Mon 2/8 – Postwar Consumer Society (Online Class)

by admin - February 8th, 2016

Snow day on Monday, Feb 8th, so we won’t meet in person. Today we’ll just move class online. Please read the information below, in addition to your study of MO Ch 5, and watch the clips posted in the links. Then leave a COMMENT (a paragraph or more, if you have more to say) in the box at the bottom of the post, which will count as today’s attendance.

This chapter identifies elements of popular / mass culture of the 1950s, and also those who critiqued or rebelled against that culture. One key theme I would have discussed in class is the rise of television and its importance in creating and fueling that consumer culture. You might enjoy the commercials and programs in the links below, including the NBC news which in those years was sponsored by a single company that aggressively pitched its product at every opportunity during the 15-minute live broadcast each night (Camel Cigarettes).

I’ve also put a link to an example of a very popular genre of television programs from the 1950s, the game show. “The Price is Right” debuted in 1956. By the late 1950s, popular quiz shows would be exposed as setups. Some, like the one you read about for today, used “ordinary” people as their guests, such as “What’s My Line?” (as in, what do I do for work?) and “This is Your Life” surprising a guest with the story of their life and reuniting them with people from their past.

On “Queen for a Day” (1955-1964), oily host Jack Bailey would identify pathetically needy women from the studio audience in a Hollywood night club, and then get audience members to vote on who needed assistance the most or whose life was the worst, crowning the winner “Queen for a Day.” A glamorous cast of silent tiara-wearing models showed off the prizes. It was universally panned by the critics as a terrible show, but it was immensely popular anyway. It’s a really fascinating program, in that it’s a kind of reverse beauty pageant (and, as one scholar argues, one of the few places on television that looked at the American underclass at all). I posted an entire episode, if you’re interested.

Links relevant to today’s discussion (primary sources about 1950s TV & consumerism):
See the USA in Your Chevrolet (1953)
Brylcreem commercial
Camel News Caravan (NBC) for 9/28/1954
Blackboard Jungle trailer (1955)
Elvis Presley on the Ed Sullivan Show (Oct 1956)
Queen for a Day episode (March 1958)

Discussion Question: After watching these clips and studying the chapter, what have you learned about consumer culture, marketing, or social values in the 1950s? Leave your thoughts in the comments below by 11:00 pm Monday Feb 8th.

For your further snow day viewing pleasure… (OPTIONAL)

Good movies made in the 1950s (full-length online viewing):

Man in the Gray Flannel Suit (1956) – Gregory Peck in this earnest, compelling drama about a returning WW2 veteran who takes a soul-numbing job as a Madison Avenue ad executive.

On the Waterfront (1954) – young Marlon Brando portrays a young longshoreman on New York’s wharfs, explores themes of labor organizing, corruption, and the blacklist. Beautifully acted and filmed.

Blackboard Jungle (1955) – the first film to use Rock’n’roll in the soundtrack. Glen Ford is an idealistic teacher in a rough inner city high school (Sidney Poitier plays one of the students). Themes of juvenile delinquency, honor, and social change. (Youtube rental $2.99, not free)

Rebel Without a Cause (1955) – classic teen cars, delinquency, angst and family trouble, featuring young James Dean, Natalie Wood, and Sal Mineo.

Good movies made ABOUT the 1950s (realistic, slightly fictionalized):

Quiz Show (1994) – portrays the Twenty One quiz show scandal of 1956

Good Night and Good Luck (2005) – portrays the efforts of trusted and crusading TV journalist Edward R. Murrow to use his show bring down Joseph McCarthy in 1954

17 Responses to “Mon 2/8 – Postwar Consumer Society (Online Class)”

  1. Katie Caruso says:

    The culture in the 1950’s is very family oriented the women’s lives revolved around the children. Around this time though the children start to get rebellious and want to start going their own way, causing a lot of juvenile delinquents. At that time there is a change in the music that is played like rock and roll was created. People are starting families a lot younger than their parents started and they are having more children too. Television is become very popular and it is becoming a huge part of the families lives. Instead of going out to socialize or socializing with their family they are sitting in front of the television watching shows. The commercials that are out are very focused on the united states and are very to the point for why you should be purchasing that product. They tend to go after the women of the house since they are home the most and they usually manage the money for the house also.

  2. Cody Dennis says:

    After watching, these clips, it’s easy to see where our marketing and consumer culture started and how it’s evolved. It seemed based off clips shown in class and from these links that companies were very straightforward in their marketing and didn’t feed around the bush as so many companies do nowadays. However, the age old tricks of using well known actors and men’s inability to attract women unless using the product advertised still work today.
    Teenagers also became a major consumer force in the 50s with high disposable incomes and many different styles, companies could sell a variety of products and used this group to begin the bast food industry.
    Film trailers also seem to be very straightforward and use narrators to explain possible plotlines as they did in Blackboard Jungle. Versus now trailers often show the more “exciting” scenes the film might have to offer and sometimes give little to no detail about the film’s plot.

