Domestic Bliss in Fabricated Families
The early Cold War-era American family seemed to face two major threats - communism from afar, and teenage rebellion at home. Domestic life in America was in a transitional period of economic prosperity and growth, from the suburban housing movement to the beginnings of the baby boom.
In the home, American teenagers were expected to respect and obey their parents until the day they left to marry and start families of their own. The films on this page showcased an idealized vision of mid-century mainstream family life, in which the happy and stable nuclear family was the ultimate defense against the communist threat.
In the 1950 film A Date With Your Family, the so-called ideal American family had a hard-working father, home-making mother and siblings who ran straight home after school to do their chores and hang out with their parents. Traditional gender roles abounded and family etiquette was of utmost importance. At home and around the dinner table, “pleasant” interactions between family members were encouraged, even at the expense of emotional honesty. This “fake it ‘til you make it” approach to domestic bliss was exemplified in the memorable scene in which the kids greet their dad “as though they are genuinely happy to see him,” even if they secretly were not.
The 1950 film Are You Ready for Marriage? centered on Larry and Sue, your average American teenagers. After a mere three months of going steady, they were smitten with each other and intended on marrying after high school. In this era of post-war economic prosperity and stability, the youth seemed to rush towards this idea of freedom from their parents and education. This led to high divorce rates, as most young husbands and wives had not taken the time to truly know each other. This social guidance film followed the eager couple through a meeting with a marriage counselor at their local church. In an attempt to combat such high divorce rates among young married couples, films such as this one infiltrated classrooms and touted the importance of "similar backgrounds, true friendship, and an understanding of marriage" as the foundation upon which a strong marriage could be built.
Preserving the stability of the family was one thing - ensuring that the institution of the American nuclear family lived on was another. Brother and Sister respected their parents by helping out around the house and keeping dinner table conversation pleasant. Larry and Sue let their parents decide when they were ready to marry and start families of their own. Everyone obeyed their authority figures and stayed in line with traditional gender roles.