I’m currently listening to the soundtrack of the film The Great Gatsby starring Leonardo DiCaprio (2013). I’ve seen a lot of social media posts about how 2020 will be the Gatsby decade, but I think it’s unrealistic to claim that the 2020s will mirror our romanticized version of the Roaring ’20s. Still, a century later, I believe that we’re experiencing many cultural parallels outside of the art deco aesthetic.
I don’t think that I’ve actually met anyone who remembers the Roaring ’20s. Both sets of my grandparents were born in the late 1920s, so all they remember is The Great Depression. Bummer. Indeed, with student debt and rising housing costs, very few young adults today are living that pre-Depression lifestyle à la Jay Gatsby, Jordan Baker, or Daisy Buchanan. I don’t know anyone in their 20s that owns a luxurious estate on the lake either. No need to dread an eventual fall from economic grace because you can’t fall much further than here. Fingers crossed that the stock market doesn’t crash in 2020.
Outside of extravagant displays of wealth, I think the social movements of the Roaring ’20s foreshadow those of today. Though I’ve only known the age of flappers and jazz music through history books, literature, and Leo’s films, I’m always amazed at the progressiveness and edginess of that decade. For example, women taped down their boobs back then in order to achieve an androgynous look. African-American music rose to the mainstream, despite old-timer’s warnings of corruption. The alcohol prohibition was in full effect during this period too, which many considered to be an act of moral prescription by the US government. Everyone drank during the Roaring ’20s, right? (source: The Great Gatsby).
I still doubt that old school jazz or flapper dresses will see a sudden resurgence in popularity. But, if you don’t miss the social victories for the sequins, it’s easy to find the similarities between the Roaring 20s and the impending decade. The LGBTQ+ community saw many triumphs in the 2010s, including the acceptance of multiple gender presentations. Consider Billie Eilish and her baggy clothes, or Billy Porter and his elegant gown at the Met Gala. In terms of music, it wouldn’t be a stretch to claim that African-American influences still dominate the scene. It’s hard to find a top 10 Billboard track without a hip hop sound or a rap feature. And though alcohol was illegal in the 1920s, cocaine and heroin-based medicines were still sold over-the-counter. I think the legal state of marijuana is comparable to this; opioids are still easier to come by than medical marijuana, and the legality of medical marijuana still varies by state.
The 2020s may not be The Great Gatsby decade, but maybe that’s a good thing. If I recall correctly, two people were murdered in the novel, and their killers never received justice. But maybe the 2020s will hearken back to the Roaring ’20s in terms of gender expression, diverse art, and eventual marijuana legalization. Gatsby found his hope in a small, green light that faintly glimmered across the sound. We, in the 21st century, also have a light to which we look forward, but instead of a green flash, it’s an ever-burning flame of freedom. It’s not electricity that ignites our optimism; it’s the everlasting charge of the human spirit.