Was the 50s Really a Pleasantville?by Tyler Woods on Jul. 17, 2010, under Life
Every so often on the ranch, a group of us all get together on the community land and we pick a movie, set up the outdoor DVD player and do a drive in type movie night. Hey we no longer have them, why not create them! Really, what could be better? Well of course a great movie! The last movie we watched was one that I actually use when I am teaching psychology or sociology classes. There is something about this particular movie with a focus on the 50s that we can learn from, and has us look at some real social issues of the 50s, and it got me thinking…
The movie Pleasantville gives you a broad look at some of the gender roles in the 1950s using wit and colorization. The movie is about two teens that get trapped in a 50s sitcom show and acts as a reminder that life is the 50s was about “stable” urban family life. I believe it was the 1950s that gave us the saying 2.5 kids and a white picket fence. There was no such thing as divorce, and everyone got along with everyone—well at least if you conformed to the rules and see everything as black and white.
What really stands out about the 50s are the norms. Basically the norms were there to keep peace so that all good youth and women would conform. The 50s was about a certain comfort and how comfort zones could not be compromised. After the cold war, folks just wanted things to be pleasant. We did not want to cause any conflict of any kind. I sometimes believe that is why in the 60s we had pins and stickers that told us to question authority. Someone had to question it.
Meanwhile back in Pleasantville, the emphasis was that in the 50s people had to get along. The dad worked, mom cooked, cleaned and tended to kids, and kids went to school, played sports and young teen girls learned to cook and clean just like their mothers. People got along and there was harmony as long as you were white, employed, owned a home and were married. That was what the all American life was. Well until people began to think on their own.
What I liked about Pleasantville is it showed you how conflict and racism can begin. Again the role of the man was to go to work, though in all the old 50s TV shows it rarely showed what men really did at work, it always showed them coming home saying “Hi honey I’m home and what’s for dinner.” (Also a great intro to chauvinism)
The movie Pleasantville is in black and white and as people start having a sense of individuality, they become colorized. Their “sameness” is no longer the same, and the comfort zone is compromised and we are able to see that when we think outside of the box or see something outside of black and white how racism begins.
If you have not seen Pleasantville which stars Tobey Maguire, Reese Witherspoon, and William H. Macy which came out in 1998, do yourself a favor and watch it. (Either that or you will have to watch it in one of my college classes.) I believe it is a real reminder of both how far we have come, yet how little we have accomplished with societal norms. We still practice racism on a daily basis and we will hurt, destroy and even kill to keep things “pleasant”.
There were so many things the 50s gave us. It gave us the music, the fashions, the fads, and yes, breaking out of the norms and being able to enter the 60s and speaking our truth and many of us just saying no to conformity. The 50s was indeed about beginning to open our eyes and start seeing the world in color.