The other day I encountered a 1950s television ad, "Two Ford Freedom," via the Seattle Transit Blog. It's an unintentional time capsule of '50s sensibilities, filled with such earnestness and innocence that at first it was hard for me to believe it was real - so syrupy sweet that I have to wonder if there was an unspoken cultural agreement not to look behind certain things, because the alternative was just too darn unpleasant.
There are a lot of deep problems hiding behind the superficial happiness of that commercial. So, in that respect, it's actually perfectly reflective of the 1950s!
"When he was gone, I was practically a prisoner in my own home," the nameless housewife says. "I couldn't get out to see my friends, couldn't take part in PTA activities - I couldn't even shop when I wanted to." With advertising like that, I can understand why people were just jumping at the chance to get a suburban house of their very own, surrounded by identical houses and isolated from all the services that improve quality of life! I tell you, cities of the '40s and '50s must have been something - either that, or the privations of the Depression and the war were such that having a house was the Important Thing, More Important Than All Other Important Things.
As someone who grew up in a suburban setting - admittedly, the very inner fringe of a suburb, but still - the housewife's complaints ring familiar, to a degree. If I wanted to go anywhere and couldn't bug Mom to give me a lift, I would have to take my bike, negotiate the intricate complexities of Barrie Transit, or just not go. The advantage of the 1990s is that those alternatives existed - not so in the 1950s suburban paradise.
Across the United States and Canada, public transit systems were under incredible strain from the explosive growth of suburbanization, the disappearance of significant portions of their ridership, and the conflicting demands of motorists. New suburbs just didn't have public transit, and commuter rail is out there either - aside from the Long Island Rail Road and the South Shore Line, I don't believe any of the present commuter rail systems in North America had begun service in the '50s. The bicycle, which in the nineteenth century was hailed as a means to liberate women, had by the 1950s become effectively a child's toy in mainstream North American culture - it wasn't until the '70s that bikes really started taking off for adults.
The solution is, of course, absolutely '50s. Rather than strive for a life that doesn't reduce people to prisoners in their own homes, just buy another car! Don't try to put any effort into the underlying problems that are evident in your society, don't even acknowledge them - just surrender to the Man and get behind that wheel. Just make sure it's a Ford!
After all, as she says - or as I expected her to say - "why be stuck with one expensive car, when you can be stuck with two?"