Network News

X My Profile
View More Activity

Pleasantville: Do We Need to Go Back to the '50s?

There were a lot of things wrong with America in the 1950s: racism, McCarthyism, polio, unfortunate headwear.

But most people agree that Americans were nicer back then, more polite to one another. Why?

Derek Havens thinks it might have been those educational movies schoolchildren were shown. He writes:

[Public] service announcements and other public displays of modeling appropriate public behavior would be a very good thing. Through this type of information presentation I was one of those kids taught to believe that my school desk was adequate protection from a nuclear blast, so I understand the potential pitfalls in having some Orwellian power impose and inculcate in its own best interests. But I also was a product of a mounting sense of civic conformity supported by endless films that demonstrated such things as appropriate behavior in school, personal and public health, driving and national citizenship. Classes in civics and history (albeit somewhat revisionist, as was the style after the Korean War) were mandatory. The most indelible of all of these where the films giving guidelines on how to behave among and with other people.
The expectations in these films described the "social order" that we all understood; don't cut in line, say please and thank you, be considerate of others. Simple, straight-forward, non-polemic how-to's for learning what others might expect of us and how we might enjoy happier and healthier lives. Of course, this was the age of the "The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit" and all was tainted with conformity as the order of the day as our salvation from the commie threat.

Derek recognizes that those films can seem corny, creepy and downright Orwellian today. But I think he's right that they at least provided a baseline for behavior. One of the problems today is that some people don't think there's anything wrong with texting in a movie or yapping away on a cell phone. They just don't know any better.

Here's an example of one of those "social guidance" films of the 1950s. (It takes a while to load. Sorry. Here's another on YouTube.)

Movies like that can seem laughable today, but is it mainly because they look so antique? What would the modern equivalent be? Here's a great on Facebook manners, done in that style.

By John Kelly  |  June 25, 2009; 10:20 AM ET
Categories:  Radical Civility  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: The Movie Palace Guard: Anti-Texting Done Right
Next: Random Acts of Rudeness


One of the kids channels (I can't recall if it's Disney or Nick) runs a short called "Can you teach my alligator manners" or something similar. The premise is (perhaps obviously) the alligator is behaving badly and viewer is given choices regarding how the alligator *should* behave. The one I recall was about covering ones mouth when sneezing and properly disposing of the tissue.

Posted by: VaLGaL | June 25, 2009 1:57 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

RSS Feed
Subscribe to The Post

© 2010 The Washington Post Company