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The Rise Of Youth Culture After Great Depression Followed By World War II

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By definition, popular culture refers to influential principles, practices, beliefs, music, art, literature, fashion, dance, film, cyberculture, television, and radio which are recognized and appeal to the majority of society (Crossman, 2019). In the 21st century, the term ‘teenager’ is widely used, referring to youth aged between 13 and 19, but it wasn’t always so common. Pioneered in 1950s America, the idea of ‘teenagers’ was initially a source of cultural division between children and adults. However, following its introduction in the post-World War 2 period, it quickly gained popularity and the presence of teenage culture is still on the rise today. It now stands as the pivotal factor in determining what is popular. Since it first came to prominence, teenage culture has had a lasting impact on popular culture, which has changed society significantly.

Before teenagers arrived on the scene, society was drastically different. The only two recognized groups in society were children and adults, experiencing the Great Depression followed by World War 2. During the Great Depression, lasting from 1929 to 1939, adolescents were expected to restrain frivolous or social activities and excessive spending, instead of leaving school to work full time in order to support their families (Digital Public Library of America, n.d.). When the US joined World War 2 in 1941, after the attack on Pearl Harbour, youth were anticipated to join the Armed Forces, or step up to fill the available jobs and resolve the nation’s need for money (Expectations of Youth Through Time, n.d.). The Silent Generation, born in the 1920-the 1940s, we’re dependent on their families into adulthood and pressured into contributing wages to the household, which was thought to outweigh socializing and fun with friends (McCann, 2014). Without an identity of their own, adolescents in the 30s and 40s followed fashion from their parents in a bid to progress to adulthood sooner (McCann, 2014). This period of hardship was followed by a turning point that allowed for the birth of teenage culture.

The conclusion of the Second World War saw newfound affluence in American society. For many citizens, it was important for them to return to their normal lifestyle after the war. However, this wasn’t the case for the Baby Boomers who were moving into adolescence with more disposable income and free time than generations prior. They enjoyed more material comfort, dedicated more time and money to leisure activities, and consumed more popular culture than ever before (Khan Academy, n.d.). Seeking to distance themselves from the culture of their parents and redefine their identities, the adolescents of the 1950s began to rebel against adult authority and ‘teenage culture’ was invented (Digital Public Library of America, n.d.). As the largest single generation in American history, Baby Boomers were immediately identified as a target demographic; products and entertainment started to be targeted to their interests (Digital Public Library of America, n.d.). The 1950s also saw the emergence of rock and roll music. Renegades like Elvis Presley and the Beatles were a preference for teens thanks to their commemoration of young love and freedom from the oppression of society (McNearney, 2018). Along with rebellion-themed songs like “Rock Around The Clock,” came the arrival of youth-oriented television and film, with many following James Dean’s lead and becoming Rebels Without a Cause themselves (Khan Academy, n.d.; McNearney, 2018). This distinct culture made an unforgettable impact, branding the 1950s as the birthplace of teenage culture.

In the following decades, teenagers transformed pop culture and society as a whole. The increasing teen presence was not welcomed by the rest of society. Parents and authorities disapproved of the revolutionary new youth culture. The initial disregard for teenagers soon became active condemnation as older generations tried to control ‘juvenile delinquency’ by shutting down dances, banning rock and roll music, and punishing teens for violating an array of rules such as chewing gum in class and talking back to parents (Powers, n.d.). This significant disapproval for the values and lifestyle of teens caused significant cultural divisions in a society like never seen before (Powers, n.d.). Many untrue assumptions were made against the newfound teenage culture, creating more distance between generations. Drug use, drinking rituals, and sexual experimentation were considered an expected part of teenage culture regardless of the fact that the majority of young people didn’t participate (Austin, 2019). However, the short-term impact of teenage culture wasn’t all negative. In the 1950-the 60s, teenagers were a dominant force in eliciting change in society. Rebellions led by teens, motivated by their collective student identity, were a vital part of the Civil Rights Movement, fighting for equal rights for African Americans (Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, 2005). Some of the implications of this teen culture are still significant today, while others have lost relevance over time.

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Into the 21st century, some aspects of teenage culture have remained the same. Like the teens of the 1950s, every generation of adolescents and their culture is shaped by the current social, political, and economic events (Divecha, 2017). As discussed by Ruano (2018), although trends and fads differ from decade to decade, the struggles of today’s teens are much the same as those 60 years ago. Along with the troubles of finding themselves, grades, getting a job, and life after high school, youth are still heavily influenced by the same facets of pop culture like celebrities, TV, and film, much like previous generations (Becker, 2015). Teenage culture continues to grow and evolve, which brings misunderstanding, criticism, and generalizations from older generations which have been experienced by all youths due to the continuously changing nature of their culture (Schulten, 2017).

Although some things have continued throughout history, a lot has changed since teenage culture was first invented. Firstly, the rebellious rock and roll culture of the 60s had been commercialized, forcing some teens to search for new identities which could not be found in everyday stores (Austin, 2019). Punk culture followed, and despite the best efforts, it too inevitably appeared in stores worldwide. Popular teen culture then began to move in the other direction with the rise of glam rockers and disco dancers (Austin, 2019). Most adolescents didn’t formally join one of the many subcultures of teen culture, although they adopted some of the iconic clothing or music styles. However, the most significant change in teen culture has been new communication and media technologies, particularly the Internet. Teen culture has been revolutionized by allowing youth to interact and affect what’s popular in real-time, creating an ideal space for the creation and emergence of new youth cultures (Becker, 2015; Austin, 2019). The 1980s witnessed the first of so-called teenage computer hackers and phone ‘phreaks’ but the release of the internet in 1991 facilitated a much greater online culture, separate from teen’s everyday persona (Austin, 2019). The Internet has transformed what is considered normal leisure activities for teenagers. Popular leisure activities of the first-ever teenagers included dances, music, eating out at restaurants and board games, while youths today “spend five to six hours a day texting, chatting, gaming, web surfing, streaming and sharing videos, and hanging out online” says Divecha (2017). It is evident that teenage culture has experienced remarkable long-term changes.

The rise of teenage culture has had a significant effect on pop culture around the world. Teenagers have become a large independent group with a strong opinion in society. Since the 1950s they have been recognized by marketers as a target market for music, TV, and movies. Producers and celebrities now aim to have teens interact with pop culture and each other, forming a personal connection with their products (Becker, 2015). This has occurred because the psychology, behavior, and emotions of teens are heavily influenced by trends. Teenagers’ maturation is defined by their self-definition, searching for their identity, which makes them very impressionable to the influence of pop culture icons (Stout, 2018). Intaking more pop culture than any other group, young people dictate what’s trending, forcing marketers to mold pop culture to their needs and interests (Stout, 2018). Teenagers have had a very apparent impact on pop culture including the music, movies, and television produced and the clothing sold.

Teenagers have significantly changed popular culture since the idea first emerged in the affluent 1950s American society. From adolescents breaking free from the reign of authority, teenage culture has risen rapidly. Its impact has extended from pop culture to politics, with teens using their controversial voices to fight for change and equality. Today, the original rock and roll renegades have become social media sensations with more power than ever. Producers have been forced to transform worldwide pop culture to fit what appeals to teenagers, and their power is continuing to grow with the addition of the internet enabling young people to interact and engage with what’s popular. For this reason, teenage culture will continue to have a significant influence around the globe.

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The Rise Of Youth Culture After Great Depression Followed By World War II. (2021, August 02). Edubirdie. Retrieved November 29, 2022, from
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