The conformist 50s

US economics and industry during and after WWII was in good hands due to federal interventions and control. New enemies took the place of old ones, which was quintessential in keeping the economy spinning. The Cold War and the ensuing red scare, on its turn, triggered numerous paradoxical domestic affairs. As potential enemies of state many intellectuals ‘emerged’ on the Blacklist, issued by Republican Senator McCarthy. They allegedly threatened homeland security and convinced millions of workers to join the socialist dark side and sing The Internationale hand in hand.

Writers, poets, playwrights, journalists, show business people and others were reported and charged with high treason, divulging state secrets and incite workers against the fundamental principles of capitalism. The senator’s trumped up witch hunts often relied on hoax, highly speculative evidences and confessions obtained by illegal methods such as blackmail, censorship and demagogy. Once summoned in front of the House Committee on Un-American Activities one’s reputation could be absolved only by submitting a list of names containing such individuals the accused suspected of leading an unpatriotic life. Betray your friend in order to vindicate thy name. Compiling infamous and much feared blacklists were in fact scapegoating and resulted in many intellectuals losing their jobs.
The New York Intellectuals (formed in the early 30s from the US working-class) took a stand in front of mainstream politics. In addition, they obtained some prestige as left-wing political and cultural critics by the late ‘40s.

The McCarthy witch hunt contributed to the consolidation of the conformist decade of President Eisenhower. Everybody wanted to fit in this artificially generated ‘perfect’ consumerist society. Car (the ultimate symbol of the American freedom) sales boosted and skyrocketed. Automobilization gave new impetus to urbanization by eliminating restrictions on travel.

New Yorkers moved, in massive numbers, to the suburbs, such as Levittown, or the African-American minority to Harlem. American citizens enjoyed leisure, material comfort. No wonder, the majority did not intend to ‘rock the boat’. Basically all that I saw was straight faced males, i.e. the Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, commuting to work, depressed housewives administering novocaine as if it were candy, and spoilt children rebel without a cause. Your friendly neighbors became model consumers, acquiring the latest products and following the trendiest fashion. An inter-familial contest surfaced, where the winner took pride in being one step ahead of others in purchasing the latest China set.
Matinees and popular newsreels warned the population about the actual red scare, and urged them to make and take shelter against a foreboding and unforeseeable massive nuclear attack against the United States. For this reason every self-respecting household hosted a high quality, bombproof bunker with properly equipped technical gadgets, provisions and a record of The Chordettes with Mr. Sandman.

In no time did I get weary of the monotonous and hypocrite suburbs, so I made up my mind to join the dead poets society. They were, to put it mildly, impatient with the rigors and strait-laced traditions imposed by the contemporary society.

The Beat Generation rejected materialism, inherited and uncompromising social and literary standards. Moreover they embraced free sexuality, the use of hallucinogenic drugs and Eastern religions. Columbia University was the perfect meeting place for such misunderstood geniuses. On the first occasion I encountered them Allen Ginsberg was howling, Jack Kerouac was in a rush to get as quickly on the road as possible, Lucien Carr worried about some correspondences. In the meantime William S. Burroughs was sardonically inviting all participants to a naked lunch. The guys provided the literary scene with a much desired freshness mirroring the upside of the 50s ‘paradise’. Unfortunately, in lack of a well-defined program designed to implement essential changes and reforms to the society they accurately criticized, could not resist in front of the mainstream culture and went on their own separate ways. Dead end …