To what extent were the grim realities of depression reflected in popular culture?
To what degree were they absent?
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Popular culture is reflected in the literature, art, musical lyrics, and even fashion of a given society. The popular culture of the depression in the U.S. was a strange mix between the realities and the escapist mentalities of the society. For example, John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath and the musical lyrics of E.Y. Harburg's Brother Can You Spare a Dime? describe the harsh grim realities about American life during the depression. However, there was another aspect to popular culture during the depression, one that chose to ignore those grim realities by taking people to another time, place, and even reality. This literature, music, movie,and music brought people a few hours of peace from their anguished lives. For example, films such as The Wizard of Oz brought the audience to a fantasy place, Gone With the Wind, took people back to days gone by, and Gold Diggers 1933 offered people ballgowns and diamonds. Along with these films were the lyrics of Lew Brown/Ray Henderson's Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries and Al Dubin/ Harry Warren's We're In the Money. Popular culture is an extremely important source for anyone studying history. It offers the historian more than the facts, it offers the dynamics of experience.
(FYI- The film industry built movie theatres that were referred to as movie palaces. To walk inside one of these theatres during the depression would have definitely transcended a person's sense of reality. Loew's Theatres built five of the palaces, unfortunately I believe only two survive. The one in N.Y.C. opened in 1930 it is now called The United Palace Theatre. The current owners have retained and maintained all of its original grandeur. I've included a site below if you are interested in looking at the interior.
The grim realities of popular culture were reflected in popular culture through movies, books, and music. Movies during this time period were comedies: which were a relief from the daily harsh lives of Americans during this era. Novels such as John Steinbeck’s the Grapes of Wrath revealed the grim realities of everyday life by depicting a family in the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl in order to capture the image of what Americans were going through. Music came as a getaway for many Americans. As most Americans now had the radio, they could listen to artists such as Duke Ellington, Benny Moten, and Count Basie sing or play jazz. Grim realities also included family togetherness which music, literature, or cinema did not display. Also absent from popular culture was the new streak of individualism and core American values.
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