Thought for the Day: The 50’s were better


I love Sunday afternoons for many reasons. A big reason is the old movies that get played on TV; often they are Westerns, often they are war movies. Watching these movies, in which dialogue, drama and suspense are the driving factors, and many a scene, one liner, facial expression or monologue will have multiple meanings, makes me think about the narrative we have been taught about our recent past, and the way these old movies are commonly presented.

In high school we were taught to “analyse” the way in which the portrayal of the Vietnam War changed between the 1968 film Green Berets, starring John Wayne, and the 1986 film Platoon, starring Charlie Sheen. In reality, we just regurgitated the anti-war line about the “perceived Communist threat” our teacher wanted us to learn. Through education, especially university, through movies, and television, the 1950’s era is derided as a bigoted blight we’ve well and truly left behind, but when I see these movies I see people unselfconsciously being themselves, speaking their mind, asking no favours and giving none in return.

Something doesn’t make sense.

A couple of years ago when I visited MONA in Hobart, one art instillation consisted of the tape from cassettes of old war movies made into a vagina or penis or something, in an attempt to subvert the way in which old war movies supposedly glorified war…or something.. When I watch these old war movies, of which there were a plethora, I see a generation which was working its way through the horror and trauma of two all enveloping wars, celebrating the fact that they had battled totalitarianism and won, and struggling to deal with the fact that they were still at war with another form of totalitarianism.

I think there are lessons we can learn from this time- the unabashed self-confidence, despite the supposed restrictive social roles; the working through of difficult social and political issues with a clarity and insight which is rare these days; and the deep commitment to the moral and intellectual foundations of Western civilisation.

And, just maybe, we’ve been fed a bunch of baloney about how bad the 50’s were.

Photo by twm1340

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David Hiscox
David has studied history and political science at Melbourne University. His thesis was written on how the utilisation of Missile Defence can help to achieve nuclear disarmament. His interest in history was piqued by playing a flight simulator computer game about the Battle of Britain, and he hopes to one day siphon the earnings from his political writings into funding the greatest prog-rock concept album the world has ever seen.
  • Ralphy

    And largely beautifully shot those old movies, no hand held cameras and poor lighting back then. My memory starts really from the 60’s but I do have some 50’s stuff. I do know then that pride in our country was paramount and going on the dole was downright “shameful”. Seriously, you were a social pariah if you were able bodied and didn’t work. I had a period of time out of work and just lived on my savings. No biggy, when the bank got low I found work and built it up again. Everyone had the attitude that you looked after yourself – a fair days work for a fair days pay meant something then.

    Then came the 70’s. The hippy drug culture on the bludge, Gough’s flower peaceniks. Yeh right, the welcome home our vets received was appalling from these frothing, drug#$#%ed spitting layabouts. I remember the State of Emergency Joh called in Qld with the Springbok Tour riots shortly after. No PC handwringing then, just a lot of hippies with very sore melons because they didn’t do what the nice policeman and his trusty truncheon said. And hasn’t South Africa turned out brilliantly since, especially with that utopian democracy of post- colonial Zimbabwe to model themselves on.

    One of my proudest days recently, and they’re pretty scarce nowadays, was at the Australian War Museum. I listened to a Yank loudly rave about our exhibits to his fellow O/S coach travellers and his exuberance and amazement over what we accomplished and the trials we endured, was embarrassingly flattering. Simpson and his donkey were a big hit, I loved it.

    In going in I always look for one special photo. The one where the kneeling, blindfolded, Aussie digger has a Japanese Commander behind him, with his samurai sword descending rapidly towards our boy’s exposed neck. It always moves me greatly in reminding me of what we owe. This time a Japanese man and his family stood alongside me. Like me, they too were hushed in reverence, the children completely silent with downcast eyes. We all looked on in silence and respect, opposite sides then but no longer. I felt grateful for the respect, reverence and humility he and his family showed and will always remember it.

    (My Uncle Vince lost a testicle to a Japanese sniper…he could never forgive them and I knew enough not to ever discuss it!!!!)

    When I listen today to attacks on our military forces and their past and present campaigns, and on our way of life, I just wish more of us today could show a comparable respect for the traditions our men and women died for.

      • Deplorable Steve

        Casablanca. Best movie ever.

        • Bogart is a legend.

        • Karen Dwyer

          Getting deja vu here :-))))))

          I feel I should be sharing my “Singapore Sling” recipe again. I think Singapore Slings are the perfect accompaniment to “Casablanca”. Does that make me shallow???

          How about “Double Indemnity” as a thriller?

          Westerns not my thing, really, but if one is willing to extend the genre to the 60s, “Laredo” (reruns) depict men who are men ….

          On a tangent: GUESS what I found at an op shop? A Musketeers hat with a dark crimson ostrich feather on it. I kid you not!!

          • BJ

            Mrs Dwyer, you are a bad influence. ‘Double Indemnity’ is one of may favourite movies, and now I will have to watch again with a Singapore Sling, or two.

          • Karen Dwyer

            My raison d’etre is as per Hebrews 10:24 “… spur one another on to love and good deeds.”

            In terms of self care, one must take the opportunity to relax. By all means do not over-indulge in Singapore Slings and Double Indemnity.

            There is always: All about Eve (with a Gibson); My Man Godfrey (Vodka Martini); Angels over Broadway (Rob Roy); Double Indemnity (yes, twice. Pimm’s).


    • Deplorable Steve

      Amen Brother Ralphy.

    • BJ

      The man in the photo is Sgt Leonard Siffleet, who served with both the SRD and Z Force. We should all remember him, as we should all of the pantheon of victims of the Imperial Japanese Army in WWII.

      Well said Ralphy.

    • sadsak

      You have brought forward memories of a grander time. When Australia was poor but happy. People full of confidence and anticipation.Movies with meaning that one had to think about,or sing along with in those wonderfull musicals.

  • Deplorable Steve

    I detest the sneering contempt that leftists have for the fifties. They are morons.

    • No Offence, But…

      If the leftists hate the Fifties – why do they dress their tattooed, purple-haired, feminazi land whales like fat, man-hating extras from a community theatre production of ‘Grease’?

  • Old movies helped herd us off to war. New ones are made to make us ashamed at having gone. Every angle, always covered.