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"Mass suburban developments and nuclear family ideals serve as symbols of the era from the end of the Second World War in 1945 to the inauguration of United States President John F. Kennedy in 1961. Education grew explosively because of a very strong demand for high school and college education. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States played out through the entire decade. The fifties also revolutionized entertainment with the mainstream introduction of television, rapid growth of the recording industry and new genres of music, and movies targeted at teenage audiences. Due to the conservative norms of the era and the sometimes violent suppression of social movements, seeds of rebellion grew and were manifested through Rock and Roll, movies emphasizing rebelliousness, expansion of the Civil Rights Movement, the so-called Beat Generation of poets and artists. All of these played significant roles in the Social Revolution of the Sixties (Counterculture of the 1960s)."

Aftermath of World War II, Culture during the Cold War

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<< 1940s 1960s >>

The 1950s began on January 1, 1950, and ended on December 31, 1959.

By its end, the world had largely recovered from World War II and the Cold War developed from its modest beginning in the late-1940s to a hot competition between the United States and the Soviet Union by the early-1960s.

Clashes between communism and capitalism dominated the decade, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. The conflicts included the Korean War in the beginnings of the decade and the beginning of the Space Race. Along with increased testing of nuclear weapons, this created a politically conservative climate. In the United States, the Second Red Scare caused Congressional hearings by both houses in Congress and anti-communism was the prevailing sentiment in the United States throughout the decade. The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia took place in this decade and accelerated in the following decade.



In the West, an American generation traumatized by the Great Depression and World War II created a culture with emphasis on normality and conformity. Europeans took a generally different approach to a post-war society, aiming for a greater inclusiveness and social awareness after a global crisis in the preceding decades that many blamed on the failings of Free Market Capitalism, and the fifties were marked by the establishment of a Welfare State in many countries in western Europe.


  • Juvenile delinquency was said to be at epidemic proportions in the United States, although by modern standards the crime rate was low.
  • The social mores of the decade were marked by overall conservatism and conformity.
  • Beatniks, a culture of teenage and young adults who rebelled against social norms, appeared towards the end of the decade and were criticised by older generations. They are seen as a predecessor for the counterculture and hippie movements.
  • Optimistic visions of a semi-utopian technological future, including such devices as the flying car, were popular.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still hits movie theaters launching a cycle of Hollywood films in which Cold War fears are manifested through scenarios of alien invasion or mutation.
  • The civil rights movement began in earnest, with the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954.
  • The Kinsey Reports were published.
  • Hugh Hefner launched Playboy magazine.
  • The Counterculture during the 1950s was characterized by the Beat Generation.

Origins of rock and roll

Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be seen in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s. Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional folk music, gospel music, and country and western.


The spectacle approach, coupled with Cold War paranoia, a renewed interest in science from the atomic bomb, as well as increased interest in the mysteries of outer space and other forteana, lent itself well to what this film decade is most well-known for, science fiction. The science fiction genre began its golden age during this decade with such notable films as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World and Forbidden Planet (1956). There were also Earth-based subjects, such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and When Worlds Collide (1951). Companies such as American International Pictures, Japan's Toho, and Britain's Hammer Film Productions were created to solely produce films of the fantastique genres.

Visual culture

1950s art

Abstract expressionism was the first art movement specifically American to gain worldwide influence, was responsible for putting New York City in the centre on the artistic world, a place previously owned by Paris, France. This movement acquired its name for combining the German expressionism's emotional intensity with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism. Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential painters of this movement, creating famous works such as No. 5, 1948.


See 1950s subcultures

Popular culture

  • Brylcreem and other hair tonics had a period of popularity
  • Juvenile delinquency was said to be at unprecedented epidemic proportions in the United States, though some see this era as relatively low in crime compared to today.
  • Continuing poverty in some regions during recessions later on in this decade. The 1950s is often mistakenly painted as the pinnacle of American prosperity. To some, it also may be considered the peak of our modern American civilization The '50s were supposed to be a time of the "Affluent Society".
  • The 1950s saw fairly high rates of unionization, government social spending, taxes, and the like in the United States and European countries,. Most Western governments were liberal or moderate, though domestic politics were also affected by reactions to communism and the Cold War.
  • Optimistic visions of a semi-utopian technological future, including such devices as the flying car, were popular.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still hits movie theaters launching a cycle of Hollywood films in which Cold War fears are manifested through scenarios of alien invasion or mutation.
  • Considerable racial tension arose with military and school desegregation in mostly the southern part of the United States, though major controversy and uproar did not truly erupt until the 1960s.


Beatniks and the beat generation, an anti-materialistic literary movement that began with Jack Kerouac in 1948 and stretched on into the early-mid 1960s, was at its zenith in the 1950s. Such groundbreaking literature as William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Allen Ginsberg's Howl, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye were published.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "1950s" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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