The American dream, white picket fences and two cars in every garage….
Art Chantry ( firstname.lastname@example.org )
Magazine cover of the week!! Well, maybe the half century?
When we think back on the 1950′s, the cliched vision we concoct is ‘happy days’. We have been sold by commercial money makers on the idea of that era being some sort of wonderland of perfect happy family values that we all need to return to. It’s all ‘my three sons’ turf with the occasional madcap ‘i love lucy’ tossed in (too bad she was in a ‘mixed’ marriage, tho. spoils the perfection. note: sarcasm.)
The real 1950′s, the one that was actually dwelled in was afraid. We had just endured many years in mad international warfare and come home to nothing but fear and threat – invading commies, hollywood blacklists, korean “police actions’, hoodlums and juvenile delinquents (aka – our own kids), lurking beatniks, brainwashing comic books, giant radioactive insects crawling in from the Nevada desert and flying saucers from outer space! The 1950′s is probably one of the most unsettled and paranoid decades in our entire history. The fact that we’ve had to sell ourselves the mythology of bland pleasant middle class bliss only points to our need to have at least a little imaginary stability in our past. what else to we have to hold onto? The 1960′s? I don’t think so.
Since I was yammering on yesterday about Harley Earl and the tail fin (appropriately rooted in war design death machines) and it’s impact on American pop culture, it’s only fair to show the other side of the coin. Since WW2 the American dream has never been rooted in the American dream of middle class white picket fence 2.5 kids and a dog bliss. It’s rooted in the fear of death.
This cover is for an otherwise dull, middle-brow car magazine. It’s about family outings, the latest in station wagons and vacationland America. Yet, this particular issue (november, 1954. incidentally, it’s the year i was born.) is one of the best indicators of the turbulence lurking just under the surface of the imagined ‘normalcy’ we strived to find in our collective memories of America in the 1950′s.
“this bloodied family (the wife !! the kids!!! the gore!!!! MY BABY!!!!) is YOUR family! If you don’t follow the proper rules of the road, this can happen to your only liferaft – the family you are so desperately trying to hold together. Without them you are lost in the chaos and madness. and THIS IS YOUR FAULT! You didn’t follow the rules of the road! (read more about this terrible threat inside.)”
Even the fantasy of middle American family wonderfulness is under constant attack from forces beyond the pale. But, you have control, you can follow the rules. The entire advertising and marketing industry of that era simply were following the propagandist methodology of the war years. It’s only natural. The ad guys spend almost a decade spreading the fear enforcing the rules for military and war efforts. When they left the military and dovetailed back into the peacetime world, they simply did what they knew – propaganda. Only this time it was peacetime rules – just as strictly enforced. To disobey was to risk annihilation, not only you, but those you loved the most. No longer nazis, but commies, beatniks, JD’s, hotrodders, hopheads, giant bug
d little green men.
The political leadership gained enormous ground by simply helping to reinforce the fear. The result was the backlash of the 1960′s (their own kids rebelling) and the schism we still have today. We took these bizarre fear structures with us and incorporated them as a national identity. It left the power structure of business and politics and religion as our only source of recourse and safety.
Of course, we all learned from our own history. Unfortunately what we learned is that fear WORKS. The power elite in America has become so ingrained and comfortable that their own corruption threatens us far more than our worst paranoid imaginings of the 1950′s. Now we have extremes warning of threats so completely imagined that it looks like the 50′s really were a time of middle class bliss. (thank you you sarah, rush, glenn, bill and them teabaggers.)
We really need to wise up.