Old black and white movies showing people in the 1950s United States reflect behaviors and sensibilities that some say helped made America great. A very popular news personality of the early 21st Century is well-known for contrasting the culture today versus the ideals of the 1950s United States. Who are United States American’s and who is right about the culture?
The Counter Culture Revolution
People have studied this issue. Some point to the 1960s and 1970s as the time when it all changed. They saw the status quo as unhealthy to fairness among all people and they wanted the chance to just live life. Live and let live is the unwritten rule. Anything goes as long as it doesn’t go too far, but if it does then, there are ways to reach reconciliation.
Let’s Be Free
When icons of the 1970s say, “let’s be free”, they are talking about freedom in the broadest way possible. Freedom to them is not limited to patriotic values. Freedom to them is about not being held down by the man and having the liberty to enjoy life without Puritan, Victorian, and old-world restrictions. Many of these icons travelled the world. They visited exotic locales and their mind was opened far beyond what they were taught and socialized to in the United States. They wanted, fought for, and gained the most liberal freedom imaginable.
The Real History
Part of this history was there for me to observe more directly. Others have written about it in greater detail. I recommend seeking out those sources of information about this period in time. What I wonder about is the world as it is.
History of Sensibility
A few rules of conduct exists that have their origins in earlier times. You can probably trace them for as back as far as civilized societies have existed. Some of these societies had diplomats, emissaries, and structured rules of behavior in the presence of nobility. Princes of Egypt had cordial dealings with contemporaries in other lands.
The Greeks of Antiquity are obviously a careful people. At least many of the more prominent ones. You do not simply barge your way into the libraries of Alexandria. Scholarship, even many eons ago, involved people of careful sensibility.
The British did not invent poise and refinements of salutation. If you look very, very closely, such behaviors and protocols existed in many developed societies in India, Arabia, China, Africa, and you still see the echoes of this in many persons from those societies. Respectful behavior is universally understood if not always obvious.
Back in the United States we have artistic forms and a push by groups of people to overturn the way things are done. I enjoyed some of this. I really enjoyed some of this in terms of the diversity of representations of ideas and concepts. I enjoyed the different clothes, different music, introduction of more cultures into the mix, and I look nostalgically on some of the waves and trends that enlivened life in the United States. It was thrilling then, and for many, it is thrilling now. What is wrong with fun?
Actually, the cultural expressions today are far less diverse than they were decades ago. Experimentation was such a new thing for many people decades ago that perhaps that triggered more diversity due to the lack of an overall structure. Today, we have more formulation in our movies, music, and so forth. Many things are a little more lame than they once were.
We are about to find out why later on.
True, standard sensibility was a casualty of the counter-revolution of the 1960s and 70s. The warriors for just causes churned out of Woodstock and other cathartic gatherings would burn down the old order to create a free paradise that was about “Peace, not War”. Of course, some of them and their descendents would turn that right on its head as we now have endless war.
In the meantime, the victory for broader freedom ejected certain forms of expression such as polite courtesy, and respectful engagement with others. The truth was all that mattered and if that meant shouting on TV, that we even see today, then so be it. The true likeness of Walter Cronkite in terms of demeanor and even bearing would rarely be seen and occasionally castigated as too staid.
Seems ironic that the many experimental wanderings of decades ago has given way to a more homogenous expression among people. The way people dress has been called out by earlier generations. Baggy pants, flipped back hats, and so on. Now, people do seem to dress more respectably, but was the wrong victories achieved by both sides?
Old world stalwarts seemed to have gotten more compliance with the law and consistency of outward physical appearance but not true respectability across the board. New generation advocates from the 60s and 70s got a more relaxed atmosphere but not true and genuine diversity from top to bottom. Why is that?
True American Culture
What is the true US American culture? The reason these things are the way they are, the lack of thoroughly respectful follow through by later generations and the failings of leadership by earlier generations is due to one thing. Money.
Cash created compromises that watered down many causes and stretched out old maladies far beyond their time. Money made more people a commodity today as some people were centuries ago. The words on TV sounded great, but when it came time to deliver, cash corroded conviction and the old civil structures became convenient deflection mechanisms to direct blame elsewhere.
The culture of the US is about cash. Where did the old world values go? They were sold. Where did the dreams of a more verdant society end up? Packaged and commercialized. Children were taught to succeed at any cost, avoiding faux pas that would undermine their momentum. Everything else became a mirage.