Thursday, 28 June 2012

1956: A Year In Three Seconds

by Zoe Dukoff-Gordon

‘Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Khrushchev, Princess Grace, Peyton Place, Trouble in the Suez
                                                                                                                                    Billy Joel

Usually, we just listen to songs we like, as they are ‘catchy’ or ‘have a good beat’, but do we ever know what we are listening about? Is there a meaning to our i-Tunes playlists?

For Year Nine History, we did a project on Billy Joel’s ‘We Didn’t Start The Fire’, and each class member was asked to research a specific year: mine was 1956 (which included the lyrics quoted above).

Brigitte Bardot
Brigitte Bardot was one of the the first internationally famous non-American/non-British actress/models. A French actress, who starred in ‘Le M├ępris’, she went on to star in films in different languages in countries such as Spain and Australia. She opened doors for other non-Anglo-American actresses.

In 1956, in Budapest, Hungary, the people demanded that the Soviet Russian troops occupying their country leave. The Russian occupiers had suppressed Hungarian freedom of speech and action. The protests were mainly led by students, who were among the many Hungarians arrested by the Russian soldiers following demonstrations and riots.

President Obama, in 2012, sits in the seat Rosa Parks
refused to give up in 1956.
Meanwhile, in the USA, in Alabama, an African-American woman, Rosa Parks sat on a bus seat reserved for white people under the laws of segregation. When she was asked to move by a white male, she refused to move and was arrested and sent to prison for thirteen months. The discrimination against Parks and the realisation of the fact that a white male male had a greater right to a bus seat than an African-American woman in certain parts of the South shocked many Americans and is often seen as a starting point in the Civil Rights movement and the challenging of racism in America.  
Fidel Castro (left) and Nikita Kruschev (right)
In the same year, Nikita Khrushchev took over as leader of the Soviet Union after Josef Stalin died. He immediately criticised Stalin for his brutal and dictatorial methods and tried to reform the Soviet system. However, he was forced out of power a few years later. 

Grace Kelly, an American actress who starred in films such as "High Society" and "Rear Window" left Hollywood to marry Prince Rainier of Monaco, becoming Princess Grace. She was often included on lists of the world's most beautiful women. Many years later, she died tragically in a car accident.

Peyton Place was a number-one-bestselling book by Grace Metalious. By the end of the first week after publication, it sold over 60,000 copies. It was also adapted into a TV series and became one of the first "soap operas" (so called because there were so many commercials advertising soap during the broadcast of such serials aimed at women working at home. "Peyton Place" was a ground breaking series which became very popular for well over a decade, in the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.

Also in the same year, the Suez Crisis revealed the limitations of British power and the strength of American dominance. Egyptian leader Colonel Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal (i.e. reclaimed it as belonging to Egypt) after Britain and America stopped paying for the Aswan Dam. Egypt was then initially invaded by Britain and France, seeking to assert their control over the canal. However, the American president, Dwight Eisenhower, refused to support the two European countries and they had to retreat. It showed Britain's power had declined hugely since the end of the Empire, and it also revealed how America now called the shots. 

My opening question still stands: ‘Do we actually listen to what we listen to?’ As I hope this article has shown, we can learn so much from just three seconds of a song --- whether historical or everyday situations.

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