How much impact did youth culture have on society in the years 1955-75?
This particular period of time was very significant in terms of general changes in society given the post war baby boom, abolition of the death penalty, improved reproduction rights for women, peaks in the number of university attendees, sexual revolution which saw strident action towards female liberation and equality, an influx of immigrants from the Caribbean and South Asia, periods of economic booms and busts and new found openness of sex, sexuality, drug use and freedom of expression in fashion and music which was largely unprecedented. The question however is, how much influence did youth culture have on these issues and what has been the impact of the changes brought about during this era. The definition of youth is “the period between childhood and adult age” and Kenneth Keniston, leading sociologist wrote the phenomenon of youth, described youth as being a new period of life which came after adolescence but before the assumption of adult responsibilities. Over time the term has broadened to include the section of the population, some of who are adolescent, some of whom are beyond adolescence but not yet fully independent adults. Those who make up this group have broadened with the increase in higher education. Post-war Britain experienced something of an economic boon and with a lack of workers, particularly in work which required fewer skills, the government embarked on an immigration programme from the colonies, most notably the Caribbean (predominately Jamaica) and South Asia. Concern soon started to spread about the number of “coloureds” coming into the country and this culminated in the Nottingham and Notting Hill Riots of 1958.
Youth played a crucial role in the tensions of the time which lead to the riots. There were a number of orchestrated attacks by white youths, fascists and Teddy Boys on black youth and a black youth, Kelsom Cochran was attacked and killed in Notting Hill. The white youths called these attacks “niggar hunts” but generally blacks were seen as a cause of the problem and on now infamous conservative politician, Enoch Powell, gave his now famous ‘Rivers of blood’ speech. Black youth did have some support, black music; Ska and blue beats were very popular as was the style associated with black people hence there was support for ‘the others’. There were two groups, the mods or the rockers. Mods rode mopeds, wore tailored clothes and aimed for a clean and sophisticated image; they listened to rhythm and blues or ska music. The American influenced rockers rode motor bikes, wore leather jackets and preferred rock n roll music. These developments were influenced by magazines such as Honey. It was aimed at teenagers and included news about fashion and music, advice and advertisements on make-up and photos of celebrities. With openness in sexual experimentation and sexuality due to the Sexual Offences Act in1967, what also emerged was a growing number of interracial relationships amongst the youth and consequently children that came out of these unions.
So the traditional White Britain was beginning to be eroded although the politics of this became part of the emerging manifestations of youth culture. So whether supporters of the new immigrants or not there was a unique fusion of cultures and one which the youth on both sides impacted. There was an emerging consciousness among the youth which meant that they were prone to freedom of expression and disdainful of seeing their tribe mentality of their parents and family before. They were also becoming more educated as there was more educated. With education there was more evaluation and consideration of social issues. The youth in the 1960s were very political compared to today and very vocal. At the 1966 General Elections 60.5% of the voters were youths, aged 18-24. Ruth Ellis’ death evoked strong sentiment and stimulated intense public interest. A large population of those who protested and expressed their concerns where those who came from women who were very forceful in making the point that she’d long been a victim of domestic violence and that it was inherently unfair to execute her after the mistreatment and humiliation that she suffered. Some said her act was merely self-defence and that she was brave to fight back. There were a lot of factors which affected women’s employment in Britain in the 1950s and 1960s such as social attitudes towards the family. Many people were traditional and saw women who worked to be selfish and neglecting their responsibilities in the home. Many working-class women could not afford child-minders and therefore relied on family and friends. Also, nursery education was expensive thus only an option for wealthier families. Women also had limited education; with limited educational opportunities for girl’s women were restricted to lower paid employment as they required fewer skills. In the 1960s only 15% of doctors and 5% of the law profession were women and 80% of all factories, secretarial and shop work was done by women. There was also lack of government legalisation.
