The United States in the 1950s: the "good old days"?
Among older Americans, there is a common nostalgic feeling of the 1950s, which they tend to consider the greatest time in American history. Subjectively speaking, this may be true according to their individual perception of life. Nevertheless, it may not be the accurate representation of the era because of some objective reasons, such as discrimination or the scarcity of means of obtaining information.
First of all, the saudade of older people is a normal thing. People tend to remember good things from the past. Psychologically speaking, the human brain wants to conserve energy by establishing habits. The past is always easier when people had already had their habits and routines. Changes require mental effort for adaptation, which, initially, can be quite uncomfortable. For example, older people who are used to sending mails may have a hard time learning how to use technology to send text messages. For them, mails are the “better” way to communicate.
Furthermore, it is understandable that some people might have had lived through great experiences in the 1950s. People who had some types of privileges might be able to lead a good life in the 50s for various reasons. For example, white men, with or without a high school degree, were able to support their families thanks to the growth in economy during that time. This allowed other family members to have more time for other things without the constant worry about finance. Today, it is hard for anyone to find a well-paid and secure job without a college degree. Then, wives could stay home to do chores and spend time with their kids. Thus, family members had more quality interaction, communication, and connection. Since the family is the basic unit of a society, the positive family bond, in turn, positively affects the general emotional state of everybody.
Nevertheless, the 1950s might not have been great for a lot of other people. There was common discrimination based on race, sexual orientation, or social status. Black people could have been treated unfairly in various social situations, especially in the South. For example, they could even be lynched. Similarly, people of different color or origin faced racial segregation as well. For example, white women were the first (among women) to have the right to vote. Other women of color still had a long way to go before they were granted that right. Besides, non-heterosexual people were also discriminated against. The government tried to repress those orientations and they also had to face strong social prejudice. They were considered mentally sick. As mentioned above, not all women had the right to vote in the 1950s. They had been fighting for this fundamental right for decades, but not all women had the right to vote until much later. Along with it, women were expected to stay home and not go out to work. Some of them were satisfied with that lifestyle, but we can be sure that it prevented a lot of women from pursuing their dream of education or career. In other words, it was an incredibly divisive society!
Apart from discrimination, there were other things that could have made the 1950s not as great as many people think. For instance, they did not have electronic devices that we do nowadays. They did have TVs, although not all people did. However, they had limited selection of channels and information. They might not experience it as a lack of means of obtaining information, but it is objectively true. For example, it would not have been possible for people to find a lot of Japanese entertainment materials like anime or manga. This shuts off chances of introducing other pop cultures to people who might be interested in East Asian things. Or, if someone in the 50s wanted to learn to speak Turkish for whatever reason, it would have been extremely difficult to find resources. Even if they could find some books, their aim of learning to communicate orally would have been very hard to accomplish. Today, with the help of an average phone, we can easily find numerous YouTube videos that can aid us in such study.
Given these points, it is true that some people might have had a better time in the 1950s. Still, many people of different race, origin, or sexual orientation faced discrimination. The general population did not have a lot of means to engage in other leisure or academic pursuits, such as learning new languages. Hence, it is not the accurate representation for many other individuals and for everybody as a whole.
Thien D. Nguyen, Dec. 2020