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The Fifties: an invention of Sha Na Na / Scottish Highlanders / Rondald Reagan
October 3, 2008 9:50 PM   Subscribe

Remember the Fifties? For a certain generation, who could forget those golden innocent days as depicted in shows like Happy Days, Grease and the band Sha Na Na. But it turns out that vision of the 50's is mostly fantasy and never existed, largely invented by a group of Columbia U students around 1969.

Teasers:
The idea of the Fifties that America still holds — the happy, "greasy" Fifties — was an "invented History." Up until 1969, quite an opposite cultural memory held sway. When Americans remembered "the Fifties," they thought of Joe McCarthy witch hunts, of an "age of anxiety," of the "shook-up generation" diving under their desks during A-Bomb drills, of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit selling out and Holden Caulfield cracking up, or Allen Ginsberg '48 and Jack Kerouac '44 too "beat" to fight back. (see article for more)

..around 1969, “history” had been deliberately rewritten — almost invented. The "new Fifties" was no older than Columbia College, spring 1969, when the Kingsmen put on two shows: "The Glory That Was Grease" and the "First East Coast Grease Festival," attended by 5,000 students from Massachusetts to Maryland. That had been the first appearance of the word "Grease" and the first appearance of the greaser, who rapidly replaced the popular image of Beatniks and the Beat era. "This ascription of the social domain and style of hoods (in 1950s slang) or greasers (as they came to be known in the 1970s) as the emblematic experience of 1950s youth came to be a common trope in later media discussions of the era". (see article for more)

The Sha Na Na greaser, it turns out, has an unexpected Old World cousin: the Scottish Highlander. (see article for more)

In Ronald Reagan's time politicians began invoking [the fantasy fifties] as if it had been history, and trying to ally themselves with it. "Conservatives [in the Reagan Era] parlay(ed) the cultural nostalgia for the Fifties that had circulated in the 1970s into the basis for a political offensive …(see article for more)
posted by stbalbach (61 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great article, thanks for sharing. The fluidity of our collective memory terrifies and enthralls me. I just wonder what other socially constructed histories haven't been uncovered and researched.
posted by JimmyJames at 10:14 PM on October 3, 2008 [4 favorites]


In the future, someone will write an article postulating that the 80s were just a collective fantasy. I don't know whether to be relieved or saddened by that notion.
posted by amyms at 10:23 PM on October 3, 2008


Just to clarify, there were indeed "hoods" in the 1950s who looked like Fonzi. But they were tough working class street gang types and not "happy rebels", the rebels were the (unhappy) Beats. Of course Elvis and James Dean had greased hair and were rebels, but that was still uncommon, perhaps akin to the trucker hat today, co-opted from the working class as a style among a few high-profile stars who could get away with it.
posted by stbalbach at 10:27 PM on October 3, 2008


Sha Na Na and Happy Days invented the Fifties? Both of those were retro camp and everyone knew it. They didn't define the Fifties. What a totally worthless BS article. It's nothing but cheap alumni magazine feel-good hype.
posted by JackFlash at 10:28 PM on October 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


huh. This is so interesting. Thanks stbalbach.

Wasn't the word greaser around before '69? I thought it was. Looked up the great post about the Stone Grease site, nope, nothing mentioned. It was a derogatory word for Mexicans all the way back to the mid 1800's but not the meaning in the contemporary sense.

The impression I got from Reagan parlaying cultural nostalgia for the 50's, was the idea that ducktailed greasers and buzz cut surfers were at least not the effete, impudent, intellectual snobs who were anti-war.

Rove uses similar terms re people not siding with Bush.

The fluidity of our collective memory terrifies and enthralls me. I just wonder what other socially constructed histories haven't been uncovered and researched.

So well said.

Gee, sb, your post blew my mind.
posted by nickyskye at 10:31 PM on October 3, 2008


What's most interesting is how this article's framed. No one is denying that the now-archetypal concepts pushed by the Leonards and Columbia are things that by and large did happen.

There were greasers, who happened to be called JDs or hoods, in the 1950s and there were poodle skirts and Elvis and whatnot. The fact that the generation that lived through the 50s as adults remembered in 1969 the disasters and negatives (McCarthyism, the Beatniks, the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit) rather than the rose-tinted, mainly entertainment-oriented positives (poodle skirts, movie drive-ins, bobby soxers, whatever) that younger generations remembered or learned about is no surprise.