Employers were reluctant to appoint women to responsible positions as they thought they would get married and leave. Also when women had the same job as men they were often paid lower. Employers argued that many women returning to work will work less hours and want a lot of time off due to their family. Gender became very significant during this period with women and girls becoming radicalised. One of the ways women began to express themselves was through fashion. This included both working class and middle/upper class women and girls. This also had the consequence of creating a new classlessness, for instance, Mary Quant, whose brand was commercial and affordable to all. It lead to one observer, Nancy Mitford, who visited London to say that there has been a transformation of working class and the relative affluence means that certain styles are classless. By the mid-1970s the government increased legalisation to give women more legal rights and protection, not only within the home but also in employment. Legalisation was not only passed because of this but was also to ensure equality between men and women. By this time attitudes towards working women had begun to change. Significantly, it was socially accepted for women to return to work after having children. Women continued education passed the compulsory school-leaving age (16) and there was a huge increase in the proportion of female students at British Universities. However in some areas of society there was very little change in attitudes towards women and sexual discrimination. For example Women’s magazines focused mainly on traditional gender issues such as fashion, dieting, romance and the family. In 197 The Sun newspaper used a nude model and this feature became Britain’s best-selling tabloid newspaper.
Also in schools subjects such as cookery and typing were ‘girls’ subjects whilst physics, chemistry, woodwork and metalwork were ‘boys’ subjects. Also there were some social changes in attitudes towards women; most stereotypical attitudes towards the woman stayed near enough the same. During the 1960s Britain’s economy was booming, Britain became a wealthy country. Everybody had jobs and money, including young people. Young people started becoming more independent, buying their own clothes and records. This attracted the attention of many business companies and many people began advertising purely to the youth as they saw the youth as an opportunity to make a lot of money. Youth in a sense shaped the idea of having a separation between children and adults. There was an emergence of new clothing and music for youths instead of a quick transition from childhood into adulthood, the ‘teenager’ was born. Music, as a source of expression was not new to the youth of the 1950s and 1960s but what was new was the politics in music, entertainment and fashion. During the 1950s Britain was damaged economically after the war. Youths looked to American culture, the fashion and music. However the Beatles were taken to number one by British youth and after having ‘cracked’ America, America began to look to Britain for music and fashion as they had become the centre of attention.
The youth helped influence an emergence of style, fashion and music which helped to shape society as people started to change their attitudes towards appearance and identity, mainly young people. Designers were now designing specifically for them. The youth no longer looked to the older generation but were influenced by marketing and the consumerisation of the youth. During the sixties, a lot of young people did not like the idea of always having to dress smartly like the older generation and attitudes began to change towards fashion. Fewer men wore business suits and fewer women wore gloves and hats. More women began to wear trousers and more clothing became unisex. Tights gave women more freedom in a dress than stockings; it also became acceptable to have bare legs. Due to new technology in the 60s young people could listen to music on records, portable record players and transistor radios. Transistors radios did not need to be plugged in so it was increasingly easier to listen to music whenever and wherever the youth wanted. BBC was the only legal radio station however illegal radio stations began to broadcast too, such as Radio Caroline, these were known as “pirate” radios and the youths ‘enjoyed the feeling of rebellion’ which they gained from listening to these radio stations. This helped spread youth culture as many other youths began doing the same to feel rebellious.
Due to the aroma of rebelliousness flowing through youth, violence began to occur. Mods and Rockers clashed a lot and the most significant clash was on May bank holiday in 1964 which was known as the “Battle of Brighton”. The town was invaded by up 3,000 youths according to an extract from The Encyclopaedia of Brighton, several scuffles broke out, hundreds of deckchairs were broke, pebbles were used as missiles and the Savoy Cinema windows were smashed. This portrayed an aggressive and rebellious image of the youth. This image worsened when ‘football hooliganism became a concern. Groups of youths known as ‘skinheads’ were also often associated with violence’. According to a source ‘youth subculture has come to denote a national social movement of teenagers and young people who share a common set of values, interests and tacit ideology but not necessarily dependant on face-to-face interaction with other members or with any rigid criteria of entry, membership or obligation’. People began to follow the youth as they were published a lot. The image of violence was spreading across Britain, especially after the May bank holiday rebellion in 1964; this reinforced the image of violence. Youths were forming gangs to help protect their status.
Overall, youth culture had a major impact on society, most significantly in music and fashion. This made a massive difference to society as it still continues today. Introducing a step between childhood and adulthood helped shape society and build a sense of independence and individuality. People have more rights and freedom due to the major impact of the youth during this period of time.