As a teen in the 80s, I remember that the 50s were retro-chic for a few years. Fashion-setting guys were wearing leather biker jackets, white t-shirts, and poofed-out hair reminiscent of jelly-rolls. Poodle skirts were popular Halloween costumes for girls. Chubby Checker and a host of 50s music icons were making comebacks, and Back to the Future was owning the box-office and bringing 50s nostalgia to a generation that had never lived through it.
For all that, I never really got into it. For me, the 50s were just the awkward decade between WWII and the civil rights movements. I thought of it as a period of materialism, conformity, and paranoia.
I was forced to re-evaluate my view when my buddy and co-developer, Bob Bretz, approached me with the idea for The Menace From Beyond, an RPG based on 1950s monster movies. Its core concept turned the cold-war era American society into a perfect recipe for suspense and action.
As I started to look into the 50s, I realized that it marked the birth of science fiction as we recognize it today. Sure, radiation was the go-to excuse for everything from giant monsters to psychic power(today it’s genetic manipulation or maybe nano-bots). But reviewing the films and literature of that period left me amazed at how advanced the science fiction had been.
I shouldn’t have been surprised: these were breakout years for what many consider to be the greatest generation of sci-fi writers, including Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Robert Heinlein. Sci-fi of the era was replete with alien contact, artificial intelligence, and advanced communication systems—not to mention space-suits and rocket-ships years before Sputnik escaped the stratosphere.
We’re still using those same ideas and watching those same images today.
I went from feeling dismissive about the 50s to feeling indebted to it.
What are your assumptions, feelings, or favorite aspects of the 1950s? Leave a comment, because I’d love to know!