Thursday, October 2, 2008

The Great Depression ~ Ethay Reatgay Epressionday

I have been thinking about the economy a lot lately, especially how its going to affect myself and my family and how its going to affect American culture and business. I keep asking myself, how is our view of money and wealth going to change in this turbulent economic climate?

Something happened a couple of years ago that bothered me immensely. It was August 2005 and the MTV Video Music Awards were being held in Miami, Florida. I was watching the ceremony because my favorite new band was up for an award. Hurricane Katrina had just past by and the clouds were dark in the sky as the sun struggled to breakthrough. One of the VMA announcers declared how lucky they were to have escaped the storm unscathed. Instead of a red carpet, artists arrived with expensive luxury cars. Photographers snapped shots of the celebrities draped in their wealth. Cameras soaked up all the bling to transport those images to viewers who sat at home, their lustful eyes glued to the screen. The same Hurricane that left all those rich celebrities intact was headed start towards Louisiana to cause unspeakable destruction in an area populated with poor civilians. Why were the rich spared?

With all this talk about the state of the current economy, it got me thinking about the Great Depression. And when I think about the Great Depression, I think about the Gold Diggers films, especially Gold Diggers of 1933. There is that great number with all the ladies dressed in fake coins singing "We're in the Money". The lyrics dance in my head...

We're in the money, We're in the money,
We've got a lot of what it takes to get along.
We're in the money, the skies are sunny,
Old man Depression, you are through, you've done us wrong!
We never see a headline 'bout a bread line today;
And when we see the landlord,
We can look that guy right in the eye!
We're in the money, come on, my honey,
Let's spend it! Lend it! Send it rolling around!

Images of the girls borrowing clothes from each other, stealing the neighbor's milk and avoiding the landlady are burned into my brain. They had to be gold diggers. They had to do what they could "to get along"! I can see how audiences during the Depression would love this kind of film. They could identify with the lowly condition of the girls but also root them on as they tried to find a way out of their situation.

What about the flip side? Americans in the 1930's went to watch films in the cinemas as an escape from their current reality. They spent what little money they had at the pictures. Did they want to see films about poor people suffering? NO! They were living that reality and wanted to forget about it for an hour or two in a dark theater. So what did they go see? Films which had rich people as central characters. The Thin Man (1934), Dinner at Eight (1934), A Free Soul (1931), etc.

So what makes watching rich people in movies during the Great Depression different from viewing excessive spenders on reality shows and televised award ceremonies? Is it that the rich people in the movies are fictional so we can't really envy them because they don't exist? Where as those celebrities at the VMAs were real? How is this going to affect what we watch on screen? Will we continue to watch shows like Gossip Girl (fictional) and The Hills (Reality, bordering the line into fictional) and live vicariously through the characters or tune in simply to watch them fall? I don't know what's going to happen. I just know that what's on screen has to speak to us, otherwise audiences will go elsewhere.


  1. Hi Raquelle. Hey, first post at this blog ;)

    Excellent piece ;).

    First thing's first: I'm British - east London residence - so I won't pretend to know or understand every nook 'n' cranny, every intimate detail of another nation's economy, or even my own (and, to be honest, purely economic and mathematical matters on their own have never been chicken soup for my soul; more like a grey, cold slab of concrete :)), but an experienced economist you don't have to be to see there's a bit of a growing crisis here, too.

    From an amateur's perspective, I'd say this might be the 'necessary' wake-up call - to all nations - that an often under-regulated 'free-market' system might not be the undisputed roses and cream for all the Reagan- and- Thatcher-ites claimed it would be.

    Of course, there's the flip side of that argument: that of people's suspicions regarding the competency of the body who will inevitably be the 'free-market's' newly more-stringent 'overseer' - a country's government. But perhaps (or hopefully!) a team of (again, hopefully!!) truly independent members elected to serve a nations' citizens can perform a more consistent overview of future economic wheelings 'n' dealings in the future? I don't know.... a toughie.

    Re: the quote ''I just know that what's on screen has to speak to us, otherwise audiences will go elsewhere.'':

    Too true; but I think audiences already have gone 'elsewhere' to a large extent, to be honest.

    They've got their mobiles, they've got their iPod's, their PC's, their computer games etc...

    Positive or negative possessions or not, it's these said contraptions that have helped erode film's, and television's to a lesser degree, hold on the mainstream public consciousness - not to mention the face-to-face, personable contact between human beings, as well.


