31 July 2009

Old Man Depression, You Have Truly Done Us Wrong

A few nights ago, TCM aired Gold Diggers of 1933, one of the best-known Busby Berkeley musicals. One one level the picture is a lighthearted musical comedy, a study of theatrical spectacle that would wow the audiences of the day while allowing them a brief escape from the troubles of the real world. On another level, the picture is quite conscious of those same troubles. Ned Sparks (as producer Barney Hopkins) proclaims early in the picture that his latest show will be about the depression: "Men standing in lines, jobs, jobs, jobs!" is his apparent muse. The movie's spectacular closing number, a jazzy dirge entitled "Remember my Forgotten Man", reminds of the grim realities of life during the depression.

Some 76 years later, things are starting to look just as grim. Though optimists insist that it simply isn't the case, it's beginning to look an awful lot like old man depression has reared his ugly head once again. Nearly ten percent of Americans now find themselves where Ruby Keeler, Joan Blondell and Aline MacMahon are at the beginning of Gold Diggers--out of a job and going flat broke. The unemployed of today clamor for "jobs, jobs, jobs!" just as much as the forgotten men of 1933.

Yet unemployment, overdue rents and thrift by necessity are not the only similarities to the depression years, nor are they the most unsettling. The most undeniable (and perhaps the most disturbing) evidence that we moderns are shuffling through a depression of our own lies in the stomach-turning fact that the Hooverville is back. It boggles the mind--how can such abject poverty exist in the most prosperous nation in the world? Is it an inherent failure of a Capitalist economy? Is it a result of the American's indifference to the plight of his countryman? Probably a combination of these and other factors, which are too numerous and complex to enumerate here.

My life hasn't gone where I wanted it to go over the past year or so, but it is certainly a sobering thought that there are others that are far, far worse off than I am. As for the rest of the nation, it remains to be seen whether or not Barack Obama can be the next Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

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