During the Fifties, public attention was focused on teens to an unprecedented degree in American culture. Even more than in the Twenties, being young was an enviable state. Even more than in the late Forties, when America looked benignly on its bobby-soxers and boys-next-door as embodiments of postwar vitality, teens occupied the fantasies of adults. In the Fifties, those fantasies were more polarized than ever before. Now America looked at its youth with a new mixture of hope and fear, of intense fascination and even, at times, terror.
Throughout the decade, the national mood swung between the exuberance of the postwar economy and the lurking fears of Communist takeovers and hydrogen bombs. Teens were the chief beneficiaries of the booming economy, but they also felt the fears that divided the country.
The Soviet Union under Joseph Stalin was clearly marked out as the enemy, whose aim it was to dominate the world. The "Iron Curtain" that had fallen between East and West when the Soviets captured Poland, East Germany, and Czechoslovakia symbolized the trenched battle between the capitalist and the communist systems. When China too fell to the Communists and the Korean War erupted, Americans felt threatened as never before.
The year 1950 saw the crest of the wave of McCarthyism that had swept over the country leaving scarred lives and a bewildered public in its wake. In 1948 Whittaker Chambers, a confessed Communist with a shady past, accused Alger Hiss, a Harvard lawyer and the head of the Carnegie Endow-