History Flashback takes a look at historical “found footage” of all kinds—newsreels, instructional films, even cartoons—to give us a glimpse into how much things have changed, and how much has remained the same.
In the 50s, utterly well-behaved U.S. teens threw perfectly planned and rule-bound game nights. Or so the adults of the era would have you believe.
In 1950, the educational film company Coronet Films, founded by the same duo who started Esquire magazine, released a film to teach American high schoolers the proper way to host a house party. The rules to follow are thorough—how to greet guests (full introductions are a must), what games to play (for goodness sake, nothing that would be a bore!), and when to serve your refreshments (at the very end—and then your guests should skedaddle). But whether teens followed these instructions was another matter altogether.
Social Propaganda in the Name of Education
As American society attempted to return to some version of normal following World War II, it became of utmost importance for all citizens to fit into their proper roles and conform to appropriate social behavior. Many of the Rosie the Riveters who had saved the day at home during the war were forced out of their jobs; the Leave It To Beaver family unit of the 1950s began to take shape; and young people married at an increasingly early age.
Americans wanted their youth to play by very specific rules. Short movies, called “mental hygiene films” like this one were produced covering everything from how to date, improve your personality, respect your parents, and be a good citizen. Throughout the three-decade heyday of these educational videos, teens were subjected to their D-list acting and propaganda-like messaging in the name of social instruction.
What 1950s Teens Were Really Doing…
Teenage norms in the 1950s were undoubtedly different from today. The early average age of first marriage (23 for men, 20 for women) had a domino effect that left many high schoolers acting more like mini adults, doing things like going steady with just one partner rather than dating around.
But that didn’t mean everything was all hot chocolate and hat-making contests, despite what the adults of the era wanted.
The idea of teenagers as an independent age group between childhood and adulthood was birthed in the 1940s. In the 1950s, this group came into its own aided by their increased spending power, the ubiquity of the car, and the rise of high school as a world unto itself. Many of the new American teens followed the 1955 lead of James Dean and became Rebels Without a Cause. This was the age of getting cozy at drive-ins and cruising around town. It was during this decade that rock and roll was born, and that the music culture, courtesy of renegades like Elvis Presley and the Beatles, began to fundamentally change the culture of American youth.