Dinner with the nuclear family, 1950

A primary source by Encyclopedia Britannica Films

The threat of invasion and subversion in the Cold War era led Americans to seek consensus and conformity, in politics and in culture. The rise of consumer culture in the same period, driven by an economic boom, a population surge, and suburban development gave rise to a middle class with certain expectations about material culture and behavior. In popular culture many television programs focused on the ideal nuclear family and, with more and more people purchasing televisions, this ideal spread throughout society. The shows reflected accepted social patterns and emphasized the traditional roles of fathers leaving the house to go to work and mothers staying home to raise children and take care of the house.

The instructional film A Date with Your Family, distributed in 1950 by Encyclopedia Britannica Films, portrays such family. The film focuses on a family dinner and instructs teenagers in acceptable manners and behavior. The narrator lists “dos and don’ts” for the meal, including appropriate attire and topics of conversation:

Don’t monopolize the conversation and go on and on without stopping, nothing destroys the charm of a meal more quickly. . . . Don’t discuss unpleasant topics such as gruesome sights or sounds or unpleasant occurrences. This is a time of pleasure, of charming and relaxation, remember?

The film served as an educational tool for teenagers to learn the proper etiquette and values of the idealized American family. It is an example of how television and films of the 1950s reinforced and promoted specific traditional roles in a world that seemed increasingly out of control as national and international tensions increased.

A Date with Your Family, Encyclopedia Britannica Films, 1950 (Prelinger Archives, Internet Archive)

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