Spring Break: Image, Identity, and Consumer Culture in a Florida Rite of Passage

Meeghan Kane

A thesis submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Liberal Arts, Department of Humanities, College of Arts and Sciences, University of South Florida St. Petersburg

Abstract

This thesis is a social history of spring break, examining the economic and social aspects of this youth culture phenomenon in Florida. Spring break follows the evolution of youth culture's increasingly complex relationship with an expanding consumer culture. I am exploring its many manifestations in music, film, and popular fiction, but also its rebellious expressions in the riots and arrests on Florida's beaches. I intend to focus on the small beach communities that were transformed by spring break, particularly Fort Lauderdale. Spring break in Florida dates back to the late 1920s in Palm Beach. Wealthy New England families spent their winters in Palm Beach. Their children who attended northern colleges joined their parents during Easter vacation. The hardships of the Great Depression and the sacrifices of World War II kept extravagant travel to a minimum, and the southeast coast of Florida became a popular vacation spot. By the 1950s, Fort Lauderdale reigned as the spring break capitol. Soon the competition to attract spring break crowds and the tensions of an emerging youth culture played an increasingly vital economic role in a consumer-driven America of the 1950s and 60s. Fort Lauderdale struggled to maintain an image of sophistication while catering to a notoriously raucous but financially lucrative onslaught of teenage spring-breakers. Spring break determined the development of both of these cities, and many others in iii Florida, by influencing municipal law, local industry, and, eventually, the citie' own senses of identity and public image. Spring break continues to demonstrate the vicissitudes of youth and consumer culture on the beaches of Panama City and Cozumel, Mexico, but it has also become an industry in itself.