Cultural Themes: The 1920's & Modernity  
Click here for the The 1920s-Part II


I. Introduction: The 1920's ushered in cultural trends that historians identify with "modernity". These were characterized by:    

1. Fairly wide-spread economic prosperity based on greater mass production of consumer goods—especially autos--and a drive toward consumerism & a credit economy  

2. The new emphasis on consumption was promoted through a new mass culture--radios, movies, and mass circulation magazines became popular. These mediums broke down provincialism (look it up) and promoted a national mass consumer culture.


3. Prosperity and consumerism were tied to the development of the advertising industry, which was now linked to a popular new field of study: psychology, with its emphasis on self-discovery and fulfillment.


4. Advertising and mass consumer culture brought about a shift in values: greater emphasis on personal pleasure, leisure activities, and entertainment. Sports became the new national pastime, also promoted by tools of mass culture.

These changes were troubling to many Americans on both ends of the political spectrum--though the various critics of modernity were troubled by different things


1. Antimodernism surfaced among educated, secular Americans, who felt alienated from industrialization, with its impersonal bureaucracy and its cheap mass-produced goods. Mass culture was seen as homogenized and inauthentic, and so they turned to cultural pluralism - a celebration of the “primitive,” which carried a challenge to Victorian sexual morality.  


2. There was also a flowering of African American culture in the 1920s: the Harlem Renaissance and the Jazz Age. White folks disillusioned with mass culture discovered this music at this time and it became popular b/c it was so “authentic”. A wave of black nationalism and pride accompanied this.


3.  However, to many religious Americans the nation seemed to have turned from older values of self-denial & the Protestant work ethic  to self indulgence & materialism, & tolerance of loose sexual morals among women. This perspective fuelled a conservative backlash, as seen in revivals of the KKK and the rise of fundamentalism, as seen in the Scopes trial.


II. Economic prosperity of the 1920s


A. Consumer Culture: credit  & consumption hallmarks of modernity  



1. Prosperity and the Republican Party






2. The Man Nobody Knows








3. Credit buying





B. Toward a Mass Culture: 



1. Autos 





2. Movies 





3. Mass circulation magazines





4. Radio and the new hero worship 







5. Advertising 




C. This promotes a new philosophy of self worth—consumption, leisure, & the pleasure ethic  



1. The "therapeutic ethic"






D. these trends also linked to beginnings of changes in sexual morals  



1. Divorce





2. Fashion






3. Sexual experimentation




III. Critics of the new Culture: 1920s Part II

Summary: The decade of the 1920's laid the groundwork for a modern consumer culture that drew criticism from many people across the political spectrum.  The resurgence of fundamentalism that arose in opposition to changing mores has important implications for the current struggle against fundamentalist terrorism.