After all, the 1920s were not just about flappers, nor the 40s just about WWII. How is this stereotyping of a decade any different from what has gone before?
posted by librarylis at 10:34 PM on October 3, 2008


Sha Na Na and Happy Days invented the Fifties? Both of those were retro camp and everyone knew it. They didn't define the Fifties. What a totally worthless BS article. It's nothing but cheap alumni magazine feel-good hype.

I think you've missed the point of the article: they invented "the Fifties", a refiguring of elements of the actual 1950s which, while present, were not until that point considered iconic or representative, to the point that when we say "the Fifties" now we instantly think not of the decade as it was, but rather as this heavily stylized and immensely selective caricature. They figured out how we would like to remember it, gave it to us, and at least in a pop cultural sense we grasped it passionately in preference to the real thing.

After all, the 1920s were not just about flappers, nor the 40s just about WWII. How is this stereotyping of a decade any different from what has gone before?

A very good point. My guess is that it's not actually different. Sounds like this whole feel-good stylistic pop cultural revisionism is deserving of a larger article.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:38 PM on October 3, 2008 [5 favorites]


In the future, someone will write an article postulating that the 80s were just a collective fantasy.

It's not a postulation. It's true. The 1970s were the last decade that ever happened. It's all been weird conjecture ever since.
posted by philip-random at 10:41 PM on October 3, 2008 [7 favorites]


The Onion had a pretty good take; long enough ago that it's practically nostagia itself.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:52 PM on October 3, 2008


My guess is that [the stereotyping is] not actually different.

I think it's much more extreme, more political, and more sanitized. In the 1950s, Americans was rife with poverty, violence, bigotry and musicals.
For a good alternate view, check out "Last Exit to Brooklyn" by Hubert Selby, written in 1964 (or the 1989 movie).
posted by msalt at 10:53 PM on October 3, 2008


Maybe you can make it real....
posted by Kronos_to_Earth at 10:53 PM on October 3, 2008


I think you've missed the point of the article: they invented "the Fifties", a refiguring of elements of the actual 1950s which, while present, were not until that point considered iconic or representative, to the point that when we say "the Fifties" now we instantly think not of the decade as it was, but rather as this heavily stylized and immensely selective caricature. They figured out how we would like to remember it, gave it to us, and at least in a pop cultural sense we grasped it passionately in preference to the real thing.

Where are you getting all this "we" stuff? Perhaps I am missing the point. I thought everyone knew that this new "Fifties" stuff was pure parody and satire -- a joke, not iconic or "how we like to remember it." You mean there are people who take it seriously as a representation of the 1950s? Knock me over with a feather.

This is the type of pompous, self-serving fluff you find in alumni magazines all the time put out by people who take themselves and their school much too seriously.
posted by JackFlash at 11:00 PM on October 3, 2008


Hmmm, interesting article, but, honestly, George J. Leonard gets a huge, "No shit, Sherlock," from me.

Was it that hard to tell that Sha Na Na and Happy Days wasn't about what THE 50's was about? Or that the cultural representations of an era aren't equivalent to actuality?

Don't get me wrong, I love fashions of a certain era (early 60s for me, but YMMV), but it's just that, fashion. Now imagine actual hormones in a decade. Go ahead, think sex, and not in a Grease 2 "Do it For Your Country" sort of way (yeah, I know about that).

Amazingly, rich kids sell out poor kids for profit and make... MONEY! In the past and present and future! Next Mr. Leonard will be telling me that the decade of the 70s wasn't all disco balls, punk rock, and cocaine. Wow, thanks!
posted by sleepy pete at 11:00 PM on October 3, 2008


Very interesting! I have to laugh; when I was little I loved asking my grandma, "Nannie, what was it like when you were a teenager?" and she always replied, "Go watch Grease! Go watch Happy Days ... it was like that." Of course, she may have wanted to divert my attention from her late teenage pregnancy ... lol!
posted by starfyr at 11:04 PM on October 3, 2008


