Music, art, drama, literature, ballet, architecture, movies, newspapers—it’s hard to grasp the creative radiance and energy of the decade. Louis Armstrong was 24 when he formed the Hot Five in 1925. Yankee Stadium became the “House That Ruth Built.” The Roaring ’20s brought the birth of urban sophistication, whose resonances—and residue—are still with us.
America’s large urban centers are again magnets for cosmopolitan elites who are socially liberal in outlook, while the more moderate or conservative outlying rural towns and suburbs wonder, once again, what happened to the traditional structures of everyday life. The conflicted reality is that the Jazz Age of the 1920s produced great creativity and great moral slackness. Much of the culture today remains in a 100-year war over the content of the modern age.
Nothing like the artistic dynamism of the ’20s exists today. Most of the creative arts consider it a solemn obligation to disappear into reductionist obsessions with race, gender, identity and the Gini coefficient (inequality). Sunday sermons are delivered on climate change. Little of it is compelling or interesting. Back then, technology’s role in a better life was celebrated. Today it engenders neurotic phobias.