Los Angeles, The Image Capital of the World – Part 2

Essential Question

How did the development of Los Angeles and its entertainment industry create an image culture that informed both the character of the city and the experiences of the young people living there?


In Part One of this lesson, students considered how geography affected and enabled the rapid development of urban Los Angeles and its entertainment industry in the first half of the 20th century. Part Two of this lesson picks up in the 1950s, as Rock and Roll begins a takeover of American popular culture through radios, jukeboxes, and, increasingly, televisions, and encourages students to consider how the image culture of Los Angeles might have also impacted the sound of the city’s music.

During this period the lure of Los Angeles seems only to have become stronger, and the city’s population continued to swell, growing from 4 million in 1950 to 6 million in 1960, and surpassing 7 million in the 1970s, the decade investigated in depth here. Building on the discussion of Rock and gender begun in the Homework Reading from Part One, students will view clips from Sonic Highways and explore how the celebrity “star” identity and visual culture that came to overlap in Los Angeles may have helped Joan Jett and The Runaways transition from local “Glitter Kids” to an internationally known all-female Rock band in the 1970s. The Extension Activity invites students to compare the language used to discuss The Runaways with a current female band of their choice.

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Upon completion of this lesson, students will:

  1. Know (knowledge):
    • The basic history of the formation of Los Angeles County including details about urban planning and population growth
    • About the rise of the Hollywood film industry
    • How ideas of “masculinity” and “femininity” are constructed through visual symbols and how the teenagers in the 1970s Los Angeles “Glitter Rock” scene experimented with those symbols
    • How Los Angeles’ Glitter Rock scene created a space in which an all-female Rock band could perform
    • How popular media outlets responded to males who experimented with symbols of “masculinity” and “femininity”
    • How popular media outlets both celebrated and objectified the all-female Rock and Roll band the Runaways
  2. Be able to (skills):
    • Assess visual images and analyze their cultural power
    • Recognize New York and Los Angeles on a map
    • Evaluate the effects of visual technology on history and culture
    • Draw connections among and between various print, audio and visual texts
    • Integrate and evaluate information presented in visual, oral and audio formats
    • Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text


  1. Show Clip 2, “Moving to Los Angeles” and ask:
    • In this clip, Duff McKagen suggests that people come to Los Angeles looking for something, and Joe Walsh says people come to L.A. to “make it.” What do you think people are looking for? What do you think it might mean to “make it” in L.A.? (Encourage students to consider that to some “making it” may represent acquiring wealth, but to many that come to L.A. it represents more, in particular, fame and recognition. “Making it” in L.A. can mean that one becomes recognizable in a crowd, or even “more important” than other people.)
  2. Display Image 9, Actress Claudette Colbert on a Christmas Tree Street Light, 1932, and ask:
    • What about this image suggests that Colbert might have “made it”? How has she become different from the “average” citizen?
    • In what ways might Los Angeles and its entertainment industry have represented an updated version of the “Wild West” to some? How might you relate the notion of “making it” to those that inspired the “Gold Rush”?
    • In what ways do you think a large population of people who come to an area to “make it” might shape a city?
    • Do you think “making it” today is similar or different to 1932? (Encourage students to consider that while types of media change, the desire to be recognized is largely the same.)
  3. Inform your students that you’ll now move forward several decades to discuss the Los Angeles “Glitter Rock” scene of the 1970s. Show Clip 3, “Rodney Bingenheimer, Glitter Kids, and the Runaways” and ask:
    • How does Bingenheimer describe his clientele? What seems to set them apart from other young people at the time?
    • How do you think “Glitter Kids’” interaction with the Los Angeles entertainment scene might have influenced their behavior?
    • How does Joan Jett recall responding to being noticed in her “Glitter Kid” attire at school? How might you contrast her response with the desire to “make it,” or to the photo of Colbert above? (Encourage students to recognize the ways Jett’s pleasure at standing out in a crowd was driven by a desire to be recognized and celebrated.)
    • In what ways did Jett feel empowered to perform as a female musician by the “Glitter Kids”?
    • How were Jett and The Runaways treated differently outside of the “Glitter Rock” scene? What types of names does she remember being called? Why do you think this might have happened?
  4. Inform students that to better understand the attitudes The Runaways encountered outside Los Angeles, they will view an advertisement Jett’s parents might have seen. Display Image 10, “Lee Jeans Advertisement” and ask:
    • How might you interpret the statement “wear the pants”?
    • The advertisement suggests “there’s a Lee for every job.” Who is doing all the jobs seen in this advertisement? What do you think the woman’s job might be?
    • Do you think the woman in this photo was welcome to actually wear blue jeans in public in 1947?
    • In what ways might advertisements and images like this shape broader ideas about how social roles and clothing are defined by gender?
  5. Display Image 11, The Runaways (featuring Joan Jett, second from left), and ask:
    • Who is “wearing the pants” in this photo?
    • In what ways might The Runaways be standing in postures often considered “male”?
    • Is there anything in particular The Runaways may be doing that the 1947 Lee Jeans advertisement suggests is a role for men? (Students should note that they are working, that they are unaccompanied by a man, and that they unconcerned about it.)
    • If what ways do you think being in Los Angeles might have prepared The Runaways for their career as a breakthrough all-female band?
  6. Divide students into pairs and distribute Handout 2 – Turn and Talk Activity reading packet to each group. Student A will read “The Runaways: You Sexy Things!” from Melody Maker, 1976, and Student B will read, “AC/DC: Marquee, London” Melody Maker, 1976. Both are written by Harry Doherty. Give students time to read their articles, and discuss the Turn and Talk questions as a pair. Once students have completed the activity, discuss the questions as a class.

Summary Activity:

  • Ask students:
    • Considering what you’ve learned about Los Angeles, how do you think the presence of the entertainment industry might have created a space in which something like the “Glitter” scene or The Runaways could prosper?
    • Do you think that attitudes toward women in popular music have changed? Would an all-female Rock and Roll band be treated differently today?

Extension Activity:

Pick an all-female or female-led band from the last decade and find an article written about them. Write a short essay comparing the language used in that article to the article about The Runaways included in this lesson.


Common Core State Standards

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading (K-12)

  • Reading 1: Read closely to determine what the text says explicitly and to make logical inferences from it; cite specific textual evidence when writing or speaking to support conclusions drawn from the text.
  • Reading 6: Assess how point of view or purpose shapes the content and style of a text.
  • Reading 8: Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, including the validity of the reasoning as well as the relevance and sufficiency of the evidence.
  • Reading 9: Analyze how two or more texts address similar themes or topics in order to build knowledge or to compare the approaches the authors take.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Writing (K-12)

  • Writing 1: Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.
  • Writing 7: Conduct short as well as more sustained research projects based on focused questions, demonstrating understanding of the subject under investigation.
  • Writing 9: Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening (K-12)

  • Speaking and Listening 1: Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
  • Speaking and Listening 2: Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.

Social Studies – National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS)

  • Theme 1: Culture
  • Theme 2: Time, Continuity, and Change
  • Theme 4: Individual Development and Identity
  • Theme 5: Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  • Theme 9: Global Connections

National Standards for Music Education

Core Music Standard: Responding

  • Analyze: Analyze how the structure and context of varied musical works inform the response.
  • Interpret: Support interpretations of musical works that reflect creators’ and/or performers’ expressive intent.
  • Evaluate: Support evaluations of musical works and performances based on analysis, interpretation, and established criteria.
  • Core Music Standard: Connecting
  • Connecting 11: Relate musical ideas and works to varied contexts and daily life to deepen understanding.