The 1950s were once called “the Happy Days.” But in actuality the days were far from happy. There were a ton of aspects about this decade that everyone can talk about, and I’m sure I leave out many important things, so that’s where any of my listeners can add their input in the comment section.
Without going too much into it, as the 1950s began, Europe and east Asia were still recovering from WWII, in which two superpowers were in a state of Cold War with each other. It was the capitalist United States against communist Soviet Union, and rather than them directly fighting each other, they both “fought” by trying to spread their influence around the globe to other countries, plus were engaged in an arms race towards technological advances in nuclear power and weapons, like two rival kids in a neighborhood taunting each other going “Oh yeah well here’s my baseball bat,” “oh yeah well here’s my hockey stick.” “Oh yeah well here’s my sledgehammer,” “oh yeah well here is my sword.” “Oh yeah well here is my pistol.” And so on and so forth.
Both superpowers knew that if they fought against each other on a full scale, neither side would survive. There were some “hot spot” conflicts during it like the Korean War in the early 1950s, but neither side would totally engage in it out of fear it could escalate into a total war, and therefore total destruction. It was like Carl Sagan’s quote, “it’s as if there are two people standing in gasoline, one with three matches the other with five.” And of course Albert Einstein once said, “I don’t know how they will fight WWIII, but I do know how yet will fight WWIV, with sticks and stones.”
I think a lot of current generations today don’t realize how on the brink of total destruction people were in this decade. There is a special “clock” called the Doomsday Clock that is made by the board of Atomic Scientists, and these people use it to determine its reading to represent how close we are to “midnight” or nuclear destruction, and the “time” changes depending on what is going on. From 1953-1960 the clock read “two minutes to midnight” due to all the testing and creation of thermonuclear devices and each side not backing down, and to this day that was the closest the clock read to midnight.
The reason why I go over this in detail is because for everyone living in America in those days, they participated in what were called “bomb” drills and practiced what to do in the event of a nuclear attack, and no they weren’t told to go inside a fridge. There was also active conscription in which any ordinary American could be told they were drafted in the military and forced to do military service. This international conflict affected everyone on both sides of the curtain.
Nowadays even though the Cold War is over, we still have a very real threat about nuclear war and other weapons of mass destruction, this time from China, possibly North Korea, and Iran. But instead of the same fear we have we make fun of the other superpowers with picture memes on the Internet. With China as the top economic superpower, and us having a huge debt to pay to China, I would worry about them if they decide to make us pay back the money we owe. With North Koreas dictator being as crazy and tyrannical as his ancestors that started the Korean War, I’d consider him a threat. With Iran not happy that we still occupy Iraq to the left and Afghanistan to the right, id worry about them lashing out.
But that’s the global stuff, what was going on in America?
Well, we had the Red Scare and McCarthyism at the time, where many people who were accused of being a communist faced prison time and other punishments. Pretty much the same way how the Puritans hunted for people who were accused of witchcraft, the Red Scare and McCarthyism saw people invade the privacy of citizens just because someone could point the finger and say “he’s a communist!” How would you like it if you as a law abiding private citizen were one day accused of being a communist or a spy, and saw the government unfairly investigate everything about you, and saw your innocent life destroyed. “Are you a communist?” “No I am not.” “Sit down and shut up, commie!” You find yourself blacklisted, and unable to be employed because if it. Well if you don’t that still happened to many Americans, especially those in the entertainment industry, educators, and union activists. Two civilians who allegedly told atomic secrets to the Soviet Union were even charged with conspiracy and executed by the US government. And if you tried to use your first ammendment rights, you were backfired with comments like “well you must be a commie!”
