History

Briefly Noted: Disco Inferno

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The first wave of disco revisionists battled decades of pop mythology by arguing that a) far from being pure fluff, disco could be extremely experimental, b) far from being a flash in the pan, the genre influenced everything from post-punk to turntablism, c) the early disco subculture bore little resemblance to Saturday Night Fever or Studio 54, and d) a lot of the opposition to disco was fueled by homophobia and racism.

Alice Echols' excellent Hot Stuff: Disco and the Remaking of American Culture (Norton) takes all that for granted. Then it pushes back, asking what we nonetheless can learn from, say, a close reading of Saturday Night Fever. Echols writes with nuance about the ways disco was received in black America, gay America, and the mainstream, and she describes its effects on ancient arguments about assimilation, sex roles, and social class. She even writes sympathetically about disco's critics, reminding readers that the battle cry "Disco sucks!" was sometimes more than a mask for bigotry. —Jesse Walker