A sizable number of Americans want to fire up the wayback machine and go back to the 1950s. Not just visit, but take up residence there.
This is more than nostalgia, that warm and technicolor memory when you think of a family holiday or think about your favorite TV show or birthday dinner. This is more than ooing and aaahing over cars with fins, Cary Grant kissing Grace Kelly on the Riviera, the low cost of gasoline or the pre-AIDS days of love.
What this really is about, girls and boyz, is erasing the last 60-plus years of America. A return all the way back the days of Ike, Ozzie & Harriet, one income families and American economic muscle. Let’s not forget segregation, unfashionable attitudes towards non-Christians, women steered toward marriage and homemakers instead of careers, the nuclear threat of the Cold War, lobotomies and shock therapy, and high cancer death rates. It was also pre-Maranda, the days of Jim Crow, voter suppression, and pre-Internet so things meant to be private were private. Recordings of beatings, murders, “grab ’em by the pussy” comments were not on the evening news. Ideal times indeed.
The 1950s are idealized, viewed through White, Christian, rose-colored conservative lenses. Kneeling football players? It would never happen. Protests? Unleash the dogs, nightsticks and water hoses. Justice was swift and mostly outside of the public eye. Social norms were strict. Redlining neighborhoods kept out the undesirables. Prayer in school? You bet. Pledge of allegiance? Everyday. Corporal punishment? And how. Chain gangs, hard labor and capital punishment – all acceptable. Abortions? Back alley. Promiscuity? Not allowed, well, only for the pleasure of men. Slap the Mrs. around a little? Coppers turned a blind eye. American-made, manufacturing-economy, low prices, everyone could grab a piece of the American Dream.
The enemies were known and hate was mobilized. Communists. Socialists. Homosexuals. Foreigners. Atheists. People of color knew their place. If you were not a Christian or look like us, you were mostly tolerated, but don’t try and join our clubs or move into the neighborhood, and don’t expect the promotion. Women were secretaries or other acceptable jobs and they could not open a bank account or get credit without approval from their husbands. Men handled the money, women kept house and had that martini ready at 6 pm.
All of that is somewhat generalized, but mainly true. In the 1950s, life was more orderly, roles and prejudices were known. People dreamed big, but often settled for I Love Lucy, Tuesday Salisbury steak and Wednesday night bowling. Every time period has good and bad. You get it all, no substitutions. The more we glamorize something, the more glamour is needed. Shouldn’t that tell you something?
Life only moves one direction, forward. You can set a clock back temporarily, but it still moves forward. Even that small time adjustment has consequences. Here’s some advice, learn from history, don’t try to live there.
2 thoughts on “Turn Back the Clock”
Yep, I was a kid in the 50s, and enjoyed most of it. All you say is true, racism, communism, Jim Crow, housewives, I Love Lucy etc. Then the 60s arrived and the radicals causing all the trouble, became our government, and well, we can see how all that has worked out for us.
Good essay, Mike. A nice dose of hard-hitting reality. You listed a lot of negatives about the 1950s that I hadn’t previously thought of. There were also McCarthyism, DDT, leaded gasoline, and most horrific of all…Pat Boone.
Yeah, we seem to cherry-pick out of our favorite time periods based on our age, background, and ideology. The Fifties in America were wonderful IF you were an educated, economically comfortable Caucasian. (Brown-tinged people need not apply.) I loved the Sixties, but I was a kid who reveled in the best pop music of any generation and who only got the trickle-down of Vietnam, assassinations, and race riots. I’m just thankful I wasn’t of draft age.
I’ll continue to enjoy Wally, Eddie, and the Beaver and pine for the days when kids could go trick-or-treating unchaperoned by adults, but it’s good to have these periodic reality checks.