Friday, April 9, 2010

Those Bucolic Fifties

Anxiety is a wonderful instrument of social control. Keep ‘em on edge and the corporate state can pretty much do anything it wants. Terrorism, disease and dirt are the props in the paranoid drama that is played out daily in our media. But I must admit that today’s anxiety is a diluted affair compared to that benchmark for fear and paranoia, the bucolic 50s.

Then, the fear was palatable, concealed as it was behind ranks of grey-suited fathers and white-gloved mothers. But, by God, it was a great time to be alive. What wonderful memories I have of the late 40s and early 50s, especially those summer nights with the window wide open and a gentle breeze bellowing the curtains. How well I remember the snugness of my bed where I lay awake at rapt attention in a fetal position with my hands locked between my thighs, afraid to fall asleep for fear I wouldn’t hear the distant drone of approaching Soviet bombers carrying the nuclear holocaust in their bellies.

Then there was the time Civil Defense had all us children blood typed. They gave us plastic tags attached to chains we hung around our necks so they would know what type blood to pump into our charred bodies after radiation levels lowered enough to retrieve us from the rubble. (The effort failed because when a boy and girl started dating, the first thing they did was to exchange tags.)

The great ethical debate of the era was whether or not it was okay to shoot your neighbor if he tried to break into your bomb shelter during a nuclear attack. Even Billy Graham got swept up in that one.

It was a time when life was perfect and the fact that it wasn’t gnawed at the soul like a creeping rot; when father knew best but wasn’t sure what he knew; when mother popped her Valium and parents lived in fear of a disease called Juvenile Delinquency. And everybody, but everybody feared their own thoughts lest they’d been subverted by the unseen scourge of Communist infiltration..

That was The American Century, those pastoral days when porn was kept underground and the poor and the wretched were kept out of sight. O, to return to those glorious days of fear and uncertainty when we buried them beneath layers of cheerful optimism. It was a time when children had everything and nothing. Time-Life and the three television networks were the mainstream media and they modeled how we were to behave and what we were to think. But it was okay. As long as there were two cars in the garage and the lawn was mowed, all was well with the world and with God in his Heaven.

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