NOTE: This site is updated May 2021 - Dec 2022, and will take time beyond that until it's done. Grayed-out names are yet to arrive.

It's all been leading up to this.

The entirely of lileks.com, for all its existence, has been circling this subject. If the 50s were the Great Golden Decade - which they weren't, really, but bear with me - then the advertising of the era is the high art of a civilization at its peak. Since this site has been joshing this stuff with affection since it began, the ultimate site would be the one that finally does nothing but collect 50s ads instead of distributing the images hither and yon.

I don't just say this because I have to write something on this page, although don't think that's not a big consideration.

There’s no reason to base any opinions on the 50s based on the ads, which are always fictions and exaggerations and aspirational statements. But it’s interesting what they’re aspiring to have, to be. It comes down to a nice home, a modern kitchen, a cool car, a smooth smoke, and a cold Coca-Cola. You could say the same about the 30s and 40s as well, but the 50s made a big pitch for everyone to get the American Bounty. This time we can do it. We whipped Old Man Depression and sent Adolf packing down to Hades. We earned this.

In contrast to the ads, the magazines abounded with stories of national anxieties - our suburbs are growing too fast, and it’s a problem; the cities are in trouble; oh crap recession, oh whew it’s over, what’s the deal with these Reds, and the most agonizing one of them all, I think: Juvenile Delinquency. In retrospect it wasn’t the worst problem; that would be race relations, which would blow up in the 60s, but the media of the age was focused on the problems of the almost-middle-aged segment of the dominant demographic, and JDs were a mystery, a baffling rebuke. How, in this land that had overcome so much, did it come to pass that all that work produced such rotten apples?

Like most moral panics, it was overblown. But there was this unspoken note of quiet anger: the ingratitude of these youth. That was smothered by legions of Social Experts, who explained the Troubled Youth’s angst with the new terminology of the day. It was all a dry run for the Boomers turning their back on the tacky-tacky houses and picket-fence modalities, rejecting the conformity the ads enforced.

Enforced, though? Really? I tell you, I look at these ads - again, not a reliable source at all - and I see something close to paradise.

No, not everyone’s definition, and yes, social roles constrained choices for some. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy who liked to keep house and raise a daughter, but I don’t find the role of homemaker to be HELL ON EARTH. I liked cooking for the family, and sending the kid off in the morning, and being home. The office always seemed like prison.

Everyone’s in their mid-thirties and fashionable. and everyone has at least two three kids. America is AWESOME because of steel and electricity and windows that keep you warm in winter but show the big outdoors like a movie screen, and toilets are in color now and big companies are inventing things all the time.

It gets more sophisticated and abstract in the 60s; more hedonism, less dad-coming-home-from-work-to-happy-family. By then the kids in the ads of the 50s were older, and many were convinced that the world where they grew up was the natural state of things, the default setting, and a pretty crappy one at that. Ticky-Tacky houses and all that.

Turns out that living in near-Utopia has the worst possible effect: you decide to strive for a different Utopia altogether.

Come to think of it, though, the roots of it all are in the ads. They’re testaments to happiness, a goal, a mode of living. But it’s not happiness you get because you’ve earned it. It’s happiness that you deserve as an American.

That’s where things started to go sideways. It’s a short hop to thinking you deserve it all because you exist.