Nostalgia for the 1950s

Here’s something for you to discuss this Monday: in the US, why is our nostalgia overwhelmingly for eras beginning with the 1950s? Commercially I can think of plenty of 1950s-themed restaurants, but almost none from the 1940s or 1930s. When Marty McFly lept back in time, it was to 1955. Even now, fifty years after the fact, high schools still hold dances involving poodle skirts. Granted, they also hold 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s dances, but again, I don’t hear of many events involving flapper dress.

My working theory is that it’s due to television and the standardizing of popular culture. TV went from a rarity in 1950 to near-ubiquity in 1960. While movies provided pop culture that anyone could see, you didn’t see a movie every night. TV thus had a much longer reach. Furthermore, TV shows from that era — Howdy Doody, American Bandstand — can still be seen. You want to know what was on people’s minds in the 1950s? Grab a couple of episodes of The Tonight Show with Steve Allen.

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