I understand why White people are nolstagic for the 1950s

Every so often, you’ll hear White Americans over the age of 60 (or even under… I guess by their imagination) long for the “good old days” of the 1950s. To me, they’re just the racist old days… or the sexist old days… or the repressed old days… or the red scare old days… or anti-comic book old days. I don’t really see the 1950s as a positive period in American history. I do dig the doo wop songs of that period, I guess.

But there is something to be said for a small town feel. The mom and pop shops. The diners. The safe neighborhoods. Well, as far as I can tell, the Richmond District in San Francisco is the best of the 1950s but without all the McCarthyism and oppression/repression. I’ve got to say I love the Richmond.

Joe’s Ice Cream has the best ice cream I’ve ever had. It’s homemade every day by this old Japanese guy, and his family serves it up with smiles (and really strong forearms). Bill’s Place has an old-time diner feel with amazing milkshakes. Even today, my wife and I went to a paint store and got wonderful customer service from an old dude who told us exactly what we needed to get and didn’t need to get to repaint our kitchen cabinets. He wrote down the exact procedure for us and forbade us from buying bigger paint cans than we needed, even when we kept insisting we needed bigger paint cans (he was right, by the way—the small paint cans were sufficient). And don’t forget the locally owned Balboa movie theater with its 1920s flare, cheap prices, mix of artsy and mainstream films, real butter for popcorn, and staff who care about movies.

I love local joints and a small town feel. The people I run into in businesses in the Richmond District generally care about their businesses. They’re not just hired hands who work on commission. They want to develop a relationship with you and work hard to gain your trust. So I’ve got to say… now I understand why White people are nostalgic for the 1950s. If only we could get a good 24-hour diner around here (no, Video Cafe does not count—I said good 24-hour diner).

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12 Comments

  1. I doubt most people look back at “good old days” of the 50s and wistfully daydream about calling blacks niggers and sending them to the back of the bus. In reality, they probably have their own personal memories and ideas at hand that don’t fit into wild and politicised stereotypes of white society.

    I’m not sure if your observation is particularly fair or accurate.

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  2. This is a great blog.

    When white people are nostalgic for the “good old days”, I also think of the racist old days and the sexist old days. It’s good to see read this post and learn that the sentiment actually has some merit.

    However, the 1950s would still not be the “good old days” for people of colour and women. It’s just that small towns have some charm. I myself haven’t been to a small town that didn’t make me self-conscious of my race. I don’t know what the racial demographics of the Richmond District are, but from your post, it seems like those 1950s problems would be absent from your small town.

  3. Welcome, Restructure! Glad you’re enjoying the blog. The Richmond District’s cool because it has a small-town feel, but it’s actually in a city (San Francisco). Demographically, it’s Irish, Chinese, Russian, and Korean.

  4. I *heart* Joe’s Ice Cream.
    We had it at our wedding instead of cake.

    What I find interesting/ironic about Richmond District is that, up until recently, it has been primarily a minority population (Irish/Jewish before WWII, Chinese American and Russian/East Euro after WWII) but is increasingly white as prices for housing across the city have skyrocketed… Ryan’s parents, who have lived in Richmond district for over 30 years have noticed a huge shift in their neighborhood.

    And – as a side note – I have yet to find A diner (let alone a 24 hr one) in SF/Bay Area that has an authentic feel, (not that I would know exactly, but what I perceive as authentic, anyway) good food and good service. Maybe I’m asking too much.

  5. Hi, Hayley! I had no idea Ryan had such a family history in the Richmond. That’s cool. Yeah, there’s no old-timey 24-hour diner in San Francisco. I’ve looked. There are 24-hour establishments (not diners) and 8-hour diners. What can you do?

  6. The 1950’s will be always viewed as a decade of innocence regardless of the social pressures that were ready to boil over in the next decade and force the entire American society to wake up. Even with the issues of desegregation in the south, a large part of the American population believed that nothing was wrong. I would even venture to say that they were unable to comprehend why some elements of society, the non-whites, couldn’t be part of the American Dream. They knew racism was a problem but they simply ignored it for the wrong reasons. Most believed that the “rocket age” would somehow settle all of societies problems. The government still received a lot of trust from the populace and it, too, would find a way to fix what problems existed. John F. Kennedy, who knew this, would address it in his inaugural speech.

