What Was Life Really Like in 1950's America?

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seoulsearch

OutWrite Trouble
May 23, 2009
12,704
2,974
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#1
Hello Everyone,

Although the 1950's were a little bit before my time, I became aware of short films like this through the comedy show, "Mystery Science Theater 3000," in which they sit and make humorous commentary throughout the presentation.

For the sake of this thread, I found the example I wanted to use without any extra commentary:


Although this film is about 10 minutes long, you only need to watch a few snippets to get the idea of plastic perfection this video makes of a "modern" family. Sheer morbid curiosity has caused me to spend a bit of time looking at other short films such as this in which everyone with perfect hair, perfect smiles, and perfect attitudes changes into perfect dress-up clothes for the perfect dinner. Thanks to YouTube, I have also come to learn that it seems that films like this were made teaching everyday citizens how to "properly" go about every aspect of life, including how to be a good housewife when you get married.

* Is THIS what life was really like in those days? How much of it, in your opinion, is just a fabricated fairy tale? And if so, what was life really like?

* Where and when would these films be shown? And did people really change into dress-up clothes just to go downstairs for an everyday weeknight dinner? Did your father come home from work smiling every night to sit down to pleasant family date?

I have to admit, shorts like these kind of shocked me at first because they seemed SO unrealistic that it reminded me of socialist countries that apparently feed their people propaganda all the time.

I have often heard people a little older than myself talk about "the good old days", and so I would like to know from the people who actually lived through them (or know others who did), was life back then really that good?

The reason I ask is because I've heard some people from older generations express shock over the modern social issues we face today, such as divorce, domestic violence, child abuse, and so forth. When talking to older people, I have sometimes gotten the impression that they feel those things things didn't really exist back then--but my personal suspicion is that there were plenty of the same problems--it's just that the socially polite thing to do was to sweep them under the rug and pretend that they didn't exist. Sure, there might have been fewer divorces--but were the marriages that did stay together really any happy or healthier? I have heard people say, "I stayed with (my husband or wife) for the kids," more than once, and I'm also assuming that it would have been harder for women to leave a husband because there weren't as many job opportunities for them back then.

But, I could be wrong, and I am always interested in what really goes on behind the scenes.

I would rather work through the ugly truth of reality rather than be presented with pretty, polished lies.

And so, I'd like to ask our panel of CC experts: What was life REALLY like during that time?

(This thread is not limited to the 1950's or to the United States -- please feel free to post about any experiences and opinions regarding the discrepencies between advertised ideal lives vs. what actually goes on in real life.)
 

Angela53510

Senior Member
Jan 24, 2011
11,158
2,326
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#2
I was born in 1953, so I remember the later 1950's. Our family was modelled on "Father Knows Best." We ate breakfast, lunch and dinner together. My father drove home from work for lunch. We were allowed a lot of freedom to run and play, but we also did a lot of structured activities. We played a lot of games, and watched TV together. In Canada, we had one channel. My parents always had music going in the house.

The film reminded me that we did dress up for dinner on Sunday, and ate in the dining room. I had forgotten that. (Although I did not dress up during the week!)

I hate to say it, but my family was very much like this. I think it was modelled after various TV shows. We had some big issues in the family, my brother had a birth defect. But, it was not talked about, just hidden in plain sight! My dad always wore a hat and suit in those days. Kind of funny, since he was a professor of PE, and had to do a lot of activities (which he loved!). I think later, he stopped dressing like a businessman in the final years of his career.

Of course, I broke the mold in the 60's and 70's. Watching the video, it makes me realize that no wonder the hippie movement happened, as we broke out of this false and plastic culture. This was not a "Christian" culture, but a standard that evolved after WWII. Although, I guess some people kept with these traditions.
 

Tommy379

Notorious Member
Jan 12, 2016
7,589
1,146
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#3
I think those films were made to screw with the Soviets. Make people living behind the iron curtain, see how much better the west is. Plus, we were trying to promote a society that is wealthier and better behaved. I don't think for one second, life was really like those propaganda films, but I guess it would have been nice.
 

