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America in the 1950s Society & Culture.

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1 America in the 1950s Society & Culture

2 Warm Up Which US president pulled-off the biggest upset in presidential election history when he won in 1948? A = Truman Which president used the CIA to overthrow left-leaning governments in Guatemala and Iran? A = Eisenhower

3 MO What was the U2 incident?

4 Post-War Prosperity Stark departure from Depression & War
People want to enjoy the good life. Main-Stream Cultural Image of Good life: Owning a House w/ a lawn and a white picket fence. Married w/ 2.5-kids. Women are supposed to be homemakers (Retreat from “Rosie the Riveter” & return to the Cult of Domesticity).


6 Economic Boom s = Time of greatest economic prosperity in the nation’s history Peaked in the 1960s. Americans had the most wealth of any people in the history of the world.

7 GI Bill Servicemen’s Readjustment Act.
$ for returning vets. To get vocational training, go to college, buy homes, etc. Helps send more Americans to college than ever before. Helps more Americans own homes than ever before.

8 A Time of Conformity Many historians tend to stress the amount of conformity that existed in the 1950s. Many people sought to be like the main stream cultural ideal. This leads to an emphasis on materialism “Keeping up with the Joneses” = If your neighbors own something, you need to have it too.

9 Moving to the Suburbs New prosperity means that more people can afford to own homes. Many whites begin moving out of the city to the suburbs—housing communities outside of cities. Levittowns (suburb communities of pre-made homes) are the epitome of this new suburban life.




13 TV 1950s are when TV’s burst on to the scene. Households that own TVs
1950 = 3.9% 1960 = 86.7% Instrumental in spreading main-stream cultural ideals.

14 Consumer Culture Prosperity of the 1950s and 1960s is consumer driven (rather than investment driven). Increased prosperity (& more goods available) led new levels of middle-class mass consumption. TV helps to fuel this. Mickey Mouse Club—kids bought MMC merchandise. Modern kitchens and appliances.


16 Increased Highways 1950s saw unprecedented building of highways.
Federal Highway Act of 1956 = $25-millon for new highways. More people had cars More people lived in suburbs.


18 The H-Bomb Hydrogen Bomb (The “Super”) Edward Teller 1952

19 Bomb Shelters Fear of Nuclear War during the Cold War led many Americans to build Bomb Shelters.


21 Baby Boom 1945-1962 Increased Prosperity
More people can afford to have kids.

22 Dr. Benjamin Spock Wrote influential book on child care: Baby and Child Care. Said that a woman’s chief responsibility is to be a mother. Must put the child’s needs before her own. Lots of pressure on women.

23 Dr. Kinsey Biologist at Indiana University
Wrote best-selling books about sexual behavior. Were extremely controversial

24 Playboy Magazine Hugh Hefner--1953

25 Review What was the “GI Bill”?
What were the most famous suburban developments called? Who wrote the best-selling book on child rearing and what did it say good mothers should do? What was the U.S. population explosion that occurred after WWII and lasted into the 1960s called?

26 More Review Who was the most prominent figure o the 2nd Red Scare?
A = Senator Joseph McCarthy What was the name of the best selling book about the discontent sufferd by many middle-class house wives during the 1950s that helped give rise to modern feminism? A = The Feminine Mystique Who wrote the above mentioned book? A = Betty Friedan What was the name of the authors and poets who wrote in a modernist style and rejected the social norms of the 1950s? A = The Beats

27 Alienation Despite many Americans buying-in to main stream cultural ideals of the 1950s, many felt alienated. People feel unfulfilled by emphasis on conformity and material possessions. Women & Many Minorities Some Youths Beats Theme of alienation and disillusionment is present in much of the art of the 1950s (literature, poetry, paintings, plays, etc.)

28 Women While society held that women should be homemakers, the reality was that more women were entering the workforce than ever before. Mainly clerical and service jobs. Many people needed 2-income households to buy the material goods they felt that they should have.

29 Many women who remained at home felt stifled by their roles.
The sale of tranquilizers skyrocketed (“Mother’s Little Helper”). Betty Freidan in the Feminine Mystique maintained that the lack of fulfillment experienced by many housewives was the genesis of he women’s movement in the 1960s.

30 Friedan became a major figure in the burgeoning feminist movement.

31 Women in the Workforce While popular culture portrayed a women’s role as a homemaker, the 1950s saw a great increase in the number of women entering the workplace. More 2-income families than ever before due to pressures of consumer culture. Conversely, Dr. Benjamin Spock, Baby and Child Care held that a mother should be at home giving her full attention to her children. This contrast between social norms and economic realities caused tension.

32 Youth Culture Many youth sought to emulate the stereotypes of the main stream. They wore poodle skirts and sweaters. Hung out at the soda shop, etc.

33 Youth Rebellion Other youths, however, rebelled against the cultural norms of the time. The most popular images of youth rebellion were the leather jacketed greaser and the brooding young man.


35 The Beats Poets and Writers who rejected contemporary American society. Alan Ginsburg— “Howl.” Jack Kerouac– On The Road William Burroughs—Naked Lunch

36 Ginsburg and Kerouac

37 Beatniks

38 Main Stream Lit./Theatre
J.D. Salinger– Catcher in the Rye. John Updike – Rabbit, Run. Grace Metalious – Peyton Place Arthur Miller – Death of a Salesman All deal with themes of alienation.

39 Film Marlon Brando and James Dean are the actors most emblematic of the Youth Rebellion. Marilyn Monroe is at her height. Doris Day is the archetype of the main-stream persona.

40 Music With advent of TV, radio begins to rely more on music.
Term “Disc Jockey” conceived. Rock and Roll is born. Is an amalgamation of styles—mainly blues and country. White performers like Elvis Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis rise to prominence by emulating the style of black musicians. Elvis is the biggest star, he is known as “The King.” Other big-names are: Chuck Berry, Little Richard, the Big Bopper, and Ritchie Valens. Embraced mainly by teens and young adults so is thus form of youth rebellion.


42 Art in the 50s Abstract Expressionism is the dominant style of painting. Centered in NYC. Main Artists are: Jackson Pollock, Alan Rothko, Robert Motherwell, Willem DeKooning. Edward Hopper is more a traditionalist. His paintings show isolated, anonymous individuals.

43 Jackson Pollock

44 Edward Hopper

45 Mark Rothko Color Field

46 Post War Inventions and Breakthroughs
Salk Vaccine—1954, Prevents Polio. DDT—Chemical Pesticide that protected crops from pests and prevented diseases caused by insects such as Typhus and malaria. Only later was it found to be toxic to humans and animals. UNIVAC—Universal Automatic Computer. Developed by Remington Rand Company.

47 Fast Food More cars and highways lead to Fast Food Restaurants.
McDonald’s is the leading “franchise” restaurant.

48 1950s: Good Times for Everybody?
The economic boom applied mainly to middle-class whites. African Americans and Latinos generally did not share in the good times.

49 The 1950s have often been described as a time of social and cultural conformity. To what degree is this statement true?


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