“Wild West,” “Gangster,” and “Desperado” Feelings: The Perception of the “West” in Youth Subcultures in Hungary in the 1960s

In: East Central Europe
Sándor Horváth
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The images of the “modern youth” and moral panics concerning the youth as a metaphor played an important part in the identity construction process throughout Cold War Europe. For Hungarian youth the West represented the land of promise and desires, albeit their knowledge of the Western other was highly limited and controlled by the socialist state. But how did the partly unknown West and its “folk devils” become the objects of desire in the East? For Western youngsters it seemed to be easier to realize their cultural preferences, however, youth cultures of the sixties were represented in the transnational discourses as manifestations of intra-generational, parent–adolescent conflicts not only in the Eastern Bloc, but also in Western democracies. The perception of the parent–child conflict became a cornerstone of the studies on the sixties, and the youth studies represented youth subcultures as “countercultures.” This paper addresses the role of the official discourse in the construction of “youth cultures” which lies at the heart of identity politics concerning youngsters. It looks at some of the youth subcultures which emerged in socialist Hungary and, in particular how “Eastern” youth perceived “the West,” and how their desires concerning the “Western cultures” were represented in the official discourse. It also seeks to show that borders created in the mind between “East” and “West” worked not only in the way that the “iron curtain” did, but it also became a cultural practice to create social identities following the patterns of Eastern and Western differentiation in the socialist countries.

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