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Journal of the History of Sexuality 14.4 (2005) 433-461

Sexualizing Youth:
Morality Campaigns and Representations of Youth in Early 1960s Buenos Aires
Valeria Manzano
Indiana University

Between october 1960 and may 1961 the Personal Security Section of the Argentinean Federal Police arrested thousands of people in Buenos Aires. Police officials captured women and men from nightclubs, transient hotels, and public squares, accused them of subverting the codes of public order and morality, and took them into the Police Department for twelve, twenty-four, or forty-eight hours. In the police reports, reproduced by the press almost every day during those months, the officials emphasized the number of arrested minors. The rhetoric of the whole campaign, in fact, highlighted the need to defend youth from indecency.

Youth was the direct target of the second morality campaign in 1960s Buenos Aires. Between July and November 1966, a month after the imposition of a new military government led by Gen. Juan Carlos Onganía, the Municipality of Buenos Aires geared the efforts of its General Inspection Division to harass and even arrest young females who wore miniskirts and young boys with long hair, to increase the light in the nightclubs, and to conduct daily inspection of places in which rock-and-roll bands played. As in the 1960–61 campaign, the police forces were not isolated in their "recovery of decency" project: institutions and associations of Argentinean civil society, like the Parents of Family League, raised their voices, exercised pressure, and contributed through a wide array of other strategies to condemn and correct the "deviant" behaviors and attitudes of youth.

From the late 1950s youth had become an omnipresent locus of both public hopes and concerns in Argentina, particularly in its capital city. The [End Page 433] government of Dr. Arturo Frondizi (1958–62) pursued an accelerated modernization of the country with the aim of including Argentina as one of the "developed" nations. This project was supposed to remedy the alleged cultural delay caused by the overthrown and now proscribed Juan Domingo Perón (1946–55). Thus the Frondicist project reserved for youth a paramount role: as a metaphor of the new, it represented the promises of modernization in the cultural and political milieus. 1

Youth acquired an increasing visibility not only within the initial Frondicist official rhetoric but also through a complex network of organizations and institutions that fomented the "new" in arts and cinema as well as in the popular culture. As art and cinema historians have shown, during the early 1960s young women and men carried out aesthetic projects that, beyond their formal qualities, were acclaimed by critics as signs of renewal and, with it, as symbols of youth. 2 From another perspective, TV producers, editors, and entrepreneurs of the culture industry discovered or constructed the niche of a proper youthful segment in the market and began to address to it new TV programs, magazines, and music. 3

The Argentine historiography has underscored youth's increasing visibility as well as the formation of different youth identities as markers of the 1960s, a process that obviously echoed similar developments worldwide. In so doing Argentine historians have emphasized the relationship between the emergence of these identities and covert and overt forms of rebellion. In some accounts rebellion constitutes a crucial feature of "being young" in the 1960s that found expression not only in the disruptive aesthetic projects or the troublesome intergenerational relations but also, and most fundamentally, in the "private" contestation of the prevalent sexual norms. 4 In this vein the historiography locates in the bifurcation between "sex for procreation" and "sex for pleasure" a particular contribution to the Argentinean sexual culture that originated in the realm of middle-class youth during the early 1960s. 5 [End Page 434]

While the existing scholarship demonstrates the construction of new subjectivities and specific youth cultures and attitudes, there is not a comprehensive study about the discourses on youth during the decade. 6 Perhaps as a result of this lack...


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