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This Public Service Announcement from the ’50s Taught Youth to Be ‘Thoughtful’

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Teaching '50s Youth How to Be Thoughtful
A model nuclear family stands proudly before the Ford four-door parked in their driveway, 1952 (Bettmann/Contributor)

 

High school students from about 1940 to 1980 were subjected to one of these meant-to-be-serious (but totally hilarious) documentary shorts. This ’50s film, entitled “The Fun of Being Thoughtful” discusses ways teenagers of the day could embrace thoughtfulness in their everyday lives.

The set up is a normal house on a normal block in a normal town: Jane and Eddie are home alone while their mother is away downtown and their father is still at work. The two perform “thoughtful” activities like straightening up around the house (Jane) and helping to prepare dinner (Eddie). It’s one big setup on how to be caring, helpful, respectful, and nonreactive.

Before you click play on the video below, it’s worth thinking about why something like this was shown to teenagers back then, though. The focus? The new, sedate middle-class norm: the “model” family. With the backdrop of the Cold War and the threat of communism around every corner, Americans were content with sameness and unity, not countercultural behavior or divergence from the norm. As historian Alan Brinkley notes in an essay about the era, “Many middle-class Americans in these years believed in the idea that the American people, for all their diversity, were becoming more and more alike—and could expect to continue to do so in the future.” Sure, Jane and Eddie—and their perfect parents—might seem pretty silly nowadays, but there was a method to the madness.

 

—RealClearLife Staff