NPF: THE LAND OF SMILING MILKMEN

There is a lot of buzz about the Super Bowl commercials run by various automakers this year. I did not watch much of the game and the few I've watched online have been underwhelming. It's hard to get excited when you remember that ads used to look like this:

Or if you want to up the Gee Golly-ness a few hundred percent, you can always enjoy the Jam Handy produced GM instructional videos of similar vintage. If nothing else, watch the first minute of Part 2 to see the boss's locker room oration:

People of my age are left to wonder if the Fifties were actually anything like these contemporary media suggest – implying that everyone in America was on strong psychoactive stimulants for an entire decade – or if the Hollywood version of 1950s America was simply an elaborate cover. Either way, I am both amused and terrified of this stuff.

By the way, Jam Handy was an Olympic medal winner in 1904 – and quite possibly insane, judging by the films he left behind.

30 thoughts on “NPF: THE LAND OF SMILING MILKMEN”

  • The list of people that sent me the Chrysler ad with some belief that American manufacturing is back ignore the following:

    1. Chrysler is now owned by Fiat… FUCKING FIAT
    2. Detroit is now the third world
    3. America can now "compete: because it has the desperation of the third world.

    Now how is that progress?

  • I'm sure if you were a white christian this is exactly what the 1950's was like for you. Everyone else? Not so much.

  • Being slightly dark complected and having a rather ethnic sounding last name – my father has never looked back fondly on growing up in the 1950s.

  • I'm not going to go as far as saying that American Manufacturing is back (because it isn't), and Chrysler may be owned, in part, by the Italians. But they are also partly owned by the American Taxpayer, and the new 200 is actually assembled in Detroit! While I seriously doubt it would happen, it would great to see Chrysler make this ad their new bottom line and bring some manufacturing – and some pride – back to Detroit.

  • Oh, and I liked that first ad with Dinah Shore – I don't think that GM has had that kind of style in the last 50 years.

  • Handy's stuff is awesome–the erstwhile geniuses at MST3K always went to the Handy well whenever they needed an extra 20 minutes of footage to rip on, and much of their best stuff was a result. Impassioned earnestness about the role of mylar in today's modern America is the stuff of nightmarish comedy gold.

    Were the 50s like this? Wasn't around either, but when you read the horrified reactions of German and Eastern European intellectuals who fled here–individuals who believed passionately in personal liberty and who discovered what happened when you created a society devoted to this same and how it meant the embracing of chintz, vulgarity, commercialism, and the Disney vision of the World of Tomorrow–you kind of have to conclude that, yeah, it really *was* like that.

    Plus, you know, Jim Crow and barefoot/pregnant and "the only good Mexican is one with a police baton embedded in his skull" and whatnot.

    But at least people knew to dress right for the theater, dammit.

  • The unbearable whiteness of these ads should tell you everything you need to know about the '50s. Sure, the '50s were aweseome .. for SOME people! Conservatives idealizing this period want to roll us back to that time when everyone knew their place (and no one wanted to change it….)

  • I was a kid in the fifties and I'm here to tell you that my mother ALWAYS cooked dinner in heels and a single strand of pearls, my father was always in a full suit and tie and a cross word was never spoken in our household. Yes, these were the years of full-bore euphemism, the apex of postwar American triumphalism, and the air was filled with Smug. All us boy scouts really BELIEVED in the American Dream; we saw no evidence to the contrary.

    Interestingly, my small-town American experience was unsullied by people of color, unless you count 15 minutes of Nat King Cole on TV. No blacks or brown people were allowed to live within the city limits, by common consent. (See a book called "Sundown Towns" for particulars) I remember competing in a speech contest whose theme was "My Place in the World in 1976," a date that seemed far, far away. (The winner supplied a John-Bircher's shitload of flagwaving) My own vision was totally materialistic, stocked with atomic-powered cars and superhighways. I didn't address social progress: not even being aware of the local racism, and sure that the U.N. could solve further-reaching problems, I assumed we'd already reached Utopia here.

    In retrospect, it was totally surreal, and my brainwashing was the result of a lot of concerted cultural energy. Think Stepford wives. We were the Stepford children.