What an incredibly weirdly written article. It kind of jumps between distant, dispassionate description and "we were there!" nostalgia. This is a fascinating subject and it did make me want to check out the two books. Anyway, here's some 1950s for ya, Maynard G. Krebs (the G. stands for Walter, he was named after his aunt).
posted by Kattullus at 11:05 PM on October 3, 2008


Wow, such strenuous " I knew that" posing! Look, I'm 47. I remember when Happy Days came out, and that image of the 1950s has been the dominant paradigm since then.
I guaran-fuckin-tee you that the majority of Americans see that as how the 1950s really were. (Which is why Ronald Reagan got in trouble for attacking the Beach Boys as druggies, because facts and anachronisms aside, they fit perfectly into the soundtrack of this phony stereotype.)

So can we all acknowledge that you guys are super cool and savvy and knew all that, without diminishing the significance of this insight? I was born in 1961, saw this entire revisionism develop, and "Last Exit" still blew me away by correcting that vision in a way that was palpably real.

(Fun fact -- until a stupid fight scotched the project, Robert DeNiro was ready to star in a live action film of Last Exit directed by Ralph Bakshi of Heavy Traffic fame.)
posted by msalt at 11:14 PM on October 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


Where are you getting all this "we" stuff? Perhaps I am missing the point. I thought everyone knew that this new "Fifties" stuff was pure parody and satire -- a joke, not iconic or "how we like to remember it." You mean there are people who take it seriously as a representation of the 1950s?

So your point is that since these selected emblems haven't taken hold with you as being being iconic for the era, they haven't with anyone? Fair point with the "we", but in a sense you're doing the same thing. I was in grade school in the mid-70s when this stuff went seriously mainstream, and the teachers and assistants at my school who'd been teenagers in the 1950s were entirely too happy to tell us kids that yes, that was how it was.

(on preview, what msalt said.)

Nevertheless, I'm not sure that "we've been fooled" is the point. I think the point is that the image itself is largely invented, if not from scratch, then with deeply unrepresentative selectivity, and that we (or at least a lot of people who are not you) have embraced the symbolism. And yeah, okay, you really don't like Alumni magazines.
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:17 PM on October 3, 2008 [2 favorites]


I thought everyone knew that this new "Fifties" stuff was pure parody and satire

You're taking for granted that everyone knows what "parody" and "satire" are. Trust me, they don't.
posted by louche mustachio at 11:21 PM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


This is interesting-- of course, what's also interesting is that the two Sha Na Na brothers-cum-scholars who wrote it first indulge themselves in an appreciation of their sudden appreciation by other scholars, then, at the end of this, pretty much quietly refute the argument of those other scholars, writing, We selected history, but we didn't make it.

As if to say, Yeah, thanks, that's a fun idea you've got there... but it's not quite true. Uh, thanks, though!

The airy, all-consuming sweep of a crit theory riff at last meets its opposite and its equal: the diamond-hard empirical rigor of an alumni magazine.
posted by darth_tedious at 11:30 PM on October 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Remember the Fifties?

When Emperor Claudius died?
posted by dirigibleman at 11:36 PM on October 3, 2008 [11 favorites]


It's amusing that people artificially chop time into ten-year chunks that end in zero and then try to characterize each bracketed chunk of life, all of it, from top to bottom, rich and poor, young and old, simply by the sort of music sold to kids at the time.

Life in the 1960s was not even one percent Beatles or hippies or mods. Life in the 1950s had very little at all to do with Elvis or James Dean unless you were Elvis or James Dean or their managers. As always, people woke up, went to work, and came home. But popular history is not history at all, it's a collection of marketing plans. People look no further than to the most easily accessible artifacts -- Hollywood entertainments and radio hits -- for their history lessons because that how the marketing and sales folk want you to behave. Nothing remarkable changed between 1949 and 1950, between 1959 and 1960, or between 1969 and 1970, but it's easier to sell a repackaged selection of entertainments when you can stick a short label and a caricature on the cover.
posted by pracowity at 11:39 PM on October 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


No mention of American Graffiti.
posted by philip-random at 12:09 AM on October 4, 2008


(Related: the notion of Lasnerian time periods.)
posted by hattifattener at 12:09 AM on October 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


