The Pursuit of Normality in Postwar America
Publication Year: 2010
Published by: University of Massachusetts Press
Table of Contents
List of Illustrations
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First, my deepest gratitude to Christian Appy, series editor, and Clark Dougan, senior editor, at the University of Massachusetts Press, whose hands-on approach is rare and rewarding and whose patience, care, good cheer, and faith in this project have been deeply sustaining. For critical assistance in helping me untangle ideas and arguments as I developed the manuscript, I am grateful to my trusted...
Introduction: Situation Normal
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In the 1955 best seller The Man in the Gray Flannel Suit, the protagonist, Tom Rath, a white, middle-class, suburban commuter, experiences multiple flashbacks to his time as a paratrooper in World War II. His first recovered memory raises the notion that “normality” was something the war itself had destroyed: “It had been snafu from the beginning...
1. Model Bodies, Normal Curves
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In late April of 1999, I stepped off a streetcar in Dresden, Germany, and walked down a long driveway to face a looming brick and plate-glass structure. Its facade was intimidating: four-story columns reached up to a broad white frieze emblazoned with huge gold letters: DEUTSCHES HYGIENE - MUSEUM. A long banner falling from the top of the front read...
2. Normalizing the Nation: The Study of American Character
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In the publicity surrounding the “Norm and Norma” sculptures in the late 1940s, anthropologist Harry L. Shapiro and others had slipped frequently and easily from descriptions of the “normality” of the models’ bodies to assertions about their normality of character.¹ Journalists and scientists regularly anthropomorphized the plaster figures, moving beyond their surfaces...
3. Passing for Normal: Fashioning a Postwar Middle Class
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Part of the seductive power of normality was its statistical alignment with the middle: the “normal” curve plotting out the midpoint on a continuum. For postwar Americans, the middle seemed a safe place—secure and solid—not a life on the social or economic fringes. If “normal” meant the middle, the pursuit of “normality” meant becoming, or remaining, middle ...
4. From Queer to Eternity: Normalizing Heterosexuality in Fact and Fiction
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The decades following World War II in the United States cannot be fully characterized by sexual “containment” nor by “sex panic,”¹ not by sexual obsession nor by sexual excess, but rather by deeply contradictory attitudes and practices that were neither fully progressive nor repressive. World War II created a massive social upheaval that had a major impact on U.S. sexual ...
5. Picture Windows and Peyton Place: Exposing Normality in Postwar Communities
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In the 1956 blockbuster novel Peyton Place, the town itself becomes the central character: “Talk, talk, talk,” says the young protagonist Allison MacKenzie, impatiently. “Peyton Place is famous for its talk. Talk about everybody” (350). Peyton Place speaks in voices, it judges, it watches, it keeps track: “From the day Allison was born, [her grandmother] Elizabeth ...
Conclusion: Home, Normal Home
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A 1962 New York Times article titled “Baffling Search for the ‘Normal Man’” concludes with one psychiatrist’s complaint that searching for a definition of “normality” was “a little like trying to glue fog to the sky.”¹ This metaphor still holds. Normality is difficult to contain because it is constantly moving, shifting, dissipating. Worse, to try to define normality ...
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Page Count: 208
Illustrations: 28 illus.
Publication Year: 2010
Series Title: Culture, Politics, and the Cold War