"Grady was a member of the new school of juvenile delinquency, the You-Too-Can-Be-A-Rebel School. The headmasters were Elvis Presley and the spook of Jimmy Dean, and the entrance requirements were completely democratic. A boy was no longer excluded from the glamorous ranks of the delinquents simply because he had the rotten luck not to be born in a slum; all he had to do was
look as though he had. If he would wear his hair in a duck-tail cut and his sideburns at nostril level, forsake grammar, dress in black khaki trousers with the cuffs narrowed to fourteen inches, never do his homework, and spit a lot, his origins, no matter how respectable, would not be held against him."
—Parenthetical sidebar, Rally Round the Flag, Boys!
You've seen them in nearly every work set in The Fifties
, and to a lesser extent, The Sixties
and very early Seventies
. The kids with slicked-back hair, leather jackets, and blue jeans, who listen to Rock & Roll
and Rockabilly, drive fast cars (often souped-up '30s hot rods or '50s Corvettes or T-Birds), ride motorcycles, and smoke cigarettes. Greasers, also known as Rockers, Ton-Up Boys, and Hoods.
Greasers were a common subculture of the 1950s and early '60s, known for their rebellious attitude and love of Rockabilly music. Most greasers were working-class or lower-class, often coming from an Italian, Irish, or Latino background. (Notice that a lot of greasers in fiction tend to have either Italian or Irish surnames, such as Arthur Fonzarelli
or Dally Winston
. This is why.) The trend was big in the '50s and most common in the Northeast, Midwest, and even parts of the upper South like Virginia and Maryland that had sizable ethnic communities or contact with such. Many greasers formed street gangs, although the culture existed outside of gang life as well. Greasers began to fade out in the latter half of the '60s and were pretty much gone by the mid-'70s.
In Great Britain, they were called rockers, and lasted well into the '70s, fighting the mod subculture left and right. In a way, they were the predecessors to Gang Bangers
(the earliest street gangs of the contemporary era were greasers; more current gangs didn't really pop up until the end of the Sixties and into the Seventies), as well as the punk subculture (both were all about youth rebellion and rock music, although rockers, the descendants of greasers, fought against mods, the predecessors of punks). Even though the greaser subculture is long gone, its influence is felt today in fiction and real life; the much-hyped feuding between mods and rockers gave birth to the phrase "moral panic"
Greaser subculture archetypes helped codify tropes such as All Girls Want Bad Boys
, Hell-Bent for Leather
, Smoking Is Cool
, and Badass Biker
In addition to American Greasers and British Rockers, there are also other foreign takes on the greaser subculture.
- The French "Blousons Noirs": literally "Black Jackets", urban, poor or working-class youth who had a fascination with American culture, mostly rock'n'roll and motorcycles. Caused riots in Paris in the early 1960s. In the 1980's, particularly in the Banlieue (the poor suburbs of the big cities), the culture got fragmented into a multitude of other similar subcultures, still with the greaser culture at heart. More about it can be found here.
- The Swedish "Raggare", who are obsessed with hot rods and American cars, but also with other aspects of American culture, especially those with connection to the 1950s and the American South. Raggare are a large, active but aging sub-culture in Sweden and have been seen on national stamps, and there are more 1950s American-made cars in their country than in the United States! An influx of American cars in the 1970s, shipped back on the same boats bringing over Saabs and Volvos, created a resurgence with Raggare coexisting with punks.
- Japanese "Bosozoku" delinquents originated in the 1960s and had strong similarities to the greaser subculture until the late 1980s.
- In Australia and New Zealand, they were known as 'bodgies and widgies'.
The greaser is now an iconic stock character of The Fifties
Anime & Manga
- Space Dandy, specifically the style and attitude of the main protagonist, Dandy. However, he's not a 50's delinquent, but a space captain styled like one.
- Travis Kidd from Scott Snyder's American Vampire is the quintessential greaser... a vampire-killing one.
- Half-Life from Superboy & The Ravers
- James Dean is famous for playing Greasers. Oddly enough, his role in Rebel Without a Cause, often considered the Trope Codifier of the portrayal of greasers in pop culture, was not a role as a greaser.
- Marlon Brando in The Wild One. Probably the most iconic film example out there.
- Mutt Williams from Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull
- Secondhand Lions has the main characters get hassled by four greaser delinquents who don't realize they're messing with a Badass Grandpa.
- Cry-Baby by John Waters is a parody/homage to the greaser movies of the 50s. It basically tells the story of a gang of greasers whose leader (a young, greased-up Johnny Depp) falls in love with a girl from the rival subculture, the Squares (nice, by-the-book people). And everyone sings.
- The Loveless by Kathryn Bigelow is about a gang of motorcycle-riding greasers on their way to a stock car show, who stop by a small town and begin to raise hell. Noted to be Willem Dafoe's first leading role, and for featuring famed rockabilly singer Robert Gordon (fittingly as one of the greasers).
- Sometimes They Come Back was adapted from a Stephen King short story, about which see Literature below.
- Greasers were of course regulars of exploitation films of the late 50s, particularly hot rod/car racing movies. They were quite different from the usual image of the greasers. Notable examples include Hot Rod Gang (who features legendary rockabilly singer and greaser idol Gene Vincent), Dragstrip Girl and Hot Rod Girl.
- The Pharaohs from American Graffiti are a greaser gang.
- Johnny Callaway from the independent hot rod film Deuce Of Spades is the quintessential greaser.
- Of course, Francis Ford Coppola's film adaptations of The Outsiders and Rumble Fish deal with greasers.
