American Culture in the 1950s

By Martin Halliwell | Go to book overview

Conclusion
Rethinking the 1950s

President Eisenhower entered his last year in office by spending New Year's Eve 1959 at the Augusta National Golf Club in the company of William E. Robinson, the Chairman of Coca-Cola, an evening symbolizing the union of politics and business characteristic of Eisenhower's presidency. A Hindu astrologer on Broadway predicted that 1960 would be a 'good year for Nixon, business and science' (he was at least premature about Nixon), and a New York Times correspondent debated whether the decade should actually close at midnight on 31 December 1959 or I960.1 Taking 1 January 1961 as the beginning of the next decade seems most helpful, ushering in a new Democratic administration and a young president in the White House, the first to be born in the twentieth century as John E Kennedy reminded voters. There was also some respite from cold war fears, with public opinion expressing the 'cautious hope' that Kennedy would 'find ways of easing East-West tensions', even though the Soviets seemed in triumphant mood at the close of 1960 and Washington was on the verge of severing diplomatic links with communist Cuba.2

One could make the case that the 1950s closed before the end of the calendar decade, perhaps in autumn 1957 (the year of McCarthy's death) with the launch of the Soviet satellite Sputnik 1 which NBC radio announced 'forevermore separated the old from the new' and the Little Rock Central High School controversy which ushered in the major phase of the civil rights movement.3 Other world events suggest 1957 is a key year. Following the meeting in April 1955 of Asian and African states at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, 1957 saw 'third world' countries emerge from the grip of colonialism when Ghana became the first African nation to declare its independence under the presidency of Kwame Nkrumah: an event celebrated by black thinkers Richard Wright and C. L. R. James as a moment of seismic global

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American Culture in the 1950s
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Figures vi
  • Case Studies vii
  • Acknowledgements viii
  • Chronology of 1950s American Culture xi
  • Introduction - The Intellectual Context 1
  • Chapter 1 - Fiction and Poetry 51
  • Chapter 2 - Drama and Performance 85
  • Chapter 3 - Music and Radio 119
  • Chapter 4 - Film and Television 147
  • Chapter 5 - The Visual Arts Beyond Modernism 189
  • Conclusion - Rethinking the 1950s 225
  • Notes 245
  • Bibliography 285
  • Index 303
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