VII. The Contemporary Period, 1945–2000 > B. Europe, 1945–2000 > 3. Culture and Popular Culture
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Culture and Popular Culture)
3. Culture and Popular Culture
In the fine arts, it was difficult to discern any great changes from trends established in the interwar period. Private expression continued to underpin the work of most artists; artists were freed from learned convention to explore all avenues of self-expression. In painting, as in architecture, the postwar period witnessed the continued development of the main ideas of the interwar period. In the 1960s some artists created pop art, using bits of comic strips and commercial art to bridge the gap between commercial mass culture and fine art. In literature, while the traditional novel continued to thrive, the “new novel” of French writers like Alain Robbe-Grillet (b. 1922) and Natalie Sarraute challenged this form by concentrating on concrete details without plot or character development. Film also became an important medium as directors like Jean-Luc Godard (b. 1930), François Truffaut (1932–84), Michelangelo Antonioni (b. 1912), and Bernardo Bertolucci (b. 1940) made Paris and Rome centers of experimental filmmaking. The works of Ingmar Bergman (b. 1918) and Rainer Werner Fassbinder (1946–82) also provided dark commentary on modern life. In music, the application of computers and electronic instruments like the Moog synthesizer aided composers in their search for new sounds. And in architecture, major figures like Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969), a Bauhaus disciple, carried on functionalism, while Paris and Barcelona remained at the forefront of modern architecture with a variety of new buildings in the “international style,” plus a new interest in Barcelona's earlier Modernista movement.  1
In the realm of popular culture, the most striking feature was the spread of a worldwide culture, influenced heavily by the Americans. This was made possible by the availability of cheap transistor radios, television, films, and recordings, and by inexpensive travel opportunities. Popular culture was thus the product of a society where such technologies were commonplace, a society based on prosperity and consumption. The new culture glorified youth, and film stars like Marilyn Monroe (1926–62) and James Dean (1931–55) became international symbols. Perhaps the most famous purveyor of this culture was the Beatles, a popular British rock and roll band. The band members clearly represented the new international, youthful culture of carefree, good-humored hedonism. This youth culture flourished easily in Western Europe, but even Soviet youth clamored for blue jeans and Western music.  2
Popular culture changed in certain other respects. The new hedonism among young people; greater freedom from adult supervision, including more public opportunities for young women; and the development of the birth control pill in 1960 produced new sexual behavior and a more open sexual culture. Representations of sexuality in European films and television, the advent of stores that sold sexual items, and new behaviors, including increased premarital intercourse, signaled this growing change. While rates of illegitimate births increased for a time, public acceptance of birth control for young people stabilized that trend by the 1970s.  3
Leisure time increased greatly in Europe, with many groups gaining as much as five weeks in annual vacation time. Those in the north made massive annual migrations to Italy, Spain, and southern France. New vacation organizations developed, and many Europeans bought summer homes. Club Med was founded in 1950 by Gerard Blitz, and its resorts ultimately spread around the world, providing a European atmosphere for vacationers. At the same time, television watching became the most common leisure pastime. Consumeristic values led to a heightened interest in material possessions, such as household appliances, motor scooters, and automobiles. Shopping patterns changed, away from community-based stores and toward supermarkets and other glossy settings. Most Western European countries permitted television advertising by the 1970s, another consumeristic change.  4
European manners became less stiff. Parent-child relations became less formal. Divorce rates varied, rising in Britain to approximately one in every three marriages and generally increasing. With growing numbers of women working, use of daycare centers for children, usually government-sponsored, grew rapidly. While a minority maintained important religious attachments, church attendance overall continued to decline in Europe. Only in Eastern Europe, particularly after the fall of communism, were there signs of new interest in Christianity.  5
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.