    Dang, so much glumness for a first post. :(

    Ah well. :)



  2. Very interesting comments here and I too have thought about the depression era and wondering how today's crisis could contain parallel views. I can't help but feel that many, and I mean MANY people have been living above their means for the past twenty years or so. These people having children that get everything they want and the cycle continues until one day the bottom drops out. This type of blind spending on credit carries it's weight all the way to the top of the banking system. Very similar was the situation during the crash of 1929. When people are draped in their materialism they aren't as humbled with life and often take the most precious moments for granted. It sometimes takes something big to hit a society hard in order for them to gain true insight to themselves and to once again feel again. Our nation has been brainwashed with consumerism and one way for consumerism to lose it's grip on society's ego is to be knocked down a few notches with the fact that people won't be spending as much. Our nation depends too much on buy, buy, buy .... until you are in credit card debt. It's been an ongoing situation for decades now and with the housing market having gotten out of complete control a few years back - well, the top got too heavy and is unraveling.

    In the mist of all the fear other's might have. I think it might just be what a nation needs to wake up from the sleeping pills swallowed by ads, consumerism, and spoon fed concepts. We have to learn to be more humbled and then with that you have more compassion. This world needs compassion now more than ever. coming around to the entertainment...short and sweet. People will always need an escape from their everyday lives. They needed it during the best of times and they will need them for the worst of times. The content will probably change and the films will also be about getting by on the simple things of life. Trying to reconnect with the true person within who struggles in their daily life and succeeds or someone who becomes content with having less because it makes their life less of a mess.

    Thanks for the blog ~ Enjoyed reading it!

  3. "I just know that what's on screen has to speak to us, otherwise audiences will go elsewhere."

    An interesting and thoughtful post. I expect to some degree what we see as entertainment may very well change a bit, but real life may be harder to adjust. Did you see the news clip of the man, a grown man, a big man, line jumping at McDonald's? The teenaged girl next to him must have said something to him about it, because he punched her in the face.

    I can't imagine people standing in orderly breadlines today, or soulfully shouldering their burdens as in the musical numbers in "The Gold Diggers of 1933." Worrisome, this modern real life, this increasingly brutish real life. If the entertainment world can get us through these interesting times in as fine a manner as it did through the Great Depression, we'll be fortunate.

    So far, the only thing more bleak than the economy is the thought that all we may get are more "reality" shows, sophomoric parodies of real-life situations, and endless bling. I hope the audience will go elsewhere.

  4. Hey guys. Thank you so much for your insight and your comments. They are much appreciated.

    To future commenters, let's please stick to the subject of classic films. Or at least film & tv. I did that through my entire post. I've had to reject a couple of comments left because they were very angry and were not on my subject at all. I think people are doing keyword searches and dropping long ranting pre-written posts on various blogs.

    Much Love!

  5. Doesn't this scene show up in Bonnie and Clyde? It makes for a nice ironic juxtaposition with the fact that Clyde just killed his first man escaping from a bank robbery.

  6. FilmDr - Does it really? I'm ashamed to say I haven't seen that film yet. :-( .

  7. Yes, and Bonnie sings "We're in the money" as a transition into the next scene. They have just stolen some money, but their success gets tinged with their dawning understanding that now the police will be shooting at them.

  8. ah, what a treat to be reminded of this wonderful film! I remember writing an essay on this as an undergrad and watching it over and again on video throughout that year.. These songs and the spectacles make me tingle all over and smile with pleasure! Pettin' in the Park; and the last song Remember My Forgotten Man is incredibly powerful, makes me cry. Do you happen to know the song Busby Berkley Dreams, by the Magnetic Fields- it's worth a listen..

    Sorry no comments about the economy really. Tho I did read the Grapes of Wrath for the first time recently which I heartily recommend.. and swiftly rewatched the incredible John Ford/Gregg Toland/Henry Fonda movie.

    I think I remember reading this scene in the film as a sort of symbolic re-enactment of the Wall St Crash, with the boom as the spectacle and the bust as when the show is interrupted and closed. It seemed smart at the time tho now perhaps a little obvious! I also love that bit when the producer waxes lyrical about his idea for the show, descibing it, you know, "men marching" etc- anticipating the close of the film.. goosebumps!

    Nice site! I have a site with a friend at: that you might like to take a gander at some time maybe? I'm always excited to see people who are genuinely interested in classical h-wood! Wish I could keep up a site the way you seem to be here!


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