Westerns soon developed into a staple of TV land. The independence and strength of the characters epitomized the ideals that made America so unique. Families sat down with their TV dinners to watch such shows as " Gunsmoke," the Lone Ranger," the Rifleman," Have Gun, Will Travel," and " Maverick." You were not anybody unless you could sing the theme songs of each show.
Moviegoers were also being drawn into the theaters by the monster/science-fiction movies. About 500 film features and shorts were produced under this broad theme in the 1950s and early 1960s, explains the 50s B-Movie website. One might argue convincingly that never in the history of motion pictures has any other genre developed and multiplied so rapidly in so brief a period. As Paul Michael comments, "On a sheer statistical basis, the number of fantasy and horror films of the 1950s... has not been equaled in any country before or since." Moreover, Alan Frank points out that the 1950s "saw science fiction at its peak in terms of sheer output and diversity of theme and diversification into various subgenres, notably the monster picture...." (50s B-movie website). From any perspective the emergence and popularity of low-budget Horror, Science Fiction and Monster movies in the 1950s was an extraordinary cultural fashion. One reason for their becoming fashionable was the growth of a cinema based on the development of new special effects. Another reason, as noted previously, was that these movies offered another way to escape into other worlds.
People escaped from the everyday world in other ways as well. Rock 'n Roll was loved by the young people, and disdained by the old. The "Hit Parade," became one of the most watched shows -- like American Idol is today (Americans have come so far since the 1950s!). Broadway musicals, drive-in hamburger joints, picnics and barbeques (and more martinis), Tupperware and S&H Green Stamps made up the good life.
This does not mean that everyone in the U.S. were interested in "never-never land." The Beatniks, some U.S. scholars and intellectuals, were following the more serious Europeans in thinking about profound issues such as existentialism and the reason for living. The idea behind existentialism, advocated by Jean-Paul Sartre and Albert Camus among others in the 1940s and 1950s, was to determine the value of life. Bottom line: if life did not have value, then what was the reason for existing?
As the dialogue from Play it Again Sam aptly portrays:
WOODY ALLEN: That's quite a lovely Jackson Pollock, isn't it?
GIRL in MUSEUM: Yes it is.
WOODY ALLEN: What does it say to you?
GIRL in MUSEUM: It restates the negativeness of the universe, the hideous lonely emptiness of existence, nothingness, the predicament of man forced to live in a barren, godless eternity, like a tiny flame flickering in an immense void, with nothing but waste, horror, and degradation, forming a useless bleak straightjacket in a black absurd cosmos.
WOODY ALLEN: What are you doing Saturday night?
GIRL in MUSEUM: Committing suicide.
WOODY ALLEN: What about Friday night?
GIRL in MUSEUM: [leaves silently] (Ross)
What was the reason that most Americans were more interested in hula-hoops and rollerscating? It was not because everything was right in the world: There was that small matter over in the U.S.S.R., the possibility of Nuclear War, and the growing unrest of the African-America population and Civil Rights legislation, to name a few concerns. It just seems that the average American needed a rest from the stress and mayhem of the previous decade. They needed time to chill out, so it is said today.
As the 1950s came to an end, so did most of the frivolities of the decade. It was becoming too difficult to ignore the grim realities of the day including the Cold War, Cuban Missile Crisis and Vietnam War. Americans began to realize that World War II had come to an end, but now there may be even more horrible things brewing across the world. The American Dream had not come to an end, but the escape of the 1950s was over.
50s B-Movie. Retrieved from website April 17, 2005. http://www.newi.ac.uk/rdover/other/the_50s_.htm
Kallen, Stuart. The 1950s. San Diego, CA: Lucent Books, 1999.
Our American Century: The American Dream, the 1950s.. Editors of Time Life. Richmond-Virginia, Time Life, 1997.
Ross, Kelly. Existentialism. 2003. Retrieved from website April 19, 2005. http://www.friesian.com/existent.htm
Western Movie Encyclopedia. Western Movie. Retrieved from website April 18, 2005. http://www.localcolorart.com/search/encyclopedia/Western_movie