01/10/2012 05:30 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2012

1950s: Remembering the Innovations, Stars and Troubles

The 1950s: the era of music legends, drive-thrus, iconic movie stars and what many would describe as a more wholesome way of life. While this oft-idealized time may seem far removed from cultural and technological realities of today, a wave of nostalgia for the 1950s has crashed down in the past few weeks, bringing back memories of those good old times ... and the bad.

This week, the Today Show aired a video (see below) on life in 1952, offering a brief time travel back to the 50s. From automobiles to televisions to stilettos, the '50s were a time of growth. Tony the Tiger roared onto the scene with his frosted cereal, while new appliances and tupperware spellbound kitchen lovers. Progress was celebrated in the creation of the polio vaccine, while fear swelled over an atomic bomb threat. And even back then, royalty and celebrities were revered: the Yankees ruled the fields, Dior captured women and a young Queen Elizabeth accepted her crown.

Speaking of leading ladies, there certainly were plenty in the 1950s -- Marilyn, Doris, Elizabeth, Audrey, and Princess Grace, to name a few. The early weeks of 2012 have brought some of these talented women back into our lives, reminding us of the glitter and glam of decades ago. Marilyn Monroe has been reincarnated through Michelle Williams in "My Week with Marilyn," a film generating Oscar buzz and a contender in several categories at the Golden Globes this weekend. Marilyn has also come to mind through the recent passing of another female icon: photographer Eve Arnold, known not only for her photos of Marilyn but of other stars and political figures. Another '50s star back on the radar is 89-year-old Doris Day, who received the Los Angeles Film Critics Association's Lifetime Achievement Award and recently released a new album ,"My Heart."

But the '50s wasn't merely a decade of stars, carefree sock hops and stickball games. As Bruce Chadwick, PhD -- writing professor at New Jersey City University and lecturer of history and film at Rutgers University -- pointed out in a recent article, the '50s were also a time of racism, sexism, gay suppression, war and international conflict. Just as the nostalgia and glamour of the time draw us in, so do these darker aspects. As Chadwick notes, the theatre world has seen an uptick in shows about the 1950s over the past several years, such as "Memphis," which focuses on race in the '50s, and "Play It Cool," a play about gay life at the time.

"All of these 50s plays, collectively, attempt to remind us of the racism, political storms, the stirrings of feminism and social tension throughout the 1950s," said Chadwick in the article. "We have long seen it as a post war age of innocence, but it was not."

Of course, nothing is all good -- not even the days of "The Howdy Doody Show" and "I Love Lucy." This combination of nostalgia and investigation into the tensions of the time provides us a deeper glimpse a greater understanding of how the '50s helped to shape the baby boomer generation.

What is your favorite memory from the '50s, or what aspect of the '50s do you wish you had been around to experience?



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