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History of subcultures and underground cultures in the 1950s.

The Existentialists had a profound influence upon subcultural development. Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus transferred their French resistance underground campaign to the context of a cultural revolution and the American beat scene joined the movement. (See article: Underground culture) The emphasis on freedom of the individual influenced the beats in America and Britain and this version of existential bohemianism continued through the 1950s and into the 1960s under the guise of the beat generation. Beards and longer hair returned in another attempt at returning to the image of peacetime man and the normality which had existed before the two wars. At the same time, as a result of American post-war prosperity, a new identity emerged for youth subculture: the teenager.

Jazz culture was transformed, by way of Rhythm and blues into Rock and Roll culture. There are various suggested candidates for which record might've been the First rock and roll record. At the same time, jazz culture itself continued but changed into a more respected form, no longer necessarily associated with wild behaviour and criminality.

From the 1950s onward society noticed an increase in street gang culture, random vandalism and graffiti. Sociologists, psychologists, social workers and judges all had theories as to what was causing the increase to urban juvenile delinquency but the consensus has generally tended to be that the modern urban environment offers all the bright lights and benefits of the modern world but often provides working class youths with little in reality. This theory and others were parodied in the musical West Side Story (based on Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet) in song lyrics such as Jet Song, America, and Gee, Officer Krupke. Moral panics surrounding the advent of teenager subcultures and a perceived rise in adolescent criminality led to several attempts to investigate and legislate youth behavior, such as the Senate Subcommittee on Juvenile Delinquency.

As American rock and roll arrived in the United Kingdom, a subculture grew around it. Some of the British post-war street youths hanging around bombsites in urban areas and getting drawn into petty crime began to dress in a variation of the zoot suit style called a drape suit, with a country style bootlace tie, winklepicker shoes, drainpipe trousers, and Elvis Presley style slicked hair. These youths were called Teddy boys. For a night out dancing at the palais, their girlfriends would usually wear the same sort of poodle skirts and crinolines their counterparts in America would wear. For day-to-day wear there was a trend toward girls wearing slacks or jeans. At the time, the idea of girls wearing trousers and boys taking time over their hairstyle was socially shocking to many people.

British youth divided into factions. There were the modern jazz kids, the trad jazz kids, the rock and roll teenagers and the skiffle craze. Coffee bars were a meeting place for all the types of youth and the coolest ones were said to be in Soho, London.

In Britain, the political side of the Beat Generation was the anti-nuclear movement led by CND. Ban the Bomb marches became a very successful British social phenomenon.

Teenage music and subculture was parodied in the 1957 play (and 1962 movie) The Music Man, particularly in the song "Ya Got Trouble".

In the United States and Australia, Hawaiian-influenced Surfing was the new youth sport. A whole subculture grew around the sport and the associated parties, clothes, speech patterns and music. During the same time-frame skateboard riding developed as a parallel lifestyle to wave riding. Both forms of board riding continued throughout the remainder of the century and into the next. From these two sports young people learned to provide their own social structure within which they could display skills and excellence.

In the Congo Free State (now known as the Democratic Republic of the Congo), a youth subculture known as the Bills flourished, taking Western movies and cowboys as their main influence.

In the Netherlands we see two youth groups evolving in big cities like Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Utrecht. One group, the Nozems, similar to the British Teds, and another called the Artiestelingen, who can be compared to the bohemian artists of pre-world-war France. The Nozems spent their time listening to rock and roll music, driving motorcycles through town and picking up ladies while the Artiestelingen would discuss philosophy, paint, draw and listen to jazz music.

See also

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