The impact of popular culture on Europe’s changing society

The impact of popular culture on Europe’s changing society


This article explores how popular culture, mainly music and television, contributed to a cultural revolution across Europe in the 1960s. It also examines how society changed in response, including shifts in social attitudes and leisure pursuits. Finally, the article analyses the impact of the cultural revolution on literature, theatre, cinema and the avant-garde.

Table of Contents

  • The power of music and television
  • A cultural revolution in the making
  • The impact of television on lifestyle
  • Cinema’s declining fortunes
  • The emergence of an alternative culture
  • The avant-garde and experimentation
  • A changing society


Q: How did rock and roll music influence European popular culture in the 1960s?

A: The arrival of rock and roll music in the mid-1950s saw the rapid spread of Western culture across Europe. Elvis Presley and the Beatles became megastars who symbolised the rejection of conventional values and embodied anti-establishment protest among young people. Other British bands, such as The Rolling Stones, also became hugely popular, and their music became a voice for the youth of Europe. Elvis Presley became a symbol of rebellion and anti-establishment sentiment, reflecting a growing feeling of dissatisfaction with the status quo.

Q: How did television dominance affect cultural consumption patterns in Europe?

A: Television quickly emerged as a dominant form of entertainment in Europe, surpassing radio and cinema. Its influence on the popular culture of the 1960s was significant, with audiences drawn to entertainment programmes like comedies, light dramas and sporting events. The decline of cinema attendance followed the spread of television, and visits to cinemas became less frequent. Television audiences across Europe were drawn to entertainment programs and cooking or reading programs.

Q: How did society change in response to popular culture in the 1960s?

A: The cultural revolution of the 1960s had a profound impact on society as a whole. Young people, in particular, rejected the traditional values of their parents’ generation and began to adopt new ideas. They were attracted to the alternative culture, which was part of the broader youth movement that swept Europe. The increasing availability of leisure time led to a shift away from the traditional values and the emergence of a new lifestyle focused on self-expression. Society began to embrace a more relaxed approach towards work, with leisure pursuits being seen as just as important.

Q: What was the impact of cinema on European culture in the 1960s?

A: After World War II, British cinema had continued to flourish, but American dominance emerged in post-war European cinema due to a shortage of capital. Italian cinema enjoyed a resurgence with the success of directors like Federico Fellini, Michelangelo Antonioni and Luchino Visconti in the 1960s. Italy had the highest number of cinemas in Europe, and their audiences spent far more on cinemas than on theatre or sporting events. However, cinema’s declining fortunes followed the spread of television, and cinema visits became less frequent.

Q: What was the role of the avant-garde in shaping Europe’s cultural revolution?

A: The cultural avant-garde was having a disproportionate effect on the younger, highly educated sector of the population, leading to notions of an ‘alternative culture’. In West Germany, an ‘unmastered past’ led to cultural disorientation and frenetic experimentation with the ‘new’ and avant-garde across all art forms. German intellectuals experienced an acute sense of alienation, and the military and work were no longer central features of society. Class divisions were becoming less rigid, and more people were enjoying leisure pursuits such as the family and holidays, which were rated as more important than work.


Popular culture had a significant impact on European society in the 1960s. The spread of rock and roll music, the emergence of television as the dominant form of entertainment, and the rise of the alternative culture were all key factors in the changing social attitudes and lifestyle. Cinema’s fortunes declined with the spread of television, and the avant-garde played a leading role in shaping Europe’s cultural revolution. As society changed, leisure pursuits became more important, and work was no longer the central focus of people’s lives. This period was a crucial moment in the transformation of European culture, and its effects are still being felt today.

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