Reds and Rock an' Roll
TELEVISION 1950s STYLE
A New Way of Looking at the World
Is television today as conservative as television was in the 1950s? I think the answer is yes.
We no longer fear Reds under our beds but our television media is controlled by a very small group of people with their own agendas.
The television show Firefly (2002), for example, was killed by putting the show on too late at night for viewers who wanted to check it out. This was done because television executives at the time wanted to destroy science fiction and promote 'reality' shows. It was a case of 'reality' shows being cheaper to produce and thus to buy.
By 1950 the West was sick of war.There was a great desire to get back to building things and creating a more commercial, prosperous world for everyone.
There was also a lot of love being made as well as marriages being created. This was when the baby boomers first came into being. Born in the 1950s, yours truly is a baby boomer.
There have always been teenagers. It can be said, however, that teenagers haven't always been recognized as a separate grouping from adult or child with their own ideas and ways of doing things.
It had been a while since the West had taken even a short breather from war and also, in too many countries, from stark poverty caused by an unstable stock market.
War was still a going concern in this ten year period but it was generally relegated to elsewhere, mostly the Asian part of the world.The breather from war gave Western teenagers a chance to flourish in ways they hadn't flourished before.
Teens had more money in their pockets than previous teen generations which meant it was worthwhile for record companies and clothing stores to cater to their interests.
Television had existed before the 1950s. In fact early experiments in sending images and sound over long distances date back to the 1920s.
It was in the 1950s, however, that television sets had become cheap enough for the average American to afford. In Australia television wouldn't show much promise until the very late 1950s and early 1960s. Even so, my parents didn't own their first television set until the mid-1960s.
In the 1950s creativity in television was somewhat hampered by the fear that the Communists would infiltrate into and influence American society via what was basically a form of entertainment with commercials.
Rock music was new and exciting.
ROCK N' ROLL
At the beginning of the 1950s there was still a lot of conservative music around. Well known singers such as Frank Sinatra started off with it. Crooners were popular.
The new music frightened some of the older people that were around at the time. Just what was it all about and where was it taking teenagers? Why couldn't they just listen to and appreciate the more traditional forms of music?
It can be said that, like all forms of music before it, the new sounds were best understood and appreciated by the young.
Rock an' Roll has its origins in African American music. There was the possibility, when it first started up, that it would remain a minor African American thing.
It was Bill Haley and the Comets in 1953 with Rock Around the Clock that broke it out of this African american thing mold.
Elvis Presley also did a lot to make rock an; roll more universal.
The Beatles were huge Elvis Presley fans.
When Elvis Presley first started in the movies he was given to believe that he would be a dramatic actor.
His first movie, Love me Tender (1956), a Western,was a good first effort at dramatic acting on Elvis' part.
Flaming Star (1960), a Western, also showed that Elvis could act but it wasn't a box office hit.
Wild in the Country (1961) was the third and last go at making Elvis a dramatic actor as well as a singer.
In just about all of the movies that followed Elvis wasn't given much of a chance to act. He was there to sell records.
Some of the titles of his movies are so bad one wonders what the powers that be were thinking at the time. How about a movie titled Harum Scarum (1965)? From title onwards, it was a lousy film but you did get to hear Elvis sing.
As a kid I formed a hate for Elvis Presley films. Movies such as Kid Galahad (1962), Girls! Girls! Girls! (1962) and Clambake (1967) came on television of a Saturday afternoon. The good thing about them was they pushed me out of the house to do something, anything rather than watch them.
Later on I learned that Elvis wasn't terribly impressed with what they had him do under contract, either. Elvis was hoping to be able to have two careers going - music and serious acting but it never really happened.
Later Elvis Presley's wife, Priscilla Presley, starred in the infamous comedy The Naked Gun (1988).
Still, whatever the quality of the films they were making money. It can be said that Blue Hawaii (1961) at least had a wonderful backdrop and a good cast. Frank Sinatra was able to be both a good actor and a singer but it was not for Elvis.
In Australia the singer from the '50s best remembered is Johnny O'Keefe, the bad boy of rock.
There were of course other forms of music around beside rock and roll. The singer Frankie Laine is best known for the song High Noon (1952) which accompanied the film by the same name.
Frankie Laine was also responsible for the popularity of the song Rawhide (1958) and may have been in part responsible for the great success of the television series by the same name which ran from 1959 - 1966.
I was Definitely a Teenage Werewolf!
AT THE MOVIES
On both television and at the movies there was plenty of Western action. The draw card at the movies was that the Western would be in color.
John Wayne was still a box office draw though later, due to his support of America's involvement in the Vietnam War, he'd lose some of his appeal.
There were also efforts made to get teenagers more interested in going to the movies, including the drive-ins, than watching television shows and old movies at home.