  3. Stephanie Velez says:

    After watching these clips and studying the chapter, I’ve learned that the marketing was made out greatly to middle-class Americans.
    Marketing was directed as very patriotic and made consumers want to purchase certain products in order for them to feel proud of being American like in the “See the USA in your Chevrolet” commercial.
    It was made that if you bought this Chevrolet, you were part of the “greatest land of all.”
    This might have influenced social values, the ability to be able to afford a Chevrolet determined your status and loyalty to the country and showed how proud of being an American you were.

  4. Luke Trudeau says:

    After reviewing the chapter and the video clips i noticed that many of the commercials or consumer television was based around a pretty woman and a lot of the time had a jingle or a song. They seem to be targeting mostly men because the beautiful woman catches their eye and then the jingle keeps their attention. consumer marketing was still very new but starting to improve.

  5. Ani says:

    In the 1950s you could see based on the readings and videos of the roles men and women played during that particular time period. In the 1950s women played the role of staying at home and taking care of the family. You could see that in the way they dressed and the way they spoke to their man. You could also see that the Cold War was in the forefront of the news. In the NBC news link the news essentially talked about the McCarthy situation and how it would effect politics during the Red Scare as well as a person from Poland asking to stay in the United States for refuge from the Sovets. You could also see how dominate the role of the male was during this time period. In the news it was all men who were speaking to the audience. The book talked about how pop culture was on the rise during the 1950s and how teens were rebellious and it showed here with Elvis singing on a TV show in the morning with what people thought were promiscuous dance moves. I thought that it was pretty neat to see that sex appeal was as important back then as it is now which showed in the Brylcreem TV Commercial in which the guy is trying to attract a girl and was able to do so with the right hair product. The car commercials definitely tried to use mobility as a selling point to their consumers which is much different to todays way of selling cars which is on safety and reliability.

  6. Kenny Le says:

    It’s fascinating to see the change in American culture throughout the 50s. Certainly with the rise of television, we can see the idea of appeal in advertising rise. We also learn how media portrayals begin to rise, showing how teenage life is for instance. In my opinion, the modern American “tastes” really begin to emerge during this decade; television spots showing the latest and brightest new car and game shows detailing everyday fantasy lives. From this, I’ve learned that we can see a shift in American values as things change from necessity to comfort. We can also see the change from obedient teenager to teenage angst for instance. Ultimately, I believe that these clips and MO5 show how modern American life emerged from the post WWII time.

  7. James O'Brien says:

    The consumer targeting of the 1950’s seems very similar to what it is today. By stressing the product, throwing in a catchy tune and a good looking girl, it is easy to see how commercials have evolved into what they are today. Of course we’ve lost much of the over-the-top drama, and added many less obvious marketing tactics, but I believe the 1950’s were definitely the beginning of many of the top trends we see now-a-days. About this time, it also seems as if the so called “Teen Culture” was officially recognized. Many of these commercials, and especially the trailer for Blackboard Jungle, seemed specifically geared towards teenagers. The 1950’s was a new era for the younger generation.

  8. Alec Mastrototaro says:

    After reviewing the chapter and watching the video clips consumer culture seemed to be targeted towards the teenage population. After watching the “Blackboard Jungle” trailer it became apparent that teenage delinquency was a growing phenomenon with many juveniles eager to enter adulthood. The consumer culture proliferated in the 1950’s due to television ubiquity among Americans and a growing economy. You can see the shift in prospective from the 1950’s to modern day society because today consumer culture is focused on targeting specific populations rather then targeting a whole social class. The patriotism and the rise of rock and roll flourished in the 1950’s with assistance from the ever-growing television. The chapter in the book on the Consumer Culture helped me understand the basic principles of that era but the video clips help me put everything into context and visualize the era entirely.

  9. Adair Perkins says:

    The 1950s was heavily into the American Dream ideal. There’s a heavy emphasis on buying name brand products but also living a simple, care free life. At the same time there’s a strong emphasis on Right and Wrong. It’s Right to own American products, it’s Okay not to know what your husband does all day so long as you can take care of the kids. It’s Wrong for those kids to act out and be rowdy. Fear the youngsters because they’re going to cause anarchy. Fear the Red States (communists, not republicans) because they destroy their own people. Buy Camel cigarettes because this entire baseball team smokes them. It’s a lot of corporations and government officials telling people what to do, and people going with it because there’s no way the USA is in the wrong. On a completely different note, my dad still says a little dab’ll do ya. It’s nice to finally know where it came from. 🙂

  10. Michaela Buckley says:

    Sorry lost power for a bit there.. anyways I found consumer culture to be interesting in 1950’s. I didn’t expect a lot of the companies to be marketing towards youths and teens a lot, as MO chp5 discusses. I found it to be focused a lot on imagery ie pretty women, the ideal house, car etc. I didn’t really expect as the chapter states, that more and more people watched TV than conversed with family or did other activities. I guess I didnt realize just how many people watched TV back in the fifties. Before reading the text and looking at some of the clips when I thought fifties I thought of bridge games and reading before bed. I didn’t really think of TV shows and commercials instead. I did enjoy the fact that game shows were so popular back in that he day it was interesting to see how they differ from the ones of today..

