The Great Depression
aka: The Thirties
"They used to tell me I was building a dream, with peace and glory ahead,
Why should I be standing in line, just waiting for bread?"
— E.Y. Harburg, "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?"
The Great Depression / The Dirty Thirties: Home to dust bowl farmers, reedy-voiced folk singers and rail-riding hobos. Life pretty much sucks unless you're lucky enough to be a rich socialite, in which case you can expect to be involved in a wacky screwball comedy which may or may not involve either three short, bumbling men named Larry, Moe and Curly
, or two fast-talkers named Groucho and Chico
and their mute accomplice
Harpo (as the Depression drove prices plummeting through the floor, people with money suddenly found their cash increasing in value). Or if you're female, you could ditch the dust bowl and head off to Hollywood, become an actress, and wear long, sexy gowns
on premiere night, showing off some tanned skin
Otherwise, you would be scraping to survive, as Steinbeck wrote in The Grapes of Wrath
and Of Mice and Men
. For some, it's a time to run wild to take what you want against the fat cats who exploited the people as one of the Public Enemies
like John Dillinger or the bank robbing couple Bonnie and Clyde
. Others found more constructive paths such as folk singer Woody Guthrie who rode the rails Bound For Glory
singing as the voice of the underprivileged.
Against this, President Herbert Hoover
found himself completely over his head, refusing to accept the reality of how bad the times were, while blindly mouthing absurd statements like "Prosperity is just around the corner." He was replaced by Franklin D. Roosevelt
who did his best to pull America out of the economic ruin with his New Deal.note
In addition, you
could be a globe-hopping Adventurer Archaeologist
in foreign parts having adventures with the natives while fighting the Nazis
who are searching for any artifact that would give them the edge in a coming war.
If you're in Europe, chances are you are living in the Nazi or some other fascist version of Ruritania
, trying to forget your troubles in the Cabaret
while the Black Shirt
goons become more bolder and brutal outside as your country slides into a fascist hell. As for the rest of the world, the communists seem to be the greater threat, until Those Wacky Nazis
start getting greedy enough to betray their true ambitions (and for those already under communism, like say, some parts of the USSR, well, they're about to learn the wonders of cannibalism, or worse, end up in The Gulag
for thinking unhappy thoughts about Stalin). At that the Western powers slowly begin to realize that appeasing them is making them worse and they have to stand up to them.
Period lasts from The Wall Street Crash of 1929 up until the beginning of World War II
. Note that in Real Life
there were several sub-periods; the Hoover years, the New Deal years up to 1937, a second recession and a subsequent 1939-41 recovery that was just picking up steam when the war build-up started. Also, large European countries experienced the worst, nightmarish
part of the Depression during 1930-1932, with unemployment and widespread poverty, but recovered more or less in the next few years - so for a German living under the Nazis
1938 was a prosperous year
, not part of a crisis.
It should also be noted that the mass suicides of financial professionals (jumping from office buildings or hanging) of 1929 are a long-standing Urban Legend
— only about twenty people killed themselves immediately after the Crash and about one hundred in all. 23,000 people did kill themselves in the first year though.
Also see: The Roaring Twenties
, The Forties
, The Fifties
, The Sixties
, The Seventies
, The Eighties
, The Nineties
, Turn of the Millennium
, and The New Tens
for more decade nostalgia.
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Popular tropes from this time period:
- Adventurer Archaeologist
- The Alleged Car: The worn-out, dented jalopies that carried people west from the Dust Bowl. The Joads' is an example.
- Art Deco in its sleek, streamlined form.
- Crapsack World: Pretty much mandatory if you're portraying the common peoples' life - it basically was.
- Diesel Punk
- Fashionable Asymmetry
- From Bad to Worse: The Crash of '29 was just merely the appetizer, while the start of World War II would be the main course.
- The start of the golden ages of film, animation, and comics
- Morally Bankrupt Banker
- The Musical: Many of Hollywood's films tended to be musical and upbeat, because it wasn't called "The Great Depression" for nothing, people needed to be cheered up. Because of this, the motion picture industry was one of a small few disposal income industries that not only survived but thrived in the Great Depression.
- Perpetual Poverty - subversion. If the 1930-1941 decade hit the US worst despite the attempted relief of the New Deal, European countries fared better and they regard the year 1933 as the "official" end of the Depression and the 1933-1939 years as a prosperousnote period in terms of money, construction, public works, technology and arts.
- Sexy Backless Outfit: The trend for women exposing their backs on bias-cut and halter-neck long gowns started during this decade.
- Vagabond Buddies
- Zipperiffic: the decade made zippers more innovative in many things like bags and clothes.
