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The 1950s are fast becoming what the 1960s were not all that long ago. Which is to say that the era that set the stage for the obviously upheaval-heavy '60s is getting its own undressing, and the interlocutors are finding all sorts of fascinating stuff. Historian David Halberstam, who logged time in the era as a journalist and civil rights struggle participant, helped nudge the era's current popularity with hisbook, which gives this exhaustive six-tape series its name. And given art historian Karal Ann Marling's consideration of the era as the dawn of "visual culture" in her ownbookon the 1950s, it's fitting that this set is so geared towards the visual. From its coverage of the McCarthy era and the baby boom to its study of the growth of affluence as a national ideal, the set roots many of its themes through the ways 1950s culture came together as a visual spectacle. First there is television ad-mogul Rosser Reeves and the leveraging of the television as a sales machine, then there's Richard Nixon's first career salvage job via television, then there are the running visual (and literary) constructions and interrogations of domesticity, and much more. Also prevalent in the set, though, is the concurrent rise of the "men's magazine" (i.e.,Playboy), the then-alluring first edition of theKinsey Report, and the spread of a manifest culture of desire--which in writing sounds amply intellectual but in viewing is fast-paced, compelling, and easy to engage for long periods of time. Probably most compelling in the set is the way the era's visuals changed society irrevocably--and swiftly. The civil rights era's catapult was due in large part to general citizenry witnessing fire hoses and police dogs trained on children and the astonishing power of Martin Luther King Jr.'s nonviolent resistance. On another level, the visuals also created both a dizzying array of styles, captured here in regard to automobile manufacturers, and the flattening of one style into ade factostandard, captured here in the spreading communist fear, the rise of McDonald's restaurants, and even Elvis Presley. This series is the best up-close focus on the 1950s, making it essential to students of American culture, general history fans, and anyone curious about the tendrils of culture in the United States.--Andrew Bartlett
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CastEdward Herrmann, Cynthia Dale, Jack Anderson, John Chancellor, Jules Feiffer
DirectorAlex Gibney, Susan Motamed, Tracy Dahlby
Genre:  Television, Music, Musical
Screen WriterAllen Ginsberg, Alex Gibney, David Halberstam, Jack Kerouac, Ralph Ellison
Runtime:  390 minutes
Studio:  A&E Home Video
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review by . April 17, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
To many, the sixties cannot be mentioned without prefacing it with the adjective turbulent. However, as can be seen from this tape, in the fifties, the turbulence was there, just subterranean and pressing hard towards the surface. Quite frankly, I do not understand how anyone could be nostalgic for that decade. You see in detail the paranoia against communism milked so well by Joe McCarthy, the incredible hatred blacks faced and how people were so dissatisfied in an era of unprecedented prosperity. …
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David Halberstam's the Fifties
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