American Culture in the 1920s

American Culture in the 1920s

American Culture in the 1920s

American Culture in the 1920s

Synopsis

In the decade following the end of World War I, the United States rose to its current seat as the leading world superpower matched by an emerging cultural dominance that would come to characterize the second half of the twentieth century. American Culture in the 1920s is an engaging account of the major cultural and intellectual trends that were pivotal to the decade's characterization as "the jazz age." Avoiding superficial representations of the era as the "roaring twenties" plagued by a "lost generation," the volume provides a full portrait that includes chapters on literature, music and performance, film and radio, visual art and design, and the unprecedented rise of leisure and consumption.

Excerpt

In his reflection on the decade in 1931, the writer F. Scott Fitzgerald described the 1920s as 'the ten-year period that, as if reluctant to die outmoded in its bed, leaped to a spectacular death in October, 1929, [which] began about the time of the May Day riots in 1919'. Patterns in culture never begin and end quite so clearly, but the 1920s are neatly encased within two major events – the end of World War I and the Wall Street Crash – that give distinctive boundaries to those years. These two events consolidated, accelerated and confirmed intellectual responses to modernity that had begun much earlier and continued well beyond the 1920s. Despite this, ideas about culture and society operate in relationship with the political and social environment of the time, making it possible to describe the culture of the 1920s as distinct as well as part of longer-term trends. The introduction of new mass communications, notably radio programming and sound on film, the unprecedented prominence of racial and nativist ideologies in public culture, the popularisation of psychoanalysis, female suffrage and the prohibition of alcohol rendered the decade clearly different from others that had come before. Ideas about these social, technological and scientific changes emerged in the philosophies and ideologies that developed over the period; this book examines the part that those ideas, both old and new, played in the cultural productions of the 1920s.

The rejection of tradition and the celebration of the new was a pervasive cultural theme beneath Fitzgerald's comment that the 1920s refused to die 'outmoded' and 'old'. Historians have identified this tension between progress and tradition as a central paradox underlying American history and culture. Although not exclusive to it, the decade after the Great War until the onset of the Great Depression highlighted this tension more clearly than any other decade. While . . .

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