Rebel with an Equal Protection Clause

Documents and Discussions, 1945-1965
The class was all set up. I had asked them to imagine life when they were in fifth grade. “Who was your teacher?” “Mrs. Anderson,” one responded. “Who was your best friend?” A host of names were mumbled. What did your desk look like? When was recess? And then, I put Bert the Turtle on the screen, preparing to smile and then shudder as we watched him teach children of the 1950s how to “duck and cover.” But it didn’t work. No sound was coming from the speaker. I fiddled with it for a second, and then Becca (who had earlier showed us her new tattoo on her hand) blurted out, “Well that’s disappointing.” “Yeah it is,” I sighed.
So it would have to be Thursday that I would show Bert the Turtle, along with several other short videos from the 1950s. What I gained from that little moment, though, was how powerful setting up the stage was for the film. The little questions about life as a child seemed to prepare the mood of the classroom to watch the video not as a joke, but as a real gesture of how it must have felt to watch a video that explained what to do if mommy, daddy, and teachers weren’t around.
Today, we’re going to discuss a few videos from the 1950s and some of the documents in Major Problems. I may even through in some comics, a la Hist and its inclusion of Captain America in these years. My favorite video – beyond Bert the Turtle – is the trailer for Rebel Without a Cause. Movie trailers are great: they provide a lead in for discussing an entire film (and I’ve tried showing entire movies before, but they eat up so much time) and the marketing of the trailer may give us some historical insight. For instance, for Rebel Without a Cause claims that its story “daringly meets the challenge of today’s most vital controversy!” Rebel without a Cause was released in 1955. Umm … the most vital controversy?!? Wouldn’t Brown v. the Board of Education and the NAACP’s challenge that school segregation violated the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment be more explosive? What about the possibilities of the USSR and the USA annihilating themselves and the world with atomic weaponry? But then again, as the trailer continues, the film is “sensitive … so sensitive.” It’s hard to not roll with laughter. So I ask my students to try and explain how this movie could be considered for many Americans to speak to their deepest problems. Then we compare it with what the national news today may say is most important versus what those in the class worry and fret about on a daily basis.
Major Problems has three chapters that deal with the span from 1945 to 1965. One is on the Cold War and nuclear weapons; another is on affluence and anxiety; and the third is on civil rights. Together, they approach the two decades from a variety of interesting and provocative angles. There are images of destruction – whether a cake shaped like an atomic mushroom cloud or Godzilla destroying a city; there’s Senator Joseph McCarthy spewing about the internal communist menace, and then Life reasoning that “We Won’t All be Dead” in the event of a nuclear war (which was about as reassuring as Bert the Turtle!). A newspaper survey from 1959 evaluates whether you are a “conformist or a rebel” and a photograph from a Star Trek episode offers a glimpse of multiracial America.
The South Park goth
kids hate “conformists”

In class today, I’m going to highlight documents on a postal clerk who lost his job, the newspaper survey on conformity, and the Supreme Court ruling on Brown v. the Board of Education. Each of these documents engages my students with where they are: they’re students who deal with issues of individuality versus conformity, and they’re all terrified of employment issues (not so much losing a job as getting one). It’s all well and good to be a rebel when you don’t have to worry about employment; and it’s all well and good to be in favor of desegregation when you put the burden onto children. We’ll see how it goes!

18 thoughts on “Rebel with an Equal Protection Clause

  1. The document I am discussing is the 4th document in Chapter twelve (“We Can Do It Better”: The Civil Rights Revolution) of Major Problems entitled “Author Henry Louis Gates, Jr., Remembers Civil Rights on TV, 1957, (1994).

    This document is interesting to me because after reading it I could understand how the TV was such a prominent aspect of daily life in the 1950s. However, TV was watched differently then than it is now. Today a lot of TV is watched for entertainment and to see our favorite actors or reality shows. But back then families would huddle in the TV room waiting for the news to come on to see what “Dr. King and dem” were doing. Also, I find it very interesting that the TV is what got Americans to see discrimination and racism for their own eyes. They watched people get hosed, cracked over the head and dogs be sent on women and children. If it wasn’t for the TV I think the civil rights movement wouldn’t have started or received a strong following until years later.

    The one question I have is how did the “drama of race” end up on television and why did people want to watch the horrible things that were done to people. People had turned their heads to discrimination for so many years, so why did the television make such an impact.

