First of all, the term mentioned in the title should be defined: popular culture consisting of popular - meaning “liked by a lot of people”, “done by a lot of people in a society, group etc.” or “relating to ordinary people, or intended for ordinary people” – and culture – meaning, among others, “the beliefs, way of life, art, and customs that are shared and accepted by people in a different society” or “a society that existed at a particular time in history”1. As a whole, popular culture can be described as following
Popular culture (commonly known as pop culture) is the totality of ideas, perspectives, attitudes, memes, images and other phenomena that are deemed preferred per an informal consensus within the mainstream of a given culture, especially Western culture of the early to mid 20th century and the emerging global mainstream of the late 20th and early 21st century. Heavily influenced by mass media, this collection of ideas permeates the everyday lives of the society. 2
Two other possibilities to describe popular culture are that “it may refer to that which is ‘left over’ after the cannon of high culture has been decided upon” and “it may pertain to the mass-produced culture of the Culture Industries”3. Another term appearing with the emergence of popular culture in Britain and which is crucial to know is Beatlemania. This compound word consists of the stem beatle - according to the music artists of The Beatles - and its suffix mania meaning “a strong desire for something or interest in something, especially one that affects a lot of people at the same time”1. For the first time, both terms arose in the 1960s, more precisely in Great Britain during the enormously successful years of The Beatles. Highly probable, everyone has heard something about Paul McCartney, John Lennon, Ringo Starr and George Harrison but their influence on society, especially on the emergence and development of popular culture, is rather unfamiliar. Therefore, influences as well as backgrounds and contexts of popular culture and Beatlemania will be portrayed.
Before the 1960s, the whole world had to recover from the Great War, for instance, in 1948 restrictions on rationed goods were gradually lifted three years after World War II had ended, the rationing of clothes ended the following year, and so on. Finally recovered, Great Britain stood before good times after in 1954 fourteen years of food rationing completely ended at midnight when restrictions on the sale and purchase of meat and bacon were lifted. The economy of Britain evolved quite successful as can be seen on manufacturing and export economy, above all the main industries steel, coal, automotive and textiles. This development was also accentuated by Harold Macmillan, who was Prime Minister 1957-1963: “Indeed let us be frank about it - most of our people have never had it so good. Go around the country, go to the industrial towns, go to the farms and you will see a state of prosperity such as we have never had in my lifetime - nor indeed in the history of this country”4. Overall, it seemed to be a change not just in economy as suggested by the politician and later Prime Minister Harold Wilson, in 1963 speaking at the Labour Party Conference in Scarborough: “...in all our plans for the future, we are re-defining and we are re-stating our socialism in terms of the scientific revolution. But that revolution cannot become a reality unless we are prepared to make far-reaching changes in economic and social attitudes which permeate our whole system of society. The Britain that is going to be forged in the white heat of this revolution will be no place for restrictive practices or for outdated methods on either side of industry.”5
Caused by the economical upswing, many people were employed6 and, consequently, obtained payment which increased their disposable income. That fact gave the Britons more freedom and therefore they were able to afford household items such as televisions, refrigerators, washing machines etc, as well as cars; even hire-purchases, i. e. arrangements for payment by installments, were usual. Also young adults or teenagers, who were working besides school mostly in part-time jobs, earned their own money in those days. Benefitted by that, they were able to purchase goods on their own, independent from their parents and other adults. In contrast to previous youth generations, especially pre-war generations, young people could enjoy the omnipresent music and fashion which was spread by mass-media such as magazines or television. With the new freedom and possibilities, the younger generation had the chance to develop their own identity instead of living like the other adults. But they were not just using this chance; they even rebelled and broke away from their parents, which resulted in the emergence of youth culture as well as popular culture.
