The 1950s

The 1950s

The 1950s

The 1950s

Synopsis

Have the 1950s been overly romanticized? Beneath the calm, conformist exterior, new ideas and attitudes were percolating. This was the decade of McCarthyism, Levittowns, and men in gray flannel suits, but the 1950s also saw bold architectural styles, the rise of paperback novels and the Beat writers, Cinema Scope and film noir, television variety shows, the Golden Age of the automobile, subliminal advertising, fast food, Frisbees, and silly putty. This volume presents a nuanced look at a surprisingly complex time in American popular culture.

Excerpt

A problem with dividing books arbitrarily into decades is that events do not always fall neatly into ten-year segments. A case in point would be the 1950s; in many ways that important decade commenced with the end of World War II and the return of hundreds of thousands of veterans to the United States. Similarly, it could be argued that the forties drew to a symbolic close with the cessation of hostilities in 1945.

But a series of books must have divisions, and so this volume focuses on those events that occurred in the period 1950-1959. Of necessity, reference will at times be made to movements and styles that arose during the 1940s but did not blossom until subsequent years. Some trends did not reach full fruition when they first appeared; much that began in the 1950s emerged as significant only in the 1960s and 1970s. Not everything can be neatly contained within a decade.

As this volume makes clear, the 1950s witnessed a great expansion of mass and popular culture, especially through the vehicle of television. And yet, at the same time, the decade marked the acceleration of individualization within culture, the demassification of music, film, art, literature, and leisure in order to attract narrower, more specialized audiences. Choices expanded as formats splintered and sought new directions. The mass media disseminated information about all human endeavors at an ever-accelerating pace as records, tapes, radio, film, television, paperbacks, and advertising provided so much information that any traditional boundaries between low, middle, and high culture got blurred. Popular culture, its appetites insatiable, absorbed content from everything; to some critics, this constituted vulgarization, but to many others it simply meant popularization—democracy in action.

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