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Fs3: The Swinging Sixties Context.

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fs3 the swinging sixties context

Fs3: The Swinging Sixties Context

The sixties are thought of by many as one of the most exciting decades of the last century. It was marked by a sense of hope and optimism, the feeling that the world was changing for the better and the restrictive lifestyles of the period immediately after the war and the fifties was no longer necessary. Young people everywhere were contributing to a cultural, sexual and social revolution that would eventually transform ways of thinking.

baby boomers
Baby Boomers.
  • The key image of the sixties was one one of youth. Conventions and traditions were being swept away by a new generation who no longer felt the need to conform to stereotypical class and gender roles. They sought to rebel against their parent’s system, and were eventually able to do so en masse. This is in part due to the fact that there were more young people around!
  • At the end of the second world war, the elation and happiness felt by many at the prospect of peace, and the return of many males form the front, reflected itself in a Baby Boom. Most of these babies reached teenagehood around the late fifties in America and the UK. This led to the creation of youth subcultures likeRock n Roll, Beatlemania and MerseyBeat.
economic prosperity
Economic Prosperity.
  • The lives of many of the older generation had been marked economic deprivation and rationing. There hadn’t been high employment so wages were scarce. People hadn’t been able to afford what they would have called luxuries: fridges, vacuum cleaners, cars, music,clothes etc… The Baby Boom led to higher employment and a larger youth market to whom products could be sold. As a result, America and the UK saw a huge burst in Consumerism. Many young people now had disposable incomes, money that didn’t have to go to rent or taxes, money that they could afford to spend. And spend they did, leading to the creation of a huge consumer goods market.
social revolution
Social Revolution
  • The new generation were now able to live lives beyond the confines of their local backgrounds. They were able to buy into lifestyles their parents could only have dreamed of, and were unwilling to live in rural areas. They wanted to be in the cities, living the glamorous life in London or Liverpool.
  • At that time, society’s expectations of them were to work and bring up a family ASAP, but they were reluctant to do so. Through music, the cinema, billboards and later tv, they were presented with images of a youth that had broken free from these barriers and were having fun, hip lives. Young, working-class men and women suddenly began to try and find ways of getting out of their factory and mining towns, dreaming of a different, better life. Many were not able to do so.
  • As a result of these changes, traditional class roles began to blur, especially in the working classes. The new working-class generation wanted more from life, and no longer subscribed hard-bitten identities of their parents. “Getting Out” became a key theme and was expressed through films like Room at the Top, Billy Liar, Taste of Honey and to a certain extent, Alfie.
sexual revolution
Sexual revolution
  • The advent of the contraceptive pill in 1963 meant that women could have sex without fear of pregnancy and this paved the way for a more liberal attitude to sex. Sex could now become something to be enjoyed without the potential for an unwanted pregnancy and consequent marriage. The topic had been a taboo, something not talked about socially, and sexual promiscuity was condemned. In some quarters, sex remained acceptable only during marriage. The use of the pill challenged these attitudes. Couples began “to live in sin”, thus challenging a repressive religious ideology. New fashions such as the “Miniskirt” allowed women to express their sexualities more overtly and many of the images in magazines and billboards represented strong, confident and independent women.
  • Partly as a result of these changes, feminism began to gather ground. Women began to question their roles as wives and mothers, wanting the freedoms and experiences afforded to men. Towards the end of the 60’s women had begun to work for themselves, leading independent lives. They were challenging their prescribed gender roles and enjoying themselves without be looked after by men.
cultural revolution
Cultural Revolution
  • More thananything else, the sixties will be remembered for its cultural revolution. Up until the early 60’s, the UK borrowed cultural influences like rock and roll and biker fashions from America, but in 1963, the Beatles cut their first record and Britain had a “youthquake” of its own. It became known as “Merseybeat” and eventually led to “Beatlemania”, a phenomenon that spread throughout the world. Meanwhile, bands like The Who, The Kinks and The Rolling Stones were gaining popularity, creating a home grown British music industry that was the envy of the world.
  • The fashion of the time was closely linked to the music. Different youth subcultures began to wear clearly coded styles of clothes to signify their affiliations. Examples include the Mods and the Rockers, Hippies and Beatle surrogates (drones).
  • A female fashion designer namedMary Quant, designed the first miniskirt that became the rage all over the world, and David Bailey’s fashion/celebrity photography came to define the era, using models like Twiggy and Jean Shrimpton who were superstars in their own right, the first supermodels. Britain and especially London became the center of sixties cool.
  • In art world, Andy Warhol started to gain prominence with pop art, Francis Bacon was redefining painting, and psychedelic art was coming about along with the explosion of drug use. Op art and other forms of illusory work were also around.
  • The most significant phenomenon with regards to British film was James Bond, who symbolised the sexual permiseveness of the age through his suave and debonair charms. He was a modern, contemporary role-model.
  • The Stones were openly smoking dope, the Who were taking L.S.D and drugs were now commonplace, a reflection of the apparent spiritual freedom of the time.
  • The sixties was also a great time for sports, especially in Britain, where the glamorous George Best was running rings round opponents and England won the World Cup in 1966. In America, Muhamed Ali was tearing through his oopnents.

Towards the end of the sixties, the Vietnam War broke out, and huge masses of youths were protesting all over the States in the name of peace. The Woodstock concerts took place, and the civil rights movement managed to finally put end to 200 years of Black slavery in America. Jfk was president and became, until his assisanation, the symbol of a progressive politics.

  • Overall, the sixties was a time of massive cultural and social change. Many boundaries were broken and inhibitions shed. It was, for many, the dawn of a new era, marked by a sense of optimism and hope. This is most clearly reflected in the film “A Hard Day’s Night”. Music, drugs, art, sex, sport, revolution and protest were all factors in the decade that many consider the most dynamic of the last century.