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The All-American Icon

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“Singing the Praises of the Drive-In Movie Theater”
Written by Rick Trottier – RJT Images-Light Works Studio
Featured model – Chrissy Victoria
The writer Gerald Early was once quoted as saying that “there were three things America would be known for when our civilization was studied a thousand or more years from now; Jazz Music, the Constitution and Baseball”. I have a hard time arguing that list. As a result of being such a young nation, so many inventions scientifically, culturally and artistically, preceded the birth of our country. But certainly Americans have brought into being more than just those three institutions. What Mr. Early was trying to say was that in a short list, those three creations hold a special place in his mind and heart. I would add another American invention to my slightly longer list. Drive-In Movie Theaters came into existence in the years before World War II, but they flourished in the post Second World War revolution of demographic and economic change. Americans began to shed their Puritan tendencies toward extreme frugality and spend a little more on the leisure time that was far more attainable in the new prosperity. As automotive design and technology, road improvements and the American hankering to move about all began to change or intensify, the time was ripe for a new way to watch feature films. And since less time was being taken up in what had once been the battle for daily survival and greater affluence meant more time to engage in “frivolity”, getting in a car and doing something “just for fun”, with a booming generation of postwar children meant a new craze was to burst on the American lifestyle scene.

The closing of the American frontier, the move away from a rural farming lifestyle and a concentration into a more urban-centered culture in the first decades of the 20th Century had a marked impact on the American psyche. Instead of seeing the outdoors as something to be conquered, or a necessary evil or even an exploitable resource, Americans began to look with wistful eyes and longing at being out “in the fresh air”. The blossoming National and State parks systems and the many Civilian Conservation Corps projects focused more and more Americans’ minds on the concept of enjoying the outdoors for its own sake as a healthy way to spend leisure time. This seems a no-brainer to us today, but my great-grandparents’ generation and even that of my grandparents, didn’t hunt, fish and farm for fun. It was part of the daily grind of subsistence. As this revolution in outdoor psychology was taking place, another seismic shift in the American mindset was happening. The automobile accelerated a process that had begun with the locomotive after the Civil War. In the years of the Industrial Revolution in the latter decades of the 19th Century, Americans began traveling in numbers never before seen as rail stitched the regions of our country together in a fashion that transformed how goods and people could move. Automobiles made it so that anyone who could afford a car could go anywhere they wished as long as the road was passable. By the 1950s, interstate highways were being built, state and even local roads were being improved as Americans took to the motorways in numbers never imagined. A booming postwar economy meant that most families could afford one and often times two cars. The twin shifts towards wanting to be outdoors and getting to your location easily meant that the idea of going to a Drive-In movie theater was a concept whose time had come.

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