  11. Tim Underhill says:

    After reading the chapter and watching the videos you can really see how the 1950’s was the beginning of the media and consumer takeover in America. It was the first early days of TV ads for products of all types. Something that I noticed about the ads was that they were very straightforward and aggressive when mentioning or trying to sell their products. (Specifically during the Camel News broadcast. They mentioned their product and how good it was every 30 seconds it seemed like). All of the videos really show how the “Popular” activities of the time are much different than they are now, but still are somewhat similar. It really shows how this generation was the first generation of rebels in the United States.

  12. Shane McKinley says:

    After reading the chapter and also watching the videos on the website you can really see how early our consumer society was. Everything was very simple and to the point how well products worked. Also the country was tied into everything like the Cheverolet commercial talking about how its the best in the USA and best to drive everywhere. Everything was so different back then and seemed simpler so I can see how simple media and consumer things made every American excited for new products.

  13. Kevin Fitzpatrick says:

    When we look back into the 1950’s you can see that america target in consumer adds by looking to hit on a specific population. As we know many Americans were coming back from war living freely. These adds targets the true american whether it be driving a Chevrolet across the land they just fought for or adds that showed american spirit, such as the camel adds. Which have a highly watched sport in 1950s boxing going on in the background and living the dream stating that everyone does it. We can also see that the culture was very different in the way women were meant to take care of the men and children at home while the men worked.

  14. Kristopher Doyle says:

    After watching the links that were posted and reading the chapter you can see that in the 1950’s is really where the advertising era and media really took over and helped the economy thrive. The commercials that were provided to view, all had something to do with the aesthetic appeal of either an attractive woman or a man trying to impress a woman. Another thing I noticed is that the power of music really came into effect during this era, including the “King of Rock and Roll,” and the Chevy commercial which had a jingle which stuck in my head all day. Although there was a large focus on middle class, there was also a bit of focus on teens and the way they were acting in High School with the trailer to “Blackboard Jungle.”

  15. Ashton Merrill says:

    Following reading the chapter and taking a look at these clips it seems quite clear that having a job in advertising was much more simplistic than it is today. The notion of subliminal advertising was definitely not a part of the era whatsoever. I especially enjoyed the NBC news coverage due to the fact that at least back then the viewers knew who was buying the media, in a way that’s far superior to where we are today, not knowing who’s pulling the strings. I also couldn’t help but notice that marketing based on people’s fear had already found its way into the media. “Blackboard Jungle” is a perfect example of this fear mongering as it stirs up the terrifying thought of the youth rising up against the established white middle class. We can see this tactic still in use today in the grandest advertising spectacle of them all, the 2016 Presidential campaign. Several candidates *cough cough Donald Trump* are using fear of the unknown and unfamiliar to attract potential voters.

  16. Gerald Guerra says:

    These videos have shown, once again, how America has evolved in many ways from the 1950’s in this case until now. It seems as though marketing was huge back then as it is now. With the exception that there are many more channels now and commercials got the point across right away. I noticed how women used their “sweet little voice” to try and convince the public to buy a new car or invest money in other technology. Men were about looking neat, from carrying a briefcase to doing their hair, to wearing a nice suit. Camel cigarettes were huge in the marketing world. “Camel News Caravan” (NBC) probably spent half their time advertising the product than communicating what actually went on around the world. In comparison to today, many may agree that during the 50’s there were a lot of teenagers getting in trouble. But in reality, how much trouble did they cause compared to what we witness now? Based on the video, it is evident that music was also popular, specially rock’n’roll and it perhaps influenced a lot of these teenagers. Nowadays, music is also popular but drugs also play the biggest role. Lastly, it was very cool to see how “Queen for a Day” helped many women across the country who were struggling financially. It went to show how the nation stuck together through toughest times (WWII, Korea, Cold War) and even though a lot of soldiers (males) were away serving the country, there were Americans who were somehow contributing to those families who weren’t lucky enough to support themselves at home.

  17. Eric Adams says:

    After watching the the videos linked in the above post I can really see where the style of advertising consumer goods was and how far it has come today while still utilizing the same basic principles. All of advertisements focus on visual appeal much like they do today. Another aspect that I found interesting was the idea of perfection. Many of the consumer products used the “American Dream” as a major selling point, especially since it was such a short time after World War II/ during the Cold War and American pride was at an all time high.