The Enduring Myths of the 1950s People Should Unlearn
The Enduring Myths of the 1950s People Should Unlearn

The Enduring Myths of the 1950s People Should Unlearn

Larry Holzwarth - December 10, 2021

The Enduring Myths of the 1950s People Should Unlearn
Ozzie, Harriet, David, and Ricky Nelson, stars of The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet. ABC

20. Television shaped America’s remembrance of the 1950s

During the decade itself and in the years since, television created the enduring image of the 1950s. There were four networks in the 1950s, CBS, NBC, ABC, and at the beginning of the decade, DuMont. The latter ceased operation in 1956. On all networks, the evening news programs were short, just fifteen minutes in the beginning. The entertainment divisions were nearly indiscernible from one another. All featured variety programs, situation comedies, and dramatic programs. Those which were set contemporaneously presented a society which excluded the ethnic communities, other than presenting them in a negative manner, such as the perpetrators of crimes, or as the victims. Sitcoms were about White families, with a father working, a mother working as a housewife, and two or three well-behaved, socially successful children. Crises centered around school, or sports, or other problems of suburban life.

The distorted view of the 1950s presented during the decade, which has endured to the present day, excluded large sections of American society. It ignored the social problems of the day, racial tensions, difficulties encountered by veterans re-entering civilian life, an unequal economy, and for the most part, the expanding Cold War. Instead, it presented an America which existed only in a small part of society, and even then, not in the manner imagined by the writers. Few mothers made the beds and cleaned house while wearing pearls. They existed solely on television, where they still can be found on television channels dedicated to nostalgia. The ensuing decades took a more incisive look at American life, even in programs meant solely to entertain. Even so, to many the 1950s remains a time when America was a better place than it is today.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

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“Dwight D. Eisenhower and the birth of the Interstate Highway System”. Lee Lacy, US Army. February 20, 2018. Online

“Business failure rates 1946 – 1964”. Graph, US Department of Commerce. Online

“Montgomery Bus Boycott”. Article, Martin Luther King Institute, Stanford University. Online

“1950-1959 Ballpark Attendance”. Chart, Ballparks of Baseball. Online

“The Pledge of Allegiance”. Article, US History.org. Online

“The Checkers Speech After 60 Years”. Lee Huebner, The Atlantic. September 22, 2012. Online

“Curing Juvenile Delinquency in the 1950s”. John Passaniti, The Great Nuclear Society. February 16, 2013. Online

“All the Violent Shows on TV in Chicago, One Day in 1954”. Rebecca Onion, Slate. January 27, 2014

“The Endless Holiday”. Bruce Hardy, Vanity Fair. October, 2014

“How The CIA Overthrew Iran’s Democracy In 4 Days”. Lawrence Wu, Michell Lanz, National Public Radio. Online

“The Card That Started It All”. Neil Steinberg, Chicago Sun-Times. March 13, 2000

“Forging the Shield. The US Army in Europe, 1951-1962”. Donald A. Carter, Center of Military History, US Army. Online

“The Girls Who Paved the Way”. Gabrielle Levy, US News and World Report. June 1, 2018

“Beat movement”. Article, Britannica.com. Online

“Uncovering the History of the Hula Hoop”. Cie McCullough Buschle, Wired. November 1, 2018. Online

“The controversial history of Levittown, America’s first suburb”. Noah Sheidlower, Untapped New York. Online

“How the GI Bill’s Promise Was Denied to a Million Black WWII Veterans”. Erin Blakemore, History.com. June 21, 2019

“Births to teenagers in the United States, 1940-2000”. Report, Centers for Disease Control (CDC). September 25, 2001. Online

“The Impact of Television in 1950s America”. Steve Wiegand, Dummies.com. Online

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