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Summary & Analysis

Mass Consumption and Mass Culture

The culture of the 1920s grew out of the material abundance of the new mass-production/mass-consumption economy, which generated both increased wages for the urban middle class and fabulous profits for wealthier investors.

Even as wondrous new machines transformed the conditions of everyday life, culture itself became a mass commodity. The 1920s were the heyday of broadcast radio and Hollywood cinema; for the first time, consumers across the country tuned in to the same radio programs and bought tickets to the same films. Advertising became a crucial industry in its own right, cultivating mass demand for the products of mass consumption.

Intellectuals Attack the "Booboisie"

Much of the great American literature of the 1920s represented an intellectual backlash against the perceived materialism, conformity, and inauthenticity of the new mass culture. Sinclair Lewis profiled the conformity and mindless boosterism of the salesman in Babbitt, while H.L. Mencken skewered the middle-class mediocrities of what he called the "booboisie." From exile in Europe, members of the self-described "Lost Generation" such as Ernest Hemingway probed the meaninglessness of World War I sacrifice in works like The Sun Also Rises. And most famously, F. Scott Fitzgerald explored the supposed moral vacancy of the Roaring Twenties' nouveau riche in The Great Gatsby.

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