October, 2013

Nothing New

Lucy Moore is a historian, and author of an exhaustive look at the 1920s titled Anything Goes, a book billed as a “biography” of the Roaring Twenties.  Moore describes as well as anyone why we are so fascinated with the decade.  In her Prologue, she writes, “So many aspects of the Jazz Age recall our own:  political corruption and complacency; fear of outsiders; life-changing technologies; cults of youth, excess, consumerism and celebrity; profit as a new religion on the one hand and the easy availability of credit on the other; astonishing affluence and yet a huge section of society unable to move out of poverty.”

It’s enough to make you shiver, isn’t it?  Our perceptions of that decade are, of course, colored by our knowledge of what came next:  the stock market crash, the Great Depression, a decade of despair leading up to a half decade of a terrible war.  For a fiction creator, it’s a built-in source of tension, the element that every compelling story needs.  For the inhabitant of an eerily similar period, it’s perturbing.

It may be that many readers of historical fiction simply love a story set in a different time, but it’s my belief that most of them choose the genre because they want to learn something.  Have we learned from the excesses and errors of the 1920s?  Or are we, as Moore also writes, “hurtling towards some sort of catastrophe, the effects of which will evoke those of the crash of 1929”?

Brrrr.  Scary thought.  Perhaps, though, the prevalence of the 1920s and its illuminating events in the current zeitgeist means we don’t need to repeat those experiences.  It seems to me that the life-changing technologies of our day–especially the internet and cell phones as methods of disseminating information–can go a long way toward avoiding a latter-day Crash.  Moore also writes, “After all, as history so often reminds us, there is nothing new under the sun.”  I hope we can prove her wrong.

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