Yes, I wasn’t born there, but that doesn’t mean I don’t have an opinion of it. And this is not just because they didn’t have everything I liked, or because I think music, films, and TV from the 50′s was terrible. And I certainly don’t like how lightly or positively the 50′s is sometimes depicted in media.
It was a time where ignorance, oppression, and fear ruled over the people. Sure the streets seemed safer, Coca Cola was dirt cheap, and a wide variety of comics besides superhero comics was available until 1954, but that means nothing compared to the bigger picture.
For starters, you have the Cold War, which, if you think about it, wouldn’t have happened if America hadn’t nuked part of Japan just to show off to the Russians. Pretty much everyone who didn’t have a mind of their own was in fear of what seemed like imminent nuclear annihilation, all while in truth, no one wanted the button to be pressed. Not even the people in charge of pressing the button wanted to do so. Meanwhile, US politicians tried to convince everyone that communism was everywhere, and spies from the Reds were potentially lurking anywhere. Anyone who spoke out against this rampant paranoia and for the truth was labelled a Communist by the McCarthy patrol.
Then you have the creation of the nuclear family unit, which has haunted American social culture for the last 60 years so far, and let’s not forget the suburban environment of the time. It was all about keeping up with the Jones’, and if you were different and didn’t conform, or you had some kind of problem, you had to keep it a secret. Conformity and social conservatism ruled America, especially very restrictive attitudes towards sex and sexuality, and in what is supposed to be the land of the free. And I’m willing to bet a lot of people suffered from depression caused by conformity. Social mores and rules were rigid, as was their enforcement, and teenagers were looked down on and seen as either petty delinquents or hormonal gangsters. Fun fact: did you know that domestic violence could not be prosecuted as a criminal offence until the 1970′s? Before then, men could beat their wives and children all they wanted, and it’d be considered discipline and even law enforcement. In some states, it was illegal to try and stop spousal abuse.
Then, you have the racism. I hope we’re not forgetting that the 50′s was a time were white people and non-white people were segregated, with the latter still being treated as pretty much second-class citizens until the 60′s, and many African-Americans, barring few famous individuals, were denied many privileges that at the time were reserved almost entirely for white people. And sexism prevailed too. Back in the 50′s, especially via the conservative nuclear family ideal, women were seen as little more than housewives, sex toys, and domestic property combined who you could treat like children and pets. In those days, you were screened for gender and skin colour when applying for a job. I assume religion and political views are also screened as well. I mean, let’s be honest, I’d be surprised if you weren’t screened for those things in that decade.
And did I mention that you couldn’t be gay in 50′s America? Or bisexual for that matter?
And let’s not forget J. Edgar Hoover, who two years ago had a movie made about him. If you lived in America during the 50′s he had a proflie on you, much like the government today, and if you were trying to change the status quo for the better, he wanted you dead. No matter how many times you can try to make him seem like a decent character via a movie, he was nothing but a shadowy, paranoid, oppressive figure who existed only to maintain the status quo.
The only way you could enjoy the 50′s is via ignorance. Children may have enjoyed those times (you know, besides the strict social rules and their Dad’s idea of disciplining them), but that’s because they don’t know or understand a whole lot about the world around them yet, or have an idea of how to interact with it, or care for that matter. The only reason children could enjoy the 50′s is because of not only ignorance, but also because their world is so small and most of them don’t even care about the oppression around them. Much worse, they’re often molded to accept it and they don’t realize it yet.