Saturday, April 30, 2011

Those wonderful fifties, NOT

Much admired in some sectors of the US left (what remains of it), the columnist Paul Krugman has fallen back on nostalgia, romanticizing growing up in a town on Long Island in the late fifties and sixties. Jim Manzi, a conservative agrees with him on this.

However Megan McArdle has introduced a welcome note of sanity. "Maybe it's because I grew up later than either Manzi or Krugman; maybe it's because I grew up in Manhattan; or maybe it's because I'm a woman. Whatever the reason, what I notice about their idyll is how dependent it was on women being home. Home production looks very similar no matter who is doing it; one family may be having meatloaf, and another filet mignon, but the family meals still have the same basic rhythm of Mom in the kitchen for hours until the family comes to dinner.

"Families only need one car because Mom, who doesn't herself work, is available to drive Dad to work every morning before she heads to the grocery store. And the kids can play unsupervised because, of course, in this neighborhood--in all neighborhoods--there is a network of constantly watching eyes. Meanwhile, the poor people and minorities are somewhere comfortably distant, allowing young Paul and Jim to experience a world without want. I can tell you where all the inequality and fear and crime was; it was in the neighborhood where I grew up, and the neighborhoods elsewhere in the city that were much poorer and more dangerous."

I remember other things that were wrong about that purportedly halcyon era. Above all, it was an era of conformity, accompanied by a crushing sense of alienation for anyone who did not fit the prevailing standards of white heteronormativity. Most of the gay men I knew as I was growing in California were eventually arrested for engaging in deviant sex.

Things were so bad that I twice attempted to expatriate myself. I only came back to the US in the late 1960s when the civil rights movement, together with other long-overdue efforts at social change, were at last taking hold.

Today the United States is a much better place than it was during those supposed halcyon days--as recalled by privileged white hetero males like Krugman and Manzi.



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