I loathe the term ‘wholesome.’ Not as much as other faddish and (and no doubt poorly future aging) era defining phraseologies like ‘problematic’, ‘gaslighting,’ or ‘yikes’. But what once was an ironic word me and my fellow teen friends back in the dark Bush days used to mock the 50s sensibilities and nostalgia of then ascendant American cultural conservatism has now migrated into common parlance in progressive discourse in a very unironic way.
This is a just a minor symptom of a greater phenomenon. Remember, if you will, how until about the mid-2010s it was common for progressives to use the 50s as a cultural punching bag of everything in the past they hated and feared? This was a cartoon image of course. Postwar prosperity, the New Deal, and the U.S. being on top of the world created a then previously unimaginable rise in living standards and social mobility. A more conservative turn under Eisenhower still kept most of the past two decades reforms and restructuring, leading Ike, his massive upper end tax rates, and his commitment to national-level cutting edge infrastructure to be a far more progressive figure than almost any democrat today in quantifiable material terms. But people had made it through a Great Depression, a period of rampant crime, social upheaval, and the world’s largest and most globally destructive war and just wanted to ‘be normal.’ This was of course utterly culturally stifling to anyone born into it who did not know what came before.
And the culture was insufferably corny, even knowing all that context. Hence why fake 50s style parodies of conservatives used to be such a big thing until quite recently.
You don’t see that anymore…and last night it suddenly occurred to me as to why. Because the preachy, scolding ‘The More You Know’ type infomercial that dates so poorly in retrospect are back in fashion…unironically. (These also existed as Very Special Episodes of sitcoms in the 70s and 80s, which its also worth noting was a time of intense 50s nostalgia). From corporate human resources to how the majority of left-of-center people and beyond interact on social media, the Church lady Informercial Hour is back! And with added overlap, it even often comes with a hefty dose of reborn McCarthyism to boot. People who have no business to lecture others now primarily interact with the rest of humanity through a self-righteous prism of the good and wholesome life, one every bit as stultifying and consensus-upholding than that of the 50s. We have yet to emerge from our unstable times (though nothing in the present, not even Covid, compares to the 30s and 40, sorry) and already the return to normalcy is pined for. It is gay friendly and filled with white liberals self-flagellating to atone for historical collective sins, but its clearly the herald of an attempt to recreate Howdy Doody Wholesomeness in a a new era. You see this in the constant bombardment of missionary style lectureporn webcomics of dubious quality with a pastel color aesthetic and a CalArts-infused tweeness that just makes everything look safe and childlike. Add on the concerted attempt to crush counterculture and force assimilation into the greater monoculture, and you have so many overlaps it becomes hard to ignore. So hard to ignore, in fact, that the whole ‘make fun of the 50s by progressives’ trend just suddenly died lest they see themselves reflected back in it.
There is, for the first time in all of modern history, a desire to couch literally everything in a ‘think of the children’ framework by those who are still young and should be rebellious rather than conformist. That same mentality that led to past obsessions with prosecuting a punitive carceral state and Satanic Panics coming back once again to be used not by conservatives but by their opponents. And, anecdotally, it seems more popular with the young than the old. For now anyway. I’m still waiting for the woke version of ‘Boys Beware’, which we saw teased in the Alex Morse primary race recently. Perhaps this could be called ‘Xzhirs Beware.’ Already, the way the present day left talks about sexuality seems suspiciously like that of ‘Perversion for Profit,’ where a deep fascination with sex combines with the clear personality traits of the easily offended incel made uncomfortable by the thought that they are missing out and thus must regulate the behavior of others. Sex Cop! Now not just for rightoids!
We’ll have the 50s, but without any of those good things like a well regulated economy, the viability of home ownership for a huge swathe of the populace, and a strong industrial policy. There will be a House of Un-American Activities community but it will be superficially progressive and decentralized to your local H.R. compliance officer. We won’t ‘defend the free world’ from the communists but ‘liberal and intersectional values’ from an even more vaguely defined ‘totalitarian and reactionary bloc’ of countries who don’t share our Wholesome Values.’ Such a situation cannot stand unchallenged.
But lest this sound too doomer, this situation will *not* stand. I feel fairly confident in predicting that. American culture is free-wheeling enough that rebellion is always inevitable. And that the kind of neo-50s lectureporn of today will in due course become, like the 50s-early 60s infomercials before them, the laughing stock of future generations to (rightly) mock our current era. It is merely a question of when. Personally, I am hoping for sooner rather than later. The Woke Era, like Fonzie, has already clearly jumped the shark.