A Look Through Newsweek October 1958

Possibly the greatest invention of mankind – the remote control!  “Space Command Remote Control TV Tuning!” - and MORE!

It’s October 1958, sixty years ago… Khrushchev is the new the leader of the USSR, and Cold War tensions escalate. Sputnik has left Americans worried that the new Soviet satellites will strike from the heavens. In response, NASA is formed this same year – meanwhile, nuclear testing is conducted in Nevada.

On the pop culture front, Elvis is enlisted in the army, and this month, the first color TV show airs – An Evening with Fred Astaire.  And speaking of television – as the October 13th issue of Newsweek indicates, there was apparently a lot of concern over TV violence.  Let’s have a look inside this issue…

Cellophane had been around since the turn of the century.  Whitman’s was the first to use this new wrapping for their candy samplers in 1912.  However, the problem was that cellophane was not moisture-proof.  It was water-proof, but still was permeable to water vapor.  By the 1930s, however, this obstacle was overcome, and cellophane sales began to skyrocket (accounting for a quarter of all profit for DuPont).

Day-Brite – ushering in the dreaded fluorescent office lighting.  But  it was a new era – satellites are going to space (the term “aerospace” was born this very same year) and we’re detonating nuclear bombs in the desert – so, why not usher in the new age the soulless glow of the new office light?

Vladimir Nabokov’s controversial novel Lolita was published in 1955, and first published in August 1958 in the United States.  It was met with controversy, as evidenced by this reader’s letter: “Your review of ‘Lolita’ is offensive and in extremely bad taste.  It assumes that your readers are interested in filth. Your readers do not care for filth nor for books using such as their theme.”

On a related topic, see: Vintage Images of People & Their Beloved Volkswagen Buses

Vintage Images of People & Their Beloved Volkswagen Buses

Possibly the greatest invention of mankind – the remote control!  “Space Command Remote Control TV Tuning!”

Speaking from experience, I don’t remember many homes having remote controls until late in the seventies/early eighties.  Until then, in most households, the “remote control” was dad yelling at his son to get up and change the channel (and adjust the rabbit ears).

Why there is a Native American in a tuxedo presenting his ceramics in this air delivery advertisement is beyond me.  Clearly they want to show that delicate items are safe for long-distance transport… but the illustration is a bit odd.  Note the concerns over a war with China in the readers’ letters.

Imagine a simple accounting calculator costing so much you’d need to put it on a “Perpetual Lease Plan”.  Also, no surprise that the operator will be the “girl” and the overseer, the dapper man (probably smelling of Scotch and Aqua-Velva).

Borg-Warner (a company known for the automotive parts) uses the “Ripley’s Believe It or Not” brand to promote their company’s ingenuity.  Imagine – adding both bleach and detergent AND fabric softeners to your washer load! Also featuring a solar powered radio that plays “forever”.

The home theater of 1958: “Think of being able to enjoy television as you never have before.  Actors will become real personalities… the great musical shows will give the sense of being “right on Broadway”.

It’s a bit odd that they’d have the TV off in this add; giving a weird impression the family is watching a blank screen.  The television is listed at $175, which comes to $1,526 accounting for inflation.

The first article deals with the Communist Chinese (People’s Liberation Army) battling the nationalist army (Republic of China) over Taiwan, the US felt compelled to enter the fray in its relentless quest to slow the tide of communism. What Newsweek readers didn’t know was “Operation Black Magic” was underway – delivering the new Sidewinder missiles, and giving the nationalists an edge over the Soviet backed PLA.  This military edge led to a cease-fire and “backing off” of the PLA.

Would you believe that one of the main points of contention in the upcoming 1960 election was the use of nuclear missiles to subvert the Communist Chinese?  Nixon ridiculed Kennedy for his unwillingness to launch nukes into China!

God I love midcentury car advertising.  They were just aesthetically beautiful.

Again, adjusting for inflation, we can convert this to today’s dollars at $13,035.42.  Not too bad!

France had put Algeria under its rule in the late 19th century; however, the Muslim inhabitants grew tired of their French colonists and fought for liberation at mid-century.  Over 700,000 Algerian lives were lost, with over 2 million having to relocate.  De Gaulle was riding high in ’58 and promised a peaceful resolution.  Readers of this Newsweek might not have predicted that the resolution would come in 1962 in the form of independence for Algeria.

Well I suppose it makes more sense than the tuxedo clad Native American in the previous Air Express ad; still, it’s an odd product for use of the “sex sells” approach.

Another brilliant car advertisement.  Bask in its midcentury splendor.

Finally, we arrive at the cover story – a bright and shining example of how newspapers and other media can stir the pot, taking a minor concern and blowing it up into an existential catastrophe.  With nuclear bombs being tested right-and left in both Nevada and the USSR, with Castro’s rebels invading Cuba this same year (with results that would land our planet in its closest shave with nuclear annihilation via the Cuban Missile Crisis), and the aforementioned conflict in China (where Nixon proudly exclaimed he’d nuke the Chi-Coms!)… the fact that gunplay on TV would be the cover story illustrates that the media can exacerbate public fears for profit.

Read how diabolic TV violence is portrayed as Newsweek describes a macabre scene:

“In California, the body of a 12-year old boy was found hanging from a shower bar in a motel, the victim of an accident as he attempted to re-enact details of a TV horror program.”

Of course, no real specifics are given – not even the program name. But before your mind has a chance to ponder the legitimacy of this story, Newsweek presents “Exhibit E”:

“As a law enforcement officer and as an American citizen, I feel duty-bound to speak out against a dangerous trend which is manifesting itself in the field of film and television entertainment.  In the face of the nation’s terrifying juvenile crime wave, we are threatened with a flood of movies and television presentations which flaunt indecency and applaud lawlessness. “

The writer for “Mike Hammer” delivers this memorable quote: “We get about 200 letters a week, mostly from housewives.  They say: ‘I love the way you take stands.’ ‘I love the way you push us around!”

And finally, we have an “authority” on the subject telling us from the land of “science” that TV is violent, bad and makes our children into homicidal sociopaths:

“Why does a child commit a violent act? Not only because of impulse, but also because of rationalization to do it – TV supplies the rationalization.  Then non-TV affected child has compassion and an awareness of suffering; the TV-affected child has a callousness, a lack of understanding.”

Newsweek has even gone to the trouble of compiling this unbiased chart entitled “Sock! Crunch! Oof!… Death Takes No Holiday”

Good grief.

This had me confused at first.  The toggle wall-mounted light-switch had been around for decades prior to 1958.  Apparently, that’s not what’s being touted as money-saving and breakthrough technology.  The selling point here is that the switch is illuminated (which didn’t come along until the mid-fifties) and it’s centrally controlled – turning off and on a network of lights.  Progress Marches On!

I enjoy vintage advertising – except ads for air travel.  They make me sick with jealousy.  The sight of these passengers, luxuriating in their more-than-ample leg room, dining on File Mignon is more than I can bear.  For more on this (if you can take it) see: Living the Dream at 35,000 ft: Flying First Class in the 1960s.