The split personality of depression culture
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The split personality of Depression culture. On the one hand, the effort to grapple with unprecedented economic disaster, to explain and interpret it; On the other hand, the need to create art and entertainment to distract people from their trouble Extraordinary attempts to cheer people up

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The split personality of Depression culture

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The split personality of Depression culture

  • On the one hand, the effort to grapple with unprecedented economic disaster, to explain and interpret it;

  • On the other hand, the need to create art and entertainment to distract people from their trouble

    • Extraordinary attempts to cheer people up

    • But also “social realism”: Wild Boys of the Road, FSA photos

  • Though poor economically, the decade created a vibrant and rich culture

  • When one looks at both sides of this cultural divide, one can see how closely linked they are.

1st drive-in theater, Camden NJ

Guiding Light, 1937-2009

“The soap opera, the most frequently mocked of radio’s innovations; providing the intimate experience of other people’s lives so that millions of housewives knew they were neither alone nor unique in their problems.”

Horror Films 2:40


  • One historian: “To understand the 1930s, it is more important to study Mickey Mouse than FDR.”

  • 1930s: Mickey Mouse, Three Little Pigs (featuring the hit song that became the anthem of the Great Depression, "Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf”), The Tortoise and the Hare, Ferdinand the Bull, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Fantasia

  • Post WWII - Alice in Wonderland, Dumbo, Bambi, Peter Pan, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, Song of the South

    • Donald Duck replaces Mickey Mouse as Disney’s star character

  • “Renaissance” of Disney Co. -- Who Framed Roger Rabbit (1988), The Little Mermaid (1989), Beauty and the Beast (1991), Aladdin (1992), The Lion King (1994), Toy Story (1995), The Princess and the Frog (2009), Tangled (2010)

Silly Symphony – Skeleton Dance 1:40 – 3:30

Silly Symphony – Three Little Pigs 1:40 – 3:30

Screwball Comedies

  • Unique genre from early `30s to early `40s

  • Fast-paced and witty dialogue, outlandish situations, and escapist themes

    • plots about relationships

    • often depicted social classes in conflict

It Happened One Night

“Pre-Code” Hollywood

  • Era in the American film industry between the introduction of sound in the late 1920s and the enforcement of the Motion Picture Production Code in 1934

  • “Pre-code” films included sexual innuendo, references to homosexuality, inter-rational relationships, illegal drug use, infidelity, abortion and intense violence

  • Frequently presented people using violence, showing them in sexually suggestive or provocative situations, and did not hesitate to display women in scanty attire

Suggestive skirt lifting

Joan Blondell banned 1932 photo

a secretary-turned-prostitute in 1931

Violence in Public Enemy


  • Seabiscuit became an unlikely champion and a symbol of hope during the Great Depression

  • Born in 1933, from the mare Swing On and sired by Hard Tack, a son of Man o’ War, Seabiscuit was named for his father, as hardtack or "sea biscuit" is the name for a type of cracker eaten by sailors.

  • The colt was undersized, knobby-kneed, and given to sleeping and eating for long periods.

  • In 1938, Seabiscuit raced War Admiral (also sired by Man o’ War), one-on-one in the "Match of the Century."

The Gangster Era or Public Enemy Era

Pretty Boy Floyd

John Dillinger

Baby Face Nelson

Bonnie and Clyde 2:00 – 4:15

Herbert Morrison, describing the events on live radio

  • It's practically standing still now. The back motors of the ship are just holding it

  • It's burst into flames! It's falling, it's crashing! Watch it! Get out of the way! Get this, Charlie; get this, Charlie! It's fire... and it's crashing! Get out of the way, please! It's burning and bursting into flames .

  • This is the one of the worst catastrophes in the world. Four- or five-hundred feet into the sky and it... it's a terrific crash, ladies and gentlemen. It's smoke, and it's in flames now; and the frame is crashing to the ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity! And all the passengers screaming around here.

  • I can't talk, ladies and gentlemen. Honest: it's just laying there, mass of smoking wreckage. Ah! And everybody can hardly breathe and talk and the screaming. I'm going to step inside, where I cannot see it. I'm gonna have to stop for a minute because I've lost my voice. This is the worst thing I've ever witnessed. 1:15

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