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My friends and I are doing a project about Materialism and Art after the Second World War, and we need to write about how and whether the materialism increased after WW2. If anybody could help us understand the subject, it would be very helpful.
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The term 'disposable income' did not exist before the 1950's, and although during the 1920's many Americans flirted with material excess, during the 1950's Americans had a full blown love affair with consuming 'stuff' thus materialism. For example, between 1950 and 1960 almost 50 million cars were sold in the United States. There is no doubt the the federal interstate highway system which began in 1956 offered many Americans the 'incentive' to buy a car. In addition, I think the Servicemen's Readjustment Act otherwise known as the G.I. Bill was responsilbe for creating an enormous shift in the American economic mindset. After the war a farmer's son who fought for his country did not have to go back to the farm, he could become a New York City doctor. The personal economics of many Americans had changed...more income....more material goods...it could be argued this was for better or worse depending upon ones' point of view.
As usual, all the answers given by the time I arrive at a discussion are very good ones! One thing to remember is that after World War II, the United States was in a uniquely fortunate economic position. Our country had not been directly attacked (except at Pearl Harbor), and the U. S. had suffered none of the kind of devastating destruction experienced by Europe, Japan, China, the Soviet Union, and many other countries. Even the victorious allies (such as Great Britain) were hobbled, at least for a while, by the damage wrought by the war. After the war, no other country on earth was as powerful, economically or militarily, as was the U. S. The period from the 1950s to the 1970s was one of the great "boom" periods in American history. The 1970s were rough, but the 1980s and 1990s were also years of relative prosperity. Certainly in my own lifetime I have witnessed the rise of the kind of materialism in which you are interested. Whether such materialism will continue during or beyond the present decade remains to be seen.
There was a huge increase in factory production during the war, as well as more sophisticated technologies. After the war, all of those production facilities and techniques were converted back to consumer products. So basically there were more goods and they were cheaper. People were also more prosperous since more people were working.
One thing that spurred material prosperity after WWII was the increase in technological advancements. War preparations forced enormous advances in science and technology so more was possible in a reestablished peace-time consumer market. Additionally, these advances accelerated speed in production time, which increases supply and reduces costs and corresponding consumer prices. In addition, styles changed, becoming more stream-lined and functional. With these factors working together, in conjunction with increased personal income related to increased educational opportunities, consumerism reached a previously unheard of zenith resulting in greater materialism.
I think it's hard to criticize people for becoming this way after WWII. Take my grandfather. He was born in 1911 and so was 18 when the Depression started. He was 34 when the war ended. This meant that he was 34 before he ever lived in "normal" times. Imagine living that way -- when you finally got to the point where it was possible to live well, wouldn't you want material things? I think that we shouldn't look at this in a negative way since it's perfectly natural.
Because of the great economic boom after World War II in America, more people than ever were able to purchase homes, cars, etc. This acquisition of material possessions fed upon itself as "keeping up with the Joneses" and getting ahead in business became dominant traits in American capitalist society. After the Baby Boomers were born, the Depression-era parents wanted to make sure that their children did not want for things as they had done; perhaps their good intentions went awry as they bought too much for their progeny. For, the Baby Boomers really became materialistic in their adulthood.
WWII helped bring the United States out of the Depression and was a generation away from those who lived through the materialism of the 20s that put us in the Depression in the first place. WWII put many people to work and as a result new spending habits developed. Since WWII, decor has changed faster in homes. Technology has rapidly upgraded with exponential speed. The onset of the television is probably the singlemost influencing material item. In the fifties and sixties, the moving picture screens began to offer entertainment in all homes, but only in black and white. With the change of technology, it moved to a color screen. Soon, homes were outfitted with more than one television, then with cable or dish for a variety of channels. Eventually the options of very large screens became available. Finally, we have the options to have plasma, LCD, and HD on our televisions, phones or computers. If I were you and I had to create a project to depict the growth of materialism, I would make a pictoral timeline of the influence of television.
I think materialism has definitely increased after WWII. Just consider the way that our society is so consumer driven nowadays, and the way in which there are so many different brands of one product available in supermarkets. Our buying habits have largely helped to make society what it is, and if you consider the materialism today in the light of the austerity faced by many European countries during and in the years after WWII, this theme becomes even more explicit.
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