A Roaring Return


March 6, 2020 / Karen Xie


Our new decade of the Twenties is almost upon us… will it roar just as loudly as the last?

One hundred years… Eternal. Unfathomable. Upcoming.

The moment New Years Day, the twinkling lady she is, happens upon this wintry January eve, rings the doorbell with a flourish, and prepares to waltz in, we will be one hundred years from the start of what we now call the Roaring Twenties — one hundred years from dazzling nights, fast cars, jazz and wild youth.

And what of it? We precariously border our new century’s age of the Twenties, and before tumbling into these next ten years, I ask that we look back. Let’s explore the impossible and intricate happenstances that incited 1920’s cultural awakening and birthed its dancing disillusioned. Let’s mirror those circumstances to the conditions we see today and analyze if a similar fate may befall our decade of the twenties. Will we, too, begin with a Roar and end with a Crash?


MIDNIGHT


As we embark on this reflection, it is prudent to first delve deep, look past the glitter and fringe to the beginning of the night — the setup for the casualties, the fouls. Look to the origin of 1920’s beliefs and ideologies to better understand the “why” when unfolding the final “what.”

The 1920s were born out of exhilaration and exhaustion — the world had just gone to war, and America returned home victorious — or did she? World powers fought in bloody, stalemated combat only to end with a meager and irresolute compromise, so the young people in the frontlines returned with a cleared but haunted vision. In that instant, many grasped the odd futility, yet urgency of life, thus sparking this decade of the wild youth who wanted to see a change.

And today? We seem to be tiptoeing a similar threshold, having experienced some peak in the War on Terror in the 2010s. However, unlike the spirit of the 1920s, we are still left with a lingering question: “is there more?” And while attacks mirroring that of the last decade have lessened within the years, attacks from within our nation have multiplied. Take for haunting examples the nightclub shootings, the synagogue shootings, the car attacks and the abhorrent manifestos, conducted by the deeply rooted racial and social divisions of our time. We have a president who will build a wall, who will “take back America,” who has closed our doors to immigrants and devised a narrative: “us vs. them.”

To many, this nativism is shocking, perhaps new, but truthfully, it’s not unlike that of the 1920s. Ah, so the Roaring Twenties was not all late nights and speakeasies, jazz clubs and stomping feet — the decade kicked off with the Red Scare from 1919-1920, which fueled a similar anti-immigrant frenzy and sought to revitalize an older, Anglo-Saxon America. This ideology, compounded by the uncertainty of national security following the war, gave way to the Immigration Act of 1924. This act barred entry for Asians and Eastern Europeans while still allowing for the immigration of individuals from the British Isles and Western Europe. Sound familiar? See 2018’s Speaker Paul Ryan push for thousands of Irish visas while Latino immigrants and refugees languish at the border.


TWILIGHT


Oh, how we seem to have set the stage so identically! The political and societal events of the past four years have many afraid of similarly explosive consequences in this upcoming decade, especially approaching the 2020 presidential election. We teeter on the brink of a new morning, and there is uncertainty — will the sun rise or will it set? But I ask that we take heart — parallels in setup do not equate to identical finales. Let’s look to the people for proof.

Of all the past decades’ icons which, like beacons, gleamed among the years, the Flapper Girl must be its brightest. The giddy flapper, careening in a drunken stupor to the strains of a jazz quartet, might seem reckless, but she served a fiery purpose. With her new wardrobe: trimmed hemlines and dropped waistlines, a chopped bob and a boyish figure, the Flapper Girl symbolizes the rejection of the Gibson Girl, the idealized feminine and voluptuous lady of the earlier century. And much to the horror of older generations, fathers and mothers, the Flapper Girl explored sexuality and that which was taboo, smoked cigarettes, and danced until dawn. She was a New Woman, a liberation and a revolution.

As twilight beams on our horizon, this New Woman rises and dusts off the night — there is still work to be done, and she will not readily give up. 2017’s exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s sexual misconduct and the subsequent #MeToo movement gave women across the nation a revolutionary voice as they spoke out about sexual assault, harassment and inequality in the workplace. TIME’S UP rendered this solidarity an entity and fights to return a voice to silenced women. 2019’s passing of heartbeat bills across the nation caused uproar as the nation’s women once again unified — this time, under an urgent fight for reproductive rights.

Evidently, this revolution has yet to be won, and the plight of the woman is but a glimpse into every other political, social, environmental fight that is brutal and ongoing. The list seems never ending. But the New Woman continues to toil, knowing that failure in the past does not mean failure in the future. Look to her spirit in times of despair — for twilight may bring discouragement and disillusionment, but she dances and she laughs, knowing there is the promise of golden daybreak.

“History does not have to repeat itself. A new decade is a clean slate,

a promise of opportunity to still do something.”


DAYBREAK


Yes, we stand now on a precarious threshold, peering cautiously into the void of What Might Be, as What Had Been whispers ominously in our ear. But armed with learning and persistence, with remembrance of past flames, we remind ourselves that history does not have to repeat itself. A new decade is a clean slate, a promise of opportunity to still do something. And do something we will.

So let’s step forward: I sense continued parallels perhaps, but when are strings not pulled across decades, centuries? We will always be bound to our past in more ways than detectable, but unshackled is our will to change, innovate, improve — and in that, I sense 2020 may shine as the brightest decade yet.

Ah, finally. There she is! New Year’s Day, the beaming lady she is, has arrived with the first rays of morning sun, prepared to make her entrance. So ring her in! Blare the trumpets, trombones! And let our world thus roar. ■




By: Karen Xie

Layout: Rebecca Wong 


View the full spread as it appeared in Issue No. 13 here.
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