In July my husband will be drawing Medicare, in addition to the Social Security he now receives. He was born in 1946, one of the first year tide of “baby boomers.” I was born in 1947, during the second year of “baby booming” in post-war America. While drinking coffee and reading the paper–a rather old-fashioned notion in my children’s household (not the coffee, just the newspaper!)–I read that the sixties are going to trend in television next season. The sixties are cool again, thanks to Mad Men—it’s the style, not the substance, however. Don’t get me wrong. We love Mad Men too, but we watch it with more irony than the generations that follow us.
Don’t get me wrong! I remember the sixties and the late fifties as well. My sister and I used to play “apartments” in the new fifties ranch house suburban neighborhood we moved to in 1954. Lots of slamming of doors and a drinks cart always played prominently in our games, as did smoking. My parents both quit smoking early in the fifties, so we copied the elegance of TV starlets. Apartments, drinks carts and cigarettes were all the height of sophistication we didn’t actually see anywhere except on television. My parents didn’t have a drinks cart or a bar, so we used my mother’s glass tea cart with water glasses. My parents hid a lot of their true selves when we were growing up. They secreted their liquor in the master bedroom so my tee-totaling grandmothers never knew they imbibed. Just for the record, they also kept it a secret that they were Democrats, since The Grandmothers were rabid Republicans and would have disapproved.
My sister and I were in junior high and high school during the first half of the sixties. Fear was in the air then, with the Cuban missile crisis, the Cold War, the construction of the Berlin Wall, the glow of President Kennedy and then his assassination. Civil rights conflicts raged in the southern states, filling the TV news and the headlines–Freedom Riders, lunch counter sit-ins, peaceful marches ending with police batons and fire hoses. The angry faces and hate-filled quotes from angry white southerners amazed me, although one of my grandmother’s said the same kind of thing when she visited us. I graduated from high school in 1965, just on the cusp of more turbulent times. The Vietnam conflict ramped up and both Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated. I attended a quiet teaching college, but MLK’s assassination prompted class closures and protests. No one could have escaped the clear message: The times they are a-changing…
This is how I remember my childhood and adolescence–sophistication, strictly defined gender roles, frightening upheavals, fear, threats of war and war. Television messages: cowboys and Indians, pointy bras and ruffly aprons, housewives concerned with their dish and clothes detergents, wise dads and well-intentioned kids. My own life included a working mom torn between her home, family and huge ambition; a father whose dreams were never the same after World War II–all he wanted was his home, family and a steady, 9-5 dullish job. My grandmothers who remembered a past without cars, telephones, washing machines, played a prominent part in my life.
The fifties AND the sixties were iconic times for me, as are the times for anyone remembering the 18-21 years of growing up. Both my sister and I married early, within six months of each other. Our weddings were almost identical since we each wore our mother’s circa 1942 satin wedding dress. Boy friends, engagement rings and weddings were expectations when we were very young women. We had church weddings and receptions in the church basement. Do people do that anymore? Church basements? No chocolate fountains or champagne at our weddings!
The new retro television shows coming this fall resurrect the overt sexualization of women that many women, as well as men, bought into. They are titled The Playboy Club and Pan Am. The Playboy Club needs little explaining, butPan Am does. Fifty years ago, flight attendants were good looking women only. No men were allowed, no married or older women were allowed, no overweight or unattractive women were allowed. Stewardesses were sexualized by innuendo, but that was seen as a plus. So, these programs will romanticize the style over the substance, once again. We will tune in for Mad Men on AMC, enjoying our blast from the past, but give the network shows a miss. I don’t really want to be reminded of Playboy or stewardesses.
- NBC picks up ‘The Playboy Club’ and other pilots to series (insidetv.ew.com)
- What’s The Fall TV Season About? Masculinity, Fairy Tales, And The ’60s (npr.org)