AM102: Week Seven, Term Two

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
By 1960 US 6% of world’s population, but
consuming 50% of world’s production
(+ = 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
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
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
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
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
Absence of ideological
differences in major political
parties e.g. Cold War and free
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
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
Popularity brought about by
spending and consuming power of
teenagers and made acceptable to
white audiences through mediators
such as Elvis.