The future: Roaring Twenties set to return

One big party: F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Jay Gatsby is seen as an icon of the Roaring Twenties © Warner Bros.

Can we look forward to another Roaring Twenties? As part of a new series on different visions of the future, we ask whether the end of the pandemic might prove to be one big party.

It is early summer in 2025. The pubs and bars are packed to bursting. Groups of friends meet, chat, embrace, dance and drink together. Round the corner, open mic night at a comedy club is in full swing. There are no long queues, and not a mask in sight.

This is the vision that many people, like social epidemiologist Dr Nicholas Christakis, think we can look forward to. They argue that the end of the pandemic will be followed by a splurge of consumer spending on drinks, sports and general fun, as we learn how to enjoy ourselves again after months of isolation and worry.

This has happened once before. Between 1918 and 1920, the world was ravaged by Spanish Flu, which infected 500 million people and killed up to 50 million.

The world’s governments responded to Spanish Flu in the same way that they have to Covid-19: with lockdowns, mandatory mask-wearing and social distancing. Businesses had to close and many millions lost their jobs. World War One had just come to an end, and a flood of demobilised soldiers added to this mass unemployment.

After the pandemic, there was a rush of spending on drinking, dancing and general fun. The decade became known as the Roaring Twenties.

Today, we are in a similar position. After almost a year of repeated lockdowns and working from home, people have saved the money that they might usually have spent on drinks, food, sports, holidays, pricey lunches and commuting into work.

So when restaurants and clubs are allowed to open again, we might expect people to spend a lot of this saved up money all at once, going out to enjoy all the activities that have been out of bounds for so long.

During the first lockdown, one in four people said that they had felt lonely in the previous two weeks. When restrictions are lifted, many will relish the chance to go out and see people in real life once more.

But some are sounding a note of caution. Even Christakis thinks that this vision of the future is unlikely to take place before 2024, because, he argues, it will take us that long to recover from the economic devastation of the virus.

Journalist James Kirkup points out that the pandemic has had a very unequal impact. White-collar workers who have been able to keep working from home have saved up enough money to go out celebrating when the pandemic is over.

But many blue-collar workers have lost their jobs and are unlikely to be saving anything. Some families will even have lost their breadwinners to the disease. These people simply will not have the money to take part in the new Roaring Twenties.

These divisions could be very dangerous. If much of the country is locked out of the fun, resentment is likely to build, and this could cause political polarisation.

After the Roaring Twenties of the last century came the Great Depression and the rise of fascism across the world. If too many people are excluded this time, the same could happen again.

So, can we look forward to another Roaring Twenties?

Boring Twenties?

Yes, say some. Months of pent-up frustration are just waiting to be released. Optimism is already rising as the vaccine is rolled out. By the summer of this year, life could be back to normal. We can expect everyone to want to celebrate by going out, seeing friends, meeting new people and really enjoying themselves for the first time in over a year.

Not at all, say others. The pandemic has hit many people’s budgets hard: those on furlough have seen their ordinary salary cut by 20%. Many have lost their jobs entirely. These people will not be going out to enjoy themselves after the pandemic: they will be scrimping and saving. Their understandable hostility towards those who are just having fun could create a political chasm.

You Decide

  1. Would you rather be living through the 1920s or the 2020s?
  2. Covid-19 restrictions have helped to bring down deaths from other diseases, like flu. Should we impose similar restrictions every winter to save more lives?

Activities

  1. The 1920s produced new trends in fashion and music. What clothing styles do you think might define the 2020s? Have a go at drawing some of them.
  2. Imagine a society that had been locked down for a whole decade. Write a short story about what happens the day this lockdown is lifted for good.

Some People Say...

“In three words, I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: It goes on.”

Robert Frost (1874 - 1963), American poet

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Most people agree that the Roaring Twenties were not roaring for everyone. Unemployment remained persistently high throughout the decade. In Germany in 1923, hyperinflation made all money worthless; in 1926, Britain saw its biggest ever industrial strike, with 1.7 million workers refusing to work. Poverty was rife all over the western world, and millions of people were simply excluded from the fun and excitement of the wealthier classes.
What do we not know?
There is some debate over whether or not the 2020s might give rise to new cultural movements. The 1920s saw the development of jazz and new dances like the Charleston, and we might expect the 2020s to create its own distinctive art forms. But theorist Mark Fisher argued that modern culture is trapped in nostalgia: it has stopped producing anything original, instead just rehashing the same old formats. In his view, the 2020s are unlikely to create any new music, art or dance.

Word Watch

Spanish Flu
A particularly deadly form of the influenza virus that infected about one-third of the world population. Despite its name, it was actually first detected in the US state of Kansas.
Demobilised
After a war has ended, the size of the army is reduced and many of those who fought are laid off. This process is called demobilisation. Often soldiers struggle to readjust to civilian life.
White-collar workers
People who work desk jobs, usually for a middling or slightly above-average salary.
Blue-collar workers
People who do manual labour. They are generally paid less than white-collar workers.
Breadwinners
The member or members of a family who provide its income.
Great Depression
The long economic recession that followed the 1929 stock market crash. It was marked by extremely high unemployment and extreme poverty.
Fascism
A political creed that champions the power of the state, the conservation of traditional morality, and racially discriminatory policies. Fascist regimes came to power in Greece, Italy, Spain and Germany in the 1930s.
Furlough
In an effort to keep businesses from firing staff who cannot work during the pandemic, the government set up a furlough scheme, in which they pay 80% of workers’ salaries to keep them in their jobs.

Subjects

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