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Bagism is a term which was created by John Lennon and Yoko Ono as part of their extensive peace campaign in the late 1960s. The intent of bagism was to satirize prejudice and stereotyping. Bagism involved literally wearing a bag over one's entire body. According to John and Yoko, by living in a bag, a person could not be judged by others on the basis of skin colour, gender, hair length, attire, age, or any other such attributes. It was presented as a form of total communication: instead of focusing on outward appearance, the listener would hear only the bagist's message.
Purpose and origins
John and Yoko introduced the idea during a well-received press conference in Vienna on 31 March 1969, and explained it more thoroughly in a 14 June 1969 interview with David Frost. Bagism reflected the whimsical, carefree, and often comedic mood of John and Yoko's other peace efforts, such as their Bed-Ins. By catching the attention of the masses with its outlandish premise, bagism presented a powerful social and political message to the world. As Lennon stated, "Yoko and I are quite willing to be the world's clowns; if by doing it we do some good."
Yoko said that bagism was inspired by the theme of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry's The Little Prince, which was "One sees rightly only with the heart, the essential is invisible to the eyes." She hoped that the bag, by hiding her and John's physical appearance, would make their essence or the essence of their message visible.
The Alchemical Wedding
The couple had earlier appeared in a bag, at The Alchemical Wedding, an underground artists' gathering, at London's Royal Albert Hall in late 1968. The event was put on by the Arts Lab and BIT (infoshop), which sought to challenge audiences to be participants rather than passive consumers. John and Yoko climbed into a large, black velvet bag on stage, sat cross-legged, knee-to-knee, hunkered down and closed the bag. They moved only twice in 45 minutes, hunkering further down. This was a strong challenge to the audience.
'Musicians played, poets ranted, and John and Yoko crept into their white sheet-like bag on the stage and stayed there out of sight for what seemed like ages. I watched a baby crawl slowly by. And that was the bag happening. All mayhem broke out when a young female member of the audience stripped off her clothes and danced in naked delight. When the police were called and attendants tried to remove her, groups of people started stripping off their clothes in solidarity. There was a retreat and a truce was worked out, and no-one was arrested. The nude girl incident, with accompanying photo, made the front pages of the London evening papers.' As Lee Harris noted later.
Bagism in the songs of John Lennon
Bagism is mentioned three times in the songs of John Lennon. The first time is in "The Ballad of John and Yoko" where John refers to "eating chocolate cake in a bag", which was at the Vienna press conference, and the second is in the song "Come Together", where he sings "He bag production". This is a reference to Bag Productions Ltd, Lennon's public relations company, which derived its name from Bagism. The third reference is in "Give Peace a Chance", with the line, "Everybody's talkin' about Bagism, Shagism, dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism, This-ism, That-ism, ism, ism, ism."
A website called Bagism was created c. 1994 by Sam Choukri, providing John Lennon and Beatles links, photographs, rare sound recording snippets and video. At one point, c. 1996, the precursor to Bagism.com, a website focused on Lennon, was sent a cease and desist request from the representatives of his estate over copyrighted John Lennon content. After an unsuccessful appeal to Ono and the John Lennon Estate and the Dear Yoko petition campaign, Choukri decided to focus his efforts on less legally volatile content and the website has since been a hub for discussion, detailed discographies, letters, articles, fan artwork and poetry, and many other types of content.
In 2006, Liverpool John Lennon Airport had the words "Bagism, Shagism, Dragism, Madism, Ragism, Tagism" stickered along the front windows of the airport. This was done along with the branding of various John Lennon lyrics around the inside of the airport.
In 2010, the studio band Strawberry Walrus recorded a song entitled "Bagism" and released it on their album This Is Not Here.
- "John Lennon & Yoko Ono: Bagism Press Conference 3/31/1969", The Beatles Ultimate Experience.
- "Television: John Lennon and Yoko Ono on The David Frost Show", The Beatles' Bible.
- "John Lennon - Bagism" Excerpt from the documentary Imagine: John Lennon, (1988), YouTube.
- Lee Harris' involvement with the Arts Lab and Alchemical Wedding