  2. The document I will be discussing is “Life Magazine reassures Americans ‘We Won’t All Be Dead’ After Nuclear War, 1959” from chapter 10 of Major Problems.
    At first I couldn’t comprehend how people from the 50’s could watch “Rebel Without A Cause” and think that movie is about the vital problem in America when an atomic war could start at any minute. I thought that maybe the middle-class Americans were oblivious to the immense power of the atom bomb. Then I read the Life Magazine article that puts to light on what the editor suggests how people are treating the nuclear situation. He approves of the fact that the governor of New York has made an effort to impose a fallout shelter program but then points out that most Americans ignore the topic of a nuclear war. He says that “our population is almost totally ignorant of how to behave in case Khrushchev should carry out his repeated threat” and he also points out that Americans seem more willing to die than to survive.
    What I want to know is why were Americans ignorant of the fact that an atomic war can happen to them at almost any moment? The only answer that comes to mind is that they were happy with the affluence they currently had and did not want to deal with anything to bring their mood down or to make them constantly afraid.

  3. The document I will be discussing is from Chapter 13 of Major Problems, document 5 entitled “Folk Singer Malvina Reynolds Sees Young People in ‘Little Boxes,’ 1963.”

    This document was interesting to me because it expressed the argument that young people are very susceptible to conformity and can this be placed within “little boxes.” The first four lines of the song are very repetitious in nature. The fact that the song is repetitious at the beginning is a critique by Reynolds, saying that our lives as Americans can be very repetitious. Saying that “they all look just the same” goes to show that Reynolds believes that Americans no longer show uniqueness and are instead content with conforming to society. Arguing that young people grew up in their houses, went to university, and then came out all the same goes to show that the singer is challenging young people to change their ways. Reynolds next goes on to critique occupations of many Americans saying that doctors, layers, and business executives “all look just the same.” The final part of the song goes to show the fact that Reynolds realizes that once adults, Americans are having plenty of children, and then the whole routine starts back over again. In the song, Reynolds is clearly critiquing the normalcy, routine nature, and conformity in young Americans.


    Devin W

  4. The article I will be discussing is Chapter 11, “Good Housekeeping: Every Executive Needs a Perfect Wife, 1956.”
    This document was interesting in how one differentiate a good wife and a bad wife, such as a good wife is “friendly, part of her community, primary interest is her husband, her home, and her children” compared to a bad wife with characteristics, such as complaining dominating and a “wife-in-a-rut.” It is clear that men/society is trying to suppress women back into their “proper place” as a house wife, who is focus on her family instead of working out of the house. I feel that with men back from the war they are trying to demand their jobs back from women, who step in to the work force to keep the nation running while they were away. Anxieties grew along with fear that women might be able to take their jobs back which creates the sense of men loosing their pride as the main provider for his family. In order to keep men’s “rightful pride” women are reverse back into their condense life as a housewife, where they can’t interfere within the work force. This is one of the reasons women tried to gain social and political power throughout history, since women is fed up in please their husband instead of themselves. If women followed those guidelines to support their husband, yet their husbands are the real trouble makers, where are those guidelines for a good husband?

  5. The Document I will be discussing in this post is the picture of the Star Trek crew in the “Multiracialism (and Detente) on TV: Star Trek, 1967” Star Trek was mentioned in the blog as offering a glimpse of multiracial America. In this picture there are 8 people. Out of the 8 people, 2 are women one white and the other African American. The African American women is standing behind a man who is partially blocking her face. The White women is almost directly in the middle of the picture, standing between two men, not being blocked. There’s a number of different races throughout the men in the picture. I think its very interesting the placement of the people in this picture.

  6. The document I am going to discuss is “Good Housekeeping: Every Executive Needs a Perfect Wife”.

    I couldn’t help but laugh while reading most of this article. If something like this got published in todays times, it would have gotten annihilated by almost every woman in America. There are so many women in America who would have been livid. After reading, I immediately called my boyfriend and proceeded to read the article to him and told him if he ever said that he “required” these things of me, our relationship wouldn’t last much longer. He laughed. Its just amazing to me that women in the 50’s tolerated this. I’m pretty sure Good Housekeeping is targeted towards women, so I am surprised women found this appealing. “We employers realize how often the wrong wife can break the right man”. Seriously? And this one was my favorite: “It hurts to discover that a good man has married the wrong woman, but he still deserves a chance. I might be more cautious about the position I give him, watch him more closely, advance him more slowly, give him more help than he needs, but if he can keep his wife successfully under control, he can keep his job”. I’m really glad that women have come so far since this was published. I know for me personally, I wouldn’t mind doing things that make both me and my husband better, but I want to be appreciated and respected.

