Love in America in 1955. It didn’t seem like such a hot-button topic, but people were starting to question things; the status quo, the reason why some traditions were the way they were. In the midst of the Cold War era a lot of values were coming under scrutiny – particularly those held near and dear in lieu of possible extinction at the threat of nuclear annihilation. We were coming into the era of “live fast and do it now”, and the institutions preaching caution and monogamy were becoming outmoded.
One of those was Marriage. Divorce rates were skyrocketing. The concept of “till death do us part” was becoming a hollow one in light of the idea that death could come at any time. So the conversation, in this case a conversation broadcast as part of the radio series Conversation, concentrated on the whole concept of Love and what it meant to America, some 60 years ago.
The answers, in many ways, befit the era. The panel on this program consisted of Alistair Cooke, whose weekly program for the BBC in Britain focused on life in America – Faye Emerson, a popular TV personality of the time and Dr. Gregory Zilboorg, Psychologist and author of the book Psychology And The Criminal Act.
Most agreed that Love in 1950s America was a marketing concept – there was the idealized version and the reality and the two never had much in common (some 60 years later, it still doesn’t). The basic premise of love was universal and hadn’t changed for centuries, and was unlikely to – but what was different for the American concept of love, which the panelists felt, was that so much of it was centered on a sentimentality based on the hit song and the concept the song was trying to describe, which was impossible at best to achieve.
And with the hit song, the dewey-eyed Love Ballad that extolled virtues and promises and fantasies, also came the marketing, the advertising, the literature and film – all brought together to create an atmosphere impossible to achieve, invariably doomed to failure, and yet repeated over and over because it sold things.
Sounds very familiar – and without the gooey sentimentality of the 50s Love song, replacing it instead with Adele or any one of a number of practitioners of Popular Mainstream culture by way of film, literature and ads, and you have pretty much an identical atmosphere, 60 years later. The names, faces and circumstances change, but the core structure is the same. Love based on a lot of things having nothing to do with love, but everything with the perceived concept of Love – and the results are the same.
Have a listen for the similarities and forget the ancient references when you play this episode of Conversation. We seem to have gone very far in those 60 years, but in reality, we’ve gone no where at all.