The Jazz Age
The Jazz Age was more than merely a musical revolution—“The Jazz Age denotes not only a period of early big band, but also the events and fashions of an era”. During this decade a number of modern developments were invented, which included an expanded telephone service, network radio, electric inventions, and records set in aviation. These modern developments had a profound effect on American culture, creating a rise in leisure, specifically mass leisure. Automobiles, movies, and the radio overtook the lives of Americans, becoming necessities and part of everyday routines. This period also marks the beginning of films with soundtracks, an audio component, marking the rise of the musical and giving the American people another vehicle for leisure activity. The Jazz Age shaped the culture and attitude of America, “it was the first truly modern decade and, for better or for worse, it created the model for society that all the world follows today”.
The Jazz Age was also a response to the First World War and to Edith Wharton’s “Old New York”. We see the youth generation of America disenchanted with the nation’s leaders following World War I, believing that, “the delicacy and pettiness of the older generation… led to the most horrible war in human history”. This way of thinking led to a new mood, “one composed of a new toughness of mind, a fresh repudiation of the Victorian ethic, and a very deep distrust of the rhetorical flourishes of the successful economic and political leaders”. Therefore the younger generation in the 1920s chose to rebel against the leaders of the older generation in the only way they knew how—expressing themselves through partying and acting out against the old Victorian guidelines for society.
One way the younger generation rebelled against their elders was through “flapper” culture. Flappers, often called the heroines of the Jazz Age, were women who offended the older generations because they defied the conventions of acceptable female behavior. A typical flapper had short, bobbed hair, and wore a short baggy skirt with turned down hose and powdered knees. Their dresses often exposed her arms as well as her legs from the knees down. Flappers were thought of by their elders as being a little fast and brazen, since they were no longer confined to home or tradition. However, Flappers did not just symbolize a revolution in fashion and way of life; they more importantly embodied the modern spirit of the Jazz Age—they symbolized, “an age anxious to enjoy itself, anxious to forget the past, anxious to ignore the future”.
Louise Brooks, a silent movie star, was an idol of the flappers, and their prototype for offending older generations and pushing the bounds of acceptable female behavior. She led an exuberant social life, hanging in a social circle that included George Gershwin, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and other authors such as Benchley, Mencken, and Anita Loos. Louise Brooks epitomized the flapper culture...