Besides music which was later characterized by The Beatles, this movement was portrayed by teenagers through fashion. Probably invented and popularized by Mary Quant, a French designer, the mini skirt symbolized the rebellious attitude of young women7. During the 1960s, a whole subculture grew up according to the new freedom and popular culture called The Mods (abbreviation of modernists). Also appearing in the USA, the Mods originally originated in London and were influenced by Italian fashion - as can be seen on suits made by tailors - and typically wore Parka jackets. Using their newly available money, the teenagers became a main target group for designers and shop owners. Hence, whole shopping districts focused on the young consumers which resulted in new fashion brands like His clothing and the amount of stores and boutiques increased heavily, for instance, in London’s Carnaby Street and Kings Road districts8.
As mentioned above, fashion was not the only branch which characterized teenagers and young adults belonging to popular culture. The other crucial section for these people was music. Mainly pushed by four men from Liverpool, this era was also called Beatlemania. This term is used to describe the mania which surrounded the band the Beatles, characterized by the behavior of their fans. Never before, there was such an attention on one single group. They were extremely successful as can be seen on their sales of more than one and a half billion records, due in part to the way they utilized media; they made, of course, records, gave concerts, appeared on the radio and television and even made films. But John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison did not just get feedback from their bourgeois fans: in 1965 they received MBEs, i. e. Member of the Order of the British Empire, an honor on people by the Queen recognizing merit, gallantry and service. Later, Paul McCartney even received the title Knight Bachelor in 1997 and became noble. With the reactions on their music, the term Beatlemania perfectly describes the influence on young Britons and on their culture which makes the Beatles main leaders in the influence of popular culture9.
Not just music and fashion affected the emergence of popular culture, other events and happenings also influenced the young generation, more or less, towards a more modern lifestyle, thinking and behavior. For instance, in 1961 the Pill was introduced which completely changed the attitude of men and women according to their sexuality10. In the same way, the Abortion Act, which “came into effect on the 27 April 1968 and permits termination of pregnancy by a registered practitioner subject to certain conditions”11, as well as the decriminalization of homosexuality, which became law with the Sexual Offence Act in the same year12, gained everyone access to a more modern and free world. The main aspect for the possibility to arise a new culture was freedom which was reached through the students movements all over the world, too. “Dissatisfied with the world they inherited and following a pattern of dissent from their parents’ generation, the youth of the 1960s formed a ‘counter-culture’ which rejected many of the fundamental values”13 and therefore built a unit on their own. Another issue - which widened people’s freedom and, hence, paved the way for youth culture and popular culture - was the Theatres Act in 1968, “an act to abolish censorship of the theatre and to amend the law in respect of theatres and theatrical performances”14. Besides that, in this year also death penalty was abolished (at least for the crime of murder)15 and “the 1969 Divorce Reform Act restated the three existing fault grounds of adultery, desertion and cruelty (widened to ‘unreasonable behaviour’) and added the two ‘no-fault’ separation grounds”16
Most of the issues mentioned above lead to a new term which sometimes can be equaled with popular or youth culture: youthquake. This compound word, which expresses the size and velocity of this phenomenon, describes the whole movement of the 1960s and can be seen as a kind of earthquake of youth and young people. In detail, it “was a 1960s fashion, musical and cultural movement [and] was coined by Vogue's editor-in-chief Diana Vreeland in 1963” with the Great Britain’s capital as its origin and center17. Also, the term teenager arose within the emergence of popular culture in the 1960s and describes “someone who is between 13 and 19 years old”18. Before that, “most societies simply distinguished between childhood and adulthood”19 but with the development of pop-culture, men and women of that age created their own identity and therefore were recognized as an own group of people in contrast to former periods.
1 ”Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English“
3 “Cultural Studies”, p. 68
6 cf. http://watd.wuthering-heights.co.uk/chartpages/c/c03unemuk.html
9 “The Beatles Anthology“
18 “Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English“
- Quote paper
- Christian Roßmeier (Author), 2011, The origins of popular culture and "Beatlemania" in Britain, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/462632