The Kennedy mystique has been well established in American culture: John F. and Jackie Kennedy swept into the White House, bringing in the television age, the space age, and jumpstarting the 1960s. But I hadn’t connected this mystique to what critics saw as the bland American suburbs of the 1950s:
In the normal course of the apparat’s work, elevating the Kennedys requires the denigration of the Eisenhowers, the 1950s, and the supposed dullness of the country that the Kennedys rescued us from—“our country of suburbs and Ozzie and Harriet, poodle skirts and one kind of cheese,” as Diane Sawyer oddly put it, while the screen showed a golden brick of Velveeta. Jackie by contrast wore clothes by designers who would have gone into a dead faint at the sight of a poodle skirt. When the Kennedys moved in, added the court historian Michael Beschloss, “we had a White House that looked like a bad convention hotel.” The Kennedys brought French cuisine to the White House, Diane Sawyer added. “No more Eisenhower cheese sauce and cole slaw. .??.??. In our middle-class nation, it wasn’t easy for us to fathom this first lady.” Jackie herself is heard complaining about the marks that Ike’s golf shoes left in the flooring. Dwight Eisenhower, lumbering ox.
This view of the suburbs fits well with a set of suburban critiques that began in the 1950s: the suburbs were bland, about conformity, and were populated by people who couldn’t really act like those nice suburban families on TV and who had popular tastes. In comparison to the Eisenhowers and Ozzie and Harriet on TV, the Kennedys were the cultural elite, the fashionable who had refined tastes and opinions. This same argument can be heard today and still pits two sets of people against each other: the urban intellectuals versus the middle class suburbanites, progressives versus conservatives, fashionable and novel versus bland and predictable, novel versus boring, upscale shoppers versus Walmart (or maybe Target on the slightly higher end) patrons. Perhaps it all goes back to those arguments in the early years of America when Thomas Jefferson advocated for a more rural America and Alexander Hamilton pushed for the capital to be in New York City.