The 1950s

I was a child in the 1950s.
From the half-century distance of 2009,
here are the main issues that I can recall the media raising back then
(for Wikipedia’s version of the 1950s, click here):
  • The threat to America from the Soviet Union and communism.

  • Sputnik, the space race, and
    the competition with the USSR in math and science
    (which led to, among other things, the National Defense Education Act,
    to which I am personally indebted,
    as it quite generously funded my first three years of graduate school,
    as an NDEA Fellow).

  • Segration and civil rights for what were then called
    “the colored people” or “the Negroes”.

  • Corruption, especially in labor unions
    (Jimmy Hoffa, the Kefauver hearings, On The Waterfront).

  • Concerns about juvenile delinquency.
    (E.g. “Officer Krupke”, The Blackboard Jungle, The Wild One.
    As you can see,
    people in the 1950s spent a lot of time worrying about the young.
    And look at how we turned out!)

  • Concerns about (not) getting, and finding a cure for, polio,
    which was a much publicized and feared health threat back then,
    leading to the “March of Dimes”.

Miscellaneous Articles


The van Gogh of the Gross-Out
New York Times, 2009-07-23

[An excerpt:]

He [Basil Wolverton]
reserved some of his most repellent effects for images of women.
Like so much of American culture in the ’50s,
when a new feminist consciousness was just beginning to coalesce,
his work comes across as spectacularly misogynistic.

[Note the collection of images which accompanies the article,
and in particular,
the indeed spectacularly hideous and misogynistic cover illustration
from the May 1954 issue of Mad,
(mis)labeled “Beautiful Girl of the Month Reads ‘Mad’ ”.

Apologies to women really are owed for such brutal and unfair depictions.
(I can legitimately plead that I was part of the target audience for Mad back then,
not part of the magazine’s editorial staff.
But I must admit that surely reading that kind of crap,
which was quite fashionable back then among those boys affecting “sophistication”,
surely affected my outlook, and no doubt that of many others.)]