Halfway through the 1950′s , in the summer of 1955, Life ran an article entitled Nobody is Mad With Nobody.” In the text, in which, next to photographs of things like two car suburban garages marked “his” and “hers”, the magazine suggested that just about everybody in the United States was absolutely delighted with themselves and their way of life. The country was not only at peace, but there was prosperity and Americans had more money and material goods than ever before. Nirvana, hinted Life, was just around the corner, almost within grasp of those groping hands emboldened with American exceptionalism, the ripe fruit of the lonely task of America’s special relationship to god. It is perhaps this halcyon mid decade period that today seems to engender such feelings of nostalgia.
Eisenhower radiated to the country a sense of old fashioned morality, honesty, Protestant virtue, as well as a rosy optimism about the nation’s future. In a way, especially during the time that Eisenhower was President, the fifties were a peculiarly naive and innocent decade, an anachronistic throwback to pre-depression America. Other than Communism, the average American seemed to think that the only problems were to build more super highways, faster cars and keep the stock market rising. Once you could drive on eight-lane highways from New York to Los Angeles without encountering a stop light, many Americans believed the country would become all but utopia. It was a time of great selfishness; enough sacrificing had been done for the national good during WWII and Korea and it was time to cash in on the peace dividend.
America had seemed to put the erratic and slightly psychotic demagogue McCarthy behind them, The House Un-American Activities Committee which nailed everyone from Alger Hiss to Humphrey Bogart and all the wave of anti-Communist fear mongering in which the term “pro-communist” was stretched to include anyone as the need arose who held minority political views. In a saner time, copies of “Red Channels” would have been chucked into the trash where it belonged, but politically the 1950′s were far from being a sane time.
While the paranoia over Communism, effectively an effort to bring the entertainment complex to heel to the wishes of the industrial class- and by all measures a smashing success- the country’s real problems like poverty, racism, organized crime, the environment and the decay of the cities was being ignored.
Eisenhower’s style was the style of the nation: old fashioned, conservative, anti-intellectual and hopelessly square. A paint by numbers rendering of the Last Supper is Eisenhower. And so, perhaps is a two-toned Buick with tail fins. Almost all consumer products were a triumph of bad design and even worse taste including the look-alike development homes that William Levitt became noted for. These new suburbanites became curiously conservative in their outlook on politics and social problems. The new suburbanite turned his back on the blacks and others whom he’d left behind in the decaying cities. The proto-typical example is John Updike’s “Rabbit” character.All this created a new balance of political power, which culminated in permitting the likes of Nixon to win the Presidency.
American women went from the poodle-cut to the Italian cut along with equally unattractive fire-engine red lipstick and shapeless dresses such as the tube dress and the sack dress. Men, obviously were even worse. All in all, the fifties were egregiously a Golden Age of kitsch. Formica kitchens, barbie dolls, Hawaiian sport shir
Hula hoops, Howdy-Doody. Sometimes its hard to understand why the shlock culture of childhood tends to take on a peculiar importance as one grows older, especially in the 1950′s where uncomplicated happiness was the mantra. Much of the debasing mindlessness of commercial culture today is actually another long-term legacy of the 1950′s.
On the other hand, the fifties gave us James Dean, a character who reflected the earliest stirrings of an emerging disaffection among the youth of America with their affluent and materialistic parents: the archetype of the confused, restless, yet moral young man who finds himself alienated not only from his affluent parents, but also from all of adult society, which he views as money grubbing, life-hating, and hypocritical. At the time, Dean mirrored the feelings of only a handful, but fifteen years later he represented the attitudes of an entire generation of youth. The rebel without a cause became the rebel of a great number of causes.
The 1950′s can be seen as a time of calm before the storm, a period of surface tranquility beneath which all sorts of major problems were, like undetected cancers, left to grow insidiously.About the only valid sentiment of the 50″s was the sense of renewed optimism and that America’s promise of eternal hope, though illusory sees it alter-ego reflection in the last aching yawns of that economic system. About the only constant is political apathy:
Rick Salutin: Hope is indispensable in public and private life. I don’t mean brainless optimism in the face of facts. I mean hope that finds a way to persist in honest awareness of how bad things are….
…Take the economy. Everyone knows that the disaster of 2008, which has clearly not gone away, had nothing to do with excess government spending. It had/has to do with other things: loss of good jobs; wage stagnation; jumps in consumer debt to cover the losses; “financialization”; fraud; greed; lack of oversight — blah blah blah. Any rise in deficits came mainly from bailouts to banks, or needless warmaking. The point is: The catastrophe had/has no connection to government social or economic spending. Yet the only solutions proposed everywhere are public spending cuts…
…What will the effect on people be? Cuts that they know are unjustified, and probably damaging, and which they often explicitly voted against — will be made. What is the point of voting, or even bothering to think about these matters? This is how hope in public participation dies, or is killed off….
…Where do people turn when leaders and parties that promised to do what seemed to make sense, betray them? Either to despair or to themselves. That often means: into the streets, where the battles for democracy and justice frequently began. Take the encampments of “los indignados” in Spain. Who are they indignant at? The greedy rich, obviously. But also their gutless, lying, “left wing” politicians…. Read More:http://www.thestar.com/opinion/editorialopinion/article/1001950–salutin-the-strange-and-very-political-death-of-hope