Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Utopias, the 1950s, and Modern American politics

Okay so everyone has their different idea of utopia.

But it seems to me that a compelling vision of utopia for a lot of people would be:
1950s stability, sense of personal responsibility, and high standard of living -- but with 21st century gender roles, racial equality, and diversity.
Imagine the 1950s -- stable families, 4th of July barbecues, deeply internalized sense of work and personal responsibility -- but without all of the 1950s bullshit: sexism, women confined to the home, racism, jingoism, and violence. Imagine swing dancing, social clubs, being present with people face-to-face instead of through the computer -- but with an appreciation for equality, diversity, and difference?

Indeed in some ways, isn't that what we get in the Obama family? The Obamas are the picture-perfect 1950s family -- but now they are black, and Michelle is a high powered attorney, and the kids travel the world during the summer meeting world leaders. But in President Obama we have the responsible dad, the guy who takes his work very seriously, has integrity in all that he does, and yet also has a deep sense of family, fun, community, and country. Indeed isn't that what freaks out the fascist teabaggers and various assorted wingnuts who constitute the modern gOP -- the Obamas do the 1950s better than they ever did -- and the Obamas do it without all of the racist, sexist, oppressive baggage that characterized the 1950s.

Maybe the 1950s never really existed -- not in the Norman Rockwell way it was portrayed at least. The high standard of living was bought on the backs of the poor and the disenfranchised who were forced to be invisible (much like how democracy in ancient Greece was bought on the backs of the slaves who afforded the wealthy leisure time for philosophy and debate). But I wonder if the ideal of the 1950s -- family, community, responsibility, is still embedded as an omega point of the American psyche?

Indeed isn't that essentially what the two parties in the United States sell us?
Republicans sell a vision of the 1950s WITH all of the racist, sexist, homophobic baggage of that era intact (and fetishized as a virtue).

Democrats sell a vision of the 1950s America WITHOUT all of the racist, sexist, homophobic, violent baggage.
Hence Republican attacks ads try to suggest that Democrats want to take us back to the 1960s. [Not true.]

And Democratic attack ads try to suggest that Republicans want to take us back to the dark days of racism, sexism, and intolerance. [True.]

Few people truly want to go back to the 1960s, 1970s, or 1980s -- those were some weird fucked up eras. I'd take the 1990s again -- but the 1990s were really the first redo of the 1950s -- but with a Democratic vision of prosperity, diversity, and tolerance. And 2000-2008 was also a 1950s redo -- but the Republican version complete with cold war paranoia, militarism, hate, and discrimination as national policy. Many pundits, in examining elections involving Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, Gore, McCain, and Hillary Clinton, suggested that the two parties were re-fighting the 1960s. But really I think American politics right now is centered around defining two different visions of the 1950s.

Update #1. For me, this Modern Love article from the NY Times makes an interesting companion piece to this post.

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