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Real-time video of 1950's Levittown



'Pop' Goes the Culture, as the Culture Goes 'Pop'


In the50's, if you weren't 'with it', like Elvis fans, you were 'totally square'
Disneyland opened. Polyester appeared. Drive-ins debuted. There were radio-controlled lawnmowers and there were electronic brains. Volkswagen made a boom with its first Beetle and the sound barrier broke.

Moms went hog wild over Tupperware and kids laid waste to supermarket shelves lined with brand new sweets like Oreos and Sugar Smacks. A televised Tarzan swung across living rooms as families peeled off the tops of their first heat and serve, TV dinners.

Kitty shakes it up at a 50's style Chicago hot spot
Louis Armstrong jazzed. Elvis Presley rocked. Billie Holiday crooned. Teenagers popped coins into the jukebox and danced their way across America wearing poodle skirts and pompadours.

It was 1950's post-war America and U.S. culture went "pop". Popular, that is. The US was now a world super power. And Americans were ready to have some fun.


Catty Kitty.... a diner's phenomenon

At the same time, real-estate developer William Levitt was stamping out cookie cutter homes just as fast as World War II veterans could pack their bags and park them in suburbia. The population was growing fast. There weren't enough homes to go around. But Mr. Levitt was building shiny new suburban homes as fast as he could. These houses were equipped with the greatest and latest appliances and gadgets.

Levitt built tens of thousands of nearly identical, inexpensive homes. He organized them into neighborhoods connected by village centers and commercial districts. These new instant neighborhoods became a nationwide overnight success, and suburban America as we know it was born.

There in 1950's suburbia, modern American culture was fed to the ideal US citizen. New gadgets demonstrated technological progress and innovation. Music revealed liveliness and youth. Recreation showed wealth and prosperity.

By this time in the 1950's, the US and the Soviet Union were heavily involved in the Cold War, a period of about 40 years during which the two nations competed. Because it was so popular, suburban America sent a message to the world that the promises of capitalist democracy were strong and thriving.

Riverside, Illinois still exists, friends. Nick and I went there. We walked through its streets, strolled by its river, and emerged from the trees of its 'all-natural' forest preserve. Just as we left Riverside, though, we ran into Brookfield right next door. Past Brookfield, was Oak Park, and Naperville a little further beyond. Suburban Chicago, today, extends far outside of the borders of Riverside and well into lands more than an hour and a half's drive from the city. There are newspapers called "The Suburban," and radio stations slogans indicating the "sound of the 'burbs".

Progeny of American Suburbia...Trekkers Nick, Stephen, Stephanie, Irene, Becky, Neda, and Jennifer
Suburbia is everywhere. Contemporary suburban American towns are as visibly homogenous as they were in 1950's Levittown.

In the 50's suburban Americans became convinced that everything was okay. Counter cultures like that of the beatniks were strange. Social protests like those at the beginning of the civil rights movement were a complete surprise. If, in the 50's, the suburban boom and its popular culture was a symbol of success, then what does it mean today? What is popular culture in the new millennium?

Hold that thought.... I've got a call on my cell phone.


Please email me at: stephen@ustrek.org


Links to Other Dispatches

Irene - That's not just an orange you are eating. It's history
Jennifer - You ain't nothing but a SUPERSTAR!!!!!!!