Greasers were a youth subculture that originated in the 1950's among teenagers in northeastern and southern United States. The two main figures of the look were Marlon Brando and James Dean.
In the northeast and southern states, the Greasers were one of the first types of street gangs. These greaser gangs existed before gangs were dependent on violence and drugs. The greasers of the 1950's took their name from the “Greaser Act,” which was a law created in California against Mexicans to protect Californians from Mexicans who were unarmed, but not peaceful or quiet people. The name “Greaser” was given to the Mexicans that greased carts in the mid-1800's. This job was one of the worst jobs that anyone could have, which made the name “Greaser” one of utmost disrespect.
When the teens in the 1950's and 1960's adopted the name “Greaser,” they did so with the idea of being rebellious. The greasers were young white men that needed to rebel and they did so with their look and attitude. They hung out in their “hoods,” which also gave them the name, “hoods.” The name "greaser" also came from their greased-back hairstyle, which involved combing back the hair using hair wax, hair gel, creams, tonics, or pomade.
The Greasers valued their looks and their "bad boy" image. They sought to be the "rebels without a cause" who acted out to simply escape boredom. After the war, American youths were looking for entertainment and identity following the war-hero image from World War II generation. The subculture also featured deviant social behavior influenced by the way films portrayed greasers. While the Greasers tried to rebel against societal norms, they created their own norm in doing so. Some actions they practiced included acting tough in public, greasing their hair, and giving a thumbs up instead of waving while walking down the street. Avoiding fights with fellow Greasers, taking another Greasers' woman, and the infamous leather jacket are some of the mores the Greasers practiced. Hanging out with people outside of their group, betraying one another, and getting kicked out of their gang were some of their taboos. Bopping, down kiddie, and punk out are a few examples of common slang. The most iconic symbol for Greasers is the leather jacket, but the hairstyles and rebellious behavior are other defining symbols.
For the following, answer the questions AND cite the textual evidence.
- What does the author think about gangs today?
- Was the term “Greaser” a positive or negative one in the 1800s? Explain your answer.
- Why did the youth in the 1950s-1960s decide to use the term “Greaser?”
- Was the Greaser subculture similar or dissimilar to their parents? Explain your answer.
- List the expected Greaser code of behavior and the behaviors they were to avoid.
- Explain in your own words what a Greaser was.