Youth Cultures in the UK

30 May 2019

-By Milan Weber

People try to bring us down. Just because we get around. Talking ‘bout my generation. – The Who.

During the summer of 1964, English newspapers were filled with news about violence on the beaches in the south. The country was shocked to hear youngster hurt each other in such brutal manners. The reason for this violence was the clash between the Mods and Rockers. Who were the Mods and Rockers and why did separate youth cultures emerge in the UK in the previous century?

Many people place the emergence of youth culture after the Second World War. This is partly true. The anxiety, created by mass media after the war, definitely shaped the image that youth cultures started to take off after the Second World War but this is not the case for industrialised countries. The UK, for example, faced problems with the youth during the interbellum because youngsters grew up in poverty in violent environments. Peaky Blinders clearly used these interbellum problems as a subject for their series. The period after the Second World War, however, proved to be the time in which many different groups emerged.

The post-war situation assured a baby boom and this is seen as the main reason why youth cultures emerged on a bigger scale than before. In the UK, the fact that youngster spent two years in freedom between leaving school and their call up for conscription contributed to this as well. The youngsters in the UK were no longer wage-earners for their families, had more free time and had more opportunities to work part-time jobs in light industries. The first group that can be distinguished after the Second World War were the Teddy boys. The Americanisation had a big impact on them, because they listened to American music, watched American movies and hung around in coffee and milk bars. This image created anxiety amongst elder people. They looked suspiciously towards the new world power, America, especially since the UK lost its powers in the world. The violent reputation, however, definitely played the biggest part. The Teddy Boys as a youth culture ended at the end of the fifties and this was the take-off of two other groups, the Mods and the Rockers.

Teddy Boys

The relationship between the Mods and Rockers is interesting to enquire. They fought on the beaches but also tended to accept each other. They never saw their rivalry as a serious matter, although society rejected their violent behaviour. Rockers were known for their leather jackets. They rode motorcycles and represented the working class. Mods wore Italian stylistic clothes and attracted the middle class, next to the working class. The distinctive features can also be found in the music they were associated with. Rockers listened to Rock ‘n Roll, whereas the Mods introduced Soul and Ska in the UK. From out of those two groups, many other youth cultures emerged in the UK. 

                                                                           Rod 'the Mod' Steward

As a counter-reaction on this violence, and the overall spirit of the ‘60s, the hippie culture emerged in the middle of that decade. It was not only a counteraction on the violence of the Mods and the Rockers but also a reaction on consumerism. To a certain extent, you could say that hippies were more concerned with the world around them. They worried about the Cold War situation and felt to be part of a worldwide movement. Many Rockers or Mods moved towards this new youth culture. The Beatles form a striking example of that transformation. Making Rock ‘n Roll at the beginning of their careers, they adapted hippie features in their music from the middle of the 1960s onward. The lyrics that encouraged listeners to broaden their minds definitely broke with the early 60s Rock ‘n Roll character:

Turn off your mind relax and float downstream. It is not dying, it is not dying. Lay down all thoughts, surrender to the void. It is shining, it is shining. – The Beatles

It is interesting to see why and how youth cultures emerged. The spirit of the time always shaped the circumstances in which youngsters expressed themselves, whether they embraced or opposed to those circumstances. Although the youth always created anxiety in society, whether it was violence or the use of drugs, they definitely brought colour in society. 

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