Ruined Time Logo clock motif
Page Banner
The 1950s Was a Deceptive Decade
Looking back it’s apparent that although the 1950s was the pivotal decade of the 20th century, it was never the product-perfect paradise people believed it to be. It was a fractured time of change and a relentless Cold War in which the individual was ignored. Airliners flew the Atlantic in nine hours, while makers of Old Gold cigarettes boasted they cured “the world’s best tobacco.” At the same time that the atomic bomb was replaced by a devastating hydrogen bomb, the level of common sense was distorted by rising tides of materialism that, fueled by consumerism, created a deceitful trap which left little to which the disenchanted could turn to - except religion or Freudianism. But God was said to be dead, and it was rumored that psychoanalysis was an endless trial.
Victorious and in tact after the horror of World War II, America was not only the most powerful nation on earth, but it had been freed from the paralyzing Depression of the 1930s. Still, victory was overshadowed by the daunting task of worldwide recovery and the spread of Russian communism. In order to stem that dreadful “Red Tide,” an hysterical race for nuclear supremacy was created. One in which world-wise scientists played leading roles - which was ironic casting because the plot of the arms race was to a great extent fabricated by rabid conservatives. On the high side, the 50s was an era of seductive conformity in which the middle class was liberally educated and rewarded by vested interests. The only price of personal and economic security was a reverential accommodation of puritan ideals.

Caffe Reggio, Greenwich Village

Underground, however, the 50s was a decade in which established limits of human potential were brilliantly revised by artists, musicians, writers, poets, psychologists and activists - most of whom were never properly acknowledged. Collectively they contributed to a consciousness-changing creativity that electrified the times and aroused the demand for individual freedom. The abstract expressionism of Jackson Pollock, the jazz of Charlie Parker, the spontaneous prose of Jack Kerouac, the poetry of Dylan Thomas, the self-actualization of Abraham Maslow, and self-determination of Rosa Parks, were available to everyone because, if art creates windows of seeing, Pollock widened walls. If original music came from space, Parker crystalized sound. If spontaneous prose came from the heart, Kerouac wrote from the mind. If poetry intensified feeling, Thomas rewired the nervous system, and if self-actualization and activism aroused the oppressed, Maslow and Parks revised the human condition.

That was the culture of it. The politics were not so auspicious. By 1950 there seemed to be a menacing antagonism between Democrats and Republicans. Although the average salary was $3,000, and bread was 14c a loaf - and 4 million veterans had gone back to college on the GI Bill of Rights - in a population of 150 million the sale of tranquillizers was alarming. Conservative observers believed this was caused by a lack of religious faith, but more sober critics linked it to communism and the war in Korea. That unexpected scuffle had gone from a U.N. police action to an explosive conflict. Had it not been for Truman’s hardline, and the military genius of MacArthur, the spread of communism would have escalated. However, in 1954, Stalin died of massive constipation and the frenzy of McCarthyism had been quashed. This allowed Esienhower’s “middle of the road” presidency to proceed and end in 1960 with Ike’s prophetic warning of “a military- industrial complex” that turned out to be the seed of a ruinous globalism - something no one, caught in any kind of changing warp, could foresee - certainly no one who’d watched James Dean, read Catcher in the Rye, or James Baldwin’s Go Tell It on the Mountain . . . no one who’d seen a stage performance of Street Car Named Desire or noticed the growing difference between Hollywood movies and foreign films - or the reactionary gap between Lawrence Welk and Elvis Presley.

Web Design by Etherjazz