Youth Culture, Cultural Dissenters, and Consumer Culture in the 1950's
By Brandon Weiss

Postwar America was rapidly changing, and popular culture expanded, evolved, and twisted into a massive wave of social reform, affecting people all over the United States and even all over the world. With the end of the war came hundreds of thousands of troops and wartime workers back to the States, and also a new outlook on life and society. With both the Great Depression and World War II over, many Americans had a new outlook on life and sought to start over, and a new American society formed. This new outlook sparked individuality, personality, and identity like never before. Music, movies, television, clothing, consumer goods, and so many more aspects of popular life were evolving and growing exponentially, creating a new and distinct American society.
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Some viewed the 1950's as a time of stability and conformity; however, most people would view the 1950's as a time of enjoyment, experimentation, and individualization. While many families did have aspects of the stereotypical fifties family, usually consisting of a war veteran, his wife, their two or three children, a dog, with a station wagon, and a ranch home in the suburbs, many people did abandon their conservative, pre-war ways. But no other group redefined themselves quite like the American youth. For the first time, arts and entertainment experienced a majorexternal image 6601_rebel_without_a_cause_jigsaw_puzzle_lg.jpg change and attracted larger, but more specific audiences. Teens didn't feel represented prior to the 1950's, but soon celebrities started to change this. Artists like Jackson Pollack began to experiment with new techniques that attracted younger audiences, and music and movies were directed towards teenagers in particular. For example, Elvis Presley. Elvis drew in huge crowds of teenagers with his new sound and dance moves, while parents and the older generations were disgusted by what he was doing. And there was also James Dean. He lured in millions of movie-goers with his incredible performances in movies like East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause, and Giant. To young people, the fifties were all about being different and standing out. People weren't afraid to ditch the status quo and to try something unprecedented and socially unaccepted. Jackson Pollack's drip painting technique and Elvis's singing and dancing proved that the fifties was all about changing things up and not being afraid of standing out. The American youth was inspired by people like Jackson Pollack, Elvis Presley, and James Dean, and others like them because they were unique and daring, and that's what the youth wanted to be.

As the postwar economy prospered, people had more money to pour into the economy. People were tired of war rationing and the consumer restrictions that were placed on them, and people were reexternal image Philco-TV-123-hd.jpgady to spend the money they saved during the war. Also, new inventions were introduced that changed consumer culture forever, especially homes, cars, televisions, and appliances. Home ownership was made easier with the help of the federal government who helped veterans purchase houses at cheap rates, and by 1960, 62% of Americans were homeowners, and the number of people living in the suburbs increased 43%. Living in a home in the suburbs also changed the automobile industry. The automobile went from being a luxury to a necessity, and soon almost every suburban family had a car. Following this chain reaction, car ownership allowed people to travel more, and soon, convenience stores and motor motels were being built along roads to attract drivers on a long trip. This chain reaction of events led to rapid growth of business, and investors began building up and enlarging cities and towns. In addition to the need of cars in the suburbs, the increase of homes expanded the appliance industry. The appliance industry boomed and soon, refrigerators, freezers, washing machines, dishwashers, ovens, and stoves were in almost every new home. The fifties was also nicknamed "the golden age of television." Television ownership drastically increased during the fifties and revolutionized the way people received their information. News broadcasts streamed live news and people could receive news as it was happening. Also, reality TV was invented and shows like "Candid Camera" introduced a new, unscripted type of TV show. Millions also tuned into shows like "I Love Lucy" and "Father Knows Best." In addition, TV also introduced a new form of advertisement. Advertisements now reached more audiences then ever before and also revolutionized political campaigns. For example, in 1952, Dwight D. Eisenhower was the first politician to use TV advertisements, and ever since, TV has played a crucial role in political races.
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Americans during the the fifties were obsessed with consuming. Everyone always wanted the most advanced TV set or the newest car, and even the newest toys and clothes. Toys like Barbies, Hula-hoops, Slinky, and Etch-a-Sketches, and also fashion items like Converses, flew off shelves and a new era in toys and child's entertainment was born. As kids saw new toys being advertised on TV and in magazines, their parents rushed out to stores searching for the item, not only to make their kids happy, but to let other people see that their child always had the newest toys, but it wasn't just toys. Neighbors always wanted to have the latest products. This idea drove consumer culture. People wanted to keep up with their neighbors and show that they have the newest and most advanced product on the market.

The 1950's was a unique time culturally. With the end of the Depression and World War II, people were ready to celebrate and enjoy their lives. People had more money to spend on new consumer items and technology, and people were trying new things. In the 1950's, the economy was prospering and life was good.

Fun Facts:
A gallon of gas cost just 20 cents.
The population was 2.6 Billion people.

Related Links:


Marling, Karal Ann. As Seen on TV: the Visual Culture of Everyday Life in the 1950s. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1994. Print.

"Pop Culture Universe - The 1950s - Overview." Pop Culture Universe, Greenwood Publishing Group. (accessed May 18, 2010).

"The American Consumer- The Rise of the Consumer Culture." M.p., Web. 18 May 2010.

"1950s History including Popular Culture, Prices, Events, Technology and Inventions." Where People, History and Memories Join Together from The People History Site. Web. 18 May 2010. <>.