English | American Fiction
L763 | 24793 | Martinez

5:45p -8:30p R

The 1950s have been read by many cultural historians and critics as
a decade steeped in conservativism and
a growing corporatism.  The Red Scare and the growth of the military-
industrial complex, the emergence of
the “affluent society,” as well as the rise of the Civil Rights
Movement are credited as being the most significant events of the
period.  This seminar will be geared towards viewing these events as
imbricated in important ways, but will also look at them as
inadequate for understanding the decade and its importance in
prefiguring the countercultural movement-era 1960s.  In
particularly, we will question the effects of the growing public
role of women, an encroaching suburbia, Mexican American
immigration, Black Civil Rights Movement had on the “national”
culture.  Rather than assuming that there is a clear opposition
between conservative and “liberal” forces during the period, we will
see that these “poles” actually react in very similar ways to
perceived threats to American individualism.  The seminar will seek
to complicate our notion of the ‘50s as the age of conformity.

Although the seminar is intended to look at the issues of race,
gender, and class in the making of a 1950s
ethos, I am most interested in looking at the interplay of these
elements as they shape, as I see
them, the central issues of the postwar period: the relation of the
individual to the mass, the role of
the citizen within the civic sphere, the making of a hegemonic
American identity that signified racialized, gendered, and class
positions.  Too often the ideology of left vs. right obscured (and
continues to obscure) the politics that transcended these poles.
Thus we will work to reconstruct what the “Scares” of the 50s
signified for that generation in the popular realm, and what the
reaction to the Scares suggested in a much broader context than
the “communist” threat.  How did the fear of de-individuation bridge
the Right and the Left against “communalism”?  What was its gender,
racial, and class components?  Most importantly, in regards to the
formation of a widespread 1960s counterculture that followed, how
did the social dissent recreate the corporatist, decisionist models
it seemed to critique?

Ultimately, I wish to juxtapose a number of cultural, political, and
literary elements under the rubric of “movement discourse” as a way
of viewing disparate issues which read simultaneously reveal an
astoundingly complex recreation of the ideas of “individual”
and “community” in postwar America.