” Music scenes: Local, translocal and virtual (2004): 149-67.

Leavitt, Alex, Tara Knight, and Alex Yoshiba. “Producing Hatsune Miku: Concerts, Commercialization, and the Politics of Peer Production.” Media Convergence in Japan (2016): 200-29.

Mallios, Seth, and Jaime Lennox. Let it Rock!: Live from San Diego State. Seth Malios, 2015. [Primary Source]


Working Hard to be Pretty

The popular perspective of women in America has changed over the years.  When first examining the book, Womanly Beauty of Form and Feature, published in 1901, its contents initially appear amusing.  Flipping through the pages to find diagrams of proper posture, exercise techniques, and comments on the importance of a healthy complexion, in a book targeted for women, but juxtaposed by a male author, Albert Turner, it seems contradictory.  Continuing through the pages, pictures illustrating the proper ways to show emotion and the use of massagers to mold the female body into the preferred shape invokes a different reaction from a more modern audience. Considering this book as a twenty-first century American women it seems a little ridiculous, however, its contents did not seem to be distasteful at the time of publication, one should examine the context in which it was originally circulated and the popular culture of the time, in the specific relation of gender.  Through examining a secondary source, Karen Sternheimer’s textbook, Celebrity Culture and the American Dream, the early twentieth century can be seen as a time period where a woman’s success, both in the home and the workplace, was seen as dependent on her outwardly beauty.

At the turn of the century, people were living in poverty.  Sternheimer cites that in 1910, “more than a third of workers were considered unskilled, and over half the population aged over 10 worked for wages”, “genuine opportunities did not exist for modest levels of upward mobility” (28, 27).  At a time when “food scarcity was a serious concern”, “rising beyond substance” and joining the middle class became the American dream (Sternheimer 29, 27). Popularly known as the Horatio Alger myth or the Protestant Work Ethic, everyday Americans believed that if they worked hard success and upward economic mobility could be achieved.  For women, it appears this hard work materialized in their beauty.

As Sternheimer describes the era, it appears that a woman’s success in the home was dependent on her appearance.  “Hard times demanded that women be vigilant in scrutinizing their looks, failure to do so could lead to unemployment, or worse yet, perpetual maidenhood.” (Sternheimer 96).  The suffrage movement of the turn of the century did improve women’s rights, but “for women, marriage had been the clearest path to social mobility” and “advertisers’ approach to marketing personal hygiene products became subtle, playing on anxieties about remaining married and employed” (Sternheimer 107, 96 CC).  This trend alludes to the dynamic of the atmosphere. A book like Turner’s Womanly Beauty of Form and Feature fitted into the current concerns of society and gave women a tangible course of action to attract a husband in a time when marriage equated to stability.

Turner claims that not only would a favorable wife perform traditional house chores, but that they would do it in a proper and appealing way.  Through diagrams, he depicts the appropriate poster required to sweep, bend, and stand in comparison to an unappealing or inappropriate form as seen in the pictures depicted below (Turner 61, 66-67, 70-71).  Through these depictions he not only regulates the female body, but her actions, establishing a norm that the female gender is not only associated with housework, but that to retain a husband they must do so in an attractive manner. 

Proper Posture (Turner 61, 66-67, 70-71)

The relevance of a woman’s complexion in referenced by both Sternheimer and Turner.  While Sternheimer connects its significance to coloring, in a time period where clear, pale skin equated to middle-class standing, Turner focuses on cleanliness and a lack of pimples (Sternheimer 48).  He outlines specific food to avoid, argues for a simple diet, and emphasizes the importance of a regular washing (Turner 157-160).  These specific arguments are still generally accepted today, but when paired with other arguments in the book they act to reaffirm the already popular idea of the time, that a woman must work to maintain her physical appearance in order to earn the attention of a man.  Sternheimer references a specific soap ad offering their product for as a solution for a “lady in danger . . . of losing her man” to “avoid offending” possible suitors by keeping her skin “alluringly smooth [and] radiantly clear” (97). Ads like these were specifically targeted at women’s insecurities and reinforce the idea that she must put work into her appearance to be desirable.

Complexion (Turner 157-160)

Sternheimer also outlines that a women’s success in the workforce was dependent on her outward beauty.  She cites that “women’s participation in the paid labor force more than doubled between 1890 and 1910” (Sternheimer 40).  Women become increasingly involved in the film industry, both on the screen and behind the scenes (Sternheimer 40-41).  With this new found independence came certain drawbacks.  While no longer entirely dependent on her marriage for success, obtaining a career still came with challenges for women to face. Turner’s book acts as a framework for what is expected of women to succeed in the workforce.

As Sternheimer explains, “during times of want, the focus on weight loss typically takes a back seat to maintaining strength”, but the 1920’s was a time of prosperity and being thin was associated with “self-control” (71, 73).  Turner dedicates an entire chapter of his book titled “Exercise–Who Needs it. The Benefits–How to Take it” to the types of women he believes should be working out and the health benefits he believes to be associated with the action (Turner 171-181).  While this does show the increased possibility for women in the workforce, it also exhibits the increased expectations placed on them by society.  She might have been a “teacher”, “lawyer”, “business women”, or “clerk”, but nonetheless if she wanted to maintain her success she needed to maintain her weight (Turner 171-173).

Exercise (Turner 171-173)

Sternheimer cites that “suffragettes also perceived corsets as patriarchal prisons, but once removed they needed to regulate their own bodies” (71).  This may be what leads to the popularity of the massagers as Turner depicts in his book. They were believed to help tone the female body. She would roll them over her skin and the repeated action was considered to tighten and mold the surface to the desired shape.  The effectiveness of this product may be questioned, but ultimately this industry profited from the trend. Different rollers had to be purchased for different parts of the body. These rollers were to be applied to their face, chin, breast, and elsewhere. They might have been wearing less restrictive clothing, but they were still expected to maintain their figure and tightness associated with the discontinued clothing trend.  Their physical increase in mobility had negative repercussions for beauty standards.

Massagers (Turner 113, 115, 117, 129)

Ultimately, from a twenty-first-century perspective this book seems outdated and unethical, but when taking a deeper look at the culture of today, these trends have not been entirely replaced.  While there has been a recognizable change, to some extent, the trends and standards Turner emphasizes do continue to affect popular culture. Comparatively, females are expected to put more work into their appearance than their male counterparts and today’s most prominent and successful women are seen as put together and beautiful.  Before dismissing Turner’s claims as ridiculous our own society needs to be examined, consider that some may still linger today.



Sternheimer, Karen. Celebrity Culture and the American Dream. Routledge, 2011

Turner, Albert. Womanly Beauty of Form and Feature. Health Culture Company, 1901