American pop culture in the 1930s is best understood if viewed in the broad perspective of the first four decades of the twentieth century. During the period from 1900 to 1940 the American people went through what can only be described as a series of emotional binges that found them championing causes and embracing fads on a scale and with an intensity that invited exploitation by shrewd entrepreneurs and self- serving political figures.
The origin of America's preoccupation with "successive crazes and popular fads" dates from at least the early years of the republic in the late eighteenth century, but, as Foster Dulles observed, the twentieth century found Americans "taking up with still greater vehemence new fads and fancies, and enjoying a succession of varied diversions with an intensity born of the feverish pace of modern life," producing what he called "a kaleidoscopic scene ever since the close of the Golden Nineties." Fads and crazes came and went, with people embracing each in its turn as they "climbed aboard what came to be called the Great American Band-Wagon." 1
Fads and crazes went beyond such simple preoccupations as bicycling or crossword puzzles to embrace emotional commitments to political and social causes. What was especially remarkable was the swings of the pendulum that these emotional attachments exhibited, which found Americans feverishly embracing a cause or fad one year and just as fervently rejecting it months or years later. One example was the heady idealism of the Wilson years that found Americans marching off to fight