“Progress”— Blompf Jr ?? Mel Gibson was NOT drunk (@ZyclownB) October 3, 2020
Coney Island 1903
Coney Island 2016 pic.twitter.com/BUTqgk2aTf
In the 1920s, Franz Boas and his students in the social sciences challenged traditional Victorian beliefs and values in race, sexuality and gender roles in favor of cultural egalitarianism. Meanwhile in the arts and literature, Modernist poets, critics and novelists simultaneously challenged Victorian beliefs and values in manners, morals, beauty, sexuality and gender roles in favor of cultural liberation.
The following excerpt comes from Stanley Coben’s book Rebellion Against Victorianism: The Impetus for Cultural Change in 1920s America:
“George Henry Lorimer, appointed editor of the Post early in the 1920s, immediately recognized the potential for increasing sales, advertising, and response to advertising when he read for the first time a story by F. Scott Fitzgerald. He took a calculated risk and decided to publish tales about girls who drank, smoked, swore, wore tight and rather skimpy bathing suits, engaged in and enjoyed sexual adventures, and talked impudently to their parents. The audience for such stories almost certainly would purchase cosmetics. Lorimer’s speculation paid off. Advertisements illustrating how other girls could enjoy similar popularity blossomed in the columns and pages adjoining these stories. Then advertisements advising mothers on how to look younger and enjoy life in the fashion of their daughters appeared. Circulation rose. Soon other magazines aiming at the same market – such as the Ladies’ Home Journal, the Woman’s Home Companion, Liberty, the Metropolitan and the Delineator – tried to emulate this success. Fine writers, such as Sherwood Anderson, formerly considered both obscene and subversive now received invitations to submit manuscripts to mass-circulation magazines. Dreiser became a regular contributor to the Post, and that magazine even ran a series of Dreiser’s articles from the Soviet Union sympathetic to the Communist government. Dreiser also published numerous short stories in the once staid women’s magazines.
Malcolm Cowley exaggerated only slightly when he asserted that if Greenwich Village was dying as an outpost of lifestyles inimical to Victorianism, it was because:
“wherever one turned, Greenwich Village ideas were making their way; even the Saturday Evening Post was feeling their influence … It was dying because too many people insisted on living there. It was dying because women smoked cigarettes on the streets of the Bronx, drank gin cocktails in Omaha and had perfectly swell parties in Seattle and Middletown – in other words, because American business and the whole of middle-class America had been going Greenwich Village.”
Cowley declared that by the late 1920s, Smith College girls in New York were modeling themselves after the promiscuous Lady Brett in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, and Lady Brett was nearly the antithesis of a Victorian woman of character.”
The 1957 movie The Sun Also Rises based on Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel begins by citing Ecclesiastes 1:3-5: “One generation passeth away, and another generation cometh: but the earth abideth for ever. The sun also ariseth, and the sun goeth down, and hasteth to his place where he arose.” Ernest Hemingway was describing the break between the Lost Generation and the Victorian values of their parents.
“During the 1920s, the largest, liveliest, and perhaps the most talented group of novelists, poets, playwrights, and literary critics to that point in United States history skillfully exposed the same faults in American civilization emphasized by the academic intellectuals. Such influential novels as Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street and Babbitt, Dreiser’s An American Tragedy, and Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby contained social criticism which hardly different from that of Middletown or Coming of Age in Samoa. The novelists denounced American materialism, pressure for conformity, bigotry, shattered family life, sexual repression, fragmented society, and, in general, the inability of American civilization to fill its members’ needs or even to teach them what these were. Most of these themes could also be found in some of the period’s best poetry – such as T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land and Ezra Pound’s Huge Selwyn Mauberly – and plays – including Eugene O’Neil’s Marco Millions, Desire Under the Elms, and Strange Interlude.
In this literature and in other novels, stories, poems, and plays by these authors, readers encountered a pessimism about the possibility of improving what the writers disliked in American civilization; nor did the writers find any higher being at work in the chaos they described. In these respects, also, the attitudes of most literary intellectuals during the 1920s, resembled those which pervaded Middletown and Coming of Age in Samoa. Their works differed sharply from those of the genteel Victorian authors. Moreover in the 1920s, publishers, journal editors, and producers of plays sought the work of the critical intellectuals for prestige as well as for profits. Denunciations of books, stories, articles, and plays made by the few remaining genteel literary critics or the banning of this literature in Boston or elsewhere because of obscenity only insured more energetic praise from critics like H.L. Mencken and seemed to guarantee high sales.”
As well shall see, the libertarian H.L. Mencken towered over his contemporaries and set the tone of the culture war of the 1920s railing against the bigotry and philistine tastes of the boobosie and the backwardness of Fundamentalists. It was H.L. Mencken and Sinclair Lewis who began the tradition of scorning the values and beliefs of all the “bigots” in small town and rural Middle America.