The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s

The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s

The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s

The Nickel and Dime Decade: American Popular Culture during the 1930s

Synopsis

This study shows that, despite numerous surface similarities, the popular culture of the 1930s was different from that of the 1920s in a variety of ways, and not only because of the Great Depression. It was a period of quiet desperation and shifting values, one in which nickels and dimes replaced dollars as the currency of popular culture, and in which the emphasis was on finding methods to occupy idle time and idle minds. Popular culture during the 1930s is important for understanding not only how Americans coped, but why they did so with such good humor and so little of the discontent visible elsewhere in the world. An appreciation of popular culture during the 1930s is essential to understanding other aspects of the decade.

Excerpt

The picture of the depression years that most of us have is one of unremitting bleakness: of street-corner apple sellers, soup lines, foreclosures, closed factories, armies of unemployed, hunger if not starvation, and labor violence. The contrasts drawn with the decade of the 1920s that preceded it have been stark: a decade of "Fords, Flappers and Fanatics," as George Mowry described it, followed by a decade of "Hard Times," to use the title of Studs Terkel's oral history. The frivolity, fads, and mad speculation of the 1920s came crashing down with the stock market as the decade ended, to be replaced by a decade of down- at-the-heels, worn-at-the-elbow, emphasis on survival--or at least so we assume. Thus, the popular culture of the 1930s has attracted little of the attention directed by historians toward the "roaring twenties."

The 1930s was a decade that defies such easy labeling as has been applied to the 1920s. That decade, we are told, was the "roaring twenties," or the "jazz age," or the "flapper era," or a dozen other easy characterizations. The 1920s unfolds between 1920 and the stock market crash of 1929 without any major demarcations or turning points. The 1930s was not so simple. The depression had scarcely begun when the 1920s ended, but it was a fact of life from the beginning of the 1930s to the end of the decade. That alone meant that much about the 1930s would be dramatically different from the previous decade, and not only in an economic sense. The defeat of Hoover in November 1932 and the inauguration of Roosevelt in March 1933 brought alterations in American life far greater than most people expected from a change of leadership and party in the White House. The inauguration of almost any other leading Democrat as president on that day in March would have brought . . .

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