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Multimedia History Essay

Conformity Following World War II America saw an extreme decade of both conformity and nonconformity. A strong post-war economy meant there was money to spend. Settling down, raising a family, and owning a home were the established goals of the American dream. Many tried to attain the ideal family depicted on TV shows such as Leave It to Beaver and Father Knows Best. Deviating from this popular culture was the “Beat Generation.” The post-war economic boom of the 1950’s in the U.S. resulted in overwhelming prosperity in comparison with the rest of the world. This economic boom produced a white, middle-class consumer culture in which that population had more money and time in which to pursue leisure activities such as television viewing and movie-going. These leisurely pastimes produced a conforming American popular culture. We define conformity as behavior in accordance with the expectations of a social group or adherence to societal and cultural norms. In the 1950’s, these strict social norms were communicated primarily through television.

Between 1952 and 1958 the amount of households owning a television set tripled from 3 million to 9 million. TV advertising created new consumer markets and TV sitcoms from the 1950’s portrayed the conservative values and mores of the ideal American life. “Domestic” comedies were very popular and portrayed the stereotypical suburban white family in neighborhoods seemingly unaware of racial discrimination and ethnic problems, and where mothers never desired or were expected to work outside the home. During a Father knows Best episode it seemed that any problems facing the family could easily be solved in a 30-minute time slot. Shows like this promoted honesty and always had a strong moral lesson to end the program. Westerns were also extremely popular. The pioneering idea of cowboys living in the wild and woolly west where good and bad, right and wrong, were evident was very popular during this era.

On the other hand, Dobie Gillis appealed more to teenagers as one of the main characters, Maynard G. Krebs, belonged to the “beat generation.” Writer Jack Kerouac coined the term “beat generation” which signified artists who were “beat down.” Members included a loose-knit group of writers, musicians, painters, and other artists. Centered around New York City and later San Francisco, the Beats were the first to introduce drug use and heavy drinking into this underground society. They enjoyed and incorporated African-American music, such as jazz and blues into their works and they attended late-night clubs. These people were the real non-conformists of the 1950’s. Beats became exiles within the American culture as they denounced middle-class materialism, racism and dullness. They were a reaction to the “Silent Generation” of the 1950’s. In “Howl,” poet Allen Ginsberg explains the Beats were merely answering the “calls for the unleashing of basic human needs and desires.” However, this deviance from the popular norms may, in effect, be seen as conformity to that particular subculture. The beats had different views of American society. They experimented with new sexual lifestyles, helping to usher in a sexual revolution. During the 1950’s, teenagers experienced a new sexually charged phenomenon.

In 1948, Alfred Kinsey caught the world by surprise when he published Sexual Behavior in the Human Male, the first bestseller about sex. Women had always been expected to wait for sex until marriage, and adults considered Kinsey’s work a social upheaval. However, it actually opened up a lot of people to the topic of sex who really knew nothing about it. With the cold war in full force during the 1950’s, U.S. citizens lived in constant fear. Many feared the possibility that World War III with atomic weapons could start at any time. To take precautions, children were taught to “duck and cover” in case of a bombing. In reality this was little defense against an atomic bomb. The cold war greatly influenced 1950’s society as Americans sought to protect themselves from the Soviet threat. The people were open to a hero, and one emerged in senator Joe McCarthy, or so they thought. Joe McCarthy was desperate to gain fame, so during a speech he declared the Department of State was full of communists, and he knew their names. His anti-communist crusade struck hard at the film industry and literature.

Although senator McCarthy was never able to convict any communists, he influenced books and movies greatly as many actors and writers of that day were maligned, blacklisted from work, or self-exiled to Europe. Alex, add info on (in you own words from the popular culture site): Teenagers adapting to rapidly changing times = own new fashions, music of rock and roll which integrated black and white Americans considered a fundamental generation gap with the music of their parents, rebelling against sexual boundaries and questioning authority. Epitomized in the persona of actor James Dean in the movie Rebel without a Cause and the leading character of the anguished and ultimately mentally ill main character in f J. D. Sallinger’s book, Catcher in the Rye. Resulted in the baby boomers seeking major societal changes in the 1960’s.

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