Sunday, November 27, 2005

The American 50s

Am I the only one who watches movies set in the US in the 1950s and marvels at the world it portrays? Tonight I couldn't sleep, so I watched Mona Lisa Smile, a wonderful movie, that nevertheless made me think about cultural differences.

While people in the US were living the American dream, partying, and having the time of their lives, people in Hungary and elsewhere in the Communist Bloc were struggling with persecution.

Mona Lisa Smile is set in 1953-1954. You know what happened in that year in the rest of the world? Stalin died. You know what happened to my family in the years after World War II? My grandfather and grandmother were imprisoned. My mother was sent to live with her grandparents from the age of 3 to 6. In 1953 my mother was in elementary school. She says that when they announced the death of Stalin no one knew what to do and sat in silence - they didn't know whether to cheer or to weep. What did the state expect of them?

So American movies set in the 50s and from the 50s are bittersweet to me. I am American, but I am also Hungarian. And I cannot set aside the legacy of the 1950s that my mother and her family struggled with to embrace the wonderous perfection of the American 1950s of the silver screen.

Remember the world. Remember the people who suffered while Americans drove big cars and lived the American Dream. Remember Stalinism, Maoism and all that followed. Remember that the US isn't all that ever was, is and will be. Remember 1953, 1956, 1968...Remember...


Blogger kitsurubami said...

Heard a great story on (was it NPR), not only for Communism but sexism also:
Stalin's death is announced, and every little girl at this elementary school instantly breaks into strenuous weeping.
The old cynical teacher snaps some dirtily Russian equivalent of "knock it off."
On a dime, without momentum, there is silence.
* * * * * *
Mark Kurlansky, the brilliant historian behind Cod and Salt, and particularly devoted to the Basques as he lived with them for a time, felt strongly enough about 1968 that he devoted an entire book to it. He's a really great read.

1:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't forget that it was just 50 years ago that Rosa Parks decided not to go to the back of the bus. That also was America in the 1950s.

3:50 PM  

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