Wasting away in Dementiaville

By Jack Shafer
January 25, 2012

I’ve found a great spot for most of the Republican presidential candidates — active and vanquished — to retire to after Barack Obama wins his second term in November. Dubbed “Dementiaville” in press accounts, it’s a mock-1950s “village” of 23 residences that the Swiss are building in Wiedlisbach to house 150 cognitively impaired old folks.

Dementiaville follows a similar nursing home that was established in the Amsterdam suburbs in 2009, where the residents (or their guardians) “pay €5,000 a month to live in a world of carefully staged illusion,” as the U.K. Independent reports today. The visual and architectural cues at Dementiaville will all be from the comforting 1950s, when the residents still had full possession of their minds. The operation’s caretakers “will dress as gardeners, hairdressers and shop assistants,” the paper continues, to extend the illusion. Dementiaville founder Markus Vögtlin claims that the planned environment at the Amsterdam village makes its patients “feel comfortable. I call it travelling back in time.”

Although the geriatric-care profession is split on the value of stockpiling dementia patients in the equivalent of the old Ozzie and Harriet back lot, it’s easy to discern who is the target of Dementiaville’s marketing: The mentally complete offspring and the spouses of the patients, who naturally feel guilty for delegating care to an institution.

When campaigning, Republican presidential candidates tend to build their own little Dementiavilles, cherry-picking what they consider the best of the 1950s as they call for the return of cheap energy, U.S. industrial and military hegemony, a more business-friendly economy, and respect for authority. The Republican campaign ad imagery and its language of “renewal,” popular since the Age of Reagan, concentrates on tree-lined streets and carefree kids riding their bikes, church socials, pickup baseball games, sunny days, and smiling snowmen. It’s no coincidence that Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney spent some of their teen years in this imagined utopia.

This idealization of the 1950s persists because few who invoke the decade bother to remember it correctly. Yes, it was a wonderful decade for some, but it doesn’t take a McGovernite to point out that Jim Crow, segregation, Little Rock, and the mistreatment of women and homosexuals should strike those years from the utopia registry.

The Republican tunnel vision, such as it is, manifests itself in campaign slogans, too. Mitt Romney’s “Keep America America” palaver sounded enough like “Keep America American” to transmit a racially coded message about a certain somebody who is suspected by some of being a Muslim who wasn’t born here, by others of exhibiting “Kenyan, anti-colonial behaviors,” or by others of being a socialist. Obviously, as the Atlantic reported in December, the Romney campaign should have done a better job of slogan-picking considering the way xenophobes and racists have used it. The Santorum campaign wishes it had better vetted its early campaign slogan, “Fighting to make America America again.” It echoes Romney’s but it also happens to be a line from a pro-union poem by African-American (and gay) poet Langston Hughes. (After the overlap was discovered, the Santorum slogan was retired.)

If the campaign were simply about marketing 1950s nostalgia, Santorum would be leading the polls. More than any other candidate, he yearns for the decade he was barely born into (b. 1958), when the Mass was in Latin, blue laws were the rule and not the exception, and abortion was back-alley or required a plane ride. Alone among the candidates, Santorum would self-deport into the Pleasantville mise-en-scène if the movie’s cinematic magic were real.

Any slots the Republican candidates decline to fill at Dementiaville can be reserved for those Democrats who have their own, separate delusions about the 1950s. Democrats look back fondly to the era, and not just because it marked the peak of union membership. It was also a time when a good Republican (Jacob Javits) was almost indistinguishable from a Democrat. The GOP was so rife with Huntsmen, the real partisan action pitted the South’s Democrats against the rest of the country’s Democrats.

The extraordinary economic growth of the 1950s came after both the Great Depression and the deprivations of World War II, so it’s probably the clang of cash that makes the decade so alluring for everybody. The decade sits in the middle of what some economists call the “Great Compression,” which ran from about 1934 to 1979 and during which economic inequality was historically low. Even hard-nosed Democrats like Paul Krugman swoon over the 1950s, as his critics on the right have noted. Krugman writes in his 2007 book, The Conscience of a Liberal:

[T]he political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional episode in our nation’s history.

Postwar America was, above all, a middle-class society. The great boom in wages that began with World War II had lifted tens of millions of Americans—my parents among them—from urban slums and rural poverty to a life of home ownership and unprecedented comfort. The rich, on the other hand, had lost ground: They were few in number and, relative to the prosperous middle, not all that rich.

And yes, Krugman fondly recalls the long bike rides and quiet streets of those bygone times.