I think this was different from things that came before (artificial 10-year stints or more nebulous eras like "interwar") in that there was a deliberate packaging and nostalgia that fairly overtly claimed relevance as a defense or refuge against modern moral complexity. The availability of the mass media made it possible to do this almost instantaneously.
posted by dhartung at 12:12 AM on October 4, 2008


The 80s are actually a good example to bring up in this discussion. The new idea of the 80s focuses on fashion and music, but excludes the crippling terror that nuclear war would destroy civilization that you can see in all kinds of 80s works. Maybe once the darkest fears from a period turn out not to come true, people forget that they ever had them. Hence, the 50s are all poodle skirts and bobby sox instead of crippling terror of nuclear war.
posted by No-sword at 12:17 AM on October 4, 2008 [13 favorites]


In the future, someone will write an article postulating that the 80s were just a collective fantasy.

Documentary evidence here.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:18 AM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Also, pracowity, your point is valid in that it's silly to draw arbitrary lines delineating one era from the next, completely different, era. But serious historians do think about these issues and don't just work off calendar dates. "The Sixties" generally refers to a period from the late 50s through to the early 70s, for example, and scholars argue about where and why to draw the line in various contexts.
posted by No-sword at 12:23 AM on October 4, 2008


But Fonzie really did jump the shark, right? That's been proven, right? It was caught on tape<>.
posted by twoleftfeet at 12:23 AM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Maybe you can make it real....

Those were 3 of the most disturbing profiles I've read in a long, long time. Historical recreation is fine...but the level of denial these women show is just frightening. I wonder how they would like electro-shock therapy? If you like to bake cakes...then bake a damn cake - you don't need a time machine to do that.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:29 AM on October 4, 2008


I agree, No-sword, that it's kinda weird that one sees Alphaville's Forever Young and Nena's 99 Luftballons, both of which are about the crippling terror of nuclear war, employed as cute songs in movies and TV shows. The especially weird thing is that these are fairly cute songs, they just happen to be cute songs about the crippling terror that nuclear war would destroy civilization. I don't know if the fact that the bands are both German has anything to do with it.
posted by Kattullus at 12:31 AM on October 4, 2008


Documentary evidence here.

Horrifying.
posted by philip-random at 12:33 AM on October 4, 2008


Yeah and the 80s were all about Atari and Goonies and Cabage Patch Kids and Michael Jackson.

I think it's more the next generation that absorbs the sterotypes. I remember the 50s that way specifically because of Grease and Happy Days and Corvette Diner, but I garauntee you that my parents don't view the 50s that way.

I'm sure it's only a matter of time before a revisionist feel-good show about my childhood years comes out, and I'll probably watch it for nostalgia reasons while my kids next to me are soaking it all in thinking, "wow, dad grew up in such a cool time!!". I don't think I'll have the heart to tell them, "well, kids... There was more too it than that.". What a buzz-kill that would be.

Same as it ever was.
posted by afx114 at 12:53 AM on October 4, 2008


Two words (or is it one): hula-hoops.
posted by tgyg at 1:01 AM on October 4, 2008


OK. Mind-explosion time. Sha-na-na played at Woodstock, yes, that Woodstock to a wildly receptive audience.

Also, speaking of the '80s, the Golden Oldies channels, featuring Wolfman Jack, aaaaahwooooooh! had lots of Do-Wop, as well as "Leader of the Pack" pop. Subgenres? 50's had 'em. On top of it all was a certain back-beat convert from South Nowheresville name of Elvis, standing on the shoulders of Little Richard and Chuck Berry. Dion and Ritchie Valenz and the Big Bopper and Buddy Holly, one of which would not die in the plane wreck, but spend the rest of his life wishing he hadn't so one of his heroes might still live... alternative rockers when rock'n'roll was the alternative.

Charlie Parker wouldn't even make it that far before flying off to Birdland.

Greasers lived, they fought and they died, switchblade in hand. They lived in the niche reserved for scofflaws, gangstas of their time, gathering on street corners, white and black, in rolled-up blue jeans over chucks or engineer boots, white tanks and black leather bombers, harmonizing at the lamp-post well after midnite until the cops came to break it up!

Beatniks lived, snapping at jazz and poetry and architecture, maaaaan, birthing the hippies who did their damnedest to change every fucking thing ten years later, and failing.

