Oh, to be young in the 1950’s! After centuries of having to house several generations under one roof, society turned affluent. Suburbs sprang up. Mothers still sewed, collected buttons, and patched jeans, but there wasn’t the same degree of desperate poverty, nor the same craving for status.
Today, of course, we are richer still: Gone our 1950’s need for heirlooms, good china, and wearing jeweled broaches. In my favorite decade clothing became classic and sensible: T-shirts began to edge out button up shirts, business suits came in two pieces, not three. Classic. Boys and girls exchanged slacks and wide skirts for blue jeans. Sensible. On weekends folks began wearing running shoes. Remember?
It was a boom time when people were excited about having a regular life, echoed in magazines like Homemaker and Popular Mechanics. Everyone knew what was true, good and normal. Everyone except for communists and beatniks. Today, of course, ladies magazines like Oprah’s are full of questions and options and the search for a good life, as if society doesn’t know anymore what everyone should do.
Such fun! Students had cruising, sock hops and soda counters. An affluent media exploded with kids music, and kids stories: kids in the new suburbs, (by Beverly Cleary) doing high school athletics, (Chip Hilton) serving in hospitals, (Cherry Ames) on ranches and summer camps (Walt Disney’s Spin and Marty) and even in outer space. (Tom Corbet, Space Cadet, first as a radio series and then on the tube) Kids were living like Archie and Betty at Riverdale High. At school you could go in for (a) sports and cheerleading, or (b) student council. It was a heady time; someone even wrote a book called Is There Life After High School?
Looking back, the majority of students, who were neither (a) nor (b), must have felt left out, like how a person today reports feeling left out and surrounded by an immense White Anglo-Saxon Protestant majority. Today high schools are presumably better, because they include diverse identities allowing a kid to feel OK, including: Goths, artsys, poets, glee, drama, band, anime, high fashion, freaks and geeks, audio and video, intramural and extramural sports, cheerleading, computers, rock bands, rappers, workshop, science… and of course, chess.
The 1950’s teen heroes were earnest… future members of the Rotary club and the Moose… never losers, rebels or sarcastic nonwinners.
If a community in the 1950’s had less diversity, then at least it had a nice calming simplicity, like a tidy living room. In 1950’s the cowboy hats of Hollywood showed little diversity of shape, varying only by color. Speaking of hats, back then people left their religious beanies and bonnets at home until Sunday. Not until the 21st century, in a community as diverse as a teenager’s messy bedroom, did I see hijabs blossoming. I hear that in American cities the minorities are now the majority—but I hear they are turning inwards, away from each other. Too bad. Now is the time to make a society we can all belong to… while I miss the 1950’s.
Footnote: How affluent we are. I grew up with a darning handle and hoop around the house, I can dimly remember my mother darning socks. Now a 21st century self-help book, entitled How to Walk in High Heels subtitled The Girl’s Guide to Everything by Camilla Morton contains this: (page 368)
“No one darns socks any more, so this as a perfectly ridiculous skill to want to learn. If you find you are wearing a peep-toe pair, discard immediately…”