The 1920s are back.
Or, rather, we are back to the 1920s. Culture, fashion, social life – the “Roaring Twenties” nostalgia has been thriving on many fronts lately. Take the recent Jazz Age-inspired movie hits – HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, this year’s Oscar favorite The Artist, etc. The much anticipated The Great Gatsby remake with Leonardo di Caprio as Jay Gatsby and Carey Mulligan as Daisy Bucanan is to come out later this year as well.
Take the social life with speakeasy bars (illegal joints where back in 1920s the smuggled liquor was available and live bands played jazz like there was no tomorrow) opening in U.S. and European cities. In London, Prohibition Parties take place at least once a month now, and they top the rank of the city’s most popular social events. The dress code aims to match the 1920s glamor caliber - some serious vintage shopping is required beforehand. The public eagerly complies: young women sporting outfits of silent film divas and lads in gangster wear flock there to dance the Charleston and sip old-recipe gin cocktails from the tea mugs.
Moscow nightlife will surely pick up this trend soon with our emerging bar culture and the desire to keep up with the Western cultural trends.
What I am really curious about is why we’re so prone to this recurring nostalgia for the past? And why do we actually seek refuge and inspiration in the era that was not much sunnier than the one we live in today? WWI was just over, and Europe as well as the post- civil war Soviet Union were still licking wounds. In the United States organized crime flourished, and the Lost Generation lamented about the superficiality of the newly emerging materialism.
Still, we tend to romanticize the past, and the 1920s appear to us an especially alluring age today. In a way, it was indeed. New technologies and industries boomed, mass culture flourished, art-deco, polished and refreshed art and design. The first wave of women’s liberation ensued in fashion, political and social life. Shorter hair, looser and more body-exposing dresses, more comfortable lingerie, flashier make up – along with new rights and opportunities challenged the Victorian restrictions and contributed to the free spirits that era inflicted.
In Soviet Russia, this was also the time of relative stability and even prosperity. The New Economic Policy revived production and trade, and thanks to the relaxed censorship, the cultural dynamism matched the Jazz Age exuberance in the West.
The young folks in those days lived with a heavy burden of the recent past and dreamed of a very bright future to be. Meanwhile they partied like there was no tomorrow, living for the moment as much as they could.
It is exactly this optimism, this sense of wonder and this naive and carefree hedonism that we envy looking back. Living in the Digital Age, we’re used to the highest speed and instant gratification. The opportunities are infinite, but, spoiled and somewhat jaded by the non-stop consumerism, I feel we lack that fresh childlike appreciation of the new that our ancestors boasted in the 1920s.
What followed that decade for the rest of the century deprived entire generations of that innocent optimism. Now we know all too well that crises come and go, and we are fully aware that more often than not they come back with a heavier hit. The unprecedented technological developments and market economy luxuries came with a cost: we've got much more to lose now, or so we think. Today's countless uncertainties create a permanent anxiety about both the present and the future.
Social critics have long noted that the past often serves like comfort food for the soul. We seek solace there when the present overwhelms us with dissatisfaction and unpredictability, just like we enjoy reminiscing about our childhood (especially since we usually remember the good things and let go of the negative stuff). We also tend to idealize the past, sometimes too much.
Even so, I think we could borrow some of the “Roaring Twenties” jois-de-vivre to blend in with our today's all too realistic perception of life.
The views expressed in this column are the author’s and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.
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Svetlana Kolchik, 33, is deputy editor-in-chief of the Russian edition of Marie Claire magazine. She holds degrees from the Moscow State University Journalism Department and Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. She has worked for Argumenty i Fakty weekly in Moscow and USA Today in Washington, D.C., and contributed to RussiaProfile.org, Russian editions of Vogue, Forbes and other publications.