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Depression Era Entertainment

The mood of the Depression was defined not only by hard times and a coming world crisis but by many extraordinary attempts to cheer people up—or else to sober them up into facing what was happening. Though poor economically, the decade created a vibrant culture rich in the production of popular fantasy and trenchant social criticism. This is the split personality of Depression culture: on one hand, the effort to grapple with unprecedented economic disaster, to explain and interpret it; on the other hand, the need to get away, to create art and entertainment to distract people from their trouble, which was in the end another way of coming to terms with it. Looking at both sides of this cultural divide, we can see how closely linked they are.

Thanks to the new media created by early twentieth-century technology, the thirties proved to be a turning point in American popular culture. Radio had grown exponentially in the late 1920s. By the early 1930s it came of age, binding together audiences living far apart with shared amusements as well as anxieties. Photography, photojournalism, and newsreels provided visual images, all in stark shades of black and white, that even those great radio voices—H. V. Kaltenborn from civil war Spain, Edward R. Murrow from London under siege, Orson Welles from Mars—could not convey. This was also the era that saw the consolidation of the Hollywood studio system and the classical style of American sound films. The great movie genres of the thirties—the gangster movie, the horror film, the screwball comedy, the dance musical, the road movie, the social-consciousness drama, the animated cartoon—came to dominate American filmmaking over the next decades. Significantly, they still influence the way movies are made, while the old films themselves remain objects of nostalgia or affectionate imitation.

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June 26, 2010 - Posted by | depression era |

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