Fashion, Political Elections, Political Figures, Religion, Sexual History, Social Movements

The Presidential Election of 1928: The First Culture War Election

There are certain presidential elections that I would call culture war elections. These would be elections where issues relating to what degree of freedom one is entitled to, or conversely, what obligation and conformity individuals in a democratic, pluralistic society should adhere to in their interactions with others and the community at large. These issues tend to involve religious freedom, gender issues, appropriate forms of protest, law and order, and the degree to which government should regulate personal behavior. Some of the presidential elections I would consider heavily dominated by culture war concerns would be 1968, 1972, 1980, 1992, 2016, and 2020.

However, the first modern-day culture war presidential election I feel would be that of 1928. I mentioned in a previous post that I consider the 1920s to be the first decade of the modern age. The 1920s witnessed a level of societal change, especially regarding gender, sexual mores, and the introduction of Hollywood mass entertainment. I would say that perhaps only the 1960s saw more societal change within a ten-year time period. Conservative society, which favored the status quo, was greatly alarmed by the advent of flapper girls in free-flowing knee-high dresses and smoking in public.

Conservative society had what can be called a pyrrhic victory at the start of the decade with the passage of Prohibition, which outlawed alcohol. In many ways, the law only ended up glamorizing the consumption of alcohol as a hip and inviting activity. The urbanization and arrival of many immigrants from southern Europe at the start of the century furthered alarmed many in WASP society. It is with this background in mind that one can understand better the cultural significance of the election of 1928.

Al Smith, the Democratic Candidate, was a politician straight out of Tammany Hall, New York City, and a Catholic. I often thought that anti-Catholic sentiment was a thing long in the past, from the mid-nineteenth century and “The Know-Nothings” of the 1850s, a sort of bizarre, quirky belief. However, the internet has shown me, much to my bemused surprise, just how much anti-Catholic sentiment remains even to this day among many Protestant Fundamentalists and evangelicals. Many go so far as to say Catholics are not even Christian, which seems a bit perplexing considering Protestantism came only into existence fifteen hundred years after the supposed time Jesus lived, and Christianity began. This sentiment was even more prevalent in 1928 and, along with The Monkey-Scopes Trial, just two years prior, increased the anxiety of those opposed to the secularization of society and suspicious of modernity. While they gained a victory of sorts with the defeat of Al Smith, it was at best very brief and not far-reaching. Five years later, Prohibition, their core cultural war issue of 1928, would be repealed. I would say the 1950s and the 1980s were the only two decades where society became more conservative than the decade that preceded, and even then, it would be for a relatively brief period.
Comedy, Fads, Fashion, Hollywood, Old Television Shows, Sexual History, Social Movements

The Honeymooners: Alice and the Blonde, 1956 Comedy

The new starlets of Marilyn Monroe and other big busomed Hollywood female stars brought a new pressure to 1950s women. They know have this creeping expectations to clean with the floors sparkling while in sexy day wear waiting for the arrival of their husbands arrival home from work. It was this physical and social pressure to play all the roles just right that caused much mental burnout among many fifties housewives.

Fashion, Sexual History, Social Movements

Niche Groups In America Through Time: The Beatniks, Questioning the Core Values of Polite Society, 1945-1965

In post World War 2 America a new social group emerged in urban environments such as Greenwich Village in New York City and San Francisco called the beatniks. Some people call the beatniks the precursors of the hippie generation that sprung up in America in the mid to late sixties. There is some connection between the two social movements, but there were key differences as well which I shall elaborate on.

The beatniks took inspiration from the thoughts and ideals of writers such as Alan Ginsberg and William Burroughs among others. Basically this literary clique stood in firm opposition to the conformist values of polite society such as working nine to five Monday through Friday, maintaining certain respectable material standards and conforming to the ethos of Christianity and Judaism, especially in regard to sexual expectations. The beatniks kind of ascribed to a philosophy of life having meaning through the very essence of experiencing, all things, without any conventional goal necessary.

This philosophy caused many of them to experiment with drug usage, unconventional sexual practices, alternative living styles and religions and music and entertainment that was outside what was conventionally fashionable. They had an affinity for jazz music and writing and poetry that celebrated raw unfiltered emotion. Some of these values were later adopted by the hippie movement of the late sixties.

However there were some notable differences. As much as the beatniks sort of took a dim view of civilization, they were very much for the most part urbanites who felt out of place in a rural setting. The hippie movement had a much more romantic back to the earth kind of idealism. Additionally, and this may bring many down votes from aging ex hippie baby boomers, the hippie movement was very much rooted to opposition of The Vietnam War. I kind of feel like many, not all, but many late sixties hippies sort of just adopted the lifestyle as a fashion statement really and as a way guys could get “chicks” who digged long hair and such. I kind of wonder if absent the Vietnam War, and long hair being in vogue and thought sexy, if many would have been more than happy with their crew cuts and conservative society trappings. In many ways I guess they sort of remind me of the grunge kids of the nineties in that respect. This is my personal opinion of course. I also think this is why the beatniks never became in any way as numerous as the hippies.