1940s subcultures  

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History of subcultures and underground cultures in the 1940s, including during World War II (1940 - 1945).


Discotheques in occupied Paris

"Discotheques originated in occupied Paris during the Second World War. The Nazis banned jazz and closed many of the dance clubs, breaking up jazz groups and driving fans into illicit cellars to listen to recorded music. One of these venues - on the rue Huchette - called itself La Discothèque." -- David Haslam

European avant-garde flees to the United States

European avant-garde (dadaists and surrealists) artists like Max Ernst, Marcel Duchamp and Marc Chagall fled Europe following the outbreak of World War II. These artists arrived in the United States, where a subculture of surrealism and avant-garde experimentation developed in New York City, becoming the new center of the art world.


American fashion remained gangster orientated, with gangs gravitating around immigrant and racial cultures. In California, hispanic youth developed the distinctive zoot suit fashion, such as the black widows, women who dressed in black. The zoot suiters use of language involved rhyming and pig latin (also known as backslang). This style, collectively known as Swing or Jive talk , included Afro-American, Cuban, Mexican and South American elements, as well as bits introduced by Slim Gaillard (see 'McVouty oreeney).

The entry of the United States into World War II was heralded by new legislation making zoot suits illegal due to the extra cloth required, resulting in the Zoot Suit Riots.

Black markets in Europe

In Europe, black-marketeers prospered under rationing. Clothing styles depended on what could be begged or acquired by some means, not necessarily legal; There were restrictions everywhere. When the Americans arrived in Britain, black-marketeers, (called Wide boys or Spivs) made deals with GIs for stockings, chocolate, etc. Inevitably, subculture continued to have an image of criminality and the brave, the daring, the milieu, the resistance, etc. The black market in drugs thrived just about anywhere.

The Zazous in France

After the second war, the zoot suit craze spread to France in the form of the Zazou youths. Meanwhile, the intellectuals in France were forming an existentialist subculture around Jean Paul Sartre and Albert Camus in Parisian cafe culture.


In post-war America, folk songs and cowboy songs (also known, in those days, as hillbilly music) were beginning to be more popular with a wider audience. A subculture of rural jazz and blues fans had mixed elements of jazz and blues into traditional cowboy and folk song styles to produce a crossover called western swing. Thanks to the prevalence of radio, this music spread across the United States in the 1940s. Radio was the first almost instantaneous mass media with the power to create large subcultures by spreading the ideas of small subcultures across a wide area.

Bebop, a new jazz subculture, formed from the rebellion against the melodic stylings of swing; Notable players included Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker. In turn, bebop spawned the hipster and beat generation subculture.

On the road

In 1947, Jack Kerouac made an epic journey across America, which he would later describe in his novel, On the Road. In the same year, there was an incident involving a motorcycle gang at Hollister, California, and Harper's Magazine, published a story about it. In 1948, the Hells Angels formed in the United States. The Hells Angels began as a motorcycle club looking for excitement in the dull times after the end of the war and became notorious as time passed. Motorcycle gangs in general began to hit the headlines. In 1953), the film, The Wild One, was released starring Marlon Brando.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "1940s subcultures" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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