Values and morals in American society: The 1950s versus today


by Jennifer Buckett


America's Growing Obsession with the Media has Led to a Decline in Morals and Values Over the Past Fifty Years

As the popularity of television grew in the 1950s, so did America's obsession with celebrities and the latest technological advances. Nowadays, society is completely consumed by technology every minute of the day. Americans are glued to their cell phones, their favorite television shows, and every exploit of their favorite celebrities. Whether subliminal or obvious, morals and values are being taught to today's generation through the media. In opposition, family members were the primary teachers of morals and values in the 1950s. As the media played an increasingly large role in everyday life, society developed an obsession with the media and the celebrities it created, which led to the decline in importance of the family unit and consequentially inferior morals in today's society in comparison to those of the 1950s.

Compared to the 1950s, modern society does not value family nearly as much, due to the replacement of time spent as a family with time spent using media technology. Family is the main vessel through which morals and values are passed down, and therefore, a decline in time spent as a family can lead to inferior morals and values continuing to the next generation. In the 1950s, family dinners were an occasion to sit down with family members, enjoy a home-cooked meal, and discuss life. This was a time of day when the rest of the world stopped and the focus was entirely on family. Wholesome morals and values relevant to the happenings of the day were often discussed and taught to children at this time. In the infancy of the television, most television shows were shown later in the afternoon and into the evening. Dining at the table with family lost its priority as dinner in front of the television became routine.


As family dinners were replaced by television, the vessel through which morals and values were taught shifted from family to the media. Television shows are the teachers now, and as television shows became more promiscuous and corrupt throughout the decades, so did the morals and values they taught. The present generation has grown up completely accepting of what they learn in the media because there is nothing to contest it. Family members don't have the time to teach such trivialities as honor, pride, and self-respect anymore. As women branched out of the house and entered the workplace, women's lives became more hectic. Consequentially, parents had less time to interact with their children, passing on advice and morals. Children turned to technology as a way to replace their parents and they started watching more and more television.


Although the amount of television watched in the 1950s is almost equal to the amount watched today, the obvious difference is in what programs are and were being watched. In the 1950s, most television shows were still rather tame in comparison to those of today. I Love Lucy and Leave it to Beaver were two of the most popular shows of the decade and both promoted wholesome, rather conservative values. In contrast, morals shown on television today are often corrupt and too liberal. For example, television shows, as well as families, in the 1950s would preach that sex before marriage was unacceptable and that violence should be avoided at all costs. Today, far-fetched reality television shows, like the Real World, show strangers being promiscuous, drinking often, and getting in frequent fights. Television shows today blatantly glamorize promiscuous sex and make violence seem commonplace, lessening the severity of each act and making it almost acceptable. There is a stark difference in teachings here; and undoubtedly, the 1950s taught morals that were generally better than those taught today. Technology, especially television, is surely to blame for the decline in morals, although celebrities of the media also have a large influence on culture.

The fame of the actors on television shows in the 1950s grew in parallel to television's popularity. Suddenly, characters from shows became role models whom viewers could learn from, and the actors behind the characters were seen in the same light. The celebrities of the 1950s were very clean-cut and wholesome, seeing as society wasn't very accepting of radicals. Even the controversial celebrities of the 1950s were supremely tame according to today's standards. For example, Elvis' hip-thrusting was seen as tremendously risque, but in present society, it would be mild in comparison to some of the hi-jinks pulled by today's celebrities.


Images and actions portrayed both by the media and celebrities influence and teach viewers, whether they are subliminal or obvious. As America has become increasingly obsessed with celebrities over the past few decades, celebrities have begun doing progressively more outrageous things in order to gain attention. Today, celebrities are entering rehab left and right, having emotional breakdowns captured by paparazzi, and getting arrested for drinking and drugs. Americans have come to worship these celebrities, wanting to be just like them. When these celebrities act immorally, the severity of these actions is lessened and today's generation believes that they are completely acceptable. Contemporary media, and the celebrities that rule it, are responsible for teaching these negative morals and values, compared to the wholesome principles projected and taught to the 1950s generation.

Of course, there are a few exceptional celebrities who have set a great example for the current generation. For example, Bono, the leader singer of the famous band U2, has spearheaded and popularized the initiative (Product) Red. For every item associated with (Product) Red that is bought by consumers, a set amount of money is donated to the Global Fund, a charity that supplies health care to Africans who cannot afford it. Bono is setting a very positive example, teaching this generation selflessness, generosity, and the importance of being informed about worldly issues. Such positive examples are similar to what families in the 1950s preached to their children. Contemporary families need to encourage the generation of today to embrace such valuable morals and to reject the inferior behavior and ideology embraced by the corrupt celebrities.


Fashion and style is heavily dictated by the media and celebrities; one could even argue that they begin the trends more than the designers themselves. In the 1950s, an overall innocent image was projected by fashion. Long skirts with nipped waists and collared shirts were in style while exposed midriff and cleavage were eschewed. This taught the 1950s generation to dress with class and sophistication, to accept their natural figures, and to respect their bodies without exposing them; all morals superior to those taught by current fashion trends.


In contrast, contemporary celebrities can't seem to stop showing enough skin until they're on the cover of Playboy. The conservative style of dressing of the 1950s has long been established as dorky and outdated while miniskirts and low-cut tops have taken over the fashion world. This skimpy style of dressing has caused low self-esteem to be rampant in today's society, a mindset further instilled by the pressure to have the "perfect body". This mindset has also affected celebrities and society has seen them crumble to eating disorders in order to attain that body, instilling in this generation that anything is acceptable as long as you achieve the desired end result. Eating disorders affect more people today than they did in the 1950s, partly due to the influence of celebrities and the media. Health and happiness should be promoted by celebrities, like they were in the 1950s, not self-hatred and greed.


The media's influence on contemporary society has led us to yearn for riches and the privilege to spend superfluously. In the 1950s, frugality and conservative spending was valued and happiness was desired more than riches. The incomes of celebrities were not often discussed in the 1950s, nor were their excessive purchases. Of course, there were a few celebrities who spent their income in extreme, unnecessary ways, but that act was not the norm. Stars were celebrated for their talents and contributions to the community, not their possessions. This taught the 1950s generation that happiness was more important than wealth, a healthier value than what the celebrities of today teach.

Nowadays, gossip magazines chart exactly how much a celebrity made on a movie or from an album, spent on a house or an engagement ring, and even how much they spend on Christmas gifts. Our society not only is obsessed with the celebrities themselves, but also with their bank accounts. Through this worship, we have been taught to believe that being rich trumps being a good person, that wealth is paramount to happiness. This value, taught by the media in today's society, is completely inferior to what was taught by families in the 1950s.


Technology and the media will always play a huge role in society: delivering entertainment, creating national idols, and teaching morals and values to new generations. In the 1950s, the majority of morals and values were endowed to children from family members, preserving the integrity and pureness of those beliefs. Nowadays, the family unit has been dethroned, being replaced by the media, especially television, and the celebrities within it. Children are taught morals and values through their exposure to the media, rather than through family, causing an inconsistency in ideas over generations. Ideology and actions that were once taboo in the 1950s are now tolerable in everyday life, due to the fact that this generation has been taught by the media that they are acceptable. With each new generation, the morals and values that are taught seem to be continuously more corrupt that those before them, leading to an increasingly wild and demoralized society that follows.