In 2013, Americans no longer fear communism. But replace the word communist with the word terrorist, and it’s pretty much the same fear. In many ways I feel that the terrorists have achieved their goal because it feels that many freedoms we had as Americans in past decades are long gone. You see it at airports, and many other public places like even schools. Does anyone remember the days where you could go to a major airport and accompany your loved one all the way to the gate, or even just go to the gate yourself because you wanted to watch the planes take off? Well since 9/11 you can’t anymore, at least where I am. In the 1950s, people used to dress up in suits and nice clothes before boarding an airplane. Because the 9/11 attackers used box cutters and mace as weapons, because one guy has hid a bomb in his shoe, and because the FBI thwarted a plot to smuggle liquid explosives on an airplane, you practically are stripped of your belongings and even your outer layers of clothes, and our women and children are essentially looked at in their exposed forms by these security goons at the airports before they let them on the plane, and if you are selected for additional screening you just hope to God you aren’t given a rectal exam in the middle of the airport. It also feels like a lot of our amendment rights are slowly being taken away. People who express the right of freedom of speech are either arrested or their protests are stopped by government officials. With the recent push towards gun control laws, with people saying “you shouldn’t take em away” its as if those high up are saying, “well, they don’t wanna give up their second amendment right, they must be a terrorist!”
In the 1950s, it was mostly a conservative nation that was mostly right wing, so those who showed leftist beliefs were looked down upon and accused of something worse if they were thought to go too far. Today it’s the other way around, with congress being mostly Liberal and leftist, and pretty much against everything conservatives stand for, while the remaining conservatives consider everyone that’s liberal to be against the constitution and Bill of Rights.
And if McCarthyism in the 1950s wasn’t enough, racial segregation was also very apparent by the mid 1950s especially in the deep south. For almost 60 years beforehand as a result of the Plessy vs Ferguson supreme court case, by law whites and coloreds were labeled “separate but equal.” At the time of the ruling it probably sounded fair, but Jim Crow laws made it unfair for non-whites. You had blacks and whites go to separate schools, eat separately at restaurants, have their own sections on buses (which whites were reserved to force blacks to move if there were no seats available), and even live in separate neighborhoods. What also happened is that due to the politics involved, a lot less money was spent on improving the conditions of the designated “colored” places.
While the civil rights movement didn’t start taking off until the 1960s, it had its earnest beginnings in the mid 1950s starting with Brown vs the Board of Education and the events in Alabama started by Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. that began the push towards equal opportunities with education regardless of race.
Of course nowadays it is against the law to segregate, or spew racial slurs, which is of course a good thing.
So it seems that I seem to be going over a lot of the negative aspects about this decade, but that’s because I feel that everyone always praises the 1950s and says that they were the best days with hardly any problems, and I disagree, and must first show that this particular decade had some of the same fears and problems that we face today.
But despite all of this going on at the time, America was a booming nation, with not just a growing number of births in the “baby boom” era, but the economy was growing, the housing market was growing, unemployment rates were at a low, the educational system was among the best in the world, and many families were able to live comfortably on just one income.
Nowadays, in many families both the mom and dad have to work full time to raise a family comfortably, the housing market nearly crashed, unemployment rates are pretty high, and we constantly criticize the direction our education system has taken towards their ever changing standards and methods.
Morals and Values – when it comes to the morals, it was essentially the home and family to be the most important thing. You must also remember that in the decade following WWII, a lot of men who served overseas returned home, and if they hadn’t already married, found a woman to start a family with.
That was the dream, to get a good job, get a car, and raise a family. Therefore there weren’t that many divorces, or children born out of wedlock. It was rather common to see couples marry at a young age right after high school, or during college, and starting families while still in their early 20′s. Many of these couples would remain faithfully together until one of them died, even if the relationship wasn’t always the greatest. My mom’s parents have been married since 1945, are in their 90′s now and still alive and well, and according to her rarely fought and simply got along. My dad’s parents on the other hand he said regularly fought and screamed at each other throughout the rest of their lives until they eventually died 5 years apart. By contrast, I’m sure once one of my mom’s parents dies, the other will join not too long after.
