Worst: As Allen Ginsberg penned in the great Beatnik poem, Howl: “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness…”
Best: What you saw was a handful of elitist intellectuals and artists grouse about popular acceptance of the status quo.
Worst: Do you deny that conformity, repression, racism and sexism were the norm for the 1950s?
Best: Ever hear of the baby boomers? Birth rates have always been the best thermometer of happiness. The middle class grew by leaps and bounds, pulling in people of all races and backgrounds. A vast array of products was available. Television provided information and knowledge, as well delightful pop culture entertainment. Technology made life more comfortable than ever imagined.
Worst: Millions were left behind in your baby boomer paradise. Women had few choices. The poor stared into the candy store with noses pressed outside the window. Segregation was a fact of life in the South and North. Gays and so-called communists were maligned and mistreated. Television produced cultural conformity. Large, faceless corporations established their power and learned how to manipulate behavior. If it were such a wonderful place, why did the youth of America revolt against all of its values in the 1960s?
Best: Because peace and prosperity created an adolescent security blanket. Idealist and immature baby boomers had the luxury to indulge radical ideas and dabble their toes in Lake Rebellion. The 1960s is a tribute to just how good the 1950s were. And most of those who left the mainstream came back faster than you could say “reality check.”
Worst: Look at 1950s movies. Either they were serious critiques or frivolous escapism: “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Pillow Talk.” The most renowned playwright of the decade, Arthur Miller, touched national nerves with “The Death of a Salesman.” In “The Crucible,” he portrayed one of the most destructive themes of the 1950s: anti-communism – the effort to enforce a conservative social and political agenda.
Best: Your “agenda” was little more than public opinion. What you call “anti-communism” was first and foremost a legitimate issue of national security. We were in a Cold War. Keep in mind, the excesses you allude to were stopped.
Worst: The 1950s saw the greatest build-up of military power in history. We lived under the cloud of nuclear annihilation. This took a far greater toll than imagined on our national psyche. We built bomb shelters. Children hid under their schools desks for air raid drills. It was a Republican, President Eisenhower, who coined the phrase and warned us of the “military-industrial complex.”
Best: The kids who “ducked and covered” at school laughed at the experience a few years later. Our build-up was a justified defensive military response. Those weapons were never used. Today, Russia and the U.S. are allies, and largely on our terms. In case you missed the news, we won the Cold War.
Worst: I wouldn’t want to live in the 1950s. It represents the old institutions, ideas and culture we have been struggling to reform for two generations.
Best: The era was hardly perfect, but it’s easy to criticize the past with hindsight. In 2011, most of what you’ve complained about has changed. This was possible because of the secure foundation established in the 1950s. We should only have the consensus, prosperity and fundamental values of that era.
Related Post: How did we cope with the fear of nuclear war? Click on: Baby Boomers: Life in the Freezer