    Overall, the nostalgia of the 1950’s lays in the commercial images of the nuclear family, pristine neighborhoods, and the Golden Rule. Despite the many problems that were growing beneath the surface, I think a large portion of the American population would really like to have that kind of lifestyle. We want to have the smiling mailman whom we call by the first name. We want manicured lawns and perfect schools. We also want one pay check to pay all the bills. With the middle class vanishing and trust in government at an all time low, the nostalgia of the 1950’s will only increase. We have to remember, however, that the New American Dream will be one in which everyone will have a part.

  7. Hey, Aysiu, it’s me Chinocracy from Ubuntu Forums. I looked this up through your Psychocats page, and this post particularly struck me. I have a 60+ year old mom who believes the 1950s were a good time too. But when I read history, I get the opposite picture.

    If I were to chose a worst decade for the 20th century, I’d pick the 50s. This was when, because of the time of peace after war, people became soft. This in turn was because of consumerism: one of the greatest pieces of harm done by American culture. Of course, have to consume to live; but the level of consumerism, making it a conspicuous status symbol of prosperity, has caused people’s values to be twisted and made them focus on materialism. It also made people seek the order of the 1950s, which was not conducive to change and improvement. Thus, 50s fanatics find it hard to deal with today’s multicultural and change-oriented world.

    I also believe the conservative 50s created false moralities and molds of how citizens should be. Look at the classic image: white, clean cut, very limited hobbies and interests (church and woodcrafts, no bungee jumping and rock music), and a western-centric worldview. I believe that society should create no molds, as they burden people, and the 50s did this.

    Also, I recently spotted the film Why We Fight by Eugene Jarecki. Very interesting how in the 50s, the U.S. started to become dependent on war…

  8. Oh yeah, about rock music above, remember the old guys of the 50s would look upon rock as the “devil’s music,” and this betrays how 50s cultured people looked down upon and were reluctant to accept something new. Anything new for them would be “from the devil,” as it sometimes upset the order they knew. But as we know today, this kind of thinking leads to disaster.

  9. The 50s from what my grandmother has told me were an awesome and turbulent time. I am from what is considered and All American city that is famous for it’s populuxe architecture, Johnnie’s Broiler, and the Carpenters. The Chantay’s classic Pipeline was also recorded here. The 50s were great though from what I imagine. I’m white (Spanish/French), but it was an oppressing time for everyone. The taboo nature of all things made it exciting. To have lived in the 50s would have been swell.

  10. Damn straight we are, little girl! Look at your post from your brief visit to Portland, Or.–a pure ’50’s town. White,conservative, dull, straight: but clean, dependable, (mostly)affordable, like Seattle used to be 30 yrs ago or San Francisco used to be—in the ’50’s. I love S.F., too, and would rather be a door knob here than king anywhere else, but you have to be a little nostalgic for the period that formed you and gave you your first life experiences–and not bad ones at that. Yeah, the 1950’s were crummy if you were non-straight, non-white, non-bourgeois, but remember: the ’50’s (which lasted from 1947 until 1964) were a yeasty period filled with social ferment. W/o the ’50’s, there couldn’t have been the upheavals of the 1960’s. The 1950’s were when the benefits of the New Deal finally began to bear fruit that we enjoy today. Those of us who remember that era regard ourselves as very, very lucky, and are somewhat sorrowful for those of us whose early memories start with Reagan, or Clinton.

  11. …oh, and another thing about the 1950’s: one wage-earner could support a family and a house and a car on a working class income. Try that today. Just try.

  12. This is the real reason shows like “Mad Men” are popular among white [men]. White men reminisce about the good old days when they were king and could get away with slapping their secretaries on the backside, cheating on their wives and ignoring/or calling non-white people names.

    No thanks to the good old days.

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