Delinquency and Normalisation

From Youth Culture to Pop – A Transnational History (1953-1966)

Completed associated PhD project

This PhD project explores the emergence of youth and pop culture during the 1950s and 1960s. It follows two basic processes that were contradictory yet interwoven: 1) the criminalisation of youthful images, bodily expressions and cultural products; 2) the establishment of an increasingly internationalised youthful pop culture that manifested itself in new radio programmes, movies, magazines, dances and a certain kind of street fashion. In analysing these two processes, I examine the dynamic character of the very term ‘pop’. For instance, several modes of expression that were regarded as ‘delinquent’ behaviour in the 1950s were acclaimed as expressions of a colourful pop culture in 1966 when they even came to influence mainstream adult culture.

The main focus of my research is on an international pop culture that was generated by mass media, mass production, demographics, affluence and the extension of leisure time, whilst I also relate it to a wider process that encompassed the internationalisation of both youth and culture in general. I therefore aim to make a contribution to pop history from a transnational perspective while underscoring the fact that essential to any thorough understanding of twentieth-century history is a firm grasp of mass cultural expressions.

The thesis is divided into three main periods. The first period is one of conflict – starting in 1956 with the first so-called youth riots after rock concerts and movie screenings. Although these events were greatly exaggerated by the media, academic experts were commissioned to conduct research on the effects of cultural products on youth. These studies gave many experts political influence and a permanent position in censorship committees. The rock-and-roll panic came to an end around 1960. However, public performances considered too liberal led to major clashes with the police in France, Great Britain and both East and West Germany. Parallel to this, ‘Beatlemania’ arrived in the United States, where a jazz sub-culture was already established, and American middle-class youth now became the focus of moral debates. My thesis ends in 1966, when many of the phenomena that had been criminalised a decade earlier were now presented as elements of a new culture – the so-called pop culture – a term that emerged as front-page news in magazines, books and debates.

It is in following this trajectory that one can trace the establishment of a certain youthful culture (for demographic reasons identical with popular culture) between the youth riots of 1956 and the establishment of the term ‘pop’ in 1966. Yet the debates would continue, albeit to a lesser extent, over the following decades, pop culture emerging as part of a larger Kreativitätsdispositiv (Andreas Reckwitz) that eventually established itself. The decade from 1956 to 1966 can thus be regarded internationally as a Schwellenzeit (Reinhart Koselleck) of pop culture.

Bodo Mrozek

Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam

Email: mrozek [at] zzf-potsdam.de
 

Forschung

Delinquency and Normalisation

From Youth Culture to Pop – A Transnational History (1953-1966)

Completed associated PhD project

This PhD project explores the emergence of youth and pop culture during the 1950s and 1960s. It follows two basic processes that were contradictory yet interwoven: 1) the criminalisation of youthful images, bodily expressions and cultural products; 2) the establishment of an increasingly internationalised youthful pop culture that manifested itself in new radio programmes, movies, magazines, dances and a certain kind of street fashion. In analysing these two processes, I examine the dynamic character of the very term ‘pop’. For instance, several modes of expression that were regarded as ‘delinquent’ behaviour in the 1950s were acclaimed as expressions of a colourful pop culture in 1966 when they even came to influence mainstream adult culture.

The main focus of my research is on an international pop culture that was generated by mass media, mass production, demographics, affluence and the extension of leisure time, whilst I also relate it to a wider process that encompassed the internationalisation of both youth and culture in general. I therefore aim to make a contribution to pop history from a transnational perspective while underscoring the fact that essential to any thorough understanding of twentieth-century history is a firm grasp of mass cultural expressions.

The thesis is divided into three main periods. The first period is one of conflict – starting in 1956 with the first so-called youth riots after rock concerts and movie screenings. Although these events were greatly exaggerated by the media, academic experts were commissioned to conduct research on the effects of cultural products on youth. These studies gave many experts political influence and a permanent position in censorship committees. The rock-and-roll panic came to an end around 1960. However, public performances considered too liberal led to major clashes with the police in France, Great Britain and both East and West Germany. Parallel to this, ‘Beatlemania’ arrived in the United States, where a jazz sub-culture was already established, and American middle-class youth now became the focus of moral debates. My thesis ends in 1966, when many of the phenomena that had been criminalised a decade earlier were now presented as elements of a new culture – the so-called pop culture – a term that emerged as front-page news in magazines, books and debates.

It is in following this trajectory that one can trace the establishment of a certain youthful culture (for demographic reasons identical with popular culture) between the youth riots of 1956 and the establishment of the term ‘pop’ in 1966. Yet the debates would continue, albeit to a lesser extent, over the following decades, pop culture emerging as part of a larger Kreativitätsdispositiv (Andreas Reckwitz) that eventually established itself. The decade from 1956 to 1966 can thus be regarded internationally as a Schwellenzeit (Reinhart Koselleck) of pop culture.

Bodo Mrozek

Leibniz Centre for Contemporary History
Am Neuen Markt 1
14467 Potsdam

Email: mrozek [at] zzf-potsdam.de
 

Forschung