“There is too much misguided nostalgia in America these days!” My friend Gene blurted this out while we watched a commercial for a local eatery. The visuals included scenes of 1950s teens dancing “The Twist” There were Hula Hoops and the obligatory clips of souped up cars with tail-fins. The voice-over was just as mawkish. Gene clicked off his TV and placed his “Lazy Boy” recliner into the upright position.
He shook his head slowly. “People who should know better seem to think that the 1950s and 1960s were about girls wearing bobby socks and boys wearing crew cuts and letter jackets. Life was not bad television episodes of ‘Leave It To Beaver’ or ‘Happy Days’. The power of the 1950s and 60s was not nostalgia. For many of us, those days were energized by fantasies of the future.”
Although I have very dim memories of 1958 and 1959, I easily remember the 1960s. So I understood my friend, who is 13 years older than me. I mentioned the Red Scare and Senator Joseph McCarthy. I knew the 1960s were more profound than The Beatles and “Mod” culture. Certainly the fifties and sixties were marked by tragic wars in Korea and Vietnam, but those were not the only cultural mindsets of those days.
Gene leaned forward and smiled. “Plenty of us were driven by Utopian visions of the future world. We were obsessed with exploration without boundaries. The Soviet Union triggered a panic about Outer Space. President Kennedy expanded the nation’s vision with his “New Frontier”. There was a sweeping vision of fairness for everyone. Life in the future would improve almost endlessly. We cheered on the race to put a man on the Moon.”
I added that I remembered the big push for science education so we could keep up with and surpass our nation’s adversaries. Science Fiction was all the rage in books, magazines, film, and television. I used to daydream about travel through the Solar System. What amazing things would we discover in the future?
Gene added, “I think a lot of these visions were implemented. If history serves me right, Kennedy probably accomplished nearly as much as FDR so far as legislation goes. Possibly more than half of what JFK wanted, he got.”
I mentioned that, to me, the 1950s and 60s seem quaint and optimistic all things considered. Yet, I’d hate to take a time machine back to those days. I get a feeling of claustrophobia just thinking about those decades. There were a lot of horrible notions about minority peoples in those days. Jim Crow was still a major mindset in some parts of the country, women were much more subjugated than now. There were patronizing attitudes towards Asians and Native Americans. Plus, the Gay Liberation movement was only in its infancy.
Gene sighed, “Yeah, the good ol’ days weren’t really all that good. It’s foolish to want society to return to the past. I guess I’ll always be a futurist, at heart.”
I smiled and nodded agreement with my friend.