Teenagers of the 1950s were overwhelmed with the abundance of wealth and freedom that their parents bestowed upon them to compensate for their hardship during war time. Change enveloped the lives of teenagers and they became a new and distinctive figure in society. They became the face of rebellion in the United States and started making their way through life with independent ideas leaving behind their footprint in history. Entertainment felt the full force of this change and transformed to accommodate the modern ways of teenagers. The way they interacted with the opposite sex, their peers, friends and the way they dressed and consumed all changed significantly.
By the late 1950s a huge transformation had taken place in the lives of teens, affecting their pastimes and hobbies. The 1950s saw teenagers breaking family ties to spend time with friends. Entertainment for teenagers took a new turn, youth dared to push their boundaries. Boys and girls began to socialise more; another driving aspect that affected rebellious behaviours. Teens strived to impress their peers, in particular the opposite sex with their reckless attitudes. In Rebel Without a Cause we saw teenagers racing stolen cars over a cliff side and drinking and smoking. Wild One showed similar kinds of destructive behaviours such as vandalism and bullying. These forms of youth entertainment greatly differed from pre-1950s. Teenagers before 1950 could be accurately described as young adults. Leave it to Beaver and Love Connections gave examples of teenagers enjoying themselves in a very formal and innocent manner. Love Connections showed a group of teenagers volunteering to help out at a local fate.
Ideas for entertainment raised in Love Connections included weenie roasts, going to sport games and catching up for a milkshake at a nearby café. Leave it to Beaver gave similar examples of innocent pastimes; in Leave it to Beaver the boys often enjoyed playing sports. Beaver played baseball while Beaver’s brother, Wally was an excellent Basketball player. Although entertainment, hobbies and pastimes had undergone huge change there were still elements that remained the same. The films and shows we watched demonstrated that boys still kept stereotypical interests in things like sport and mechanics, while girls were often seen together swapping stories and gossiping. Dancing and music related activities never lost their popularity, although the manner of dancing and music taste changed extensively. The transformation that took place during the 1950s was profound. Teenagers experienced a freedom that was unfamiliar to generations before them; they sought out the attention of society, often in a destructive manner.
The relationships between boys and girls also experienced significant change during this time. Before the youth revolution came about teenagers had begun to experiment with dating. This was conducted very respectfully. Boys and girls tended to enjoy their pastimes with the same sex and dating presented teenagers with an opportunity to mingle with the opposite sex. As dating became increasingly popular the expectation and etiquette became heavily emphasised by the media. Love Connections went into great detail explaining how to correctly behave on a date. Desirable characteristics were courtesy and conformity.
This soon changed, as teenagers were granted new liberty and the demand to act formally decreased. Girls became attracted to the ‘bad boy’ image and boys developed a more casual approach to girls. Both sexes often mingled in large groups and the idea of flirting became more pronounced. Little effort was put into planning a date, whereas before this time every aspect of a date was organised prior to the outing. Public displays of affection were common in the film Wild One. In this film, boys treated girls will little respect, in one scene a team of bikies ganged up on a girl and harassed her. Very little remained the same in regard to the relationships between boys and girls. Although they continued to date and develop boyfriend and girlfriend type relationships the formality and consideration of these relationships deflated dramatically.
Peers and friends began to relate differently during the 1950s. As high schooling became compulsory for all teenagers they began to become more reliant on the ideas and opinions of their peers. They separated themselves from family in order to spend time with friends. This resulted in a lack of parental advice; instead friends and peers took on this role. They grew to be dependant on their friends and their ideas were moulded by popular opinion. Peer pressure and the need for acceptance affected almost every teenager. Rebel Without a Cause revealed that once teenagers formed and alliance they became protective of their social position in the group and went to great effort to make others feel unwelcome. This can be seen when Jim begins schooling and the popular kids bully and threaten him.
Teenager’s ultimate goal was to be admired and well liked; often they achieved this by intimidating others. These kinds of exclusive and daunting attitudes differed greatly from those before the youth revolution. Friendships before this time were highly valued. Parents were the main source of advice for their children, although peers also gave advice, teenagers tended to be more influenced by their parents. They related formally and had great consideration for each other. In Love Connections and Leave it to Beaver we constantly saw friends speaking politely to each other and offering to help each other. However, throughout this time of change some basic friendship values still remained. Friends offered support for one another. They continued to enjoy each others company and were always enthusiastic about catching up with each other. The change in the way teenagers related with their peers was largely noticed. They went from being a quiet group of young adults to a band of bold individuals that influenced each other and society.
As teenagers raced to keep up with the wealth and freedom that had been thrown at them they constantly found new ways of consuming, a style of clothing unique to teenagers was introduced. After watching Wild One and Rebel Without a Cause it was apparent of the change that clothing underwent. The change in boys clothing was considerable, during the 1950s we saw the introduction of jeans and tight t-shirts. T-shirts were previously regarded as underwear and jeans were a labouring garment. Leather jackets were also heavily featured in the films we watched; these accompanied their rebellious attitudes and their ‘bad boy’ persona. Girls clothing did not change as significantly. Although they began wearing clothing that defined their figure. They showed more cleavage and often bared their shoulders and upper arms.
Love Connections and Leave it to Beaver showed teenagers dressing like their parents. Boys would wear slacks and a shirt, vest or suit jacket while girls wore high waisted dresses. They dressed conservatively and took great pride in their appearance. Clothing was dull in colour and everybody dressed relatively the same. The change of fashion in girls was not as apparent as the change that boys clothing underwent. This was not one of the more noteworthy changes that occurred.
Youth of the late 1950s embraced what seemed to be an inexhaustible wealth resulting from the economic boom. Their parents forced privileges upon them and in doing so they created a new social group. These were the teenagers, the most sought after consumers, creative individuals and yet the most dysfunctional and rebellious social class. Although basic morals on how to live ones life have continued throughout the years, our more superficial attitudes about life have changed drastically. Teenagers of the 1950s shaped the way we have been brought up today and our ongoing desire to ‘consume, consume’ can partly be attributed to this.