  • Dinah Shore just had one hell of a snapper on her.

    (And by that I mean she'd religiously done her Kegel exercises)

  • Though far from perfect, the optimism of the 50's did provide a sort of ideal for people to attempt to attain. The fact that it wasn't a realistic ideal is much of what brought on the backlash of the 60's. So, for some people it was great: My mother desperately wants to go back to those times because she loved them dearly. For others, not so much. Though, there was a great deal of racism/elitism/ethnocentrism, I don't think there was any more than in the preceding decades. What would it be like to have the white 1950's mindset in the 2010's, but for everyone? I can't think of how this would not be positive.

  • As much fun as the Dinah Shore ad was, the updated version with the cast from "Glee" was even more so. Odd, though, that it only showed three cars – the Cruze, the Volt, and the Camaro ("a small animal that eats Mustangs")

  • grumpygradstudent says:

    A friend of mine recently acquired a dvd collection of old commercials, broken down by product category. The toy commercials are absolutely hysterical. One featured a life-sized bazooka. Another featured a toy gun that touted its realism by a charming vignette in which the children fool the police into believing it's a real gun. Haha! Good trick, kids!

  • @mojidoji, "What would it be like to have the white 1950's mindset in the 2010's, but for everyone? I can't think of how this would not be positive."

    The problem is that the white 1950's mindset was entirely predicated on the proposition that whites should prosper on the backs of the minorities they routinely oppressed. It wouldn't work to have it for everyone, because there would be nobody left to take advantage of, and nobody left who's conditions of poverty we could merrily ignore while basking in consumerist excess.

  • White supremacy is alive and well in 2011. That's what all that stuff about "illegal immigrants" is all about, and many white liberals, while they might decry the nasty words, are perfectly happy to take advantage of cheap illegal labor.

  • Speaking as a white kid who grew up during the 50's, but on the wrong side of the tracks in a New Jersey industrial wasteland, I remember watching these commercials. There was no thought that the lifestyle they espoused had anything more to do with me than that of the Mouseketeers. Most of what was on TV was acknowledged as fantasy/entertainment, not real life, let alone social progrmming. (Did any of my friends reeeeallly want to grow up to be gunslingers? No.) If historians looked back at the present era through the lens of reality shows, ultimate sports, and edgy comedy, do you seriously think they would have anything like an accurate picture of us?

    But Dinah Shore was definitely hot.

  • Ungrateful fucks. Born in 1954, I was born and raised in the thick of post-war America. So what if an entire population lived in a weird state of denial. They just didn't have the pharmaceuticals so convenient today. So here is the succession in the U.S. : World War I left a big dent in the gene pool. All that were left were war-scarred and/or poverty stricken, expressed in a true artistic and philosophical upheaval. If you don't know what I am talking about, go do your homework. Then the Depression. Followed by another World War with an AMAZING set of global genocides (many carrie dot by 'people of color'. Then a Cold War. It is a miracle that any good whatsoever came out of the genetics left in the human race in a century of that nature. But it did. And whether you like it or not, it came from the hands of 'white Christians' that you so quickly condemn. 'People of color' were not empowered enough to actually directly impact their destinies without help from whites, motivations be damned. I am not shamed of being a white Christian. I am often disappointed in the human race though, self included. Spare me the convenient blind eye you turn toward the history of 'people of color' and how they have handled their own destinies. Ungrateful fucks. Ungrateful, not to whites, but to all who have kept highest ideals alive in the face of a degenerate and genocidal world.

  • Georgia Jeff, what an interesting perspective you have on the 50's. I too was born in 1954. I'm white. But my parents had a very dysfunctional relationship, centering on the fact that my dad could never keep a job and moved us around like we were part of the military. My mom was miserable, but wouldn't leave him and kept having kids because she was a newly converted Catholic!! So, despite the fact that we should have been living the great white dream, I always felt like an outsider looking in through the window.

    My other observation has always been that the perfect(if white and middle class) life of the 50's was the birth mother to the children of the 60's. No one ever seems to connect the two or assign any responsibility to those Stepford households.

    Ungrateful fucks………not quite connecting all the dots on your theory.

