The happy fifties: was it a happy decade or is it simply coloured by nostalgia? Essay

IntroductionWhenever I recall my own childhood, I do so with a warm glow of happiness because all that comes to my mind are the good memories. If there are any down moments, then they have to be truly remarkable to stand out. It is not unusual for people to color the past in bright vivid hues when comparing it to the present, and to relegate the nastier darker shades of it to an unexplored corner.

The nineteen fifties was a time of hope and new beginnings for people all over the world. The Second World War had just come to an end, the great depression had come and gone; it looked as if finally, this generation that had survived two world wars and economic upheaval was getting a chance to live life in the balance.For Americans, there was a sense of bigger, better things to come. The economy was booming, fathers and sons were back from the war and most people were just beginning to piece their lives together. Because of all the good things going round, the fifties is looked back at with great fondness. However, not all American citizens embraced the fifties with great cheer and goodwill.

There was still open racism being practiced against the blacks and other minority groups in the form of segregation, women had limited rights and both groups had almost zero political say.The decades beforeAs with the rest of the world, the decades preceding the 1950 were a time of peril and uncertainty. There were two major wars with hardly twenty years between them. In 1929, the stock market crashed and with it pulled down the lives of millions.

There was great destitution, hopelessness and a bleak outlook for the future. Most American families at the time, had sons and other male relatives fighting in the war abroad. The culmination of the war, for America, was when Japan struck Pearl Harbor on that early December morning in 1941. The war would go on for several more years, bringing more pain and grief and loss before its end in 1945. Definitely, the decades that preceded 1950 were not the world’s or America’s finest.

The decades afterIn contrast to the period running from the 1920s to the 1940s, the years after 1950 were a good time for America, at least in the economic and democratic sense of the word. Seeds that had been planted before had begun to take root and the results were beginning to come to light. The American economy was the largest in the world. The country had emerged victorious over Russia and communism in the Cold War and the civil rights movements agitating for equality were spreading like a wild fire across the country.

Actually, the 1970s were better times for minority groups and women as compared to the 1950s.What the fifties meant for science, culture and minority groupsFor some, the fifties were good times, for others there were still the hurdles of gender, sexuality and race to overcome. Because of the strong sense of anticommunism, the 1950s America was ultra conservative.

Traditional values such as family were firmly upheld. It was however in this decade that America came to terms with juvenile delinquency, when teenagers started rebelling against the straight jacket approach to doing things. This was the decade of Rock n Roll and the Beatniks who broke out and tried to create their own identity.

Of course they were greatly chastised. Religious revival was also at a peak with popular movements such as ‘the Youth for Christ’, the American Council of Christian Churches and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association among others (Young, 2004).There were technological advances made in the field of science. In 1953Francis Crick and James Watson discovered the structure of the DNA that would prove so crucial to further research in the field of human genetics. In 1954, the first ever organ transplants on a human were performed in both Boston and Paris. Explore 1 was launched into space in 1957 as man began his exploration of space (Young, 2004).

The idea of consumerism was beginning to take shape. With the increased prosperity of the country, people began buying for luxury, not just for need. The increase in the number of household goods such as television sets and radios witnessed exponential growth over the decade. This was also the decade when Americans ‘discovered’ the automobile and by the end of the fifties, the number of car owners had almost tripled as compared to the beginning of the fifties (Young, 2004).However, all was not rosy; there was still the issue of racial segregation and discrimination of minority groups.

Civil rights activist had just begun to strike out against institutional practices that promoted the prejudices against African Americans along with other minority groups such as Latin Americans.  Because of the strong sense of anti-communism, immigrants who originated from Europe lived under a certain amount of fear and uncertainty for their future. There were prejudices and stereotypes held about them that did not help incorporate them into the American society.Women’s rights had not even emerged strongly by the 1950s. Topics such as rape and sexual harassment were still found to be taboo and rarely ever saw the day of light. There was plenty of domestic violence going on unchecked because it was considered the norm for a husband to raise his hand against his wife or other members of his family.

Being gay was a complete anathema and few dared disclose their sexual orientation publicly. It completely went against the grain of the conservative and religious practices of the time. Homosexuality was seen as something terribly evil and antisocial and would often lead to ostracizing by the society overall and even the closest family members (Young, 2004).

ConclusionThere is no doubt that the 1950s marked a turning point for America as a country; a lot had happened in the three decades before that had brought enormous shift not only in America’s position on the international platform but also in her internal cultural and social relations as well. The transition and change, as is almost always the case, was not completely smooth. America as a country had to face the problems of gender inequality, racial and ethnic discrimination even as she enjoyed enormous economic achievements. If the latter years after the fifties are anything to show for it, then the country must have taken steps in the right direction. The fifties may have had downturns that are not to be forgotten, but it is a decade that helped forge a new American identity for the twentieth century and beyond.

ReferencesYoung, N., K (2004). The 1950s, Greenwood Publishing Group: Westport, Connecticut.