History of monster kids, culture in the 50s and 60s?
January 21, 2022 4:26 PM   Subscribe

In the early 1950s there was an explosion of monster culture throughout America, perhaps in no small part due to Universal monster movies becoming syndicated and widely available on television. I'm looking for recommended books, articles, etc. that discuss not just "why" monster movies became popular, but how they infected American pop culture, especially in the 50s and 60s.
posted by Unsomnambulist to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (9 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Perhaps Leo Braudy's book mentioned in this article dives deeper into both the why as well as the influence on pop culture.

I think you may likely find that the answer to both of these questions is going to be that these films reflected the current cultural fears of the time, and that *really* resonated with people. That is, people connected with it, wanted more of it, and anything like it. So people created and delivered more of that.
posted by iamkimiam at 5:50 PM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

I haven't read this book, but it looks like it might be useful:

Pretend We're Dead: Capitalist Monsters in American pop culture by Annalee Newitz
In Pretend We’re Dead, Annalee Newitz argues that the slimy zombies and gore-soaked murderers who have stormed through American film and literature over the past century embody the violent contradictions of capitalism. Ravaged by overwork, alienated by corporate conformity, and mutilated by the unfettered lust for profit, fictional monsters act out the problems with an economic system that seems designed to eat people whole.
posted by Jeanne at 5:55 PM on January 21, 2022 [3 favorites]

Interesting question, I have access to an academic library and did a search and came up with these, potentially relevant hits:

Cotter, Bobb. The Great Monster Magazines: A Critical Study of the Black and White Publications of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Jefferson, N.C: McFarland, 2008. Print.

Hendershot, Cynthia. 1999. Paranoia, the bomb, and 1950s science fiction films. Bowling Green, OH: Bowling Green State University Popular Press.

"Cyndy Hendershot argues that 1950s science fiction films open a window on the cultural paranoia that characterized 1950s America, a phenomenon largely triggered by use of nuclear weapons during World War II. This study uses psychoanalytic theory to examine the various monsters that inhabit 1950s sci-fi movies giant insects, prehistoric creatures, mutants, uncanny doubles, to name a few which serve as metaphorical embodiments of a varied and complex cultural paranoia. Postwar paranoia may have stemmed from the bomb, but it came to correlate with a wider range of issues such as anti-communism, internal totalitarianism, scientific progress, domestic problems, gender roles, and sexuality."

Jones, Darryl, Elizabeth McCarthy, and Bernice M. Murphy. 2011. It came from the 1950s!: popular culture, popular anxieties. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.
posted by coffeecat at 6:56 PM on January 21, 2022 [4 favorites]

You might try using zombies as an alternative search term for monsters. I don't recall where, so can't reference (though it might have been in Looking at Movies, the textbook from a film class I took) that a part of the explosion of zombie movies had to do with war(s) and etc as a way to explore the feelings culturally.

Obviously, I understood the general concept at the time, but didn't pay a whole lot of attention to the specifics. And if it was that textbook, the version I used was online, so I can't even check back in it.
posted by stormyteal at 7:09 PM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

Stephen King digs into this to some extent in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre.
posted by soundguy99 at 7:54 PM on January 21, 2022

Not exactly what you asked for, but this Leave It to Beaver episode where Beaver buys a monster sweatshirt might be of interest if you haven't seen it already.
posted by Blue Jello Elf at 9:06 PM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

It's a little old now, but Rational Fears: American Horror in the 1950s by Mark Jancovich links monster movies to other forms of pop culture like comic books and fiction.
posted by theory at 9:19 PM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

not an essay, but the existence of punkish-band The Cramps is in itself a quasi-explication of 1950s low-budget horror movies.
posted by ovvl at 9:29 PM on January 21, 2022 [1 favorite]

You might try using zombies as an alternative search term for monsters. I don't recall where... that a part of the explosion of zombie movies

No, zombie movies came later. (Night of the Living dead, 1968; Dawn of the Dead, 1978). Val Lewton's I Walked With A Zombie (1943) isn't what you mean by a zombie movie.

I wouldn't call the growth of monster movies an 'explosion' (like, for example, Elvis) in the 1950s. They were there, sure; and they were new, but it was on the fringes, that weird film out at the drive-in (mostly crap nobody can stand anymore although there were a couple of exceptions 1, 2). In the 1960s there was some lateral growth when Revell came out with their Wolfman, Dracula and Frankenstein models, and then Ed Roth's Rat Fink stuff, the Munsters, etc. but an important one that hasn't been mentioned yet is Godzilla. The Japanese kaiju movies were traced back directly to fears generated by the atomic bombings there.
posted by Rash at 9:49 AM on January 22, 2022 [1 favorite]

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