Mass Media is the Message: Yoko Ono and John Lennon's 1969 Year of Peace

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In 1969, against the backdrop of the Vietnam War, multimedia artist Yoko Ono and rock star John Lennon instigated a series of idiosyncratic artistic events designed to spread a universal message of peace. What all these events had in common was the couple's keen desire to act as catalysts for change and their willingness to exploit their own celebrity to do so. They had just survived a scandalous year in London in a fishbowl of publicity where the popular press savaged Ono and Lennon's love affair and resulting separate divorces. Dealing with the insatiable media had become part of their everyday lives. Why not use this pervasive attention to publicize their own cause and carry their message of peace throughout the world? This simple premise launched a private peace campaign whose artistic message has achieved cult status in our popular culture. This dissertation examines how Yoko Ono and John Lennon's 1969 Year of Peace unfolded, how the media covered it at the time, and how people remember it today. By considering the couple's art events within the context of the 1960s and then following the path of certain images as they wend their way to the present, Ono and Lennon's art acts as a core sample of sixties culture and its legacy. My study situates this artwork against the backdrop of Lennon's megawatt rock star celebrity, within the spirit of Fluxus (of which Ono was a founding member), and in the context of the anti-war movement of the time. In a larger cultural sense, I use Ono and Lennon's art as a touchstone to explore ideas about gender and ethnicity, the sixties counterculture, the language of everyday life, the nature of celebrity, the psychology of marketing, the role of mass media in society, and the control and manipulation of imagery.