The 1950’s in the United States of America were characterized by a strong fear of communism, growing consumerism due to a healthy and fast growing postwar industry and the belief that the nuclear family is the heart of the American society. If we examine these three ideologies closer and oppose them to Stephanie Coontz opinion expressed in her essay “Leave It to Beaver and Ozzie and Harriet: American Families in the 1950s,”, we see that many myths existed about the 1950’s.
After World War Two the American economy was on the rise due to the outcome of the war. Some astonishing figures prove that fact, over 50% of the American families moved into middle-class status. The number of salaried workers increased by 61 % and the number of people with discretionary income doubled in the 1950’s. Housing started to explode people moved with their new earned financial independence into the suburbs. By 1960 62% of American families owned their own homes. For many Americans the “good life” was lived in the suburbs.
For middle-class Americans the suburbs became a reality in the 1950s and “suburbia” was an essential part of the new consumer economy. New building techniques, prefabricated parts, and low-priced uninhabited land made the explosion in the suburbs possible. During that period the gross national product grew by almost 250 percent, allowing the government to reinvest in education benefits, housing loans, highway and sewer construction and job training that again benefited the middle-class families.
Within all that financial optimism, consumerism started to spread. After these families had bought houses the biggest boom in consumer spending was in household goods, also food spending rose by 33 % and clothing expenditures rose by 20 %. The development of consumerism can also be seen in the advertisement of the 1950’s most of them targeted the women who stayed at home fulfilling their role as a mother and keeper of the household.
Advertisement for refrigerators, stoves and all kinds of electronic household devices most of the time included a smiling woman how could not imagine how she managed her role without whatever was being praised. Americans were eager to spend their money on goods that had been scarce during World War II. As Stephanie Coontz put it, “the emphasis lay on producing a whole world of satisfaction, amusement, and inventiveness within the nuclear family had no precedents:” Consumerism was also evident in a pursuit of pleasure Americans spend more money on necessities and luxuries.
Credit and credit cards were easier to obtain and by that expensive things were also easier to obtain. Debt rose from $5. 7 million in 1945 to $56. 1 billion in 1960. No other consumer good characterized the era as much as the automobile. The cars were big and powered with accessories lots of chrome and color was marketed. A General Motors designer called the strategies of that time “dynamic obsolescence” to encouraged Americans to see their old car as out of fashion. The number of registered cars in 1945 was 25. million. In 1960 it was 61. 7 million. This is important for us today because consumerism is ever-present today, advertisement suggesting us what we need in order to live according to certain lifestyles we wish to adept to. A second ideology of that time is the belief that the nuclear family has to be the heart of the American society (“nuclear Familialism”) After the Second World War marriage became a “national obsession”, the age for marriage fell as low as 18 years and with that the age of motherhood also.
After the women had helped stabilize the economy during the War, they had to retreat to their role of being a housewife and managing their families. These gender roles are illustrated in “Growing up with Dick and Jane. ”. But the nuclear family is also an after war institution because after man returned from fighting they found a place “beautiful, peaceful, secure, a place to restore faith”. Or as the women’s guide to better living proclaimed:” The family is the center of your living if it isn’t you’ve gone far astray. People who were not living in a family were regarded as “unnatural especially women if they did not seek fulfillment in motherhood”, bachelors on the other hand were regarded as “immature,” infantile,” “narcissistic,” “deviant,” or even “pathological. ” To raise a family was a social constraint of the 1950’s.
This is important for us to understand because even though times have changed and ways in which people live together and raise children have become more versatile, the family still is the most common union between man and women in order to raise children even though families can also exist of two people ith the same sex. But still by most people the most common thing is the nuclear family everything else is still regarded by many as something special. A third ideology of the 1950’s is the strong fear of communism, by the 1930s, communism had become an attractive economic ideology among some in the United States by 1939 the CPUSA had about 50,000 members. After the Second World War as first evidence to the cold war anxieties the U. S. Congress legislated the Alien Registration Act.
Which made it a crime to “knowingly or willfully advocate, abet, advise or teach the duty, necessity, desirability or propriety of overthrowing the Government of the United States or of any State by force or violence, or for anyone to organize any association which teaches, advises or encourages such an overthrow, or for anyone to become a member of or to affiliate with any such association” — and required Federal registration of all foreign nationals. The Act was used to prosecute political organizations and figures.
Another measure taken by the government was the “Federal Employees Loyalty Program” signed by Harry S. Truman it established political-loyalty review boards who determined the “Americanism” of Federal Government employees, if people were found guilty of being a spy or a threat to America than they were terminated. (Mc Carthyism) The cold war fueled the fear of communism resulting in an arms race. And in a competition of the superpowers to gain power internationally by spreading their economic ideologies and in the US’s case trying to stop the spread of the USSR’s ideas.
This is important for us to realize because this fear is still existent in today’s America, when listening to footage about opponents to President Obamas health care program, people on the streets said that creating a social environment would lead to communism and communism is anti-American. Also Republican used the fear and connected negativity of communism in peoples mind to oppose Obamas health care plan. A connection is drawn in people’s mind it seems senseless to me but it still survived so many years after the Cold War and still influences political decisions of potential voters.