“Looking for the light of a new love to brighten up the night” are just some of the lyrics in the song by Bing Crosby titled, “Dancing in the Dark” in which Morris Dickstein used for the title of his book. Dickstein was the speaker of the event Culture and Community during the Great Depression on Wednesday night at CCC.
The program of this event was very diverse because it didn’t consist of solely a lecture. This event included a lecture, pictures, music, and a closing discussion. The majority of the event was centered on how music and film helped people get through such a tough time.
Americans during that time went to the movies frequently to escape their everyday life and focus their attention on something more appealing, a fantasy life about love and being rich. Movies gave people hope that things would get better, and that in order to have good times, you must have showers. A brief part of this lecture was on what FDR did to get America out of the depression. Not only did FDR propose the New Deal, but his greatest accomplishment was boosting morale and confidence during this time, by supporting art programs and sponsoring films that promoted hopefulness that better days would come. Radio, recording, and film were very popular for people to keep in touch with what was going on around them, and for entertainment purposes. As conditions improved during the Great Depression, the song lyrics changed from singing about how bad things were to the message of looking on the bright side and having hope.
A power point presentation of pictures from the films The Wizard of Oz, Purple Rose of Cairo, Remember my forgotten man, Swing Time, and Grapes of Wrath were shown. Pictures of famous actors like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rodgers dancing, almost as if they were floating in thin air, in the movie Swing Time. There was also many photos shown of real people during the struggle that were sad to see, and the famous picture by Dorthea Lange of A Mother of Seven Children which shows the pain, endurance, and silence of a woman during the Great Depression.
An interesting comment about The Wizard of Oz was that the characters, the lion, the tin man, and the scarecrow were in search of courage, a heart, and a brain. This was relatable to people during the depression because they symbolized the aspirations of the people during the Great Depression. Early in the movie, Kansas is shown as being in black and white, and a very poor area. However, when Dorothy goes to Oz, it is bright, colorful, and filled with joy. This movie in particular took people who went to the movies to a different state of mind and a different world.
Dickstein played some of Bing Crosby’s greatest hits like Pennies from Heaven, Brother can you spare a dime, and Dancing in the Dark. These songs gave the American people something to relate their lives to. He also brushed on Jazz musicians like Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington and discussed writer Wallace Stevens who was a 20s writer who altered what he wrote about during the Great Depression which didn’t seem to do him any good.
Towards the closing of the event, Dickstein took questions and comments from the audience. One man in the audience shared that his mother would go to the movies every week because they would give out plate sets, and she wanted to own the whole collection. For some people coming to this event it may have just been to learn about American history, but for some of the older people in the crowd, it was nostalgic. When Dickstein spoke, showed photos, and played music from the time of the Great Depression, there were some people whose faces seemed to relive the Great Depression all over again, whether that be a good memory or bad.
By: Lynsey Dougherty