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The New Era

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As I have argued, Modern America emerged in the 1920s. The Victorian consensus on identity, culture and morality began its long term decline in this period when the Losters rebelled against their parents after World War I. The rifts that began to open up in the 1920s were temporarily overshadowed by the mirage of unity created by the shared experience of the Great Depression and World War II.

The following excerpt comes from George Donelson Moss’s book The Rise of Modern America: A History of the American People, 1890-1945:

“The most important trend of the 1920s was the emergence of a new mass consumer culture that fostered changes in the ways many Americans worked, lived, and cared for one another. It also brought changes in manners, morals, and personal identities. Consumerism also shifted the American sense of community – from communities based on shared values toward communities based on shared styles of consumption. But beneath the surface unity of mass consumerism and participation in new leisure activities, cultural conflicts and tensions seethed. American society was fragmented along many fault lines – urbanites versus rural folks, WASPs versus ethnics, white against black, and perhaps the profoundest divide: between those who embraced a modernist culture and those who retained traditional values. …”

“Traditional values” are Victorian values.

Among other things, Victorians had believed in White identity, the inequality of races and cultures, the separation of the sexes into separate spheres, making sharp distinctions between “civilized” and “savage” cultures and behaviors, an ethic based on religious piety and moral virtues which together produced “character” that was instilled into children in the household, self-denial, thrift, hard work, diligence, persistence, modesty, a rational and orderly universe and moral progress.

“The 1920s also marked a beginning, a time when millions of American adapted to urban patterns of existence. They centered their new urban lifestyle around ownership of automobiles and participation in the new urban mass culture. While many urbanites abandoned their former rural, agrarian way of life, they retained some of its values. It was a time of transition. During the 1920s the major historical developments of twentieth-century American life – technological change, urbanization, the development of bureaucratic modes of organization, and the growth of the middle class – accelerated rapidly. Between the end of World War I and the stock market crash of 1929, the shape of modern America emerged; the historical forces driving the rise of the urban nation accelerated. The New Era was the first recognizably modern decade.”

Victorian men called on young women. Modern men go on dates. At first, premarital sex was rare but later became more common after the second wave of Modernism in the 1960s.

“Family life changed. Birth control became more effective and more widely practiced during the 1920s. Birthrates and family size dropped sharply. Average family size shrank from six or seven members in 1900 to four or five members by 1930. Divorce rates rose sharply. In 1920 there was one divorce for every eight marriages. In 1929 the ratio of divorces to marriage was 2 to 7. Young people were spending more years in school, lengthening adolescence and postponing the time when they would enter the work force. High school enrollment quadrupled between World War I and 1930. By 1929 one-third of all high school graduates were going to college, more women than men …

A generational change had a major effect on feminism during the 1920s. New images of femininity emerged. Young women were more interested in individual freedom of expression than they were in political reform or social progress. Some adopted what H.L. Mencken called the “flapper image.” Short skirts and bobbed hair, signals of sexual freedom, spread on college campuses and in offices. Young women rouged their cheeks, smoked cigarettes, swore, drank at parties, danced to the beat of “hot jazz” combos, and necked in the back seats of automobiles. Premarital sex increased and became less scandalous as Victorian inhibitions declined.

There was another important consequence of the sexual revolution of the 1920s. The modern custom of “dating” replaced the old Victorian practice of calling. No longer did young women of marriageable age invite young men to their homes in the presence of chaperones. Automobiles and city life created new possibilities; besides, many modern homes lacked parlors or porches. Young men increasingly invited young women out on dates, to attend a movie, maybe have dinner in a nice restaurant, or just go for a drive along the lake in his flivver.

Dating also shifted the social initiative from women to men. Because it was assumed that a proper young lady did not work and the man did, he paid. Dating was incorporated into the new consumer culture of the 1920s; it became an act of consumption in which the woman sold her company to the highest bidder. Dating also became competitive, placing a premium on the young lady’s physical appearance (her “looks”) and her personality. Physical beauty and personal vivacity became valuable marketable commodities in the dating game. It was important for women to have many dates with many different men, and for men to be seen in fashionable places with attractive women. Women who dated were also expected to neck and pet; men expected these favors in return for having spent money on them …”

At some point, the Modern period will end.

We can anticipate that Modern values will become “traditional values.” Modernists might form militant organizations like the Klan to protect and defend their way of life.


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