- Harvey Lembeck as Eric Von Zipper and his gang as a comedic take on greasers in the "Beach Party" film series.
- The Outsiders is a novel, and later a movie, about Irish-American greasers in the Midwest during The Sixties.
- Rumble Fish, written by the same author as The Outsiders, is about the death of the Greaser subculture in the very late 1960s.
- The 1957 novel Rally Round the Flag, Boys! by Max Shulman had a clique of these at a suburban high school: the New Delinquents, led by Grady Metcalf.
- Stephen King seems to have something of a bad memory of them, because many greasers appear as antagonists in his works (and their unavoidable movie adaptations), from bullies to downright psychos. Examples include :
- Billy Nolan in Carrie, a delinquent who doesn't hesitate to help his Alpha Bitch girlfriend Chris to play a cruel prank on Carrie and later try to run her over when everything's gone to hell.
- The gang of teenagers from "Sometimes They Come Back" (short story published in Night Shift). When Jim Norman was a kid, they harassed him and his brother and murdered the latter. They died a few years later, but it doesn't stop them from coming back as undead to harass the now-adult protagonist. He eventually decides to fight back by setting a demon on them.
- Buddy Repperton and his gang in Christine. They bully Arnie and try to wreck Christine (and suffer for it). Arnie himself, as he gets more and more obsessed with his car, starts dressing and acting like a greaser.
- In the 1950s tribute band Sha Na Na, there are a few explicit Greasers: Bowzer, Donny, and Chico. A few others are more downplayed but still greasy. And Bowzer's Catch Phrase, said at the end of every episode of their eponymous TV show: "Grease for Peace."
- Rock & Roll, Rockabilly, and Doo-Wop are the three genres most associated with Greasers, and in that order.
- Greasers are a common sight in horror punk, perhaps because of the association of the genre with Doo Wop (and maybe the origins of the Misfits). Notable examples are Calabrese (three italian-american brothers with a greaser look), Mister Monster, or the explicitly named Hellgreaser.
- The "Fonz" character from Eight Ball is meant to invoke this, being an unauthorized copy of The Fonz from Happy Days.
- Deuce & Domino from WWE had this as their gimmick for quite a while.
- Danny Zuko and the T-Birds from Grease. The title obviously comes from the greaser term.
- West Side Story is about a conflict between white and Puerto Rican greasers.
- Greasers appear in Mafia II as enemies midway through the game.
- The Tunnel Snakes from Fallout 3 are modeled after the Greaser lifestyle.
- The Kings in Fallout: New Vegas are a hybrid of Greasers and Elvis impersonators. Of course, they're generally a good group of people led by a Reasonable Authority Figure. There is also a raider gang actually called the Greasers inhabiting the North Vegas sewers.
- Richard Miller, the protagonist of the first Time Crisis game, is not a greaser, but has a very Greaser-inspired look.
- Greasers also appear in Bully by Rockstar Games.
- The American port of River City Ransom changes the Japanese Delinquents into Greasers.
- The Sindacco Gang in Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories are technically a Mafia family, but in the game evoke more of this trope, with their slicked-back 50's hairstyles, brown leather jackets, use of dated slang from the 50's and 60's (albeit cloaked in a thick Brooklyn accent), and of course, the fact that their leader is an Elvis Impersonator.
- Eugene the koala from Animal Crossing has a greaser-inspired look.
- Bad Machinery: Mildred and Sonny's Granpa Joe was a rocker in his youth.
Granpa Joe: I was a TEDDY BOY! A rock 'n roller! ... I spent my days eating Italian rarebit, drinking coffee, and practicing my SNEER! And the evenings chasing girls and slashing cinema seats with a flick-knife.
- This was one of the larger and more well-known youth subcultures in the 1950's and the first half of 1960's, but with different regional spins on it.. Most greasers in the West Coast were Latino, focused around hot-rods, and would later give way to the cholos of the present day. Greasers in the Northeast were usually Italian-American and focused more on fashion. The Midwest and The South had a predominantly Irish-American greaser scene that was more focused on motorcycles. Street gangs were common in all of the subcultures, although it also existed outside of gangs as a working-class subculture and a fashion statement. African-American youth didn't really get involved in the subculture that much. Ironic, as the main music behind the scene, Rock & Roll and Rockabilly, originated in Southern Black culture.
- In the latter half of The Sixties and the early years of The Seventies, the greaser subculture died out in a steady and silent death, as many more rebellious youth gravitated towards subcultures such as Hippies, Mods, Glam Rockers, Punks, Skinheads, and the earliest trappings of the disco subculture. To put it simply, youth rebellion diversified so much to the point that the greaser subculture seemed obsolete and an anachronistic holdover from The Fifties. However, as the real-life greaser delinquents died out, the media's portrayal of them and their image in pop culture truly began as nostalgia for The Fifties began to take hold in The Seventies, to the point of becoming an iconic 1950's stock character and the original Bad Boy of contemporary America.
- Greaser Delinquents were sort of a spiritual ancestor to the Rocker, Biker, and Heavy Metal subculture, as they codified the leather jackets and denim jeans look that these cultures would have, as well as the gearhead tendencies of these cultures, and finally, the love of the harder, rebellious rock-oriented music.
- It seems that most of the western countries had their version of greasers at one time or another : from the British rockers to the Swedish raggare, to the French blousons noirs and the finnish Rautalanka scene... There are also accounts of similar cultures in Italy, Germany and in Eastern Europe too. Every variant of the subculture has in common a fascination with America and rock'n'roll music (to a large extent), a idea of rebellion and a fondess for cars and/or motorcycles.