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What We (Americans) Really Miss About the 1950s

Tai Lam
California State University, USA
2008
What We Really Miss About the 1950's" written by Stephanie Coontz is an
article analyzing both the positive and negative effects of social environment and
status in the 1950s. The article starts off with a Knight Ridder poll taken in 1996,
in which more Americans appreciated the period of the 1950s as the best time to
start a family rather than any other decades. However, Coontz suggests that an
uninformed nostalgia for the 1950s on the rise in the contemporary media could
promote harmful political agendas today. Coontz is correct. Such nostalgia not
only causes threatens socio-political instability and development, it also easily
leads to ethnocentrism.
In American culture, of any decade, the one that perhaps is the most
nostalgically looked on is that of the 1950s. It was thought to be a time of
simplicity, balance and innocence, when the Americans was economically
comfortable, and the American Dream was a reality for a public. However,
unconditional nostalgia that increasingly appeared in the contemporary media
could bring about the negative aspects to the communities. The rising phenomenon
of such nostalgia can be found in Coontzs essay several examples that the
traditional family images are derived from the contemporary media. One of these
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that Coontz cites is Marty, the highly praised television shows of the 1950s,
when the call for young couples to break from their families was the consistent
theme in 1950s popular culture (Coontz 38). The rising promotion of the nostalgia
only indeed reflects the positive effects of the contemporary life but much ignores
or disregards its unhelpful aspects. As Coontz states in her essay, television of the
1950s really played a significant role in people's misunderstanding of family life in
the decade. The shows gave people the impression that life was always simple and
happy back then. People seem to be thinking that the family-styles on television is
real life style. But these TV families purely showed individuals idea of how
families should live. Shows like "Leave It to Beaver" and "Father Knows Best"
(Coontz 38) presented the fantasy of problem solution for the parents. On the other
hand, shows like "I Love Lucy" (38) were mostly pointed at showing troubles to
women. Instead of taking them as a suggestion after watching, most people
viewing these shows today feel inappropriate, and thought they would hardly have
a family as good as such. The social evils of that decade that should be eliminated
were not widely and publicly covered in mass media. On the contrary, Duck-andCover, a suggest method for personal protection against the effects of a nuclear
weapon which school children were national-widely taught by the US government
in the 1950s, was promoted in nationwide scale. This personal cold war
protection related much with McCarthyism, the politically motivated practice
(theorized by American Senator Joe McCarthy and his allies) of making
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accusations of disloyalty, subversion, or treason without proper regard for evidence


by overstating

Cold War tensions and anti-communist pursuits as in the

Documentary history book by Albert Fried McCarthyism, The Great American


Red Scare (1950). Such nostalgia would destroy the currently favored policies in
global cooperation, and would arouse international conflicts that are supposed to
avoid. Its obvious and easy to know that the call for that decade longing best
serves some left-wing politician purposes. They want to change the world present
order. Such growing nostalgia of more ignorance or less conversance would results
in immeasurable negative effects to the country.
Excessive uninformed nostalgia did really promote harms to political
agendas, Furthermore, it causes threats to socio-political instability and
development. Widespread opposition phenomenon to people who could be defined
as "others" such as Jews, African Americans, Puerto Ricans, the poor, gays or
lesbians, and the red menace (Coontz 39) would arouse sexism, racism and
hostility to ethnic minorities. It was during the 1950s that racial conflict and
discrimination was sharp and fierce in many places of the country (39). These
unhealthy social moods results not only in moral issues, but also in political ones.
The United States is a country of which the government should always be in
progress to make every effort insuring that each individual is allowed his or her
deprivable and undeniable rights as stated in the Constitution. Tracing back to the
time when discrimination among ethnicities was rising would create the social
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dissention and multipolarization. Thenceforth, the societal stability, national


