RARA-AVIS: The fifties

From: Michael Robison ( miker_zspider@yahoo.com)
Date: 03 Oct 2003

Mario Taboada wrote: Depending on who you listen to, the fifties were either an age of innocence and prosperity or one of decadence and change of the guard. For example, Halberstam's history of the decade oscillates between one and the other view.

******************* Interesting comments, Mario. Good questions, too, but I'll leave them for Ms Meaker. I've just got a few comments about the publishing industry in the few years after World War II.

Geoffrey O'Brien says that the break from the spartan times of World War II produced a hedonistic atmosphere for a while. Soldiers overseas had cheap paperbacks made available to them and they were popular entertainment. After the war the paperback industry exploded, and publishers competed for readers with a war of sensationalism. O'Brien notes that the luridness of paperback covers peaked around 1951. In 1950 two events foreshadowed a dampening of all the decadent fun. First we sent troops to Korea. Second, Joe McCarthy announced that 202 Communists had infiltrated the State Department.

In 1952 the House Select Committee on Current Pornographic Materials convened and leveled its crosshairs on the publishing industry for their naughty paperbacks. Into this volatile literary environment came Marijane Meaker, not with a whisper, but with a roar. She published her SPRING FIRE in 1952. The controversial book became an instant hit, outselling even TOBACCO ROAD.

I see a three-way tug of war going on here with Meaker's first book. Gold Medal wanted something sensationalistic. Growing conservatism demanded moral themes. And Ms Meaker wanted to write something true and honest. It's incredible that somebody could write under that kind of pressure.

What did you think of Halberstam's book THE FIFTIES, Mario? I've got a copy of it but I'm afraid to read it because I might drop it and break my foot. The darn thing is huge.

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