The 1950's - Was Life Better?

by Christopher P Clark - Date: 2010-11-02 - Word Count: 548 Share This!

Iconic TV shows like I Love Lucy, Dennis the Menace and My Three Sons seem to indicate that the 1950s were a time of wholesomeness. World War II had come to an end, we'd survived the economic depression preceding it, and more and more families were getting used to suburban life. Norman Rockwell was painting similarly iconic images of American life --- which would be published in Life Magazine. Kids rode on pedal cars, while teens ate at drive-in restaurants and sock-hops were all the rage.

Though this is certainly the picture most of us have when we think of the 1950s - especially for those of us not old enough to have lived through this decade ourselves - how well does this media portrayal match up with what was actually happening? As it turns out, this nostalgic picture of the fifties was perhaps more peaceful than what was going on in real life. The first rumblings of the Civil Rights movement were starting to pick up speed, though these new ideas had not yet disrupted everyday life for most of America. In 1955 Rosa Parks was arrested for refusing to change seats on a public bus, followed by the integration of high schools in 1957 with the "Little Rock Nine." These Arkansas students were prevented from entering the high school by the National Guard, acting on orders from the Governor. Eventually, a mandate from President Eisenhower and 11,000 soldiers helped to integrate the school.

The Civil Rights movement wasn't the only change impacting daily life in America, though it was one of the first postwar movements to do so. In the 1950s, women were relegated to the kitchen and "homemaking," and the patriarchal society put men at the head of the household. Young men and women may not have had as much of a say in their own lives, either. Societal roles dictated how boys and girls should act - and required that young women were "proper" and ladylike. Still, many who were children during this era look fondly back on the wholesome and imaginative toys of their youth, quite unlike the bright plastic and battery-operated contraptions of today.

Drug use and alcohol abuse was common in the decades predating World War II, and just as likely in the 1950s. The 1950s were a time when smoking was socially accepted - it wasn't until 1965 that cigarette manufacturers were required to include warning labels on cigarettes. Let's not forget that there were plenty of gangs in the 1950s, and that organized crime still played an overt role in society. The infamous Al Capone had died in 1947, but the mafia was far from out of the picture. Aside from organized crime, gang violence, racial discrimination and rigid gender roles, we can also add McCarthyism and the fear of communism that came along with the Cold War.

Ultimately, though the fifties may not have been idyllic for everyone, many people remember the decade fondly. After all, life was much simpler back then - with less plastic and advertising, a much simpler landscape of TV shows, and of course no cell phones or internet. Today, many parents are looking to get back to these simpler times through toys that inspire imaginative play, without the use of plastic or batteries, giving today's children a bit of that idyllic 1950's lifestyle.

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