Few candidates have ever been able to conjure a future that’s anywhere as blissful as the past. (The 2008 Obama campaign, with its abstract notions of “change” and its equally vague “Yes, We Can” exhortations is the only one that comes to mind. Oh, yeah, Clinton spoke of a bridge to the 21st century, but that mostly elicited laughter.) But the 1950s aren’t so durable that the psychological karma of those years can be harvested forever. By the time the 2016 campaign arrives, nobody younger than 60 will possess any genuine memories of those days. Perhaps nostalgia transcends actual experience and politicians will trade on that decade forever. But if I were designing Dementiaville (or running a campaign!), I’d go heavy on the Beatles on the intercom and decorate the bedrooms with lava lamps as my signature theme.

******

Ron Paul seems disconnected from 1950s nostalgia. Or am I wrong? Send your best 1950s memories to Shafer.Reuters@gmail.com. My Twitter feed is composed in the future. Sign up for email notifications of new Shafer columns (and other occasional announcements). Subscribe to this RSS feed for new Shafer columns, and subscribe to this hand-built RSS feed for corrections to my column.

PHOTO: A man plays ping pong at a program for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia in Los Angeles REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

25 comments

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We could relive the American economy of the 1950s, if we bomb all of the factories in Asia, South America, and Germany. Then all the nations who import stuff from them might buy things from us. Also, since their factories wouldn’t be running, their economy would be so crippled they wouldn’t need to import oil, and the cost of imported oil would drop so we could buy more of it.

As for Paul, he doesn’t want to relive the 1950s, it’s the 1750s. Either that or present day Somalia, which he seems to be yearning for with his demand for minimal government.

Posted by KenG_CA | Report as abusive

Thank you for this. Everytime I hear anything about going back to the good ol’ days, I wonder what days people are talking about.

Nothing has made me sadder than watching my country react to a black president the way that it has. We’re supposed to be the shining light to other countries? My God, the world is in a mess of trouble if it can do no better than the U.S.

I think I could deal with the republican Dementialville a little better if they based ANY of it on facts instead the imaginings of a fevered mind. But as it is, they lie and those who are still wallowing in the racism of the 1950s just eat it up.

I wonder how history will portray this era in America.

Posted by DinaDinaDina | Report as abusive

This is the most ridiculous article I have ever read. You’re a professional columnist?

Posted by jhoprunner | Report as abusive

So THIS is where the GOtB wants to take us?

In the American version, will segregated facilities, bomb shelters, and Jim Crow be part of the “comforting visual cues,” too?

Posted by Skeezix | Report as abusive

Ron Paul is more an 1850′s guy. Before that horrific Republican president trampled all over states rights and dealt such a deathblow to “freedom”.

Most people are most nostalgic for the times in their lives when they were happiest and most care-free or had the most moral clarity. On the latter point, see Brokaw and Hanks’s WWII fetishizing. It will be interesting in the next 20 year or so to see the 60s and 70s become the glory days, considering how much more sharply the nation was divided during those decades. Of course, my young fun free idealistic decade is the 80s – 90s so I have a ways to go.

Posted by ChevalierMalFet | Report as abusive

Mostly, the Americans who are afraid of Ron Paul are simply Fascists of the Italian flavor. Pure and simple. Strong government with many prisons and a large selection of the “morally prurient” (in their opinion) to occupy them. Together with a strong, aggressive military with no moral compass at all, just “orders” and plenty of them. And at least two wars in Muslim countries for fun and profit.

They do not like free speech, except of course from those who share their opinions on everything. They do not like open and free elections, since the ordinary “idiots” on the street might choose someone other than themselves. They do not want to permit the People to choose their own pleasures. And they want taxes to be for “little people” and not for “job creators” (in China is just fine). In general, their “Good Old Days” were not so far back. They were the reign of the Bushes.

Unfortunately, our rigged “two party” One Party State means we will get more of these paragons that have led America into the abyss and conveniently forgotten that they did. Alzheimer’s?

Hang on to your hats! More of the same coming up. If Paul does not run, don’t bother voting.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

Great commentary. I keep thinking/saying that the generation that’s running the country is completely out of touch with modern reality, which is ruled by a globalized economy, the internet, and decentralized non-militaristic aggression. We can enforce a minimum age for a President, why not a maximum age?

