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The 1950s are often portrayed as a period of social cohesion. Why is this misleading?

When we think of the 1950's, most people think of similar things such as "Leave it to Beaver", very conservative and cliched pop music, and high patriotism. Our view of that time is one of social conformity to conservative values, with a traditional nuclear family where the father worked and the mother stayed home, where a majority of people attended church, where crime was relatively low, where a majority of American citizens were extremely patriotic, and where entertainment media emphasized these same conservative values and were subjected to censorship if they did not conform. This is misleading because while these things were all true to a certain extent, the world was obviously not perfect and not everyone was conforming or upholding traditional values, even if it seemed like they were. The 1950's were actually a very tumultuous time period, with the end of World War II leaving Europe war torn and in debt, the outbreak of the Korean War and the clashes of opinion over our objectives there, and several social issues such as civil rights and feminism were coming to a head. People were re-examining traditional values and abandoning them or fiercely defending them. Lots of violence and protests stemmed from these social issues. Entertainment media were also evolving, with the popularity of rock and roll growing steadily. The threat of Communism also became a huge issue, sparking the Cold War and the McCarthy hearings. So, in reality, the 1950's in no way was characterized by social cohesion. Then why do we remember it that way? Because the reasons it was not socially cohesive are very controversial issues that most people don't like to think about or discuss. For instance, for a majority of Americans, it is not a source of pride that we practiced racial segregation, that we denied women equal pay with men, or that there are international problems that we cannot always fix. Even at the time, no one wanted to face or talk about "taboo" subjects whether it was because of their own discomfort with it or because they didn't want to be a negative influence on children, so most forms of media were heavily censored and did not show anything that would deviate from the social norms at the time. Also, with all the problems going on in the country and the world, people probably wanted entertainment that allowed them to escape said problems by watching a "perfect" family go through life in a "perfect" world. So, the 1950's were not a period of conformity, but are portrayed that way mostly because people were ignoring the world's problems.

Comments

J. Chambliss said…
This is a really well structured and coherent analysis of the social issues shaping the 1950s. I think your points are well made, and do much to explain how the 1950s projected a reality not experienced by many Americans.

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