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The Twenties
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The Roaring Twenties Key Events Maps Transcript Webography

Page 123456

The Impact of Popular Culture

You Decide:  How would you describe the 1920s?  Did they 'Roar' or was it just a big 'Yawn'?
Photo of an RCA 1929 Floor Model Radio

The 1920s witnessed the rapid development of the motion picture industry, especially in Hollywood. For most of the decade, the films were silent. Nonetheless, the public loved them and flocked to movie theaters on a regular basis. In 1927, the first "talkie," The Jazz Singer, starring Al Jolson, ushered in an even more exciting era of mass entertainment.

Sales of radios at the beginning of the decade amounted to just $2 million, but by the end of the decade soared to $600 million. Radio networks like CBS and NBC became a major industry, changing the way the country received news, music, sports, entertainment, and national advertising. NBC's radio coverage of the 1927 Rose Bowl was the first coast-to-coast network broadcast.

Photos of Joan Crawford and Rudolph Valentino

Women got the right to vote in 1920. They also took jobs in cities in great numbers and developed greater independence than ever before. Short skirts, short hair, and new fashions characterized the Flapper of the 1920s. As the Saturday Evening Post writer Samuel Crowther put it in 1926: "There is no distinction in the cut of the clothing between the rich flapper and the poor flapper -- national advertising has attended to that. The rich flapper has better clothing than the poor one, but a block away they are all flappers."

Popular culture of the 1920s included young people who entered flag pole sitting contests or swallowing gold fish for thrills. Dance marathons, where you danced until you dropped from exhaustion, were popular.

Photo of F. Scott Fitzgerald

Young men and women began to imitate the fashions worn by movie stars. The women imitated the ultimate flapper, movie actress Joan Crawford, and the men all tried to be like Rudolph Valentino, the star of silent films who was the heart throb of millions of women.

While popular novelist F. Scott Fitzgerald lived the high life of the Twenties, his novels portrayed a darker view of modern America and the failure of the American Dream. The Great Gatsby (1925) explores the idea that wealth, material possessions, and fame are not enough to insure happiness.

So how would you describe the 1920s?  Did they 'Roar' or was it just a big 'Yawn?'


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