When it comes to family now, more than 50% of marriages end in divorce, and it is almost a social norm for kids to be either raised by single parents, or raised by two sets of parents due to each divorcee finding another spouse. Many times kids are the ones who suffer due to feeling confused and not necessarily having a consistent team of parents raising them. Because of this, nowadays, A lot of people want to avoid the “young and stupid” mistake and wait until much later to settle down to raise a family, and many parents have their first child in their 30s to early 40s. Because it seems more common to meet people who have been married several times, or not at all, a lot of people’s jaws drop when I mention to them that my parents have been together for for almost 45 years and have been married since 1970 when they were in their early 20′s. Sure they had their ups and downs, had times where they disliked each other and nearly split due to strains in the relationship, but they chose to work on staying together. Many couples nowadays find what are called “irreconcilable differences” towards each other, and after a period of time cannot stand the sight of each other and have rather ugly break ups. A lot of times we have relationships that end due to infidelity, which I know did happen probably just as much in the 1950s, but the major difference is that if people knew it was happening the people involved would get major backlashes from the surrounding people, and nowadays when infidelity happens nobody really cares except for immediate family and friends. It just seems that nowadays people seem to lose attraction to their spouses more easily, and when new attraction is right around the corner and easily accessed, thinking they can do better they don’t think too much about the consequences of infidelity, or justify something that’s morally wrong.
We also have many people that are very content with being single and live happy lives that way. Is this necessarily a bad thing? No. I am someone who values family a lot, and would someday want to raise one of my own. Some people I know do not necessarily have that same value. Some people are happy not having kids until they feel it’s right for them, and some people say they never want to raise kids. And that’s OKAY.
However, I must bring this up when it comes to marriages: it’s better off now in a sense that if two gay people, or two interracial people want to get married, it’s no longer considered a taboo. In the 1950s, if two interracial people were public about their relationship, many would say its immoral and wrong. And a lot of times, two gay people had to keep their relationship a secret, out of fear that if the wrong people found out they’d get humiliated and or possibly hurt. Nowadays it’s only a small group of people that oppose gay marriage, and with more and more people coming out, and more people showing pride and support for equality in marriage, it’s a better place now if you’re among them.
You know how we always fear kidnapping or stories of rape and molestation because we constantly hear about it on the news? My dad lived in Hollywood during the 1950s, and his neighborhood was right there near Hollywood and Vine, before it became known as the Hollywood Star Walk of Fame. As a kid, He could walk up this street to and from school during the day, and even at night, and not worry about some messed up yahoo trying to hurt him, or worse. Even in his neighborhood they didn’t worry much about someone breaking in, and like a lot of households, left the door unlocked at night. What happened to that?!
You want to look at a sign of the times? Just look at the Hollywood and Vine, which is now a run down dump. I know because I have walked the entire street in its present form, and aside from a few cool places like the Pantages Theater, The El Capitan, and the Chinese Theater, the entire street is literally polluted with sex shops, smoke shops, hookah lounges, new age healing centers, tattoo parlors, or pizza places; many of which have security bars behind the glass doors. At one point it felt like we were walking next to a rolling background from the Flinstones. The walk of fame may be a neat thing, but seeing great names like Walter Mathaeu and Jack Lemmon right next to a dumpy building that is probably some hobo’s toilet doesn’t sound very appealing.
Speaking of Hollywood, what about television and pop culture?
A lot of people think that we are very materialistic, and way dependent on the latest trends, and what the media thinks. These same people don’t realize that even in the 1950s, with the television becoming a staple of an American household, people started becoming much more dependent on mass media than ever before.
With mass media becoming the staple, this is where most people got their information about what is happening. As such, you know how people in this decade really didn’t have to worry much about psychotic killers and other criminals? That is probably because even if cases were happening, it wasn’t as presented on the news as this crap is now. World events, sure, as is the case of the Cold War at the time, but domestic events? not really.
