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POP CULTURE: The Way We Were

Pop culture is that loose blend of books, music, fashion and other daily ephemera that contributes to the identity of a society at a particular point in time. In essence, pop culture is a self-portrait created through purchasing power. In the '60s, radio, film, television, and books carry the essence of American pop culture.

In 1960, nearly half of America's population is under 18 years old. It's a young society, and the most affluent generation in U.S. history. American teenagers have $22 billion a year at their disposal (a sum equivalent to $140 billion in 2005 dollars).

1960… to …1969
average house $16,500 $27,900
postage stamp
of gas
31¢ 35¢
57¢ 62¢
of milk
49¢ $1.10

The best-selling books often reflect a society's most pressing concerns. Definitive reads of the decade include To Kill a Mockingbird and Valley of the Dolls. But evenings spent with a good book are on the way out: TV is the new centerpiece. Color TV arrives in the early '60s and is embraced far more rapidly than the old black-and-white sets. By the end of the decade, 95 percent of homes have at least one TV.

The Beatles are heard everywhere: pocket-sized transistor radios, eight-track stereos in cars, and portable record players. Everyone with a radio can sing along to the thrilling quality of stereo FM broadcasts. Although Elvis works hard to keep up, music is changing for good. The brightest stars are linked to the British Invasion, and the Motown and San Francisco sounds.

The advent of color TV has a direct and immediate impact on drive-in movie theaters. In '62, there are 6,000 drive-ins in the U.S.; a year later there are 3,550. Walk-in theaters also feel the change as more people choose to stay home and watch the three networks fight for ratings. The movie industry peaks in 1964 with the release of 502 films. Box office sales will continue to increase with ticket prices, but the selection of films is never again so varied.

Mainstream religion is on the wane, except in growing evangelicalism and the new kind of relaxed non-denominational churches. In '66, the TIME cover story will actually ask "Is God Dead?" By the end of the decade, nearly 60 million people-a third of the population-have moved out of cities and into suburbs in search of a brighter, cleaner world.

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