  7. The article “Good Housekeeping: Every Executive Needs a Perfect Wife” would be considered a comedic attempt in todays society at the very most.
    1.a good wife is friendly – lets be honest this little blurb was ridiculous. entertains within her means without interfering with her husbands rest? i am slightly a feminist so this kind of made me want to burn something and run around holding in the air. Extreme… I know but I mean its so crazy to imagine that people actually expected women to live up to these kinds of expectations of them. Heck my husband better just be thankful when I make him dinner after work or mop the floor. I will NOT be doing it with a huge smile on my face, appreciative of the fact that I was doing my duty to my husband or that I owe it to him because I’m his wife.
    2.a good wife is part of her community – she is a good will ambassador for her husband? why can’t the husband be a good will ambassador for himself? I understand people needing to be part of their communities but it shouldn’t be the wife’s work to make it look like her AND her husband are both awesome and active members. Thats just a little psycho.
    3.a good wife’s primary interest is in her husband, her home and her children – yes to a certain extent, I know that once people become parents they end up caring more about the welfare of their kids than of themselves, but still…

    then the article goes on to list the types of women who are trouble-makers, and tells men to stay far away from these types of women. If i lived during these times i would be both the complaining women and the dominating women. No one would have wanted me at all haha.

    “It hurts to discover that a good man has married the wrong women”

    Lets be honest… that sentence is absolutely absurd. And then saying that if he can keep his wife under control he deserves to keep his job. Thats the one that really got me. Keep his wife under control… how RUDE!!!

    most women these days are taking the word “obey” out of traditional marriage vows, so to read something that talks about a man keeping his wife under control is very old fashion – which the article is very old but still…

    i realize that as a women’s study major i am way more opinionated than most on this subject, but I can’t help but say that even if they were looking at it from the left-wing christian/anti-feminist view, that in the bible it states that the women was made from the man from his rib, right next to his heart. Right next to his heart where she could be cherished not stepped on and used to do all the work at home. I believe that women SHOULD do housework and should cook and should take care of the children, but that men SHOULD do exactly the same thing. Relationships have to be even in the workload or someone is going to feel unwanted and in an unfair position, and I think thats where the feminist movement actually came from.

  8. I’m going to discuss the eights document from chapter 10, “Life Magazine ReassuresAmerican ‘We Wont All Be Dead’ After Nuclear War, 1959.” I found this document interesting because it sheds light on why American didn’t take nuclear war seriously. Many were hopeless when it came to nuclear war, they hoped to just die quickly, and most even expected the government to help keep them alive without taking precautions now. I believe the biggest reason americans didn’t take nuclear weapons seriously is because survival was just too expensive. To build a full shelter to protect from nuclear attack would cost 20 billion dollars and this was just simply unrealistic for most Americans (if not all). Life assures its readers that other precautions can be taken that are cheaper and more realistic. Therefore, they won’t all be dead. It urges its readers to look into these precautions and talk about the nuclear war rather than turning away from the subject. Although we know that the precautions given are not realistic and would have never worked, It’s nice to know that someone was looking out for the American people and trying to urge them to be more active in saving their own lives.

  9. “Good Housekeeping: Every Executive Needs a Perfect Wife, 1956” was an interesting article to read as it illustrated how important it was to be a good wife versus a bad wife for the reputation of the husband. The article explains how a good wife if friendly, a part of her community,and how her primary interests are in her husband, home and children. The characteristics that define a not-so-good wife are a complaining, dominating and wife-in-a-rut wife. It is interesting to see how wives and marriages were viewed in the 50s compared to how they are now. Women these days tend to be more assertive and sometimes dominant which was not socially acceptable back in the day.

  10. The document “Good Housekeeping: Every Executive Needs a Perfect Wife” is interesting to see the difference in generations from then until now. A “good” wife is described as friendly, a part of her community and her primary interest is in her husband, home and children. A complaining, dominant and wife-in-a-rut are what explains the opposite of a good wife. It is crazy to compare how it used to be when my grandmother was a house wife and mother and how wives and mothers these days have different expectations. This document explains the importance of a good wife for the reputation of the husband and his job.

  11. The document “Good Housekeeping: Every Executive Needs a Perfect Wife” is interesting to see the difference in generations from then until now. A “good” wife is described as friendly, a part of her community and her primary interest is in her husband, home and children. A complaining, dominant and wife-in-a-rut are what explains the opposite of a good wife. It is crazy to compare how it used to be when my grandmother was a house wife and mother and how wives and mothers these days have different expectations. This document explains the importance of a good wife for the reputation of the husband and his job.