Naturally, movies with singers had a certain appeal. There was a whole lot of cheap science fiction, some specifically aimed at teens and 20-somethings. The movies best remembered of this kind include The Blob (1958) and I Married a Monster from Outer Space (1958). In the field of mild horror and teens there were films such as I was a Teenage Werewolf (1957) and I was a Teenage Frankenstein (1957).
Companies that had been successfully making movie serials for the big studios saw the end of the movie serial era coming up fast and moved onto making television shows with a similar formula.
The 1950s television show, Adventures of Superman, has a definite movie serial feel to it. Adventures of Superman can also be credited as one of the first shows to move from black and white into color. It was at a time when most people still had black and white television sets.
Even so, Superman has been labeled often enough as the man of tomorrow and there was the thought that when everyone did go color that color episodes of Adventures of Superman would remain popular in reruns.
In Germany anti-communist movies, including spy films in which communist infiltrators are foiled, were popular. Naturally movies about the 2nd World War were not as popular there as in the USA, Great Britain and Australia. (I touch upon this in my novel Ghost Dance.)
SUPER SPIES WERE THE GO
There was a paper shortage in the 1950s that killed off many of the pulp magazines that were around. Paper was just too expensive for them to continue.
Paperbacks took over. There were anthologies and novels that didn't do so well in hardcover but did a lot better in paperback. There even came a time when novels by certain authors only came out in paperback.
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury, showing a future where the world of man is in danger of losing its collective soul because of the destruction of books, was first published in 1953. It was based on The Fireman, an earlier short story by Bradbury which first appeared in Galaxy Science Fiction in 1951.
It can be said that during this period the adventures of Leslie Charteris' favorite British son, The Saint, took on more of an international feel.
Of the spies created around this time none have reached fame like Ian Flemings' James Bond. Casino Royale came out in 1953.
Not long after the 2nd World War....Trouble!
CONFLICT IN MALAYA
From 1948 to 1960 there was trouble in Malaya. It was British Commonwealth forces versus Communist forces. Australia, being part of the British Commonwealth, was in the thick of it.
The Communists were defeated in 1960 but in 1967 trouble returned and continued to return until 1989.
Malaysia came into being in 1963. It brought together Malaya, Sabah, Sarawak, and Singapore.
The Korean War
TROUBLE IN KOREA
Not many years after the 2nd World War there was fighting in Korea. What took place between 1950 and 1953 was not originally considered a war but a conflict or a police action.
In any event, we consider it a war today. The USA, Australia, Britain plus other European nations were involved in keeping the Communists from taking over Korea completely. The North Koreans were supported by the Red Chinese and by Military aid from Soviet Russia.
This was a war in which the helicopter and the fighter jet shined for the first time. There was some fighter jet action during the 2nd World War but the German pilots involved were green and didn't have the know how required to put their planes through their proper paces.
To see what the helicopter was mostly used for check out episodes of the television series MASH.
The war ended in a draw. The Communist forces got the north and the democratic forces got the south.
Fear of Communism Prompted USA and Australian involvement in Vietnam
UNREST IN VIETNAM
The French were slow at dealing with the desire of many Vietnamese to have some say over their lives.
Since the French invasion of the country in the 19th Century there had been uprisings. The Vietnamese, including the Communists, had helped the USA defeat the Vichy French and Japanese forces in Vietnam during the 2nd World War. This did not, however, buy them any favors from the USA, the British or the French after the war.
From 1946 to 1954 there was fighting between French forces including the Vietnamese National Army and the Viet Minh.
In 1954 Vietnam was divided in two and the fighting stopped for a while. It started up again in 1959. It all had to do with colonialism. It was an outdated concept but still alive in the minds and hearts of the French, the British and the Americans of the day. Also there was fear of the further spread of Communism.
In 1965 Australian soldiers were sent to fight the communists in Vietnam. In 1972 Australia pulled out of the Vietnam War. In 1975 the USA finally pulled out.
No Nukes Equals Good Nukes
The Cost of Weapons Never to be Used
There were U.S. military leaders keen to use nukes during the early stages of the Korean War but President Harry Truman was against the idea.Nukes were only to be used when everything else had failed and the country was in real danger.
Perhaps President Truman could envision a time when there would be huge craters full of radioactive poison in various parts of the planet and America would be responsible for this horror.
The people of the USA would then be regarded as the bully boys rather than the guardians of democracy.
Also there was the fact that the Russians had a working knowledge of A bomb technology as early as 1949. The Cold War from this angle had turned rather chilly. If the USA used nukes then the Soviet Union might also decide to use them.
There was great fear of a future nuclear holocaust. There were films made in the early '50s either illustrating the naivety of the U.S. authorities when it came to the full extent of what nuclear energy unleashed can do or there was a general need to pacify the population and reduce panic.
