The Roaring Twenties

Sana Suhail, Edward Zhang, Tori Van de Kop, Tiger Zhang

Flapper Culture

Flappers were a new subgroup of Western women who bobbed their hair, wore short skirts and extravagant makeup, enjoyed jazz music, and treated sex casually as they drank and smoked the nights away. These women broke with social and sexual norms by the way they acted in public and private, and this contrast with traditional behavior is enhanced through their dress choices of bare arms and long, silky, loose clothing. This subgroup of frisky girls spired from Americans’ general contempt towards the Prohibition laws put in place. As speakeasies began to popularize among the public, flappers engaged in their newly found interest in publicly defying authority and more and more girls embraced the lifestyle. The flapper women impacted American society through openly defying tradition through their blatant disregard of modesty in respect to drinking, smoking, having sex, driving, and partying. Even though these girls performed in activities that were deemed less than respectful in the times, the flapper fad furthered the independent and individual image of women that began to form during the 20th century.

The Birth of the Mass Culture - Radios and Movies

The mass culture of modern America grew out of the mass production society of post-war America. This development was caused in part with the mass adoption of two new forms of entertainment: the radio and the movies.


With more and more Americans obtaining an increasing amount of spending money, a consumption culture began to form and the middle class started buying luxury household appliances. One of these items was the radio, which exploded in popularity bringing news, advertising, and entertainment to the masses, and by the end of the decade a good ten million households had one. As such a commonplace object, the radio allowed for the everyday family to connect to other families through the consumption of similar media. As a result, regional differences declined Many Americans liked the same radio shows and began using the same slang. The radio also created heroes like Charles Lindbergh, whose flight across the Atlantic was telegraphed through this medium. However, the radio also created stereotypes of ethnic minorities such as the Italian mobster and the greedy Jew, ones that last even to this day. But through all this, the radio created directly commonalities between all Americans in a scale much larger than any attempts to before.


Though the Roaring Twenties, film took root as a major form of media and became extremely popular. About every 83 cents per every dollar spent on entertainment went to the movies and three quarters of the population spent time in the theater every week. With the creation of Hollywood as the center of American movies, the film industry exploded. Films told many, many appealing stories and new genres of movies began to take form. Everything from tales of adventure and sex to slapstick comedy was enjoyed by the masses. Like the radio, film created a common speech, dress, and behavior for the American people through its presentation of stories; it also created more stereotypes of minorities.

New Woman vs Noble Experiment

While the Women’s Christian Temperance Union fought towards the creation of the 18th Amendment and the Noble Experiment, a new class of Western women, known as flapper girls, fought against the moral and social standards upheld by women across the nation. While their mothers believed in chastity and temperance, flapper girls was sexually experimental and drank and smoked more than women in any previous decade. While women had originally wanted suffrage in order to ban the “demon liquor”, this new class of women was drinking it shamelessly. A “cat and mouse” game ensued; flapper girls attended speakeasies and petting parties illegally while their mothers fretted at home. This “cultural civil war” caused by the passage of the 18th amendment and the rise of the flapper girl split American women into two categories: the progressive, open women and the traditional family women. Flapper women were, in essence, the rebels of the cultural civil war in the 1920s. They openly defied the laws set by the 18th amendment and forever changed America’s views on femininity and grace. The flapper girl’s struggle is one that continues today: a struggle against social norms and sexism, forging a new identity for women across the world.


Economy of the Roaring Twenties

Although the Great War gave way to new opportunities in industrial businesses — developing and manufacturing weapons to aid the war effort, while simultaneously providing jobs for otherwise unemployed Americans — It also allowed the US to overproduce materials causing a crash in the industrial field. Mass production at first seemed to allow consumers to be able to purchase goods at lower prices and raise the standard of living significantly. Because factory workers’ paychecks increased dramatically in value, it aided in their mass consumption of the goods produced. In turn, this boom in production and consumption gave investors inconceivably high profits.


Throughout the war, labor unions grew strong with the company's heavy dependence upon them. Though production was at an all time high and investors were sitting pretty on their mountains of cash, the labor unions began to lose their power and as a result, went on a series of strikes. Among these strikes, the General Strike of all workers in Seattle and the steel industry strike were the biggest. They affected both the workers and consumers. The strike seemed to be an all out war between the lower class and the high ranking businessmen. The threat wasn’t taken lightly by government officials or company executives. Before long A. Mitchell Palmer influenced J. Edgar Hoover to arrest those who rebelled against big industry. Vigilantes and Police alike eliminated a great number of radical labor group members thus creating a Securing America’s free market economy.


After the stock market crash, shareholders began to lose their stocks. However, workers were worse off as cutbacks in production ensued and many factory laborers lost their jobs. The devastation marked an era of depression never seen before and mass consumption came to an absolute halt. The American outlook on mass consumption would be forever altered as their was a limited supply of product to consume.

Summary

Revolutions in technology and communication helped to create a dynamic mass culture that exemplified modern values and created a new America. The radio and film delivered information to the masses and perpetuated racial stereotypes, the passage of the 19th Amendment gave women a voice in politics, and the availability of consumer goods made life easier at home. This resulted in the spread of ideas and gave women an active role to play in the new American culture.


The radio and movie theaters helped spread ideas to the people of America; different radio stations portrayed stories with different biases, and audiences could choose which station they listened to. The radio was an instantaneous way of delivering information to the masses: updates on political movements, the economy, and the latest trends were available to anyone who owned a radio or who visited their local restaurant of speakeasy. The availability of different radio stations inevitably created biases in the country’s population. Progressive stations supported immigration and new trends while more conservative ones supported 100% Americanism and the Noble Experiment. Movies and the radio also encouraged the development of negative racial stereotypes through their display of propaganda and generalization of entire ethnic groups.


The passage of the 19th Amendment helped women to gain a voice in the American government. Women could actively show support for representatives who supported feminist movements across the country; women started to work in more white collar jobs and joined labor unions.


The availability of consumer goods made life at home easier and also gave women an opportunity to step out of the house. Since they no longer had to spend so much time on housework, they had more time to engage in activities such as joining movements and organizations, working outside the house, and entertainment.