The 1960s

(Editor note: This is the second in a six-part series chronicling pop culture in America. Look to February for the next installment which covers the 1970s.)

The onset of the 1960s began with the kinky swivel of Elvis’ hips. Who would have thought that a pelvic thrust would so drastically change the landscape of American pop culture?

It’s no wonder that soon “”sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll”” became a catchphrase as a “”youthquake”” shook the country, giving young people a new-found sense of freedom. If the 1950s were a time of rigidity when sexuality and individualism were restrained and a mantra of family and national separatism pervaded the social horizon of America, then the 1960s were a time of revolution.

The 1960s have been heralded as a time of “”counter culture”” in the United States, but were also a time of subcultures and multiculturalism. The civil rights, environmentalist, feminist and gay rights movements emerged in the 1960s as critical opposition to 1950s society. With the Alabama bus boycott, the African-American voice emerged and the opinions of many other groups quickly percolated to the forefront. These social movements added texture to the previously homogenous American culture.

As Italian espresso machines, French discos and British pop music and fashion became commonplace to Americans, a multiculturalism emerged. An interest in the world beyond the neighborhood swimming pool emerged.

Most importantly, the role of the individual emerged. Public and private morals changed, giving way to frankness and honesty. A sexual liberation gripped the nation’s youth. With the invention of the birth conrol pill, women began to experience more freedom as changing social standards revamped the belief that “”a woman’s place is in the kitchen.””

As the American makeup changed with the new era, so did the popular culture. American youth became increasingly influential, dictating the fashion and musical tastes of the time. It seems best to explore how the transitions of the country created several key symbols of the 1960s.

The martini

The glass alone brings to mind the phrase “”shaken, not stirred.”” A martini, with the dapper floating olive, the elegant glass and the sharp taste of vodka, evokes a sense of independence, class and the possibility of a concealed weapon. We also associate it with a key figure of 1960s pop culture: Bond, James Bond.

Crafted by the British mind of Ian Flemming, Secret Agent 007 first appeared on the silver screen in the 1962 hit film “”Dr. No.”” Originally, Hollywood rejected the proposed movie saying it was “”too British and too blatantly sexual.”” Ironically enough, Bond’s suave nature and overt sexuality would become his trademarks.

While many actors were considered for the original Bond role, including Roger Moore (who played Bond years later) and Cary Grant, the film’s producers settled on Sean Connery. With his Scottish brogue, his masculine good looks and penetrating gaze, Connery helped launch “”Bondmania”” in the United States.

And just as the martini serves as a symbol of Bond’s good taste, so do Bond Girls. As Honey Rider emerged from the salty sea, hair dripping and bikini glistening in “”Dr. No,”” the skimpy two-piece was not only a memento of the “”blatant sexuality”” of the Bond franchise, but also to the visual power of how Honey Rider’s body throttled America. With names like Pussy Galore and Kissy Suzuki, Bond Girls would both help and hinder the progress of Bond’s future missions, and yet always reap the benefits of the job. As Kissy once said to Bond, “”It’s been a pleasure serving under you.””

With the 1967 release of Connery’s final film as Bond, “”You Only Live Twice,”” a formula had been created for the Bond films. To accompany the intricate plot of heroism, Bond also displayed a vast knowledge of technology. In “”Goldfinger,”” it was a laser that almost cut Bond in half, and in “”You Only Live Twice,”” Bond flew a helicopter equipped with heat-seeking missiles, flame guns, smoke screens and aerial mines. Fast cars, extravagant locations and sexual innuendo were also all essential to the formula. Bond became the idol of 1960s masculinity, but not every man could have “”a gorgeous dame on each arm and one in every bedroom.””

The mini skirt

Today we take showing a little skin for granted, but as hemlines rose in the 1960s, so did eyebrows. Created by British designer Mary Quant, the mini skirt would become a symbol not only of youth and increased freedom for women, but would also give rise to a change in society’s attitude toward the body. In the 1950s, clothing put the emphasis on a woman’s bust and hips. But as one designer put it, with the mini-skirt, “”the legs have never had it so good.””

When asked what the mini-skirt was all about, Quant’s eloquent answer was “”sex.”” Her response, however, neglected to include the idea of choice. Confronted with the advent of the pill, women became aware that they no longer had to “”contain their sexual and ambitious desires within marriage,”” said Cosmopolitan magazine editor Helen Gurley Brown, in her book, “”Sex and the Single Girl.””

In the late 1960s, “”hippie”” clothing began to stimulate freedom. Stemming from the mini-skirt came the stylistic daisies and the “”ethnic look.”” Jeans, T-shirts and long hair became the unisex look, which developed from various social trends that stimulated America’s youth to seek independence as a unified group within the American population.

While the mini skirt redefined American fashion, the music industry also played a key role. As more people attended concerts, musicians’ wardrobes affected popular trends. It’s no surprise that musically influenced drug use also sparked a more psychedelic approach to life.


1960: Aretha Franklin records her first album with Columbia Records

1961: Bob Dylan begins to perform in New York City,

“”West Side Story”” released

1962: Rolling Stones’ first gig

1963: The Beatles’ first recording session at Abbey Road,

John F. Kennedy assassinated,

Sylvia Plath dies

1964: The Beatles appear on “”The Ed Sullivan Show,””

Martin Luther King Jr. awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, Civil Rights Act of 1964 signed into law

1965: Dylan booed at Newport Folk Festival for using an electric guitar

1966: John Lennon meets Yoko Ono, Mia Farrow marries Frank Sinatra, Beach Boys’ “”Pet Sounds”” released

1967: The year of “”Summer of Love,”” The Beatles’ “”Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band”” released, “”Hair”” premiers on Broadway

1968: “”2001: A Space Odyssey”” is released,

Martin Luther King Jr. assassinated

1969: Neil Armstrong walks on the moon, Harper Lee’s “”To Kill a Mockingbird”” is published, Woodstock takes


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