Hiding under a wooden table, for example, will not do much good against either the heavy winds created by a nuclear explosion or the radiation.
Mind you if you are at the very heart of a nuke explosion you have absolutely nothing to worry about. You are already ash blowing away on the wind.
Science Fiction writers had visions of nukes flying everywhere and everything ending with the total destruction of humanity.
Isaac Asimov once theorized what the survivors of a nuclear war would be using as weapons after the nuclear attacks had ended. He figured on sticks and stones since humankind would be thrown back to the stone age.
There was also the theory of nuclear winter. If enough earth is thrown up into the heavens by enough nuclear explosions you would then have so much muck in the upper atmosphere that the sun's rays could not get through. This would create perpetual night that could continue for years.
End result? The death of green plants and with the death of green plants the extinction of the animals and birds that feed upon them. Of course with the extinction of the herbivores the carnivores would quickly follow.
The Omnivores might last longer. Living on mushrooms and whatever else doesn't need direct sun might be okay for a while but it would be one hell of a way to exist. Mind you the radiation might end your life either slowly or quickly since much of the food and water would be contaminated.
Shelters were built against nuclear fallout. The largest ones were built in the USA and in Russia. There were shelters built to house families and there were people who made lots of money constructing them. Nowadays the shelters that remain from this period house spiders, minor plant life and possibly rats.
In the early 1960s the world was poised for nuclear war over the Cuban Crisis. There was one factor which prevented it from happening. This Cold War was not an all out holy war.
No one believed they and their loved ones would go directly to Heaven by smiting the enemy. Both sides loved their children and their society enough not to see either destroyed by seeking to destroy the other's children and society. It was stalemate.
In the 1950s both the USA and the Soviet Union began to build up arsenals of nuclear weapons which included nuclear missiles. In 1964 Red China got into the act.
The cost of developing and building bigger and nastier missiles was horrendous. It would nearly send the USA broke and actually break the financial back of the Soviet Union.
The British tried to keep up. On the 3rd of October, 1952, the British tested their first nuclear weapon at Montebello Islands off the coast of Western Australia. From 1955 to 1963 the British tested nukes at Maralinga in the heart of South Australia. Seven major nuclear tests were performed. Australian Aborigines were harmed by these tests. The harming of these Australians was unintentional but it did happen.
THE SPACE RACE
When the Russians launched Sputnik 1, an artificial satellite, in 1957 it scared the hell out of the Americans. There were visions of future and much larger artificial satellites with lasers capable of obliterating American cites without warning from outer space.
There was also the very distant possibility of the Russians getting to the moon first, building a base there and launching atomic missiles from the base.
The USA geared up to beat the Russians to the moon and succeeded in doing so on July 20, 1969. As a kid I got half a day off school just to watch it happen on my family's television set.
The 1950s was a time of recovery for the West, especially Britain. The damage done to Britain's great cities were not going to be undone over night.
The USA was determined not to make the same mistakes that were made with Germany after the Great War. Both Germany and Japan would be rebuilt and reorganized for a peaceful future. The USA would make sure that both Germany and Japan would never again take up arms against either the USA or their allies.
It can be said that the people of Britain were slow to recover from the 2nd World War because they had won. Whereas the people of Germany and Japan were quicker to recover because they had lost to the USA.
The 1959 Peter Sellers movie The Mouse That Roared pokes fun at this concept. Can you imagine a very small country going to war with the USA so that it can be defeated and then looked after by the USA? In any event, it is a fun film. It should be noted that the Russian occupied part of Germany was much slower to recover from World War Two than the more free market part so it wasn't all gravy for the Germans.
During the Korean War, U.S. bases situated in Japan were used to launch attacks upon North Korea. Japan was also a place for U. S, soldiers to go when on leave from the war.
Elvis Presley was one of many young Americans put into uniform to serve the U.S. military in Germany.
The 1950s was also a time for advancing the cause of commercialism. The age of plastic had dawned. There had been plastic items going back as early as the 1920s but they were nothing compared to what was around in the 1950s and 1960s. From the early 1950s onwards people could enjoy TV dinners. Cake mix in a box dates back to the 1920s but really took off in the 1950s.
More by this Author
The Great Gatsby, The Red Badge of Courage, A Stainless Steel Rat is Born, Brave New World, 1984, Story of O, Tender is the Night, Wasp, Dune, Twilight Healer, A Study in Scarlet, Dracula, Jazz.
The 20th Century, Science Fiction, Isaac Asimov, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, Cold War, H. G. Wells, A Woman of Mars, The Hulk, Ian Fleming, Tarzan, A Clockwork Orange, Agatha Christie, Biggles.
Standing tall and one person making a difference has long been part of the American identity. In propaganda terms it has been useful. Can one person really make a difference? John Wayne and Vietnam.