AM102: Week Seven, Term Two Postwar Affluence and the Consumer Culture Suburban Culture and the Rise of TV and Cars Discrimination and Division in Affluent Society Consensus, Classlessness and Social Criticism Greil Marcus, Mystery Train: Images of America in Rock ‘n’ Roll Music ‘There were two kinds of white counterattack on the black invasion of white popular culture that was rock ‘n’ roll: the attempt to soften black music or freeze it out, and the rockabilly lust to beat the black man at his own game’ ‘At the start , Elvis sounded black to those who heard him; when they called him the Hillbilly Cat, they meant the white negro’ ‘If Elvis drew power from black culture, he was not exactly imitating blacks...No white man had so deeply absorbed black music, and transformed it’ 1940-60 GDP increased by 85% Per capita disposable income rose by 37% 1945-1973: production of goods and services doubled By 1960 US 6% of world’s population, but consuming 50% of world’s production Item 1920 1930 1970 8 24 70 Ice Mechanical Refrigerator Vacuum Cleaner 48 40 + + 8 99 9 30 92 Dishwasher 0 1 25 Washing Machine (+ = less than 1%) Source: Stanley Lebergott, The Americans: An Economic Record (1984) Low interest loans, credit cards and advertising Politicisation of consumption e.g. The ‘kitchen’ debate Shopping malls: Impact on culture/geography Teenage Consumption: -1959: $20m on lipstick, $25m on deodorant, $75m on pop singles Levittown, Long Island, 1947: 10,600 houses and home to 40,000 people Suburbs growing 6 times faster than cities in 1950s: more Americans live in suburbs than cities by 1970 ‘White Flight’: American suburban population in 1970 is 95% white The baby boom (1947-64); 1950 Average marriage age 20.3 (women), 22 (men) Nation’s leading leisure activity by end of the 1950s: by 1960 87% of families own a TV set US TV develops as an advertising medium: key role in 1952 and 1960 Presidential Elections Hailed as new American art form; ethnic/working class representation; counterculture The Twilight Zone Intellectual attacks on low cultural programming: westerns, game shows, sitcoms-called a ‘vast wasteland’ by FCC in 1962 Popular science-fiction series dramatising social anxieties such as Cold War fears as seen in this episode set after a nuclear holocaust Federal government builds 37,400 miles of highways in 1947; 1956 ‘National Interstate & Defense Highways Act’ Car production goes from 2 million in 1946 to 8 million in 1955; 80% of families own a car by 1960 Suburban shopping malls; Ray Kroc’s first McDonald’s hamburger restaurant, Des Plaines, Illinois, 1955 Growth of drive-in and fast-food industries due to the emergent ‘car culture’ and highway development in the 1950s Loss of unionised industrial jobs: part-time clerical and service jobs around the family Rise in the percentage of women in workforce in 1950s; exceeds WWII levels by 1955 Suppression of feminism and image of maternal and domestic woman: Modern Woman: The Lost Sex (1947) Accentuation of feminine roles and appearance in popular culture: the happy housewife, Marilyn, misogyny and Mickey Spillane Supreme Court outlaw ‘white’ mortgages in 1948; less than 3% black people in Chicago suburbs in 1960 5 million black people leave South after 1945; population of Chicago more than doubles in 1950s Housing Act in 1949: 800,000 units of public housing for the very poor Widespread affluence, the private sphere and suppression of political debate e.g. McCarthy witchhunts Absence of ideological differences in major political parties e.g. Cold War and free enterprise The myth of the ‘classless society’ e.g. Stock owning, identical suburbs and fashions Emphasis on conformity and community e.g. Social organisations, religion and corporations Social scientists and intellectuals on affluence and modern work: Galbraith, Whyte, Riesman Alienation in the Arts: Miller, Salinger, Hopper American subcultures e.g. Gay and lesbian End of the 1950s: Eisenhower’s ‘militaryindustrial complex’, environmentalism, feminism, seeds of social protest movement The ‘Beat’ Writers and Abstract Artists Top Left: Jack Kerouac, author of On The Road (1956) Top Right: Allen Ginsburg, author of epic poem Howl (1957) Bottom: Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist) (1950) Break with suburban conformity and repression for impulsive pleasure, emotion and experience Ignored by mainstream (though occasionally reprimanded) and absorbed into mass culture by Hollywood ‘rebel’ movies e.g. The Wild One Rock ‘n’ Roll Music Rock ‘n’ Roll acts such as Elvis Presley (top) and Bill Haley and the Comets (bottom) challenged racial divisions through playing black R&B music for white audiences. The open sexuality and emotional charge of these performances rattles white middle-classes as does association with juvenile delinquency. Popularity brought about by spending and consuming power of teenagers and made acceptable to white audiences through mediators such as Elvis.