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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 469

In David Halberstam's book The Fifties, a number of passages reinforce the them of this decade as a period in which technologically-enabled commercial culture became a powerful source of social and political influence. Three quotations capture the process by which this shift occurred.

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Halberstam remarks that

America, it appeared, was slowly but surely learning to live with affluence convincing itself that it had earned the right to its new appliances and cars. Each year seemed to take the country further from its old Puritan restraints; each year it was a little easier to sell than in the past.

In this passage, Halberstam situates the rise of advertising, as facilitated through the new medium of television, in the historical trajectory of American culture from the colonial period onward. To his mind, "Puritan restraints" had previously inhibited the development of a culture oriented around consumption. Here, advertising figures as a means of loosening those restraints. Yet this process is represented as a gradual one. Halberstam emphasizes that that "each year" the country became more and more acclimated to selling (and, implicitly, to buying). Yet he does not posit any key historical touch-points in this supposed process. Nor does he indicate what complete "ease" with respect to selling would entail.

The role of television is central in Halberstam's analysis of the fifties. He argues that

One reason that Americans as a people became nostalgic about the fifties more than twenty-five years later was not so much that life was better in the fifties (though in some ways it was), but because at the time it had been portrayed so idyllically on television.

This argument suggests a split between representation and reality. Representations of reality, Halberstam suggests, were as powerful, if not more powerful, than actual memories. As such, what people longed for was in fact the fiction of what had been...

(The entire section contains 469 words.)

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