Posted by Nullcorp | Report as abusive

If one listens to what Gingrich says about the courts, we could even go back a bit further, say to the halcyon days of the Andrew Jackson era. Gingrich claims he would haul federal judges before Congress and have them explain their decisions. He’s even gone on record saying he would ignore Supreme Court decisions that he disagreed with. (Imagine if that socialist Muslim Obama were to say the same thing? Oh, shivers!) This is precisely what Andrew Jackson did when it came to a Supreme Court decision that went in favor of the Cherokee Nation. He refused to enforce it. And now he graces the $20 bill.

Why don’t we just abolish the judiciary altogether and go back to the glory days of the British monarchy? Ah, the good old days.

Posted by IntoTheTardis | Report as abusive

America will never return to the 1950′s. Just like we never get our high schoool bodies back as middle aged men, some times you have to move on. The good news is, with middle age comes faster more expensive cars. And porn is much easier to get a hold of now. It’s not all bad.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

The 1950s had a lot going for it – no decade is perfect and the postwar boom will never be repeated – but there is something to be said for, compared to today, miniscule rates of illegitimacy, a less coarse culture and once great urban school systems. But, we were told,in the next decade, that we should not impose “middle class values” – as if those values were wholly unrelated to economic prosperity.

Posted by SayHey | Report as abusive

What great comments.

Ken G, you had us roaring here! 1750′s!

as for you Chaveliermalfet, I’m doubtful that 60′s and 70′s nostalgia will take hold. I came of age in the 70′s and the problem is that I can’t remember a lot of it. Thanks to a long talk with a good doctor I started coming out of the fog around the time Ronald Reagan was first elected. Amnesia thanks to alcohol and “illegal fun, under the sun”. They tell me it sure was fun though.

I suppose I really was MIA. ;)

Posted by Missinginaction | Report as abusive

To TXgadfly:

Mostly, the Americans support who Ron Paul are barely two steps removed from Americans who support Lyndon Larouche. Pure and simple. Fair argument, no?

You realize of course that Dr. Paul has no complaint with facsism or oppressive government control. He simply wants that to occur at the state level, as it did in his glory days, i.e. when a Southern white majority could impose a system of COMPLETE OPPRESSION on people in the minority with no Federal Authority to check their power and the abuse thereof. That’s Paul’s idea of “liberty”.

Couldn’t be more sick of the “Libertologists”, everytime someone mentions Ron Paul, I start feeling like Robert Stack in that scene where he’s walking into the airport.

Posted by ChevalierMalFet | Report as abusive

Clearly, you know absolutely nothing about the 1950s, but are simply parroting popular opinion about a period later generations choose to denigrate for their own reasons, mostly because this country has not even remotely lived up to the promise of the 1950s because of what they have done to it since.

Instead, the nation has descended into the “Dementialville” hell of senseless liberalism and unbridled wealthy greed.

Now the nation is deeply in trouble, faced with the results of that mistake, and the following generations cannot deal with the reality of what they have allowed to happen, so they must blame some “idealized” era of the past for their problems, just like the spoiled brats they really are.

The reality is that it is the following generations who “blew it” in terms of what their predecessors literally handed to them on a silver platter. All they had to do was continue the country in the same direction it was heading, but they couldn’t even manage to do that.

It is they who are responsible for this “Dementialville” we live in today — not those who lived in the 1950s — and the “inconvenient truth” is that it is much easier for the later generations to whine about what has happened than accept the blame for it.

You state, “This idealization of the 1950s persists because few who invoke the decade bother to remember it correctly. Yes, it was a wonderful decade for some, but it doesn’t take a McGovernite to point out that Jim Crow, segregation, Little Rock, and the mistreatment of women and homosexuals should strike those years from the utopia registry.”

Obviously, you have no idea of the difference between social issues and the basis for the economic problems that exist today — they are not the same thing at all, but that difference is crucial in explaining the present condition of our economy, which is the real problem today. The social issues you mention are a moot point in that context, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the economic collapse of this economy.

If you are going to intelligently discuss and compare the differences between the 1950s and those at present, you need to present a coherent picture of how this county differs from then — from an economic perspective, which is the only one that matters, but which you have not done.

Your article has to consist of more than simply personal bias and emotional screed, which is all this garbage really is, to be worth reading.

PseudoTurtle
CPA/MBA

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive

Do you want to know when a country is in decline?

When its leaders instead of facing the challenges of the future keep on trying to bring the old times back.

Posted by ecogabriel1 | Report as abusive

People who think Ron Paul has no problem with Authoritarianism simply do not want to know anything about what he does advocate, or cannot read. It is that simple.