Lynx

Folksy yet erudite
Aug 13, 2014
16,971
4,152
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#4
For some reason I keep thinking about a Casting Crowns song. Something about happy plastic people under shiny plastic steeples...
 

Desdichado

Senior Member
Feb 9, 2014
8,414
617
113
#5
Many factors were involved in the image above.

Renewed optimism after WWII- The economy was improving at a decent clip with greater access to comforts we now take for granted (household appliances, powerful cars, electric power, consumer products). Our "boys were home"...mostly.

The threat of Communism made Americans embrace what made their country unique- Christian cultural foundations, pluralism, republican governing structures, free-markets, "little-platoons," homesteading, rock 'n roll.

It was an odd amalgamation of commercial appeals and national mythology. So there was a kernel of authenticity to it.

I think a central problem with how people judge the 50's image is a lack of appreciation for context. That dream came after a long, long nightmare.
 

Desdichado

Senior Member
Feb 9, 2014
8,414
617
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#6
That and they were made in defiance of what we saw as the Soviet program for the West. Looking around us today, maybe they were not too far off the mark.

I think those films were made to screw with the Soviets. Make people living behind the iron curtain, see how much better the west is. Plus, we were trying to promote a society that is wealthier and better behaved. I don't think for one second, life was really like those propaganda films, but I guess it would have been nice.
 

1ofthem

Senior Member
Mar 30, 2016
2,469
1,073
113
#7
I grew up in the 80s and 90s, but always idolized the 50s because of the way they portrayed it on tv. It looked like everyone was happy, nice and friendly. The worst thing the teens were doing was the "Twist, Locomotive, or mashed potato", and everyone thought cigarettes and butter was good for you...LOL
 

Angela53510

Senior Member
Jan 24, 2011
11,158
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#8
I grew up in the 80s and 90s, but always idolized the 50s because of the way they portrayed it on tv. It looked like everyone was happy, nice and friendly. The worst thing the teens were doing was the "Twist, Locomotive, or mashed potato", and everyone thought cigarettes and butter was good for you...LOL
Hey wait! Butter isn't good for you? I think science has gone back to understanding it is better to eat butter, that comes from cows, than margarine with the entire top of the container being all the chemicals it is made out of.

As for cigarettes, I am allergic to them, and in my family, they were always treated as evil, and no one, even in my extended family smoked. Except my French grandmother who was a terrible addict, and the example for everyone as to why people shouldn't smoke!
 

MattforJesus

Senior Member
Apr 15, 2017
2,673
557
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#9
All I have to say is they had better morals back then, and more morals means better attitude, and behavior, and children obeying their parents more, which they might not have been as perfect as they show in those short films, but they had to be better than today.

I would not say it is plastic if they are trying to teach proper behavior so the family gets along better.

They have a movie playing at the movie theater of a documentary on Mr. Rogers' life, called Won't you be my neighbor, which maybe they think that is what the children need, which Mr. Rogers is the greatest example of a Christian that I have ever seen, although I did not care to watch him when I was a child, but as an adult, and a Christian, he is the whip.

Have they ever done a documentary of anyone that actually has the person in it they had the documentary on that was on the big screen, but they did it with Mr. Rogers, and after 15 years of his death they still can't dig up any dirt on him.

They had better morals back then so they would have better behavior, and the 1960's counterculture movement sucked, and backfired, and was a selfish, immoral movement, that caused more division, and immorality.

My grandparents ate dinner with each other every day, and had great morals, and their children, way past the 1950's, which that is how they were for the most part.

But do not look to the family life if you think they were plastic, but look to people in society in general, and how did they behave, which is a whole lot better than today.

People will basically act according to the people around them, which back at that time they thought people were basically decent, and caring people, but with the advancement of technology, and the counterculture movement, and years after that people now look to people as dogs, and only caring about themselves.

So of course their behavior will be better back then as they honored people more, and honored their parents more.

Oh look there is sweet Suzie, she is such a wonderful girl, and there is ole' Joe, I like ole' Joe for he is a swell guy, but now they have other things to say about Suzie and Joe, and they are not so sweet and swell anymore.