security and order would be threatened and turned into immeasurable chaos.
Additionally, sexism was a rather serious bias against women. These corrupt
morals could be easily seen in contemporary media as Coontz cites in her essay:
"Father knows Best", in which young women were advised; "the worst thing that
you can do is to try to beat a man at his own game (45); and they often
experienced commentaries such as: "he criticizes you hairdo - go to the beauty
salon"(45). Another biased representation of the sexes that concerned the portrayal
of man as the norm and women as the appendage not only occurred in internal
structure of the family such as gender and age roles, the male-dominant trend was
also centered on men in socio-financial aspects. Only males had the opportunity to
apply for credit cards and get loans, women were excluded from this privilege and
even from juries ( Coontz 45). Housekeeping and raising a family were considered
ideal female roles during the 1950s, although that standard was less rigid than in
previous decades. With marriage and birthrates booming, women were becoming
wives and mothers at unprecedented levels. Woman today have gained the equality
rights as their counterparts do. Females have nowadays played more and more
important roles in social economic and political fields. They show the equality
power and intelligence in national development. Just imagine what the current
society would be like in retrospect to what women were in the 1950s and how
these tendencies impede the public .
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The last but not least is that uninformed nostalgic feelings for the 1950s
could easily lead to ethnocentrism. Coontz mentions in her article about the risings
and fallings of this decade by stating social facts. The results that the people who
preferred the 1950's were not of any minorities in the U.S, but only White
Americans appreciated and chose that as the best time to start a family. The 1996
poll did not win an outright majority. Almost all African Americans differed over
other decades rather than 1950s (33). The results shows that the 1950s was really
the best time only to particular community of contemporary Americans. That is the
reason why more Americans of such community appreciate and consider the life at
that time as the stereotype of traditional American life and culture, which can lead
to a group thinking that they are self-righteous and better than another group. It
also gives lead way to judge another culture's way of life. America is known as a
melting pot, consisting of an considerable number of ethnic communities. Each
community varies significantly in the different elements of culture. Culture is one's
designed way of living based on intellectual customs, knowledge, and behavior.
One who is with an ethnocentric perspective may view other cultures as deviations
from what is "normal". A historic example of this tendency was when Hitler and
his Nazi followers thought they were better than the other peoples and even judged
the others to be inferior class. The history of the English also serves as a prime
example of ethnocentric beliefs. It is discrimination that plays a direct role in the
ethnocentric belief. During the exploration period the discrimination against blacks
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by whites was a major controversial issue. Turning back to the 1950s, one can
easily recognize that was the prime and ideal times for mainstream culture and
population. That was the world of the Whites rather than any others. Owing to this
extremist supposition that creates ethnocentrism that leads to make false
assumptions about cultural differences among the ethnicities and also distorts
communication between human beings.
A countrys values are very important to her people. For many years the
American culture and family and their values have been one of the top priorities of
the nation. The nostalgia about the 1950s is primarily thought of the positive
aspects that people were more ontent and looking forward to the future. That was
also, as Coontz analyzes, America's golden age of family life, an essential part of
the "American Dream" that Americans are so fond of. The basic idea of success in
America is measured by how well one can provide for their family. Every
individual has the right to be and can be nostalgic about any period life providing
that it encourages and helps with upcoming achievement. Reviewing what have
been learnt in the past helps better learn and understand the present. Social
progress is always ongoing, it cannot be backwards. We are living in a everchanging world, what America needs is a visionary for the future. Cherishing fond
dreams of the past but against the present is a hidden harmful deposit for the future.
Moreover, how to harmoniously adapt for temporal and special differences of

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cultures is the publics major concern. The healthy basis for civilized thinking, as
assumed, is better neither ethnocentrism nor xenocentrism.

Works cited:
1. Coontz, Stephanie. What We Really Miss about the 1950s.
2. Differences Between Ethnocentrism And Cultural Relativism. OPPAPERS.COM. 6
June, 2009. < http://www.oppapers.com/essays/Differences-Between-EthnocentrismCultural-Relativism/108512 >.
3. How 1950s America Begat 1960s America. 06-05-2009.
<http://lavender.fortunecity.com/fullmonty/22/sixties.htm>
4. Sinatra, Ashley. Ethnocentrism in Today's Society. AC Associated Content News. 0919-2007.
<http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/379445/ethnocentrism_in_todays_society_pg
2.html?cat=9>
5. Joe McCarthy, McCarthyism. Spartacus Educational. 06-06-2009.
< http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/USAmccarthy.htm >

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