Tag Archives: Bill Bryson

Safety First

In Bill Bryson’s memoir “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” he visits the idea of safety.  For a white kid growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in a nice neighborhood, it was a safe place.  It was so safe that a young boy could break all kinds of rules and suffer minor consequences.  He could walk from his home a couple miles to visit his mother and father in downtown Des Moines.   No safety helmets were needed for bike riding.  No child seats or air bags. No child safety caps or bottled water. Smoking was good for you and so was dirt. Oh yes, there was Polio, the Bomb, and Cicadas “the size of hummingbirds”, but people seemed happy and secure. Continue reading

Dig It! – Making a Wrong Turn in the Fifties – Updated Version

I recently wrote about the difference between a job and work; between “useless toil and useful work.”  And why do we work?  When did we start to devalue leisure time?  A hundred years ago people in the I.W.W. argued for more leisure rather than higher wages.  Keynes talked about the ten hour week.  So when were basic needs replaced by wants? Adam Curtis in “The Century of Self” speculates that it started in the 1920s with the rise of advertising.   But the real push to go beyond needs seems to have occurred in the 1950s.

I just finished Bill Bryson’s memoir “The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid” about growing up in Des Moines, Iowa in the 1950s and 1960s.   Like all his books, it is filled with amazing detail, hilarious stories, and keen social commentary.  For white folks in America things were pretty good in the 1950s.  Bryson remarks that their basic needs were being met (although he thinks the toys of his childhood like Mr. Potato Head and the Slinky really sucked).  But instead of being content they started living large.  They went from not needing a car at all in cities with streetcars and rail service to buying two cars.  They needed bigger refrigerators and more gadgets. “…televisions, room intercoms, gas grills, kitchen gadgets, snowblowers, you name it.”   That meant they needed bigger places for all the new stuff.  And so they worked more and women started working too.  They were sold the idea of “careers” which were jobs where you could “get ahead”. Continue reading