Even Philadelphia was known as the city of brotherly love at one time.

“City of Brotherly Love” has turned into a phrase invoked more often in sarcasm than admiration. In 1994, a Gallup Poll named Philadelphia America’s most hostile place.

My how times have changed.
 

1ofthem

Senior Member
Mar 30, 2016
2,469
1,073
113
#10
Hey wait! Butter isn't good for you? I think science has gone back to understanding it is better to eat butter, that comes from cows, than margarine with the entire top of the container being all the chemicals it is made out of.

As for cigarettes, I am allergic to them, and in my family, they were always treated as evil, and no one, even in my extended family smoked. Except my French grandmother who was a terrible addict, and the example for everyone as to why people shouldn't smoke!
Lol...I guess, butter is like eggs. I never know if eggs are good or bad. They keep going back and forth on it. :unsure:
 

seoulsearch

OutWrite Trouble
May 23, 2009
12,704
2,974
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#11
Hi everyone!

Thank you for your feedback! It's been very interesting to read and I hope that people will continue to share.

One of the reasons why I interpret videos like this as being "plastic" is because, for example, in this short film, there is a huge emphasis in not bringing anything dramatic, gruesome, or "unpleasant" to the dinner table. In other words, put on a plastic smile and tell everyone that your day was simply swell. Even the the video itself says that this is "the polite thing to do."

Maybe families spent more time together back then, I don't know? But the thing I immediately thought of was the fact that most families these days only ever see each other at dinner, so if someone is having a problem they need help with, when else would they talk about it?

For instance, what if one of the kids is being bullied at school, or has a teacher who is constantly picking on them? What if Dad is stressed out by an over-demanding boss? What if Mom is having a feud with a neighbor?

I was just wondering when anyone ever talked about the real issues of real life, and how they worked through them.

I hope people will keep on posting and discussing this issue because I find this to be a fascinating topic.
 

calibob

Sinner saved by grace
May 29, 2018
8,268
5,457
113
Anaheim, Cali.
#12
Hi everyone!

Thank you for your feedback! It's been very interesting to read and I hope that people will continue to share.

One of the reasons why I interpret videos like this as being "plastic" is because, for example, in this short film, there is a huge emphasis in not bringing anything dramatic, gruesome, or "unpleasant" to the dinner table. In other words, put on a plastic smile and tell everyone that your day was simply swell. Even the the video itself says that this is "the polite thing to do."

Maybe families spent more time together back then, I don't know? But the thing I immediately thought of was the fact that most families these days only ever see each other at dinner, so if someone is having a problem they need help with, when else would they talk about it?

For instance, what if one of the kids is being bullied at school, or has a teacher who is constantly picking on them? What if Dad is stressed out by an over-demanding boss? What if Mom is having a feud with a neighbor?

I was just wondering when anyone ever talked about the real issues of real life, and how they worked through them.

I hope people will keep on posting and discussing this issue because I find this to be a fascinating topic.
I remember the 50s a little and denial and pretend ignorance were very much the norm. you'd have to be specific to get an honest answer from me.
 

calibob

Sinner saved by grace
May 29, 2018
8,268
5,457
113
Anaheim, Cali.
#13
I remember the 50s a little and denial and pretend ignorance were very much the norm. you'd have to be specific to get an honest answer from me.
'uncle nic wasn't alcoholic, he just drank too much'. pregnant was a dirty word they couldn't say on TV, not even on doctors soap opras. husbands and ives slept in seperate beds, pregnancy was gods will and birth control was a mortal sin. All socialist were commies who wanted to kill christians and make slaves out of us, war was moral, cigarettes were good for you. white is rite. race music and rock and roll was of the devil add infin item.
 

calibob

Sinner saved by grace
May 29, 2018
8,268
5,457
113
Anaheim, Cali.
#14
oh, homes on TV didn't have toilets but some got killed on nearly every western.:confused:
 

Angela53510

Senior Member
Jan 24, 2011
11,158
2,326
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#15
Hi everyone!

Thank you for your feedback! It's been very interesting to read and I hope that people will continue to share.

