What did Hoggart and other British cultural critics see the “juke box boys” (Hoggart, 1958, 247) as a portent of?
The essay will introduce the notion of consensus – the agreement reached between political parties as well as in the society as a whole. However, due to the limitation of this paper, this is a rather an abbreviated description of the whole situation. As a result the British foreign affairs, as well as the importance of immigrant waves on forming the new British culture, will be ignored.
Furthermore, the youth phenomenon did not appear overnight as it might seem from reading the following lines. In fact as the teenagers gained more and more attention from the marketplace and the popular press, they also gained more confidence and their voice was heard. The focus here will be on the Teddy Boys youths; the nation’s young generation, however, was much more diverse, ranging from middle and upper class youth (with their specific culture) to youngsters organised in clubs and societies.
Since 1951 the Conservative Party won three subsequent elections. The political consensus between the parties “reflected a consensus in the nation. In the spectrum of political opinion from right to left, the majority of electors had moved towards the middle … leaving only minorities at the extremes” (Hill, 1986 p.7). This was due to a relative affluence of the working classes. They were better off, ate better food and watched more and more television. The Conservative party followed the political line of the Labour years, and, therefore, many ordinary citizens lost their interest in politics as well as their post-war collective enthusiasm (Hill, 1986 p.5). Furthermore, the consensus seemed to be reached between classes: the affluence of the lower classes made it seem like the class distinctions would eventually disappear (Hill, 1986 p.7).
The consensus also reached the mass media. After the war the BBC set up a task of a “‘cultural mission’- elevating national standards” (Caughie, 1986 p.194).* Television hours were limited to a few hours a day: an act of protectionism. The contrast between what the public wanted and what was BBC’s policy of educational entertainment was to be challenged by the first private channel. The British cinema was also rigorously protected. Import quotas secured the showing of a certain number of British films.
New films were also censored or banned (McKibbin, 1998 p.423-435). As MsKibbin argues, “contemporaries thought the cinema was a uniquely powerful medium. The country’s elites were persistently worried about its potentially subversive effect on England’s politics and morality” (1998 p.455). The consensus reached in this area was set up to protect the citizens from what was then thought to be extremely dangerous: exposure to violence, sex and Americanisation. Contemporary studies supported these views: mass media supposedly had immediate effect (Street, 1997 p.62).
The Horror of Rock’n’Roll
The critics and academics saw the working class youth as the most endangered group. Thanks to the after war baby boom they were large in numbers, were often employed (We Are the Lambeth Boys) and earned more money.
They are ground between the millstones of technocracy an democracy; society gives them almost limitless freedom of the sensation, but makes few demands on them – the use of their hands and of a fraction of their brains for forty hours a week. For the rest they are open to the entertainers and their efficient mass-equipment (Hoggart 1957 p. 249).
Hoggart describes the Teddy Boys as frequent customers of milk bars, throwing one coin after another into the jukebox machine, reading sex and violence novels. These novels inspired the first British films targeting youth. With the emergence of the X certificate, some of the British studios concentrated on the horror and the sci-fi genres, the most famous being the Hammer studio. Although the cinema attendance numbers dropped drastically, due to the impact of television and shifting demographics (more and more people moving into new towns), the youth remained the largest cinema audience (McKibbin, 1998 p.420). The Hammer horror films were attractive for the youth audience (Street, 1997 p.76) as well as the Rock’n’Roll imports and their British versions (films with Cliff Richard and Tommy Steel). The horror and Rock’n’Roll films had their exploitational strategies in common.
They were both taking advantages of certain novelties (scandals, wars) or/and their cinema audiences. These films usually had an inaccurate, sensational approach similar to that of the tabloid press. They, however, managed to express contemporary anxieties (nuclear threat, crisis of masculinity) (Street 1997, p.76-78). Films like Rock Around the Clock benefited from the Rock’n’Roll hype and from the controversy of the music; the assumed link between music and violence. Some Rock’n’Roll features were banned in local cinemas which only added to their popularity. Parents feared their children would turn into delinquents as the youth crime numbers were raising and the tabloid press blew the violent acts of a few into a nation-wide phenomenon (Hill, 1986 p.13-14).
Famous filmmakers like Pressburger and Powell were clearly inspired by the horror genre in their film Peeping Tom. As well as some of the Hammer films, the film comments on the danger of science manipulation (Tom was a subject of scientific experiments of his fathers), but goes deeper into examination of the media exploitation itself, reflecting on contemporary anxieties (“fear of independent women” (Street, 1997 p.78)) and the supposed ‘higher morality’ of the older generation (the elderly man, buying pornographic material in the kiosk). We might go further and suggest that the film is a call for realism. The studio in Peeping Tom produces popular murder stories, but when confronted with a real murder, we realize how remote these people are from the topics of their films. Similarly to Hitchcock’s Psycho, Powell and Pressburger cast the main character with a good-looking young man – instead of a villain looking character.
As Lowenstein argues, the social realism of Peeping Tom shows that these shifting social currents are shot through with anxieties that include viewers ‘like you and me’ as agonized participants in ‘life here today’. (2000 p.229) Powell’s and Presburger’s interest in products of the mass culture is of the same sort as Warhol’s interest in advertising, Kubrick’s interest in popular genres in The Shining as well as Tarantino’s obsession with pulp novels.
