Vance Packard Dissects Liberace’s Fans

Vance Packard’s 1957 monster bestseller The Hidden Persuaders introduced Americans to the Freudian implications behind lipstick and cigarette advertisements. He described how promoters used Oedipus symbolism to sell the pianist Liberace, preying upon the supposed desire of older women to mother someone adorable– a role enjoyed today by the cherubic-faced SoundCloud rapper Lil Pump, who melts aging hearts as he shouts, ‘And your baby momma laying next to me!” with childlike glee. 

Selling love objects. This might seem a weird kind of merchandising but the promoters of Liberace, the TV pianist, have manipulated–with apparent premeditation–the trappings of Oedipus symbolism in selling him to women past the child-bearing age (where much of his following is concentrated). The TV columnist John Crosby alluded to this when he described the reception Liberace was receiving in England, where, according to Mr. Crosby, he was ‘visible in all his redundant dimples’ on British commercial TV. Mr. Crosby quoted the New Statesman and Nation as follows: ‘Every American mom is longing to stroke the greasy, roguish curls. The wide, trustful childlike smile persists, even when the voice is in full song.’ TV viewers who have had an opportunity to sit in Mr. Liberace’s TV presence may recall that in his TV presentations a picture of his real-life mom is frequently flashed on screen, beaming in her rocking chair or divan while her son performs.”

The Hidden Persuaders, Vance Packard, McKay, 1957.

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