History EssayBy Ben Roberson
During the 1950s there was significant social change taking place in America. Young people were dissatisfied with certain conservative aspects of society and their conduct reflected this. They embraced the rock and roll culture, the new style of music and also the new styles of dancing and dress that were associated with it shocked the older more conservative people. Young people were also quick to protest against the controversial issues of the 1950s. Civil Rights, the Vietnam War and general politics provided fuel for an already blazing fire. Mass production meant cheaper motorcycles and cars, providing the young people with freedom that was previously not with in their reach. A barrier formed between the older and younger generations due to a lack communication. This was extended by the medias inaccurate portrayal of the young people. All of these factors left the older generation trying to understand their childrens behaviour.
Elvis Presleys timing was perfect, the cross over from old-fashioned music to newer styles was in full swing. The older generation saw Rock and roll as being scandalous. Elvis was one of the most popular performers and his regular dance moves such as his famous gyrating hips caused quite uproar. However their disapproval only added to Elviss popularity and made him a hero to the young people. These older conservative types saw Rock and Roll as the start of a dangerous trend where the morals and values that were so important to them were under threat. Rock and Roll originated in New Orleans where it was performed for a black audience in clubs, and this is a very important part of why it was considered to be inappropriate for a white audience. Indeed many people believed Rock and Rolls sole purpose was to bring young white people down to the level of the black people. Young people were breaking away from the ways of life and conservative attitudes, habits and past times of their parents and defining themselves through music. Marlon Brando and James Dean came to be cult idols. Marlon Brando starred in The Wild One, made in 1954 about a rebel bikie gang. Marlon Brando plays Johnny, the leader of the bikie gang. In essence he expresses the values and the life style the youth aspired to. The things that aroused outrage among parents in these movies were scenes containing smoking, drinking, motorcycle riding, lack of respect for authority and disobeying parents. This movie along with the music of the time shocked many people because it promoted a different life style and different values to that of traditional life.
Around this time young people began to break away from their parents. Prior to this each generation had grown up treating their parents with the utmost respect and modelling their behaviour and views on their parents. This change was made easier by the freedom brought about by access to a car, which lead to increased independence. After the war there was huge economic growth in America, this coupled with mass production of automobiles made transport relatively cheap most families were able to afford a car. The children of these families were often allowed to take out the family car, granting them more freedom to go out with friends and more privacy for couples. This new show of independence was also evident in the young people’s reaction to social issues that were taking place. Many of the young war veterans returning from the Second World War and the Korean War found it very hard to fit back into society. Many of these veterans got heavily into both drug taking and social protest. However it wasnt only the youth returning from war who were dissatisfied with the governments reaction to a number of issues that young people felt very passionate about, namely civil rights and the onset of the Vietnam War. Inspired by the successes of some of the more prominent black leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, idealists were encouraged to believe that a better world was possible. Protesting against the Vietnam War didnt really start until the end of the 50s and into the 60s, but a lot of people young and old felt very strongly about it. The independence nurtured by these factors served to further distance the young and old generations.
The media, as it does today, showed a much more radical, exaggerated version of events than was realistic. Incidents were blown out of proportion to convince the public that this behaviour was common in all young people. Because the two generations were not communicating effectively the older generation did not realise that the information put out by the media in regards to their children was inaccurate. This intensified the gap between the generations. Prior to this each generation held similar values and led similar lives to that of the previous generation. However the 1950sdid not follow this trend, the young people were leaving behind their parents as role models and finding new idols most of whom were provided by popular culture. Their parents could not understand the situation because they could not relate to it. Many of the issues such as racism, were attitudes so deeply ingrained in the older generations psyche that they couldnt even begin to understand why they should wish for change. The older generation felt betrayed, the younger generation felt misunderstood and the media failed to act as a positive medium between the two.
The social changes of the 1950s were startling for older generations but in hindsight can be seen as inevitable. Evolution of culture was heavily influenced by the evolution of technology. The new Rock and Roll culture incensed the already concerned older generation. The older generation found the new life style, views and ideals of the young scandalous because they couldnt understand them. This was caused by lack of communication and the media giving an incorrect representation of the youth. Bibliography
Zinn H, A peoples history of United States, London, Longman Group Limited, 1980
Unger I, American History 2, (reconstruction to present), New York, Monarch press, 1971
Twombly R, Blacks in White America since 1865, New York, David McKay company Inc, 1971
The Wild One, 1954
Dancing in the street, whole lotta shakin, 1996, BBC worldwide