Thursday, July 2, 2009

Last Day of the Fifties

Since we don't have school tomorrow, my teacher made sure she crammed all the information she could into our heads about the 50s. Today we talked about the other side of the 50s such as the rise of the teenager, rock & roll, the roots of the sexual revolution and teenage pregnancy.

We first started off with juvenile delinquency and the concerns many adults had for it. There was a lot of public anxiety about juvenile delinquency and fear of the youth becoming complacent and spoiled due to the growing prosperity. Comic books that were graphic and violent were also a nuisance and in the late 40s, a group of teachers and parents gathered comic books and burned them. Movies such as Rebel Without A Cause also caused worry, especially with white middle class Americans because the movie portrayed a white middle class teenager rebelling.

Next was rock & roll, and we started off with Blackboard Jungle and the song Rock Around the Clock. Rock & roll was very surprising for adults, seeing how before rock & roll came out, most songs were ballads and had a soft tune and was very sweet and romantic. Also all of the rock & roll songs were about sex. The lyrics, sound, and movements all revolved around sex which caused great controversy.

We then talked about the roots of the sexual revolution began with Playboy. Although Playboy had a lot of nude pictures of women and was thought of as obscene, the magazine was also classy and was very popular to the white middle-class. Playboy had a mainstream appeal and was actually a legit magazine with articles and news about the world. Playboy helped start of an alternative masculine identity that didn't involve the suburban man in a gray flannel suit. It let the middle class man out of conformity and went against the nuclear family ideal. We then talked about homosexuality and the Homophile Movement. There were organizations made for homosexual people in L.A. and San Francisco.

Our last subject was teenage pregnancy which rose dramatically, for both married women and single women. Since a lot of teenage girls were getting married, that also meant they were having babies too. In 1957, 97/1000 girls between the ages of 15 and 19 were pregnant.

We then watched Pleasantville and I saw the movie in a whole different way. The movie expressed the view that a lot of people had about the 50s that wasn't really true. It showed that the 50s wasn't perfect and that life was more than the repetition of conformity.

Today was a great final day of the 50s. I learned a lot and realized the 50s wasn't really the ideal suburban era that was perfect. I'm glad I got to see the movie Pleasantville in another light. Hopefully next week with my new teacher will be just as fun. Tomorrow we go to New York to visit Columbia University and I can't wait. Columbia is one of my top choices and I am soooo exited to be able to go on a tour. I'll talk to everyone tomorrow to brag about my great day!

1 comment:

Don Gosney said...


It’s interesting that you wrote that rock & roll was all about sex. Music from earlier eras was also about sex to some degree but rock & roll seemed to entice kids to dance and the dancing SEEMED sexual to the older generation.

Take a look at jitterbugging from the 30’s and 40’s and tell me that it wasn’t sexually suggestive. Dancers’ bodies were all over each other and they even tossed each other about in such a way to display the undergarments of the young ladies. Shocking!

Compare the reactions of the old fogies of that generation towards rock & roll dancing with the reaction of today’s old fogies with regards to today’s dancing with the grinding, freaking and simulated ex on the dance floor (and sometimes unsimulated). Is there really a difference? Or perhaps we’ve become more accepting. Perhaps we even think back to the reactions of our parents and want to make sure we don’t come across the same way.

Playboy’s big influence was in the fact that it changed the laws so that ownership of such “filth” was no longer a crime. More importantly, it changed the postal regulations so it was no longer a federal crime to mail the magazine.

Take a look at the old Betty Page photos which, even by the standards of Playboy of the day were considered obscene and sent people to prison for possessing them.

[Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Within months of the invention of photography the French started taking and selling French Postcards. These were postcards with photos of naked women on them. Some even showed sexual acts on them. Keep in mind that we’re talking about the 1840’s when Zachary Taylor was still President. The French passed some obscenity laws, though, to deal with this “problem” While it was legal to take these types of photos and it was legal to own these types of photos, it became unlawful to SELL these types of photos. As you might expect, that law didn’t do a whole lot of good.]

Pleasantville did a great job of showing how sanitary our TV and movies were back in the 50’s. I loved the scene where Jennifer goes into the bathroom and there’s no toilet. TV people just didn’t do that kind of thing back then.