Dick Clark’s legacy: TV integration (maybe), inscrutable record rankings (definitely)
There is no shortage of laudatory Dick Clark coverage this morning, which is only appropriate for a broadcasting legend. And, of course, there's the creeping negative coverage, too: Bob Lefsetz writes that Clark's "social impact was not commensurate" with his fame. But Clark is often credited with integrating "American Bandstand"; his Wall Street Journal obit shares this nugget:
"It still wasn't acceptable for them to dance with white kids, so the blacks just danced with each other. We were waiting for the explosion, but it never happened," Clark told Pennsylvania Heritage Magazine in 1998. "The wonderful part about our decision to integrate then was that there were no repercussions, no reverberations, no battles at all — it just happened right there on a television screen in front of millions of people."
Just last month in the Philadelphia Daily News, Molly Eichel interviewed Matthew Delmont, a Scripps College professor who'd found that the integration story was "dead-wrong": "What they did was use what could only be described as underhanded tactics," Delmont told Eichel. "They would have a dress code and black teens would just so happen not have the right clothes on."
I don't know enough about mid-century mid-Atlantic TV to weigh in on this issue, but this undated YouTube clip features an integrated panel of young Bandstanders showcasing one of Clark's true, if less-discussed legacies: inscrutable record ratings.
Clark asked kids to give number ratings to records on the show using a 35-98 scale, which he then averaged. You can find echoes of this strange metric in music publications today, from Pitchfork's decimalized ratings -- which give Conan's "Monnos" a tenth-of-a-point advantage over Chief Keef's "Back From the Dead," for instance -- or Spin's new Twitter-based reviews system, which appends a 1-10 rating that helps pin down prose like "Over 11 Pacino-packed minutes, gritty grindcore and 'Heat' samples work up a symbiotic sweat." That's for Graf Orlock's Los Angeles EP, which rates a 7; one point less than Homeboy Sandman's "Chimera" ("Bubbling, birth-of-the-earth, primordial production paired with quasi-#Based calls for empathy and verity").