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Girl: "Hey, Johnny, What are you rebelling against?"

Marlon Brando: "What do you got?"

--The Wild One (1953)

"A-wop-bop-a-loo-bop-a-wop-bam-boom!"-- "Tutti Frutti" (1955) by Little Richard

Aftermath of World War II, Culture during the Cold War

"... much like the Marshall Plan enabled certain amounts of US control over western Europe. Lucia's performance of Renato Carosone's song “Tu vuò fà l'americano,” typically considered a satire of wanting to feel American, ..."-- Vampires, Race, and Transnational Hollywoods (2017) by Dale Hudson

"Abstract expressionism was an American post-World War II art movement. It was the first specifically American movement to achieve worldwide influence and also the one that put New York City at the center of the art world, a role formerly filled by Paris. It was followed by Pop art which re-introduced playfulness which was lacking in Abstract expressionism."--Sholem Stein

Trends in cinema: Italian neorealism - grindhouse - art film

Trends in politics: McCarthyism

Trends in design: Atomic Age - drip painting - Googie - Mid-century modern - Jet Age

Trends in literary culture: Beat Generation - Existentialism - Lettrism - Situationism - Grove Press

Trends in music: vinyl records become commonplace - bebop - Rhythm and blues - start of rock music - soul music - musique concrète - twist

Trends in subcultures: start of the teenager and youth culture - biker subcultures - juvenile delinquency - EC Comics

Trends in media: television

Fiction: The Catcher in the Rye (1951) - Story of O (1954) - The Image (1956) - Naked Lunch (1959) - Hollywood Babylon (1959)

Non-fiction: The Outsider (1956) - The Grotesque in Art and Literature (1957) - The Poetics of Space (1958) - Hollywood Babylon (1959)

Films: Un Chant d'amour (1950) - Under the Sky of Paris (1951) - Les Vacances de Monsieur Hulot (1953) - Glen or Glenda - (1953) - The Wild One (1953) - Rear Window (1954) - Garden of Eden - (1955) - Rebel Without a Cause (1955) - ...And God Created Woman - (1956) - Baby Doll (1956) - Eyes without a Face (1959) - The Immoral Mr. Teas (1959) - Pickpocket (1959)

Related e



<< 1940s 1960s >>

By the end of the 1950s, the world had largely recovered from World War II and the Cold War developed from its modest beginning in the late-1940s to a hot competition between the United States and the Soviet Union by the early-1960s.

Clashes between communism and capitalism dominated the decade, especially in the Northern Hemisphere. The conflicts included the Korean War in the beginnings of the decade and the beginning of the Space Race. Along with increased testing of nuclear weapons, this created a politically conservative climate. In the United States, the Second Red Scare caused Congressional hearings by both houses in Congress and anti-communism was the prevailing sentiment in the United States throughout the decade. The beginning of decolonization in Africa and Asia took place in this decade and accelerated in the following decade.



With the help of the Marshall Plan, post-war reconstruction succeeded, with some countries (including West Germany) adopting free market capitalism while others adopted Keynesian-policy welfare states. Europe continued to be divided into Western and Soviet bloc countries. The geographical point of this division came to be called the Iron Curtain.


  • Juvenile delinquency was said to be at epidemic proportions in the United States, although by modern standards the crime rate was low.
  • The social mores of the decade were marked by overall conservatism and conformity.
  • Beatniks, a culture of teenage and young adults who rebelled against social norms, appeared towards the end of the decade and were criticised by older generations. They are seen as a predecessor for the counterculture and hippie movements.
  • Optimistic visions of a semi-utopian technological future, including such devices as the flying car, were popular.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still hits movie theaters launching a cycle of Hollywood films in which Cold War fears are manifested through scenarios of alien invasion or mutation.
  • The civil rights movement began in earnest, with the landmark Supreme Court ruling of Brown vs. the Board of Education in 1954.
  • The Kinsey Reports were published.
  • Hugh Hefner launched Playboy magazine, Bettie Page was in an early issue.
  • The Counterculture during the 1950s was characterized by the Beat Generation.
  • Car tailfins


Popular music up to the early 1950s was mainly bebop and jazz variants. Jazz stars included Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and Thelonious Monk. Rock and roll emerged as the teen music of choice with Little Richard, Chuck Berry and Buddy Holly being notable exponents. Elvis Presley was the musical superstar of the period with rock, rockabilly, gospel, and romantic balladeering being his signatures. Bill Haley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Johnny Cash were rockabilly musicians. Doo Wop was another popular genre at the time. Calypso enjoyed popularity with Jamaican Harry Belafonte being dubbed the "King of Calypso". The Kingston Trio was instrumental in launching the folk music revival of the fifties and sixties. On March 14, 1958, the RIAA certified crooner Perry Como's single, "Catch a Falling Star" its first ever Gold Record.

Origins of rock and roll

Rock and roll emerged as a defined musical style in America in the 1950s, though elements of rock and roll can be seen in rhythm and blues records as far back as the 1920s. Early rock and roll combined elements of blues, boogie woogie, jazz and rhythm and blues, and is also influenced by traditional folk music, gospel music, and country and western.


The spectacle approach, coupled with Cold War paranoia, a renewed interest in science from the atomic bomb, as well as increased interest in the mysteries of outer space and other forteana, lent itself well to what this film decade is most well-known for, science fiction. The science fiction genre began its golden age during this decade with such notable films as The Day the Earth Stood Still, The Thing from Another World and Forbidden Planet (1956). There were also Earth-based subjects, such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954) and When Worlds Collide (1951). Companies such as American International Pictures, Japan's Toho, and Britain's Hammer Film Productions were created to solely produce films of the fantastique genres.

Visual culture

The fifties revival in the eighties

Abstract expressionism was the first art movement specifically American to gain worldwide influence, was responsible for putting New York City in the centre on the artistic world, a place previously owned by Paris, France. This movement acquired its name for combining the German expressionism's emotional intensity with the anti-figurative aesthetic of the European abstract schools such as Futurism, Bauhaus and Synthetic Cubism. Jackson Pollock was one of the most influential painters of this movement, creating famous works such as No. 5, 1948.


See History_of_modern_Western_subcultures#1950s

Popular culture

  • Brylcreem and other hair tonics had a period of popularity
  • Juvenile delinquency was said to be at unprecedented epidemic proportions in the United States, though some see this era as relatively low in crime compared to today.
  • Continuing poverty in some regions during recessions later on in this decade. The 1950s is often mistakenly painted as the pinnacle of American prosperity. To some, it also may be considered the peak of our modern American civilization The '50s were supposed to be a time of the "Affluent Society".
  • The 1950s saw fairly high rates of unionization, government social spending, taxes, and the like in the United States and European countries,. Most Western governments were liberal or moderate, though domestic politics were also affected by reactions to communism and the Cold War.
  • Optimistic visions of a semi-utopian technological future, including such devices as the flying car, were popular.
  • The Day the Earth Stood Still hits movie theaters launching a cycle of Hollywood films in which Cold War fears are manifested through scenarios of alien invasion or mutation.
  • Considerable racial tension arose with military and school desegregation in mostly the southern part of the United States, though major controversy and uproar did not truly erupt until the 1960s.


Beatniks and the beat generation, an anti-materialistic literary movement that began with Jack Kerouac in 1948 and stretched on into the early-mid 1960s, was at its zenith in the 1950s. Such groundbreaking literature as William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Allen Ginsberg's Howl and Other Poems, William Golding's Lord of the Flies, Jack Kerouac's On the Road, and J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye were published.

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "1950s" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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