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POPULUXE by Thomas Hine Kirkus Star



Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1986
ISBN: 1585679100
Publisher: Knopf

A marvelously illustrated, readable knockout about the look and life of America in the '50's and '60's--from tail fins and TV dinners to Ken and Barbie dolls and fallout shelters. Hine describes the decade from 1954 to 1964 as a gigantic shopping spree for Americans in a consumer paradise. With the rise of suburbia, people spread out but kept in touch via advertisements for more pastel and plastic consumer goods. A housing boom was on, especially with WW II veterans needing no money down; when a vet said he'd invested his last dime in building, he meant his $100 or $200 closing fee. Appliance manufacturers brought new looks and new features to familiar machines: the streamlined form introduced earlier became flatter and boxier, had new colors and often sported decorative appliquÉs. Fashions in kitchens brought quicker obsolescence, more rapid turnover. A family might love its old furniture and have its feelings invested in it, but when it moved it left the big old appliances behind, went for novelty and two TV sets--a second for the kids or the bedroom. Suburbanization in ""Disurbia"" happened in a scattered, seemingly haphazard way, in widely separated patches that were only later filled in. Even though a man's new house ""might be a manufactured object just like his neighbors', he did have the sense of having moved to the country. Most people who moved to suburbia really did get to experience an environment that, for a time at least, retained some rural characteristics."" Rival architectural styles featured either the stripped-down steel-and-glass minimalism of van der Rohe or the great glitzy Miami Beach hotels of Morris Lapidus, ""buildings that did everything they possibly could to knock their visitors' eyes out."" Many new consumer items failed, among them two-toned refrigerators and push-button transmissions. Vice-President Nixon, taking Khrushchev on a tour of a model suburban home, waved a new American washing machine in the face of the angry Russian, asking him, ""Isn't this the kind of competition you want?"" Automotive tail fin design began to mock the swept-wing jet fighter. But by the World's Fair of 1964 the boom was dying, American enthusiasm declining. The deep-freeze died with buyers trying to pry chunks of food from glacial depths ""in those cold coffins."" A cultural extravaganza steeped in nostalgia. Not to be missed.