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The Fabulous Fifties… or Were They? – clip

Leonard Steinhorn / American University

Were the 1950s about Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best? Or were they Emmett Till and Rebel Without a Cause? Were they years of American abundance and democratic triumph? Or was it a time of atomic anxiety and Joseph McCarthy? We often think of the Fifties as a bland and placid decade: an era of conformity and suburban Levittowns, of gray flannel suits for men and domesticity for women. And to some extent, that’s exactly the way it was. But underneath the surface something else was going on. We tend to remember eras with the sepia-toned images of memory, but the Fifties was a complex decade that in many ways planted the seeds of the culture wars we are living with today. In this course, Professor Steinhorn will dive into Fifties politics, music, media, and race relations. We’ll look at the Cold War and its contradictions, and the rise of suburbia and mass consumption. We’ll discuss popular culture and the impact of television, and we’ll see how the Fifties led to the Sixties. There’s a great line from the classic 1954 film The Wild One: when Marlon Brando’s character is asked “Hey, Johnny, what are you rebelling against?” he shoots back “Whaddya got?” That, and the more conventional view of the Fifties, will be at the heart of this class.

Leonard Steinhorn

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