Q1: How does the movie relate to chapter 20 in Foner?
“The Crowd” is a 1928 film by King Vidor about John Sims, fondly known as Johnny whose dreams of becoming “someone big” took him to New York at the Age of 21 years. In New York, Johnny finds that he is another faceless person in the crowd of young men and women looking to make their mark in a large city where the road to success was nothing but an uphill journey. Yet, Johnny was content at being who he was: a man with no clear vision, specific idea, drive, or plan of how to become an important person in the society. He was always waiting for his “ship to come in.” Johnny met Mary on a blind double date with Bert, his friend and colleague, and while on the date, Johnny proposed to Mary. They got married and after 5 years, had two children – a boy and a girl.
This movie bears a semblance to Foner’s view in Chapter 20 of America’s shift from progressive to consumerism culture. According to Foner, the twenties was a period of jazz with “flappers (young, sexually liberated women), speakeasies (nightclubs that sold liquor in violation of prohibition), and a soaring stock market…” (Foner 821) During this period, Americans lived in uniformity with the belief that food, clothing, and shelter should be for all. Many parks and other recreational facilities were constructed by the government and business began to lean heavily on advertising and public relations to help drive their products to the consumers. As seen in the movie, Johnny worked in an advertising firm and his job was to come up with slogans that would drive sales of products for businesses.
The problem with this cultural change in American way of life was the inequality in the distribution of wealth among Americans. While the business owners prospered, many Americans did not see a significant rise in their incomes to maintain the acceptable standard of living as inflation rose. Work was no longer a thing of pride or status but, became a necessity for the workers to be able to live. Additionally, success in this consumer driven economy only came to those who had vision and worked hard, as demonstrated in the movie when Bert finally got promoted and became Johnny’s direct boss.
Q2: Why is the film called “The Crowd?”
During this era, there was a high rate of emigration from the rural to the urban areas as farming was no longer generating as much profit as it used to. A city like New York had a lot of opportunities for ambitious young men and women in areas like, art, music, theater, and many professional jobs, therefore, New York drew a huge crowd of these young men and women. As illustrated in the movie, one can only succeed if one is good enough to stand out from the crowd since everyone wanted the same thing.
Q3: How are ideas about success represented in the film?
The film demonstrates that success was double-sided with the crowd on one side and Johnny on the other side. Johnny’s in-laws hated his guts because he was unable to get promotion at work and after quitting his job, could not keep any other job and also rejected his brothers-in-law’s job offer. However, Johnny’s success lay in his family and the trials they overcame to finally re-unite as one and for him, success came in small increments. He was very happy when he received a letter informing him that he won $500.00 for the slogan that Mary encouraged him to submit. This simplicity of life was more important to Johnny than the hustle and bustle of the crowd.
Q4: What does the movie reveal about dating and domestic life in the 1920s?
The film revealed that the 1920s was a period when couples could engage in restricted intimacy with one another in what was known as petting. They could go out on dates without chaperones and kiss and cuddle without sex. I also noticed that though this was a period when women had become sexually liberated, some women were still shy and reserved during this time. This was demonstrated when Mary told Johnny that she should not have kissed him after their first kiss. The film also demonstrates how the role of a woman automatically became that of a home-maker as soon as she was married, leaving the husband as the sole provider for the family. In the case of Johnny's in-laws, the sons became the providers for their mother after the death of their father (the film leaves me to assume Mary's father was dead), and both still lived at home with their mother. In other words, men were viewed as the heads of the households in America.