Angry Young Men
Hoggart’s appeal was to preserve and enforce original ‘working class’ culture. This appeal came about at the same time as the new breed of writers, first just called Movement and later on called the Angry Young Men. They were often of working class origin, and wrote novels about working class youth or about young men fighting bureaucracy and the current social order (Kingsley Amis – Lucky Jim). These ‘angry young men’ represented the part of society that was slowly waking up from the consensus dream. The British Empire was facing internal and external crisis (racial upheavals, Suez War). Problems like class distinctions and national identity re-emerged with greater strength. The writers showed discontent with both the traditional highbrow culture as well as the faceless mass culture. However it turned out, that the mass culture swallowed the new subculture soon afterwards*.
The films based on the Angry Young Men novels differed from the exploit features in their respectable treatment of the young individual and investigating the causes of their revolt. They might have been inspired by some of the American youth films, like A Rebel Without a Cause: the film is not just another exploit; it examined psychological depths of delinquent behaviour (the influence of the family background). Also the documentary tradition of some of the filmmakers like Karel Reisz was important. Reisz carefully observed youngsters and disclosed that they are much more than young delinquents in We Are the Lambeth Boys.
Braine’s novel Room at the Top was turned into a successful film. The film’s revolt is in its exposed sexuality. As Marwick suggests: “censorship was itself changing its views as to what was now acceptable to British audiences” (1991 p.73-74). One of the illusions of the 50s was that the class distinction seemed to disappear (Hill, 1986 p.10-11). Clayton’s film is a cruel awakening from the classless dream. The young man in the Room at the Top, puts up a tough fight to be accepted by the privileged class, only to realise that he had to pay huge prize for it. His lover dies in a car accident (suicide?). Joe Lampton hates the everyday routine and the oblivion of his own class, but also despises the class he is trying to join: their power and money are the only way to realise his potential.
Sillitoe who wrote Saturday Night and Sunday Morning was of working class background. Reisz, who directed the subsequent film, already got a reputation with We Are the Lambeth Boys. Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is a fierce attack on the ‘great’ values of the fifties: affluence of the working class, full employment and mass culture (television). In a way, Arthur is a representative of the disappearing working class culture with his spare time ‘activities’: fishing, drinking with friends and revolting. Arthur’s parents and his colleague, Jack, represent the new emerging mass culture. They all watch television: Arthur’s father to such an extent that he becomes totally absorbed by the medium. When Brenda is getting ready to go out, Jack suggests that one day they will be able to afford a TV set so that she can stay home.
The disaffection ..of the young worker is directed against organized society and it bureaucrats, and against the more docile members of he working class, rather than against any identifiable enemy (Marwick, 1982 p.135).
Arthur’s culture is that of a revolt. He knows that there is something very wrong, but he is not sure how to fight it. Arthur says ‘no’ to Hoggart’s definition of working class youths: use your hands and a fraction of your brain and you can then be entertained. Arthur’s ‘no’ is also a ‘no’ to the boom of the fifties. The youths were the first to realise the drawbacks, while the older generation was blinded by relative affluence and the pleasures of television. Arthur carries on with the fight until he agrees to marry Doreen. He then conforms to the mass culture of regular wages, consensus and television. His culture of revolt is lost to mass culture. The same can be said of the Angry Young Men movement: it later assimilated with the mass culture, since “media interest nearly always means immediate expropriation and assimilation by the mass culture” (Taylor, 2000).
Hoggart saw the emergence of the mass culture as a serious threat to the authentic working class culture. He was one of the first critics who realised the richness of the original popular culture, but he also criticised the highbrow values imposed on the working class. He saw the horror and science fiction films as a sign of classless mass culture and Teddy Boys as a portent of losing one’s culture to the universal culture. At the same time, however, a group of writers emerged that created and re-created original working class culture, giving young men the potential for cultural revolution.
I have argued that the exploit culture targeting a young audience had a profound effect on the art of the next decade. The Pop art had it’s inspiration in trivial entertainment and commercials. The Pop art (art for everyone) made no distinctions between popular and highbrow culture and freed art from all preconceptions. Furthermore, the open dealing with sexual matters in some of the films and novels, opened up the censorship and gave way to artistic freedom. The youth shook the power of the “highbrow minority” that dictated the shaping of the whole culture and helped the existence of working class bands like the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. The youth also gained more attention from advertisers and this resulted in strictly teenage products – fashion, such as jeans and short skirts.
The youth changed the whole nature of cinema production. From then on film producers became more aware of their audiences and the films targeted increasingly younger audiences. Also the age of the media planners, directors and producers decreased and the young filmmakers gained more power both in Britain (Anderson, Reizs) and Hollywood (Beatty, Hopper), only to loose it later on due to further commercialism of cinema during the 70s and 80s (Biskind,1998: Introduction).
The strength of the youth influence is also in its diversity: it inspired Marxists, trash artists, nihilists, hedonists, feminists and the list could go on. Its main strength is that it enabled wide cultural and political discussions. Arthur was a portent of complex socio-cultural changes that started during the sixties and carry on until today.