And what was on TV at the time? It was representing a culture that stressed conformity. Don’t get angry, don’t even think about sex before marriage, don’t ask your husband where he’s been, etc. The social mores about sex at the time were very restrictive, for example, husbands and wives on television couldn’t be seen sleeping in the same bed. Shows on television, especially comedy, had to make humor arise from the situation, not simply because profanity was blurted or because the joke was about sexual problems.
Nowadays, it seems like any idiot can get on TV, and with reality shows now hitting the channels, it seems like you HAVE to be the stupidest person alive to be able to have a TV show because nobody appreciates actual talent anymore. It’s also apparent that many TV shows have to resort to having a lot of unneeded jokes about sex and other dirty humor.Don’t get me wrong, I like my share of that stuff when it’s well written, and I do love that in our culture today we can joke about that stuff with friends. I love the good raunchy comedies just as much as the next person, hell I mention the clever jokes from South Park quite often. But whenever I look at comedic routines from the 1950s, and even earlier with stuff like the three stooges shorts, I’m seeing hilarious moments that make me laugh without there being a sex joke or the use of profanity being brought in.
Even though there were FAR less TV stations than there are now, it seemed like it was a bigger deal to be on TV if you got on. Now, not so much. The quality of shows has totally diminished as a whole, aside from those few great shows that interest me and keep me watching.
But with the internet growing, the need for cable services is slowly diminishing due to being able to watch all your shows on the internet wherever you go. And what sucks is that services like Direct TV and Time Warner offer hundreds of channels… and yet at any given time there is still NOTHING GOOD ON! Thanks to the invention of DVR’s though, you pretty much can watch what you want when you want, and barely have to browse channels anymore.
One of the greatest posts I have ever read about the 1950s is this: someone asked, “what would be the most difficult thing to say to someone from the 1950s?” and a poster replied, “we each possess a powerful device that can access all information at your fingertips, and we use it to look at pictures of cats and watch porn.”
In the 1950s, home computers were still in their infancy, people communicated each other through letters and phones that didn’t have all the features they have now. Nowadays, we have all this great advanced technology… we are able to communicate with anyone around the world at the touch of a button, and the stuff that seems like everyday devices to us would seem like huge step to someone from the 1950s. Sure we don’t have flying hover cars like people in the 50s envisioned, but many of the other things people envisioned have come true.
But to think that people didn’t care about technology that much in the 50s are dead wrong. If you look at any shopping catalog from the 1950s, you would find that it was all about getting the latest technology available at the time. Sure, it may not have been about getting the latest iPad or best cell phone, but as I said before, even if they were considered simpler times, there were always technological advances towards making everyday tasks much more simpler and efficient. Everyone was looking forward to futuristic things, even the cars in those days looked more like rockets and spaceships than the cars we have now. There was a sense of optimism that we were on the verge of a utopian society with advanced technology…. nowadays with everything we have, we are fearing a dystopian society is imminent thanks to the politicians that run the show now.
You can criticize us for being a materialistic society in 2013, but the idea of the need to have more and better goods came from… you guessed it, the 1950s! With banks opening up loans and lines of credit, constant advertising, and the idea of being able to have anything you wanted WHEN you wanted it, this is where everyone was looking forward to achieving a better and happier life.
And there’s our major difference. With all the information we have, all the technological advancements we have achieved and given to the mass population to make everyday tasks much easier and time efficient, why are we as a whole always complaining about how much life sucks, and how in the toilet we always are? That doesn’t make sense. People, we have it better! We should be happy with what we have, and use it towards making our lives better! People from the 1950s would’ve LOVED to have what we have, and I’m sure they would’ve done a lot more with it than what we do. My grandparents may be in their 90s, and are now pretty much technologically illiterate because it is too advanced for them, but I’m sure if they were in their 20s, I’m pretty sure they wouldn’t use their smartphones to take pictures of their food, constantly look at videos of cats, and post 10,000 status updates a day about their times at the gym.
I’m Desert Coyote22 and thanks for listening!
Coming up next, it’s the tumultuous 60s versus today.