  12. I would like to discuss “Feminist Betty Friedan Describes the Problem That Has No Name”. This article is a great example of the extent of the conformity of the 1950’s and its adverse effect of American women. Women were taught that it was wrong to want anything more than a husband and children. Women who aspired to be successful or artistic were looked down upon. They were expected to be domestic, and to love it. However, not all women want the same things out of life. The problem Betty Friedan talks about is the pressure placed on women to conform, and the judgment shown to her if she did not. Decades before women were fighting for their freedom, but in the 50’s women were too afraid to. They were unhappy, but did not know how to fix the problem. It is interesting to me when people look back on this time as an ideal for the American family. There was affluence, and everyone seemed happy. However, if you were not a white middle to upper class man, chances are you were oppressed, and were not as happy as you seemed. I think American families are much better off today because of the choices and freedoms allowed.

  13. On the topic of “Rebel Without A Cause” I totally agree! The movie strictly focused on the controversy that would connect to American’s that had the extra time and money to get to the theatre’s and see the film. This is a smart marketing tactic, but not an accurate portrayal of the film whatsoever. The film mainly connects with suburban, middle class citizens whose biggest worry wasn’t the USSR or civil rights court cases, but most likely seeing this film! Although I do love this movie, it certainly did not portray the most “vital controversy” of the time period.
    Shane P Hist 110

  14. I will be discussing the second article from chapter 12 titled, “The Supreme Court Rules on Brown v. Board of Education, 1954”. I thought this article was very interesting for I feel as though the ruling of this case was a major turning point for segregation at the time. That African American students were granted the ability to be educated with White students. It is stated that, “education is perhaps the most important function of state and local governments”. After not knowing much of this case, I was surprised to see the court/government value education so much; enough to put race aside at the time. As well as recognizing that the opportunity of education is “a right which must be made available to all on equal terms”. This brought me to think about how appreciative I am of the education that was provided to me previously, as well as currently. People of the United States are blessed with endless educational opportunities that those of other countries do not have available. I wonder what insight teens of both races had to offer about the issue at the time? I also question how long it took for students and parents to fully accept/be okay with the blending of races in schools?

  15. The document I am discussing is “Folk Singer Malvina Reynolds Sees Young People in ‘Little Boxes,’ 1963.”
    This song was humorous when I first read it. The singer wanted to emphasize the fact that she believed young people in her time period were living similar life to one another. This was a sign of conformity. The tone of the song sounded like these young people were purposelessly heading the same direction in life. They won’t be able to see the greater world out there because they did not dare to take a chance for an adventure. They just lived life according to what society expected them to do. And I believe that this song is still true until this day. Even though society promotes individual differences but society is harsh on any eccentric person. People always live in their little boxes and are afraid of the risks that they have to take in life. Therefore, this document was rather interesting as I could see a connection when this song was first produced and our modern time period.

  16. For the hell of it, I am going to discuss but more or less share the outcomes I received on the “Conformist or Rebel” survey. Reading through the questions I didn’t think an outcome would be anything that would make someone seem or not seem like a conformist. Funny enough I am apparently an intelligent conformist. I can’t say I know what this really means, I mean maybe I’m a conformist in order to miss out on getting in trouble, but when I know I won’t get in trouble I rebel at the drop of a dime. I can’t say I mind this outcome too much, at least I’m conforming in style, ay?

  17. The document I found most interesting in this section it document number 3: Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., Defends Seamstress Rosa Parks, 1955. I get the play on words in this blog post title and I will venture to say the MLK was THE rebel with a cause. The man’s devotion to the cause of equality is astounding. All of his speeches and letters like letter from Birmingham as well the document from the text are littered with his Christian core values and his fight for equality. I think about his life and I get tired. Im sure it must have been tiring to always fight the good fight. My question for this document is what was it about him, this one single man, that people listen to? it seems like it would be hard for one person to be known so well during the civil right movement. I am sure there were others who tried to get their voice heard to the extent that MLK did, I just wonder how he did it.
    -G. Aldaba

  18. A possible explanation for “Rebel Without a Cause” is the rise of youth as the primary market for consumer capitalism. In postwar America, the baby boom and advertising caused a shift in the primary consumer of goods. Children were now the primary consumer, this is why tv shows such as the Mickey Mouse club got their start in the 1950s. “Rebel Without a Cause” was appealing to young people, not the old people who were dealing with the larger problems such as the threat of nuclear war with the Soviet Union.

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