The fifties happened twice. Once in 1950, and once in 1990... maybe next time we'll get it right, or at least have something like the '60s to show for ourselves.
posted by Slap*Happy at 1:02 AM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


The especially weird thing is that these are fairly cute songs, they just happen to be cute songs about the crippling terror that nuclear war would destroy civilization.

Yeah. I clearly remember arguing with friends whether the Yanks or Russians were more likely to kid off the end of the world, and us poring over nuclear winter vs. beinging in the middle of the Pacific as to whether we stood a chance of surviving. All under the age of 10.

When I was 11, around 1985, the favourite role-playing game at my school was Twilight 2000.
posted by rodgerd at 2:43 AM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


When Americans remembered "the Fifties," they thought of Joe McCarthy witch hunts, of an "age of anxiety," of the "shook-up generation" diving under their desks during A-Bomb drills, of the Man in the Gray Flannel Suit selling out and Holden Caulfield cracking up, or Allen Ginsberg '48 and Jack Kerouac '44 too "beat" to fight back.

That's still the way I remember the Fifties. Guess I'm out of the loop. (Not to mention that I missed Woodstock.)
posted by languagehat at 6:28 AM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Life in the 1960s was not even one percent Beatles or hippies or mods.

"Did you ever dream about a place you never really recall being to before? A place that maybe only exists in your imagination? Some place far away, half remembered when you wake up. When you were there, though, you knew the language. You knew your way around. *That* was the sixties. ... No. It wasn't that either. It was just '66 and early '67. That's all there was." -- Lem Dobbs, The Limey
posted by Manhasset at 7:12 AM on October 4, 2008


JackFlash: "This is the type of pompous, self-serving fluff you find in alumni magazines all the time put out by people who take themselves and their school much too seriously."

Rediculous. If you read the first paragraph, most of the material in the article is taken from the book by Goucher professor Daniel Marcus, Happy Days and Wonder Years: The Fifties and Sixties in Contemporary Cultural Politics which has nothing to do with self-serving Columbia U, he's done the research and backs it up with appropriate scholarly apparatus - hardly self-serving, or fluff.
posted by stbalbach at 7:14 AM on October 4, 2008


My parents remember the fifties alright. That's why they never talk about it.
posted by doctorschlock at 7:57 AM on October 4, 2008


I have already seen teenagers romanticizing the '90s amongst each other. It left me speechless, but I wanted to say: what the hell, guys, nothing happened in the '90s! You did not miss anything when you were in naptime! I was there and I still have the awful flannel shirts to prove it. Okay, we didn't worry about terrorism all the time. And the internet was a lot smarter, if you knew how to work it. But that was it!

Even if I said such things, they wouldn't be heard, any more than I listened to my parents about the '70s and '80s. I once heard it said that, as they age, women continue to wear the fashions from the era in which they were happiest. We seem to be reaching for our childhoods, in which we were happiest -- or at least had the least responsibilities -- with these constant media reinventions.
posted by Countess Elena at 8:01 AM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Life in the 1960s was not even one percent Beatles or hippies or mods.

No. It wasn't that either. It was just '66 and early '67. That's all there was.


Best-selling albums by year (USA)


Recent history may be a little easier to take an objective line on (well, the events at least, though there's nays and yays for all the nutty crap you could ever think of), but pop culture is a much more subjective issue and largely depends on the culture within which you passed the time. For example, in my 80s nothing mentioned in that billboard chart for the 80s was more than a distant blip on the radar (didn't have a TV, seldom listened to the radio).

I'd hazard a guess that the big album for a lot of folks in 1991 would be Nevermind, but the best-selling album belonged to the eponymously titled album by whistle register botherer Mariah Carey. Which 1990s was yours? What sold very well at the time will likely keep up some decent residuals, the rest will get repackaged for the different demographics and the cultural history will be slanted in order to market that to those various groups.
posted by mandal at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2008


Sha-na-na played at Woodstock, yes, that Woodstock to a wildly receptive audience.