One of the reasons why I interpret videos like this as being "plastic" is because, for example, in this short film, there is a huge emphasis in not bringing anything dramatic, gruesome, or "unpleasant" to the dinner table. In other words, put on a plastic smile and tell everyone that your day was simply swell. Even the the video itself says that this is "the polite thing to do."

Maybe families spent more time together back then, I don't know? But the thing I immediately thought of was the fact that most families these days only ever see each other at dinner, so if someone is having a problem they need help with, when else would they talk about it?

For instance, what if one of the kids is being bullied at school, or has a teacher who is constantly picking on them? What if Dad is stressed out by an over-demanding boss? What if Mom is having a feud with a neighbor?

I was just wondering when anyone ever talked about the real issues of real life, and how they worked through them.

I hope people will keep on posting and discussing this issue because I find this to be a fascinating topic.
Kids weren't bullied in the 50's and 60's. Not because they weren't but because there really was no name for it, it was normal, just kids having fun, and don't talk, don't tell. My brother had his birth defect, and was teased and bullied horribly at school. Never once did we learn that, until, (ironically) some newly born again Christian phoned my brother to apologize, as part of his repentance, and opened the door wide for all those bad memories to come out. My brother had to go for counseling, after that, he was so messed up. And none of us had a clue he had been bullied.

No one talked about stuff like that in those days. Everything was very superficial, but yet, sadly perfect. Because no one ever shared their problems with others, because it was impolite and unbecoming.

There was a song in 1968 called "Harper Valley PTA" in which a woman stood up at a PTA meeting and revealed all the foibles of the other people there, because they shunned her for wearing a mini skirt. I think that was the first time it was really implied publicly that people all had issues. But, not in a positive, healing way.

Things have changed so much! And I am glad they have! But, I am also glad my parents sent me to Sunday School, because it was the right thing to do. I am glad I learned about boundaries and limits, and that somethings were right and others were wrong. But, I also am glad that time is over! I hope we can all be kinder and gentler to each other. Although, that doesn't always happen in the BDF, does it? Or real life!
 

trofimus

Senior Member
Aug 17, 2015
10,684
790
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#16
some newly born again Christian phoned my brother to apologize, as part of his repentance, and opened the door wide for all those bad memories to come out. My brother had to go for counseling, after that...
Which leads me to a question:

When you did something horrible in the past, is it better to try to open it, apologize, get to touch with that person... or is it better to let it be in the past so that the memories will not come again?
 
Aug 2, 2009
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#17
If you want to know what life and people were like in the 50's, I suggest watching episodes of Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, The Andy Griffith Show, Lassie, I Love Lucy, My Three Sons, Father Knows Best.

I think Angela's posts here really tell the truth about the 50's, and a couple other people's here too.

My take on the 50's:

I think the 50's was the moral high point of american society. The country had just come out of WWII where millions of young americans lost their lives fighting overseas and the entire country had pulled together for an incredible war effort to support the military by building tanks, planes, ships, guns, etc.... And Before that was the Great Depression of the 1930s where people who had been middle-class were literally starving to death and begging in the streets.

So the 50s was a time of national renewal on both an industrial and cultural scale... The country was ready to put the great depression behind them and focus on the new booming economy. The healthy economy and strong job market enabled a lot of americans to get married, buy a house, a car, raise a family and send their kids to college. It was a prosperous time and whenever you have a prosperous people you will also have high standards, which is where I believe the 'plasticness' that you speak of comes from.

...And then came the 60's... It was a time of rebellion against the very structured, middle-class lifestyle. The hippie movement was very similar to what the Occupy Wall Street movement was about. They hated corporate america (the 1%) and believed that capitalism was evil. History really does repeat itself!

So in the following decades... the country slowly shed its moral inhibitions. I also remember when they couldn't say the word 'pregnant' on tv. In the 70's it was about 'free love' and getting high... In the 80's it was about casual sex (remember AIDS?)...
 
