The Roaring 20's

by Olin Zhou, Thomas Wei, Molly West, Christine Song

Dance Marathons by Olin Zhou

Dance Marathons began in 1923 as a form of entertainment during the Great Depression in which couples danced almost non-stop for hundreds of hours. People often competed for money and fame. Contestants were served 12 times a day with “oatmeal, eggs, toast, oranges, and milk” (Display Page), which was one of the most powerful inducements to those who joined Dance Marathons. During the dance, intense fatigue often led the contestants into a state resembling a coma where they “hallucinated, became hysterical, and had delusions of persecution” (Display Page). Dance Marathons often ended in “Grinds” where contestants danced with no rest until one or more couple fell and disqualified.


-A form of entertainment during the Great Depression

-Contestants were well-fed during the dance

-Other forms of entertainment, such as movie theaters, lost its audience

-Created controversy with the church since many churches considered dancing sinful

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Birth of A Mass Culture: Radios and Automobiles by Molly West

The birth of mass culture is evident throughout the 1920’s due especially to the creation and expansion of radios and automobiles. Because, in the 1920’s, Americans found that they had extra money to spend on unnecessary wants and self pleasures, so radios became a popular item to buy. For the first time, Americans could connect with each other on the same wavelength by all listening to the same station. People could get in touch with nationwide news and gossip, creating the first ever “popular culture”. The first commercial radio station in the U.S. was Pittsburgh’s KDKA in 1920, but three years later there were more than 500 stations across the country. Because of the rising amount of extra money in middle class families and the growing popularity of radios and the need to be “in-the-know”, radios were in more than 12 million households by the end of the decade. This extra money was also spent on the most popular and innovative product of the 1920’s that was arguably the true birth of mass culture: the automobile. Because one person had one, everyone wanted one...and could afford them too; this epitomized the very definition of mass culture. Automobiles sold for as little as $260 in 1924 (Ford Model T), making them cheap luxuries during the 20’s. As the 30’s approached, everyone had one- and needed one too. In 1929 there was one car on the road for every five Americans.

Cultural Civil War: The Great Migration and the Jazz Age/Harlem Renaissance by Christine Song

Racial segregation creates public dissonance in societies - old or modern. However, during the 1920’s the Great Migration tested the limits of racial toleration. The Great Migration began as World War I fostered a sudden need for more factory workers. Through this chance, many Southern black Americans sought to escape their plights, and thus, more than 6 million black Americans emerged as a new power in the North. White Americans were suddenly thrown between a brick wall and a hard place. The serene white American society was being forced to compete for otherwise easily obtainable jobs and protect their culture from the invading new black urban culture.

The new black urban culture consisted of jazz, popularized by Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong, and the Harlem Renaissance, a literary movement that took flight under the wings of Langston Hughes and Rudolf Fisher. All this was christened when F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote The Great Gatsby in the modern “Jazz Age”. Faster beats, a new improvisational style, and sensual dancing epitomized the world of jazz and seduced the younger generations while the Harlem Renaissance focused on portraying the raw lives of black Americans, a concept Langston Hughes describes as an “expression of our individual dark-skinned selves” (Harlem Renaissance).

The intrusion of black culture in urban societies of the North created a cultural civil war between whites/blacks and the younger generation/older generation - although not always so; however, the older generation tended to cling to traditional values of modesty white supremacy that hindered the absorption of the new values included in the Jazz Age. These traditional values were further enhanced with the arrival of the Ku Klux Klan during this time to fuel the civil war between whites and blacks; new values and old values.

Economic Status by Thomas Wei

Although many of the developments integral to the booming economy of the roaring 20’s had emerged prior to the start of the decade, a cultural shift was also required for America’s economy to explode as it did. The rise of consumerism in the collective American mindset correlates with the rapid growth of the nation’s market economy. With the advances in manufacturing and the subsequent fall in production costs that followed, technologies such as automobiles and refrigerators became available to the middle class. It was this accessibility to newfound luxuries that spurred the rise of consumerism in the American public. Suddenly luxuries became necessities in the mind of the people and as demand for such products increased the manufacturing capacity of the American economy was forced to increase as well. The ensuing era of economic prosperity due to this shift in the collective consumer culture of America is what has since become known as the roaring 20’s.

As America entered a golden age of unrivaled wealth, however, other cultural factors began to contribute to an increasing instability in the economic health of the nation. As Americans became more and more aware of their prosperous position - especially relative to the struggle of many European countries in their efforts to recover from the infrastructural damages of the Great War - they became more frivolous in the allocation of their assets as well. This newfound somewhat cavalier perspective towards economics would leave America as a whole vulnerable to events such as the market crash that sparked the Great Depression.

Final Response by Everyone

Despite cultural conflicts created under the pressure of migration, world wars, and economic distress, a mass cohesive culture was created through the innovation of communication and transportation devices. Inventions such as the radio and the car allowed people to easily spread their ideas to allow the public to quickly form an opinion on them. This led to the creation of popular culture and ideas because, now, everyone could be on the same page. Because of the affordability of cars and radios during the time (i.e. $260 for a Ford T-Model) combined with the 1920’s culture involved with the desire to have fun, keep up with the crowd, and indulge, communication and transportation innovations were growing faster than ever. The successful end of World War I gave US citizens a desire to cosset and spend their money freely, allowing for companies to scoop them into their advertisements and buy their communication and transportation products with - ironically - the use of communication devices. This requires the consumers’ urges to want to be involved in popular mass culture and allows them to be. The inventions and expansions of the radio and the automobile, as well as others, allowed the “Roaring 20’s” to be a hub for a birth of mass media because consumers indulged in buying transportation and communication devices after The Great War and citizens of the US, for the first time, could spread and form opinions on each other's’ ideas to form a popular culture.