That's how they figured out something was wrong with the brown acid.
posted by MrBadExample at 8:09 AM on October 4, 2008 [2 favorites]


Having now been a historian for more years than I care to relate, I can tell you that when someone says that some tradition was "invented" it usually wasn't. Repackaged for sale, maybe. But "invented," no.
posted by MarshallPoe at 8:16 AM on October 4, 2008


MarshallPoe, what about the Fifties? Invented? (The article's point was basically what you just said, as I read it.)
posted by msalt at 8:45 AM on October 4, 2008


"What are you rebelling against?" "What've you got?" Marlon Brando's performance in The Wild One (1953) "greatly boosted sales of black leather motorcycle jackets, jeans, white caps, and sun glasses."
(The biker gangs are Black Rebels Motorcycle Club and The Beetles.)

Rebel Without a Cause and Blackboard Jungle (both 1955).
posted by kirkaracha at 8:50 AM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Rediculous. If you read the first paragraph, most of the material in the article is taken from the book by Goucher professor Daniel Marcus, Happy Days and Wonder Years: The Fifties and Sixties in Contemporary Cultural Politics which has nothing to do with self-serving Columbia U, he's done the research and backs it up with appropriate scholarly apparatus - hardly self-serving, or fluff.

Oh my, a real, live professor from Goucher wrote a book, with footnotes no less. Just what we need, another Camille Paglia to intellectualize our pop culture for us. Next up, a book about how the Beverly Hillbillies invented not only hillbillies, but also Beverly Hills, which of course was reinvented by 90210. Then of course, Mod Squad invented the 60s. And Dallas invented Texas. Sheesh, its freaking TV, folks. I fear for our nation.
posted by JackFlash at 9:18 AM on October 4, 2008


Thanks, kirkaracha. Hell, toss King Creole in there for good measure.

And I realize this pushes the north end of the decade up a bit far, but West Side Story fits in nicely too. And Maynard G. Krebs is an important figure here, too.

I think I understand the argument here to be that the saccharine view of the '50s, which subsumes the beats and greasers into a rose-colored memory that effaces the dangerousness of working-class or intellectual rebels, was first engaged by the big Kingsmen shows.

Just looking at the films above clearly demonstrates that

a) the idea of the greaser was widely disseminated and celebrated in the pop culture of the time, and that
b) the depiction of these rebels was at the least idealized

In Krebs' instance, we have a fully-realized sitcom-safe parody of a subculturally-identified teenager.

So I'm gonna venture a critique that essentially sees the recognition and development of the post-American Graffitti '50s nostalgia market as nothing more than the extension of pop-culture mythologizing about outsiders that had been taking place since, well, the fifties.

Furthermore, this stuff happens to every decade, more or less. As a person who was preadolescent during the 1970s, the faux-ironic recycling of nutty Seventies styles culminating in the admittedly non-saccharine "That Seventies Show" was the most uncomfortable decade of my adult life.

Of course, I look forward to consuming heartwarming revisionist pop culture material about the Depression for the next ten years, too. I'm thinking "The Waltons" has been too long gone from our nation's electronic hearth.

I'm going where
there's no depression...

posted by mwhybark at 10:00 AM on October 4, 2008


JackFlash: "Oh my, a real, live professor from Goucher wrote a book, with footnotes no less. Just what we need, another Camille Paglia to intellectualize our pop culture for us. Next up, a book about how the Beverly Hillbillies invented not only hillbillies, but also Beverly Hills, which of course was reinvented by 90210. Then of course, Mod Squad invented the 60s. And Dallas invented Texas. Sheesh, its freaking TV, folks. I fear for our nation."

JackFlash, you seem like a smart guy, but your complete lack of knowledge about cultural studies is making you look a bit loony.
posted by stbalbach at 5:19 PM on October 4, 2008 [1 favorite]


Wow, such strenuous " I knew that" posing! Look, I'm 47. I remember when Happy Days came out, and that image of the 1950s has been the dominant paradigm since then.
I guaran-fuckin-tee you that the majority of Americans see that as how the 1950s really were. (Which is why Ronald Reagan got in trouble for attacking the Beach Boys as druggies, because facts and anachronisms aside, they fit perfectly into the soundtrack of this phony stereotype.)


