DBQ- Fifties Using the documents and your knowledge of the period, explain how the consumer economy of the 1950s affected the American family. Document A QuickTime™ and a TIFF (Uncompressed) decompressor are needed to see this picture. Source: Norman Rockwell Pictures for the American People (NY. 1999) Document B More than 10 percent of mothers in one study reported that their children had asked for something they had seen on television; another recorded that words repeated in commercials entered the vocabulary of infants before they could even read. Source: Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster, The Century (NY. 1998). Document C In the late nineteenth century, it was the department store that tried to create a magical world, attracting patrons by arousing consumer fantasies. By the late twentieth century, it was the mall that was fusing consumption, entertainment, and desire. In cites and towns in every part of America, malls became not just places for shopping, but often centers of a much-altered community life as well. Source: Alan Brinkley, American History A Survey 10th edition Document D Many fathers and mothers go off to a job miles away. It may consist of dull, repetitive, impersonal work that gives not gratification in itself. Then the satisfaction has to come from the money earned and the position held. Actually they are narrow, meager substitutes for the joy of creating something useful and beautiful the way a craft worker does. The focus on money and position tends to foster rivalry between workers, between neighbors, and at times between working husbands and wives in place of the warm glow that comes from working cooperatively for the benefit of family or community. Source: Dr. Spock’s Baby and Child Care (NY. 1945) Document E The "family car" that ordinary people could afford had been planned in the thirties, but never developed because of the war. By the fifties the age of mass motoring had arrived at last. Mass production, cheapness and efficiency could best be achieved by a few really large firms in which all the processes were highly mechanized. Source: Nathaniel Harris, The Forties and the Fifties (ca. 1975). Document F Intellectuals made a fetish of not owning an "idiot box"; preachers thundered that TV would corrupt the morals of the young. One movie tycoon, alarmed that theater attendance was dropping by the millions, said with more hope that foresight: "Video isn’t able to hold onto the market it captures after the first six months. People soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." Source: This Fabulous Century 1950-1960 (1970, NJ). Document G F o c Q uic kT ime ™ a n d a T I F (U n co mp r e ss e d) d ec om p re s so r ar e ne e de d t s ee this p i tu re . Source: Janet Stecher and Susan Lewis (1993). Norman Rockwell Pictures for the American People (NY 1999). My strong right arm built the ship. Built the ship that sailed to war. My strong right arm built the ship, Built the ship, And what was all that for? Document H For professional men (who tended to work in the city, at some distance from their homes), suburban life generally meant a rigid division between their working and personal worlds. For many middle-class married women, it meant an increased isolation from the workplace. Source: Alan Brinkley, American History A Survey 10th edition Document I F o Q uic kT ime ™ a n d a T I F (U n co mp r e ss e d) de c om p re s so r ar e ne e de d t s ee this pic tu re . Source: Alan Brinkley, American History A Survey 10th edition Document J QuickTime™ and a T IFF (Uncompressed) decompressor are needed to see this picture. Source: http://www.panamair.org/1950ads.htm Essay September 2, 1945 marked the end of WWII, one of the greatest conflicts in which the U.S. had ever been involved. Though the war dramatically altered European societies, the evolution of U.S. society had only just begun. The end of the war brought the return of thousands of tired men and boys to their homes, jobs, and their families. Hard workingwomen were taken out of their industrial occupations and pushed back into the kitchen, and into their early "traditional" roles. The 1950’s not only brought an increase in family size but the consumer economy experienced a "boom" of its own. In analyzing the change in men and women’s occupations and tactics the consumer industries used to sell new merchandise and the effect both have on family values it is clear with the rise in consumerism the traditional new occupational opportunities separated the family by drawing parents into roles outside of the home. The products of this changing consumer industry brought forth unity in new common interests. Before the war ended and the men came home, it was up to the women to provide for the family. To provide for the family women were encouraged to cross the lines of gender and enter into the once male dominated labor force. Women were involved in jobs that were once thought to be unacceptable due to the physical demands of the industry. "My strong right arm built the ship. Built the ship that sailed to war." (Doc. G) "Rosy the Riveter" was a popular song during the fifties because it told the story of the industrious reality that women lived during the war. But, when the boys returned home the lines of gender were redrawn and women were pushed back into their menial lives of domesticity. "My strong right arm built the ship, built the ship, and what was all that for?" This rapid displacement of women from their jobs left many feeling that all of their efforts had been made in vain. This brief taste of power also created an ambition for more authority, creating a massive crack in the once solid foundation of many American families. "The focus on money and positions tends to foster rivalry . . . at times between working husbands and their wives." (Doc. D) Women resented the fact that they were being left at home while their husbands went to work in the positions that once belonged to them. Not only were women affected by this change, the men were frustrated when they came home to women who weren’t the doting housewives they had left. This frustration brought on an urge to spend less time at home and more time living at the office. "For professional men, suburban life generally meant a rigid division between their working and personal worlds (Doc. H)." These rivalries placed a new stress on the members of the family, creating a division that before the war, had not existed and as of yet has not been repaired. Rivalries were not only spurred in the home but a need to "show off" the recent flow of incoming wealth caused neighbors to compete with neighbors in a struggle to "keep up with the Jones’s." One of the more popular ways people chose to show their wealth was to park a nice car in the driveway. Car companies helped to aid this rivalry by greatly decreasing the price of the popular automobiles (Doc E). Not only did the prices of the cars change, but the layout of the city took a corresponding turn so as to meet the demands of the new transportation craze. An excellent example of this is the 1956 Federal Highway Act, which gave twenty five billion dollars to build over forty thousand miles of road. The new highways enabled young people, as well as the stay at home women, to venture away from the home while the men were at work. One of the most newly popular destinations was the mall. "In cities and towns in every part of America malls became not just places for shopping, but often centers of a much altered community life as well (Doc C)." People ventured to malls to experience the new products of the time. Most of these products were made to ease the burden of housework with such conveniences as the new "Wonderful Whirlpool Washing Machine (Doc I)." Other popular products were those that were designed to entertain rather than aid. The television was one of the most popular and effective products. As the radio effected the lives of those in the nineteen twenties, so did the television influence the people of the nineteen fifties. The television glowed in every living room in all parts of the country. In nineteen fifty seven there were over forty million TV’s in homes around the U.S. Television influenced every part of American society right down to the current art styles of the time (Doc A). While the distance of the parents’ occupations separated the family, the product of this hard work played an important role in bringing the family together. One example of this was the gathering of the family around the television in the evening. But there were some who feared the effects that the new fetish might produce on the young (Doc F). " More than 90 percent of mothers in one study reported that their children had asked for something they had seen on television (Doc B)" The TV not only united the family in the home, the effect of the advertisements on the requests of the children spurred the family trips to the store or the mall. To accommodate these family trips, the transportation industry attempted to promote the traveling of entire families and the idea of "being there together (Doc J)." In these products of the fifties families not only found a new convenience and form of entertainment but also a refreshing common ground to stand on. After the war the consumer economy of the fifties had two very important effects on the family. The switch from industry to the kitchen that women made after the war created a division in the family. The addition of new jobs away from the home only fed the gap further. But products such as the washing machine and the automobile saved time that family used to spend together. The mall and the television aided the need of unity by giving the family something to do during the sacred time of togetherness. The fifties forever changed the role that the family played in society by altering the role that society played on the family.
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