Aug 2, 2009
23,690
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#18
.... the 90's was about abortion rights, punk rock, alternative/grunge music, heavy metal.... the 2000's were about taking prayer out of schools, anything that might violate "church and state", lower church attendance, growing acceptance of atheism, push for gay rights....
 

notuptome

Senior Member
May 17, 2013
14,878
2,451
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#19
I am too young to really remember the 50's not by much but a little is better than nothing. The 50's were the last decade where the bible and prayer were accepted in the public schools. The 60's were a decade of outright rebellion under the excuse of the Vietnam conflict. Drugs became the new religion and God was kicked out of society.

Were we better off in the 50"s? Perhaps but we were certainly less stressed and had less assault on our values, purity and holiness.

For the cause of Christ
Roger
 

seoulsearch

OutWrite Trouble
May 23, 2009
12,704
2,974
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#20
I guess I see every social era as being relative, such when an older person tells me about a time when gasoline was 20 cents a gallon, and weren't those just the good ol' days! However, I will then ask that person what the wages were at that time... and come to find out, it was something like $2 a day for backbreaking work out in the fields from dawn to dusk. Suddenly, those "good ol' days"... kind of sound like just any other working day.

Looking at our discussion of life in the 1950's, what could be said about race relations during that time? For instance, if you had African American neighbors, how would they be treated? Would they be seen as equal to anyone else in the neighborhood?

It's interesting to me how God chooses each of us to be born in a specific era, even though some might feel they were misplaced. Now, God bless everyone who loved that time, but I for one am pretty sure I would not have liked growing up in 1950's America. Even growing up in the 70's and 80's, people did not understand my family at all (Caucasian parents who adopted Asian children.) Even today, one of my relatives is constantly asked, "So... are you a good Korean, or a bad Korean?" :rolleyes:

I was adopted through an agency started by an older farming couple, Harry and Bertha Holt, who had 6 children of their own at the time, in 1956. Harry felt that God was calling him to do something about the orphans left behind by the Korean War, and so, while it took an act of US Congress, not only did they adopt 8 Korean orphans themselves, but they also started Holt International Children's Services, which now serves families in 13 countries.

At the time, however, the Holt's were met with an enormous amount of fear and prejudice, with people accusing them of trying to house spies for the communists, trafficking orphans for slave labor, and disturbing what people saw as the natural, God-given order that families should have (most people were very against interracial families, even by adoption, which I know is a feeling still shared by many today.) I myself have always found this to be quite ironic, and a bit disheartening, seeing as Moses was adopted by someone of another race, and God Himself declares each of His followers to be His adopted children.

I'm pretty sure that I would not have enjoyed life during that particular time frame. Just recently, I saw a movie set in that era in which an African American couple is berated, screamed at, and forbidden from sitting at the front counter of a restaurant, even though there is only 1 other (white) customer in the entire place. They are told that to them, the counter "is full all day, every day", and they are never allowed to sit there. When they turn to leave in shame, the person at the counter who belittled them says pleasantly, "Y'all come back now, ya hear?" as if he'd done nothing wrong... and I'm sure that in his mind, he hadn't--because this is what was socially acceptable at that time.

And after that, I assume, everyone got dressed up in their Sunday best and went to church, just like every good citizen did in those days.

My circle of family and friends is fairly diverse, and I would not have been able to stand watching them be treated this way.

Angela, I am so sorry that your brother was treated in such a horrible and degrading manner. And of course, it's not that the same thing doesn't go on today, but I am thankful that today there is at least some kind of understanding that this behavior is just wrong, and hopefully, something will be done about it.

Zero, it's interesting that you mentioned the "explosion of HIV in the 80's." I read a very interesting article a while back in which it was said that scientists had found blood samples from the 1950's that tested positive for HIV.

I don't know why HIV was "officially" identified and presented 30 years later. Did they not have the technology to identify and classify it back then? Were there not enough cases yet in order to consider it worth mentioning to the public? Or was is something else that was just swept under the rug at the time because it would be too "upsetting" and "impolite" to talk about?

Thank you all very much for your contributions, and please, keep posting and sharing your thoughts.

This has been a very educational discussion for me (especially the history behind the mood of the country at the time), and I hope for others as well.