The 1920s was a period of transition between the nineteenth century traditional ways and the twentieth century modern ways. The ongoing struggle lied between traditionalist and modernist who had separate opinions of where the country should be going and what was acceptable. Traditional values manifested in the idea of isolationism of America, individualism of it’s people, Jeffersonianism, providence, and a homosocial realm of leisure. The modern values manifested in the idea of internationalism, collectivism, industrialization, science and technology, and a heterosocial realm of leisure.
The two opposing sides would both have strengths and weaknesses throughout the decade as well as leaders who tried to balance the power between both modernization and the traditional ways the American’s were so accustomed too. With the Ford motor company peaking in 1920, the automobile quickly became an affordable mode of transportation. With the invention of the moving assembly line, automobiles were rolling off the plant faster than ever, which also reduced the cost of popular models such as the model T.
Modernist seen this as a very efficient technological advancement while traditionalist began to look past the efficiency and into the negative effects of such an invention. They argued that automobiles polluted the air, caused fatalities through traffic accidents, as well as gave young men and women a means of escaping parental supervision, which was very controversial during this time. In any way, other motor companies such as GM also began producing automobiles and even offering loans so a family was better able to purchase their product. Automobiles became an extremely popular, faster, and more luxurious mode of transportation.
The movie industry became very popular in the 1920s as well, beginning in New York City. Movie theaters began springing up in all states, with five major studios during the early twentieth century. Each studio had their own theaters, stages, directors, and even stars. This new source of leisure intrigued the younger crowd and those who supported modernism. On the other hand, motion pictures began using more and more risque ideas to keep the viewers interested. Nudity and sexual content raised the eyebrows of many adults in general, but especially those whom supported traditional values.
In 1924, the Motion Pictures Production and Distributors Association created a censorship formula of do’s and don’ts in motion pictures, especially regarding nudity. The 1920s were termed “The Golden Age of Sports” because the quick rise in popularity of boxing and football was astounding. People flocked to sporting events to watch the best of the best compete against each other, which was also viewed as a source of leisure. The goal of those who organized such sporting events was to gain a profit and to gain a profit only.
To maximize their income they would frequently match two very good comparable opponents so as to keep the audience intrigued and ‘on the edge of their seats’. Since sports were loosely regulated, injuries and illegal participants were common. In response, the NCAA was created to help regulate and maintain the safety and eligibility of participants. Sports have been common throughout history in other countries, but for the first time in America, it was undergoing a surge of participants and a boom of interest. It can easily be seen that leisure was becoming an important part of American life, especially in the heterosocial sense.
Prior to this time, men associated with men, and women associated with women. Their leisure activities greatly varied and men were able to spend their money on as much leisure as they pleased as they were the primary breadwinner in the family. Women were often restricted to working within the home, and had very little say in what their spouses did with their wage earnings. The working class young women were the ones who began to cause a shift in the previously homosocial world. As they began entering the workforce they were able to use their wages in whatever manner they pleased.
Often entering dancehalls and intermingling with men, these young women began to become fond of the separate sexes companionship, causing them to take this shift even a step further. Some working class women began entering bars and saloons unaccompanied, which caused a commotion in many older adults. They did not see this as proper, in fact many traditionalist viewed it as “dirty”. Although this class of women received scrutiny, they forced Americans to take notice of the old traditional homosocial values, and forced upon them a statement that it was time to become a more heterosocial realm of leisure.
The Agrarian ways of the nineteenth century were soon being replaced with the new industrial ways of the twentieth century. Factories began springing up everywhere, and housing began to revolve around these factories creating large cities. Although traditionalist did not support this movement of the economy towards more industry and less farming, they seemed to be fighting a losing battle. The moving assembly line allowed for less skilled workers to be employed in these factors because they were only required to perform one task.
Colleges began teaching attendants about business and how to succeed in running one. These highly educated graduates then put their skills to work, building large corporations and maximizing profits through technological advancements. It seemed that the only way to succeed in these evolving times was to become educated and start your own business. Farms became larger as less and less families chose this type of lifestyle and were eventually forced to adopt more efficient ways of completing tasks to keep up with the ever-growing need of goods.
The debate between religion and science is one that encompassed the early twentieth century. As technology advances, more modernist began to shift to the more scientific beliefs while those who remain set in their traditional values refuse to believe anything other than their religion. This issue was exemplified in the Scopes Trial of 1925, which was a debate between Darwinism and creationism. Scopes was being accused of teaching Darwinism in the classroom, and was found guilty but the charge was appealed and eventually revoked.
Intelligent Design and creationism was taught with equal amount of time to support both ideas in schools. The trial proved as a harsh reconciliation of those whose faith relied on the Bible, as an argument between Darrow and Bryan in the courtroom questioned the validity of the Bible. In fact, the beliefs of those who were not completely solid in their religion were questioned to such an extent that they may have been discarded all together. The 1920s were a time of change for the American people, whether they supported the changes or not.
Strides made during this decade have brought us to the great modernized country that we are today. Traditionalists were forced to live in an environment of new beginnings, and accept those who were seeing through these changes or move elsewhere. Although some families stayed true to their traditional primitive ways, others began to conform, even if that only meant buying the latest farming equipment to help maximize their production. Change is nothing new to Americans, and until the end of time, change will always be a part of this society.
If change and technology were never implemented we would never evolve, and I would not be sitting here typing this paper on a laptop. There will always be those who would prefer to stick to their traditional values just as there was in the 1920s. These people are the ones who place the regulations on our advancements, and regulate how far we can take this evolution. If it wasn’t for traditionalist, where would we stop? When does it become immoral and unacceptable if no one disagrees? Just as we need modernist, we also need traditionalist, and that will lie true until society no longer exists.