Well, again there is the fact that the Beach Boys were never a '50s group. I think that George Lucas' American Graffiti was the real catalyst for this throwback. Happy Days and Laverne and Shirley were sort of trying to approximate it, like MASH the television show with MASH the movie. But American Graffiti was much more interesting and had some depth, although ultimately it was still about teenagers and a long lost summer.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:25 PM on October 4, 2008


So I'm gonna venture a critique that essentially sees the recognition and development of the post-American Graffitti '50s nostalgia market as nothing more than the extension of pop-culture mythologizing about outsiders that had been taking place since, well, the fifties.

Well, the '50s did spawn the first teenagers, at least the way we now think of teenagers. I think that has a lot to do with it.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:30 PM on October 4, 2008


I remember some of WWII, because we saved the silvery stuff that was covering every stick of gum that I bought then. Some kids saved enough of that stuff until it became the size of a softball and then turned it into the scrap collector for the "war effort".
The neighborhood looked rather odd in those days since many patriotic Americans gave up their wrought iron fencing for the "war effort". As I recall everything was blamed upon the "war effort" then. It is kind of like the modern slogan, "its the fault of Wall Street" or "government" or whatever.
I think some of the 50's were real even though all those musicals and slicked back greasy hair were certainly false. Who in the world would wear stuff like that, after all! Things like that belonged in Taledega or some place like that.
However my last memory of note was the death of my mother and her father in September and November of 1957.
I am not at all certain that the '60s were all that real, though.
I am going to celebrate in April of 2009 a wedding anniversary that spans 50 years.
Thank you all for showing me the wonderful skill of selective memory. I have always been accused by close relatives - wife - children - of selective hearing, which I firmly deny. So I shall take up another task that should prove valuable in the long run of which I seem to only have the short run, oh well...
posted by toebonian at 5:49 PM on October 4, 2008 [4 favorites]


I used to spend hours as a kid doing that weird posing thing with my bicep and singing, "dote-dohdeeo-dodeeo-doh..."
posted by ericbop at 6:07 PM on October 4, 2008


Please tell me that the 50s was some gay guy going on about lobsters while hot chicks with beehive hairdos were making weird noises and singing about rusting tin rooves.
posted by dirigibleman at 12:54 AM on October 5, 2008


That was the 80s, dirigibleman, and it was just one chick singing about a tin roof (rusted).
posted by amyms at 1:06 AM on October 5, 2008


"I agree, No-sword, that it's kinda weird that one sees Alphaville's Forever Young... about the crippling terror of nuclear war"

...wait, what?
posted by Target Practice at 4:20 AM on October 5, 2008


I was there and I still have the awful flannel shirts to prove it.

Blasphemer.
posted by jonmc at 7:13 AM on October 5, 2008


Here's the first verse, Target Practice:

Lets dance in style, lets dance for a while
Heaven can wait we're only watching the skies
Hoping for the best but expecting the worst
Are you going to drop the bomb or not?

Rest of the lyrics.
posted by Kattullus at 8:52 AM on October 5, 2008


There's one more thing: The previous decade's fashions have always been easy to make fun of.

Successive parodies crystallize and perfect the stereotype.

Then, a decade later, the parody gets tired, tastes revert, bellbottoms come back (ironically at first, then in earnest), and it's time to laugh at neon spandex again.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:34 PM on October 5, 2008


When it's all said and done, it's all the same. Every decade, every age of humanity is the same, because we are all the same. If the aliens were to come down tomorrow, they would find it impossible to tell us apart, because we are as alike as rabbits. Give up this useless us vs. them crap - there's only the slightest difference from one generation to another.
posted by The Light Fantastic at 12:38 AM on October 6, 2008


Like my old man used to say: they weren't happy days.
posted by bonefish at 2:28 AM on October 6, 2008


American Graffiti came out in '73 (although the movie was set in '62, it was still infused with the greaser lifestyle); Happy Days premiered in '74; Grease on Broadway in '72. Sha Na Na may have been kicking around since the late sixties, but in terms of rewriting history it has a pretty shaky claim, not only because the musical revue doesn't exactly have a narrative, but also because most people had not heard of them, let alone heard them (Woodstock notwithstanding) until they got their variety show in 1977, almost certainly riding on Happy Days' coattails. I came of age during the seventies, and most of what I know about greasers I learned from reading The Outsiders (1967).
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:48 PM on October 6, 2008


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