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Lecture 17

Lecture 17: The 1920s

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Erin Black

February 6, 2013 The 1920s  The 1920s were considered the first modern decade. Highest prosperity rates in history.  Age of the flapper, Harlem renaissance, modern advertising. I. Economic Boom  The defining aspect of the 1920s.  US economy grows spectacularly during this decade, but not evenly: agriculture lags behind industrial expansion.  Nation's net income leapt from $64BN in 1921 to almost $87BN in mid-1929.  1.5% unemployment in 1925.  Boom rested on automobile industry; car's genesis was prior to 1920, but 1920s sees automobile expansion.  By the end of the decade, 23 million Americans will have registered an automobile, approximately 60% of American families. Indicative of general wealth.  Other industries that boomed in conjunction with the car: o Fast food restaurants. A&W is the first. o Motels.  Car is therefore symbolic of the prosperity of the decade.  Mass production required mass consumption.  Early moves towards consumption, such as the department store, are becoming consolidated and there is mass consumption coupled with the growth of advertising.  Per capita income increased by about a third, while cost of living stayed the same. More disposable income. o Radios o Refrigerators o Washing machines  Uneven growth; middle class sees this per capita increase.  Advertising important because it stimulates desire for products, but also changed how Americans thought - led to the letting go of traditional frugal values. o Ads are less about the product, and more about the lifestyle, such as Lucky Strike and Pall Mall cigarette ads. o Success of ads meant even those who couldn't afford these products wanted them.  The solution to this issue is credit. Not a new concept, but American use of credit is, however. Nation's consumer debt more than doubles over the decade.  The mortgage is also introduced. Gives the capacity to earn a home; an important psychological aspect in the form of pseudo-independence.  Responsibilities of the American are now as "a consumer" - one US newspaper. II. Modern (Mass) Culture  Prosperity and underlying assumptions lead to mass culture on the back of mass consumption.  Movies, radio, and jazz. February 6, 2013 o Movies. Most popular attraction. Films previously novelties, and until 1927, are silent. The first with a speaking track is the Jazz Singer (Al Jolson). Rise of the cult of Hollywood. Movie tickets kept cheap, to encourage mass consumption. In 1922, 40 million Americans attended movies a week; by the end of the decade it had doubled. o Radio. Sports commentary, comedy, and variety shows all popular. Birth of the soap opera, with a deliberate structure of cliff-hangers. Over 500 radio stations in the US by 1923. Radios are being churned out by 2 million a year, mid-decade. 10.25m radios in American homes by the end of the decade. Connects all Americans; 'mass culture'. o Jazz. Emerged from New Orleans, and is spread with the Great Migration when African Americans went north. Becomes an American music phenomenon, rather than African- American only. Attracts white youth, and it is 'whitened'. Represented the new, the innovative, and the changing way of life, hence the 'jazz age'. III. Changing Social Values  Modern culture sees changing social values. Most discussed is the perception of an ongoing sexual revolution.  Attitudes are shifting, but not dramatically. Identifiable change, in that sex is discussed more openly.  Popular media and culture moves this along; films such as A Bedroom Blunder, and the Anatomy of a Kiss. New dances, moreso than previous generations, and the emergence of burlesque.  Despite this, many still condemn premarital sex. Slight change insofar that there are increased acts of intercourse between engaged people. Still assumptions that sex should be between married people.  'Petting' becomes popular. Anything from kissing to third base.  Older generation horrified. Sexual expression is beginning to move past the confines of marriage. Seen less as the deviations of prostitutes/johns, and normal expression of married people.  Dating emerges. Prior to this, assumptions were that a certain amount of time spent with the opposite sex meant imminent marriage.  Dating meant no expectations for long-term commitment. Also permitted 'petting' and sexual exploration.  Young people are now meeting casually and recreationally, at dance halls and movies. Freed from direct supervision as a result of the automobile.  New social trends not limited to big US cities. Middletown study: exact same social developments occurring in small-town American as in big cities. IV. The New Woman  Concepts of womanhood are changing. Individuality, and identities distinct from their families, independent, and assertive. Now have the right to vote.  Flappers: Mostly young women, but older women also. o Hemlines at the knee, and short hair. February 6, 2013 o Makeup now commonplace. Previously only used by prostitutes. o Ad for Kotex reflects that women are now active, leaving the house - shows women playing tennis. o Smoking now commonplace. Previously only done by prostitutes. o Many drink, despite Volstead Act.  Economically, a new status for women. More middle class women are working for pay - 1/4.  Gain purchasing power. Women and the new consumer culture now have a particular relationship, and are targeted specifically.  Politically, now have right to vote. Politicians and congressmen now have to pay attention to women's issues.  Legislation regarding daycare standards, for example, is now being passed.  Beyond that, suffrage was just the beginning for some. o National Women's Party and Alice Paul are indicative of the new women in this era. o 19th Amendment - the Equal Rights Amendment. Men and women should be equal in society. Reads: men and
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