Historical Main CurrentsIn the 30s America was struggling with Depression. This era of depression led to a widespread unemployment, and was in general a difficult time for the American people. Roosevelt had his New Deal, but the problems would not go away. Furthermore the country led an isolationist politic, had beliefs of lasting world peace and pledged neutrality. Thus they had among other things a very small standing army. Their entrance to the battlefields of World War 2 was about to change the United States forever.
The U.S.A emerged from the war as the one great victor. The war actions had left behind a devastated Europe and a shattered Asia which had led major economic an military losses. America on the other hand had not had warfare on its own territory, and during the war it had managed to leap out of the depression and reach almost full employment for its inhabitants. It was also in possession of the worlds largest military force and the worlds most threatening weapon. In addition the country now had interests and responsibilities all around the world, but especially in democratic Europe. Thus, as the americans emerged from war they were elated and proud, happy with their victory and proud of their military and industrial might. The postwar era presented an unprecedented prosperity to the american people, at a time where the last fifteen years had been filled with deprivation and sacrifice.
The 40s and 50s were an era of economic boom, mainly upheld by military demands during and after WW2, and partly by the American peoples new consumer demands. The earlier fifteen years of saving and sacrifice naturally gave way for increasing consumer demands when the population now lived in increasing prosperity. Most people now wanted new and better things, which they also could afford. The federal government participated in this development by sustaining the military demands to some level, and by the creation of the G.I.Bill of Rights. The government also had campaigns directed to increase and sustain the consume of the people. Among other things advertising was a phenomenon that came to show its full potential during the postwar years. The government was interested in making the public believe that the affluent times were there to stay, and all of the things earlier mentioned along with the successful remains of the New Deals social program helped supporting this belief.
The G.I.Bill was a veteran funding system that led to an increase in both college education and the founding of the suburban homes of the 50s. This was kind of a social revolution with consequences like democratization of the education system and the mere fact that more people got higher educated. The veterans also returned to create a baby boom. After the war there were a high increase in marriages and new house owners, and alongside this the new baby boom came. These new babies contributed to the expanding society and consumers culture with their massive demands for things such as diapers, baby food and schools.
Another new phenomenon in postwar America was the explosion of suburban communities. All in all there was a metropolitan increase and a population decrease in the agrarian areas. For one thing the new affluent populations cry for their own homes created a need for building new houses. The easy answer for the place to build and the way to do it was lying in the suburbs. Alongside this came a demand for cars and highways which went trough an increase. People had a number of reasons for wanting to live in suburbs. They were longing for more spacious homes, greater security, and better education for their children. Some also moved to suburbs because of racial issues. (The suburbs were mainly segregated) All of this could these minor societies provide. The suburban lives encouraged uniformity; all the surroundings were similar, there was a need of a sense of belonging. There were created a conforming culture where social life had a homogenized character. The conformity of suburban lives gave way to a drastic increase in memberships in social institutions, the religious participation was especially renewed. Religion was set in bloom partly because of the Cold War where Communists were seen as anti God. Hence became religion an expression for patriotism. This was underlined by president Eisenhower among others. The American people wished that their own comfortable way of life could be reassured through religion, and so came an upbeat and soothing religious tone to be for sale; the gospel.
In corporate life big business grew bigger, and this had an effect on the working man. He went from being a hard-working individual, advancing by means of his own creativity and ability, to becoming a person within a collective cooperation and achievement.These things had consequences at home. The women were led back to the roles they played before the war. Campaigns were led to lead the women back to the kitchen. They were considered obliged to leave their jobs in the workforce so that the veterans could get "their jobs" back. The most honorable thing women could do were considered to be fostering a family at home.
As shown there existed a conforming culture consisting of affluent, consuming and
content american people. These people were satisfied with what the new America had
to offer, and at ease with their lives such as they were.
But at the same time there were people questioning this contentment. These were americans that expressed a growing sense of unease. They felt that maybe the american society was becoming too conformist and too materialistic. The battle between idealism and materialism had begun.
The same events that had created the earlier mentioned cultural expression, had also
created a reaction upon it self. The new situation in which America was placed did not
always give people a feeling of ease. The fact that The States now had global influence
and responsibilities was reason enough to give some of the american people a scare. Also
in postwar America a paranoid feeling developed. As mentioned earlier, the americans view
of communists was not very pleasant.Presumably they felt their new interests threatened
and as a guardian of democracy there developed what Churchill called "the iron curtain"
between east and west. I do not intend to discuss the outbreak of the Cold War, but merely
point out that it existed. With McCarthy this Red Scare developed to a countrywide plague.
This of course could as easily result in a feeling of suspicion and anxiety as in neglect
(as in the cultural expression above). In addition the mere fact that much of the american
might and welfare were build on military power contributed to an uneasy feeling amongst a
people known to be isolationistic in a country which in prewar times did not go for a big
military force, but for lasting peace. Only a short time after World War II America got
involved in the Korean war. But the two biggest consequences of The War were that the american
people were given insight in the cruel capabilities of humans (i.e. concentration camps) and
were given the knowledge of the annihilation powers of their new weapon--the nuclear war
heads--at the same time.
All of the above contributed to giving some of the americans a feeling of unease. This is mostly expressed in art works of the time, often as a feeling of alienation and disillusionment. A result of these feelings could easily end with nihilism.