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The birth of a controversial music genre: rock'n'roll and the 1950s

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  • Category History
  • Topic 1950S
  • Words 651 (1 page)
  • Downloads 13
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There were various elements about the counterculture of Rock ‘n’ Roll that drove both parents and media commentators such as Jeff Greenfield to claim that “Rock ‘n’ Roll was vile, elemental, savage, and dripping with sex” (Altschuler, 2004, pg. 8). The genre wasn’t like anything that was seen before; it wasn’t country, it wasn’t blues, and it wasn’t jazz. Although rock ‘n’ roll included beats, rhythms and melodies from the African-American culture, it was a new and fresh genre. The music resonated with the rebellious nature of teenagers, but created conflicts and controversy when some teenagers began to be associated with violence and crime due to their attending to rock concerts and listening to rock music. Crimes that were taking place due to racial differences were being blamed on the listening of rock ‘n’ roll; people were ignorant of how their racial opinions impacted the teenage population, and saw rock ‘n’ roll as a menacing and corruptive means for teenagers to express themselves.

It’s also important to note that the 1950’s was an era where although segregation was illegal, it was still very present. “While segregation was not legal in any northern state, the races remained largely separate, with many white neighborhoods implacably opposed to black renters or owners of apartments or houses” (Altschuler, 2004, pg. 16). The book tells the story of Harvey Clark, who had purchased an apartment in Cicero, Illinois in 1951, and was threatened out of moving into the apartment by the white locals of the neighborhood. They weren’t satisfied with having the Clark family scared away; they trashed the building that Clarks were going to live in and destroyed all their furniture. This is just an example that goes on to demonstrate how the African-American population was treated even though laws were in place that were against racial discrimination. Rock ‘n’ roll was looked down upon because white people couldn’t help but be enchanted by the rhythm and melodies they were hearing, rhythm and melodies that were derived off of African-American people’s music. The older white population thought that the white teenagers’ minds were being corrupted as they noticed the changes in the white population such as their hair styles, their clothing styles, the way they think, etc.

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One cannot also ignore the role media played in discrediting rock ‘n’ roll in the eyes of the society. Popular sources of media of that era such as the Time magazine and the New York Times newspaper went out of their way to make it seem as if there was an undeniable connection between teenagers’ leniency towards rock ‘n’ roll and their “deep-seated, abnormal need to belong” (Altschuler, 2004, pg. 6). Making teenagers seem like mindless zombies and comparing their enjoyment of rock ‘n’ roll to “Hitler’s mass meetings”, the media was aggressive in targeting rock ‘n’ roll (Altschuler, 2004, pg. 6). However, the era was an era that was shaken up by various tragedies and crises produced due to the Cold War, such as the Berlin Airlift and the Korean War. There was already an internal subversion and with the presence of rock ‘n’ roll, the society feared “an army of teenagers, poised to seize control of the house, lock, stock and living room” (Altschuler, 2004, pg. 7).

As can be seen, a range of factors played a role in parents and media commentators giving an outcry against rock ‘n’ roll and the culture it brought about. Not only was the society still in a process of getting out of a racially discriminating culture, but it also was in collective fear of a turmoil taking place due to the endless crises they kept on experiencing. It’s unfortunate that the society couldn’t acknowledge that teenagers were only responding to rock ‘n’ roll with the feelings that were being evoked by listening to the music, and were only “following an adolescent fad as only adolescents can” (Altschuler, 2004, pg. 6).


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