  • Georgia Jeff.

    American casualties in WW 1 were about 117,500. Population was 92 million. That's a 0.13% loss. That's not much of a hit to the gene pool.

    WW II was much worse: 418,500 out of 131 million or 0.32%

    I'm really struggling to see your point.

    The 50's were a time of shallow, crass consumerism, punctuated by 3 recessions, one of which was pretty damned bad. I joined the work force in 1968, and the 1958-9 recession still got talked about a lot. I was born in 46. Ten years later, WW II was still something very prominent in people's memories and daily lives.

    It was the cold war, Joe McCarthy, the national highway system, and a top marginal tax rate of 90%. They were still lynching black people – you know – those ungrateful fucks – in the south. Ike overthrew a democracy in Iran and installed the fucking Shah. He got is involved in Viet Nam, too, in '56. The whole great arc of misbegotten American foreign policy originated in the 50's.

    And my little sister, born in '53, would put on a dress and patent leather shoes to dance to the Lawrence Welk show.

    JzB

  • I'm really struggling to see your point.

    That's because he doesn't have one. Other than white Xtian good, unappreciative darkies bad. And apparently his family lineage being particularly devoid of substantive genetics.

    And let's not leave out Eisenhower and Dulles' vision of Latin and South America as a permanent plantation. That only took 40 or so years to recover from.

  • There's a book called "The Way We Never Were" by Stephanie Coontz that some might find interesting. Her premise is that much of what remember of the 1950s was more of a media creation than anything else.

  • @Jeff: the argument is internally contradictory:
    "'People of color' were not empowered enough to actually directly impact their destinies without help from whites"
    vs
    "history of 'people of color' and how they have handled their own destinies"

    That aside you are periously close to Christian Idenity and White Supremacist argument with all that genetical talk and such as, so forth, and so on.
    We are pleased that you are pleased that you are the way you are. The only question is what does that have to do with reality; mine or yours.

  • @Georgia Jeff – Wow. Is this a Poe's Law thing? 'Cause if so, hats off to you.

    The spelling, the punctuation, the rose colored glasses! Ooh ooh! The crazy genetics talk? Gold. Just quality stuff. Really.

    That's hipster grade ironic wingnut rantage, that is.

  • Being of Generation X, I didn't pay much attention to Dinah Shore when she was a big celebrity thing.But after reading up a bit on her biography, she seems like the kind of person about whom my mom (who did grow up in the 50's) would have said, "She certainly did have a lot of boyfriends!"

  • @bozo

    "I was a kid in the fifties and I'm here to tell you that my mother ALWAYS cooked dinner in heels and a single strand of pearls, my father was always in a full suit and tie and a cross word was never spoken in our household."

    Exactly.

    I always wondered why my father looked like a tough guy sitting around in a white tee shirt with a can of beer, and my mother wore a modified mu-mu and slippers around the house. In retrospect,they were perfectly good parents, way above norms, but I just couldn't get over the notion that real parents were more like Donna Reed and Carl Betz, and I was somehow missing out….

  • I understood the 1950s better once I realized something about the zeitgeist. Say you'd been born in 1920 (as my father was). Around age nine or ten, something devastating happens to the country that you don't quite understand. Either you and your family are suddenly much poorer, or you know more than a few people who are. Then, just around your senior year of high school, those damnfool Europeans get started on another one of their damnfool wars. Then the US gets involved, and, well, a lot of people get killed and wounded, and every industrialized nation on Earth (except us) gets bombed to flinders. The Commies in Russia grab half of Europe, and the Commies in China keep fighting OUR Chinese, and then grab half of Korea. A few more people get killed or wounded.

    I now imagine a lot of Americans during the 1950s trying desparately to persuade themselves that everything is going to be all right. There won't be another war, the Commies won't take over over here, the coloreds will settle down, and the kids will stop listening to that damn race music.

    Me, I wasn't born until 1960, so I got an entirely different picture of the world growing up.

  • The whiteness is blinding!

    And Georgia Jeff has been blinded. His ignorance of relative casualties suffered, compared to France in WW1 or the Soviet Union in WW2, is staggering.

    His grasp of genetics is empty.

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