Posted by txgadfly | Report as abusive

I would assert the GOP eutopia harkens to the post Reconstruction ERA — a time of business tycoons, property seizures during cattle wars, no regulations, snake oil and other beneits of minimal government, and of course good old fashion family values (the Clanton’s comes to mind)

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive

How much hate can one person spew out?

Did the republicans kill the author’s puppy?

Why does Reuters publish such a diatribe?

Censorship is evil.

Posted by ALLSOLUTIONS | Report as abusive

Sad but true that a great period of renewed prosperity like what was witnessed in the 1950s is likely going to follow this near depression, and it will be enjoyed with a Republican President at the helm, because Obama is a one term Democratic failure.

Posted by acin2012 | Report as abusive

Really, Republicans want to go back to the 1950s, when taxes were high and unions were strong? Hard to believe.

Posted by lordkoos | Report as abusive

To have been a teenager in any part of the 1950s, one must have been born in 1946 or earlier, 1937 to have spent all one’s teenage years during that decade. Thus, only two of the five candidates for President spent any of their teen years in the 1950s.

Ron Paul turned 13 in 1948, so he wins the teen years sweepstakes. Gingrich turned 13 in 1956, only 4 years as a teenager in the 1950s. Romney in 1960, Santorum in 1971 (same year as me), and Obama in 1974.

For most of them, then, any nostalgia for the 1950s is drawn from some source other than personal experience. Any “memory” I have of the 1950s is from television, movies, books, school, and family story-telling.

Posted by jpeckjr | Report as abusive

From a public policy perspective, the 1950s were a time of massive public investment in infrastructure and education, and an expansion of the public sector at all levels. Many of the infrastructure and education investments continued into the 1960s and early 1970s.

It was not a time of significant investment in human services programs though. An appeal to the 1950s is an appeal to older voters without mentioning that returning to it would mean the end of Medicare.

Posted by jpeckjr | Report as abusive

Nostalgia is basically a losing proposition–in general it consists of people attempting to recall their adolescence–which of course seemed to them at the time to be horrible. Therefore, we have Newt and Mitt craving a return of the days of their youth, and Ron Paul harkening to his a decade or two earlier.

In general this whole thing becomes more and more pathetic the older one is who indulges in it. For the United States as a whole to pursue such at the ripe old age of 236 is decidedly grotesque.

Posted by Art_In_Seattle | Report as abusive

Instead, the nation has descended into the “Dementialville” hell of senseless liberalism and unbridled wealthy greed. – @Gordon2352

Which ‘senseless liberalism’ are you referring to?

Unlike the 1950′s when Mitt Romney’s dad paid a wholesome 38% as a rich man helping to do his part for the wars and infrastructural expansions that helped to make some parts of the 50′s worth noting…today we have an endless parade of Republicons signing alliegence to Tea Party zealots and the uber wealthy. How patriotic of them.

Posted by NobleKin | Report as abusive

During the 1950′s I went to high school, college, got married, had our first child. I wouldn’t want to be that age again :), but I would certainly take some of what we had then. I don’t recall anyone having trouble getting a job. We didn’t lock our doors unless we were going on vacation. I didn’t know anyone who got (noticeably) pregnant before marriage. Almost all children where I lived had two-parent homes unless a parent had died. By the end of 8th grade kids had a better education than some have when they finish high school now. These are some of the things people get nostalgic for.

Posted by here_legally | Report as abusive

To NobleKin,

Well how about “senseless liberalism” that costs us both money and jobs we can’t afford, like the “open border” policy which permits illegal immigrants to stay here when something like 8 million people (the last number I saw) are out of work in this country and we are facing economic collapse?

Or the complicated “reverse discrimination” bidding process for government projects that award work on the basis of race, instead of the basis of the lowest reliable bidder?

I think you get the idea.

Social programs and hard cash don’t always mix well, and they have become a pork barrel for a lot of businesses. None of these are free, and the American taxpayer gets to foot the bill simply because of someone’s idea of social justice being served by throwing money at it.

My point is we’ve gone way too far down that slippery slope for it to make sense any longer. We’ve been at it since at least the Kennedy administration. Let’s look at what we’ve accomplished from all that social engineering — nothing but a degradation in our society that is making us noncompetitive in the global markets.

That’s a fact, whether you like it or not.

There are other ways to accomplish social justice without directly involving the free market system, which is NOT equipped to deal with those kinds of problems.

I would think we should have learned by now that simply throwing money at something doesn’t cure the problem, but only makes it worse.

PseudoTurtle
CPA/MBA

Posted by Gordon2352 | Report as abusive