Friday, 1 March 2013

The Cat's Meow: Taking notes from the 1920's.

Image by twelve17,
While everybody has a decade in history which fascinates them, for me it is the Jazz Age, or the Roaring Twenties. Especially as in my twenties, I can observe those around me trapped in a cycle of self indulgence. We see teenagers wishing to be adults and young adults on the brink of responsibility but acting carelessly with the conscience of pirates. We live in a society where rich habits provide the downtrodden with a feeling of status and belonging, and give the wealthy other indulgences to drown in. Unfortunately, our own experiences with witnessing these addictions and bad habits don't have the glamour or charm of the flappers or tycoons of the Jazz Age.

“They were careless people, Tom and Daisy- they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” - F. Scott Fitzgerald

The reason behind the fascination with this particular era is the pointed fixation on the glamour of tragedy and the allure of double crossing. It is an age where literature such as The Great Gatsby and The Beautiful and Damned highlight the elite lifestyles of young men and women, and stories of tragedy masked by affluent wealth and high society. The age we live in, and the 1920's, are both ages of damning temptation and a bitter sweet taste of glamour and excess.

The Jazz Age was also a time where men valued appearance and self worth, and the fa├žade of sophistication was perfected. There were lawn parties, cloche hats, and champagne was known as 'giggle water'. Prohibition was enforced, but it never really stood a chance against bootlegging, organised crime, and the culture of the alluring but illicit Speakeasy such as The Cotton Club in New York City.

The influence of the Jazz Age still exists today, with it's influences on literature, fashion and language. It has also inspired the upcoming season's weddings, with Vera Wang offering Gatsby inspired choices. With the release of The Great Gatsby on May 17th in the UK, we can be sure to see the trend heating up. As for language, phrases such as 'gold digger' and 'hair of the dog' are part of the sociolect of the 1920's and are common terms in our own daily speech. The Art Deco architectural structure of the Empire State Building, which upon completion in 1931 has been a firm staple in the iconography of hope, conjuring the opulent dreams in millions of little girls to move to Manhattan. Little girls who would become little women, little girls who were once me.

Maybe in decades to come people will look back at our generation and find a glittering moment of hope and easy glamour to capture the age. Maybe they won't, is there anything visually enchanting about doing cocaine in a bathroom with a broken toilet seat? It's not like we're all sitting in a maroon velvet booth sipping gin Martinis and smoking cigars while we ponder the meaning of life. Call me close minded, but there are no philosophers in clubs where twenty year olds are vomiting on the floor.

The closest thing we have to a contemporary representation of a prohibition era tycoon is Gossip Girl's Chuck Bass, burdened with momentary darkness and complexity but blessed by wealth and a vast collection of bow ties and silk scarves.

In another life we may have been a Jay Gatsby.. or maybe we were a Daisy, although God forbid any of us were that annoying. We don't live in a culture defined by the limitations of class or status, but this generation are becoming defined by what they can and can't have, instead of what they are or what they have the potential to be. Binge drinking Sambuca isn't so glamorous, and flapper dresses aren't flattering on everybody. But even if you aren't a Gatsby, can you at least try and be Chuck Bass? I'll even buy you a bow tie. You'll be the cat's pyjamas, that's for sure.

Side note: In my top three favourite books of all time, The Great Gatsby remains in the list, the other two are The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and Rules of Civility by Amor Towles, in case you were wondering. Also, the theme for my birthday this year is painfully obvious.. as is the theme for my imaginary wedding reception, good luck to the poor schmuck who has to marry me.