Two weeks ago I mentioned how commentary on the wealthy class popular in 1930s movies has got me curious about the gap between the upper and working class during the 20s and 30s. For some time, I viewed the 30s media presentation of these topics as ridiculous and never really grasped the basis that this commentary was rooted in.
For example - I never understood why big cars and furs were so desired by characters in these old movies. That is, until I saw one of these vintage cars in person. Seeing these huge, gleaming machines made it click in my mind. If I was a shop clerk walking to work and I saw one of these drive by with a well coifed lady, I would stop in my tracks. Beyond the sheer beauty and power of such a machine, not to mention the technology...to own on of these automobiles also meant you probably had hired help and most definitely did not have to hurt your toes walking to a low paying clerical job.
(Which, by the way - Women got paid at least half as much as men and when lay offs came, were fired before men were. The excuse being that a man had a family to support while women were just working until they got married.)
Hired help meant you didn't have to worry about wash day, cooking your own meals, or cleaning. If you've been reading my blog long enough, you know all of these chores were really back breaking jobs back then. Most likely, as a shop girl, I would share a room with another girl and would not have to do the level of house work of a housewife. Even so, I would still have some level of chores waiting when I got home from standing in heels all day. How could a working class girl of the 30s not look at this gleaming machine with envy?
As it is now, while still pricey, cars are affordable enough to be purchased by most people (to the point were being a non-car owner puts you in the minority in some regions). There are certainly people today who cannot afford a car (like me), but it is definitely within the budget of more people now than it was in the 30s. Viewing the class gap through the topic of technology, it seems that the difference of living between the classes during the 20s/30s was much more dramatic than it is now.
All of this is without touching upon the topics of ability to travel, hair styling (you think working girls could afford marcel waves?), and wardrobe (no constant mending) privy to the wealthy. Not to mention etiquette and social rules that further divided social spheres, which have since relaxed dramatically. Changes in technology and affordability has lessened the gap between the wealthy and working classes to the point where watching these vintage ladies on screen longing for these rich possessions may seem comical.
I'm not saying any of this is right or wrong or any commentary on one era/class having it easier than another. Nor am I saying that I am anti-glamour and do not look upon these satin-lined Hollywood photos with awe myself. I am just stating that this huge gap between the classes during the 20s and 30s is something to keep in mind while watching these old movies.
And sweet sassy, do 30s movies show this difference well. The anger at, yet desire to become part of the wealthy class is played out in so many different ways during this time in cinema, all while being quite entertaining. My favorite in this topic is Easy Living. Hell, I think this is just my most favorite movie of the era in general.
So, its taken me how many years to finally realize this? I guess the right word isn't realize, but perhaps more that it hit me. I've never been one to get crazy over big cars and designer labels, so I could never really understand those actions in 30s movies. With this "new" understanding about the 30s class gap, it is easier for me to watch these movies with sympathy. You know, rather than have nagging commentary in the back of my head of how ridiculous it is for these women to be so obsessed with getting a fur coat, or getting doe-eyed when a shiny car rolls by. In some cases it is certainly meant to be funny, but knowing the root of the commentary gives me a full understanding of the comedy.
So...with all that said, what do you think?