The Evolution of an American Youth Culture
As the entertainment industries came to realize that a youth market existed, providers of music and movies began to create products specifically for them. While Big Beat music and exploitation films may have initially been targeted for a marginalized audience, during the following decade and a half, such offerings gradually become mainstream, even as the first generation of American teenagers came of age. As a result the so-called youth culture overtook and consumed the primary American culture, as records and films once considered revolutionary transformed into a nostalgia movement, and much of what had been thought of as radical came to be perceived as conservative in a drastically altered social context.
In this book Douglas Brode offers the first full analysis of how an American youth culture evolved.
Prologue Twixt Twelve and Twenty: The First American Teenagers
← xiv | xv → Prologue
TWIXT TWELVE AND TWENTY
The First American Teenagers
“Yeah, yeah, yeah, I go to swingin’ school.The cats are hip and the chicks are cool.”
—Bobby Rydell, Because They’re Young, 1960
During the second week of September 1955, between ten and fifteen million young Americans, the vast majority twelve years old, embarked on the first-stage of their post-childhood lives. The previous spring, they had graduated from grade schools in large cities and small towns across the industrial northeast, the strictly-segregated south, a largely rural southwest, wide-open prairies across the Midwest, and the isolated, in many ways insular northern tier. They entered larger middle- and junior-high schools that collected such teenagers, as they would soon be known. Unbeknownst to them, these youngsters formed a virtual tidal wave: baby-boomers, born during the middle of World War II. Many were the offspring of men and women who married shortly after meeting so as to respectably engage in sex before servicemen were shipped overseas.1 Never before in the country’s social history had such a vast number simultaneously showed up for the second phase of their educations. School systems across the country were unprepared and overwhelmed.2 Less obvious ← xv | xvi → was that a Sea Change in morals, mores, and manners would shortly occur. Or that the movies they chose to watch and music they listened to would henceforth reflect and derive from these new kids on the block.
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