Works that are set in this time period:
Anime and Manga
- Axis Powers Hetalia had a strip about the Great Depression, explaining it in a very simple way; America got sick and spread it to the other European countries. In the end, however, Russia was unaffected due to the fact that Russia was socialist, America, England, and France were helped out by their colonies, but Germany, Italy, and Japan, not having as much colonies, got the shorter end of the stick and suffered throughout.
- In actual history, Germany probably would have still suffered, Depression or no Depression, because of the WWI reparations that the nation was being forced to pay.
- In fact, part of Germany's motivation behind becoming an Axis Power was mentioned as a combination of both the Depression and Versailles reparations.
- Baccano!: At least, the anime and much of the light novels.
- Senko No Night Raid is set in 1931 China, right before the Japanese invasion of Manchuria which ultimately led to the Second Sino-Japanese War.
Comics — Books
- The Adventures of Tintin. Series started in 1929.
- Quick and Flupke (Franchise started in 1930).
- The DCU. Established with the publication of New Fun Comics #1 (February, 1935).
- The Dandy. Magazine launched in December, 1937.
- Spirou and Fantasio. Spirou first appeared in April, 1938.
- Action Comics. Series started in June, 1938.
- Lois Lane. The character debuted in June, 1938.
- Superman. The character debuted in June, 1938.
- The Beano. Magazine launched in July, 1938.
- An unnamed office boy debuted in November, 1938. He was eventually given a name, Jimmy Olsen.
- Sub-Mariner. The character debuted in April, 1939.
- The first few Batman comics. The character debuted in May, 1939.
- Abigail "Ma" Hunkel. The character debuted in June, 1939. She would later become the Red Tornado.
- The Sandman/Wesley Dodds. The character debuted in July, 1939.
- The Sandman Mystery Theatre featured retro stories, taking place in this era. However some of these stories were dated to 1938, pre-dating the original Sandman stories.
- Blue Beetle/Dan Garret. The character debuted in August, 1939.
- The Marvel Universe debuted in October, 1939 with the publication of "Marvel Comics" #1.
- Recent Captain America stories focusing on Steve Rogers before he got the Super Serum — which was actually before the US officially entered the war — count.
- Road to Perdition
- The story of Superman & Batman: Generations begins in 1939, featuring the first meeting between Superman and Batman.
Comics — Newspaper
- Mickey Mouse Comic Universe. Most of these characters were introduced in the comic strip by Floyd Gottfredson.
- Mickey Mouse. Adapted to the medium in January, 1930.
- Minnie Mouse. Adapted to the medium in January, 1930.
- Clarabelle Cow. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
- Horace Horsecollar. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
- Pete. Adapted to the medium in April, 1930.
- Sylvester Shyster. First appeared in April, 1930.
- Uncle Mortimer. First appeared in April, 1930.
- Pluto The Pup. Adapted to the medium in July, 1931.
- Captain Nathaniel Churchmouse. First appeared in May, 1932.
- Mortimer ("Morty") and Ferdinand ("Ferdie") Fieldmouse. First appeared in September, 1932.
- Professors Ecks, Doublex and Triplex. First appeared in November, 1932.
- Goofy. Adapted to the medium in January, 1933.
- Captain Doberman. First appeared in February, 1933.
- Gloomy. First appeared in February, 1933.
- Tanglefoot. First appeared in June, 1933.
- Eli Squinch. First appeared in July, 1934.
- Mortimer Mouse. First appeared in January, 1936.
- Detective Casey. First appeared in July, 1938.
- Chief O'Hara. First appeared in May, 1939.
- The Phantom Blot. First appeared in May, 1939.
- Lil Abner. First appeared in August, 1934.
- Disney Ducks Comic Universe. Most of these characters debuted in the comic strips written by Ted Osborne and drawn by Al Taliaferro.
- Donald Duck. Adapted to the medium in September, 1934.
- Huey, Dewey and Louie. First appeared in October, 1937. Adapted for Animation in April, 1938.
- Bolivar. Adapted to the medium in March, 1938.
- Gus Goose. First appeared in May, 1938. Adapted for Animation in May, 1939.
- Little Lulu. First appeared in February, 1935.
- Little Orphan Annie.
- The Phantom. First appeared in February, 1936.
- Terry and the Pirates. Appeared in October of 1934.
- Tales of the Gold Monkey
- The Waltons
- HBO's Mildred Pierce miniseries
- Any episode of Mad Men in which Don Draper's childhood is important (there are a lot of them) will involve a flashback to the Thirties.
- The Doctor Who two-parter, "Daleks in Manhattan/Evolution of the Daleks," took place in Depression-era New York.
- The Star Trek: The Original Series episode "The City on the Edge of Forever" has Kirk and Spock traveling through time to the Great Depression while pursuing a drugged and insane McCoy who has somehow altered the timeline.
- The final episode of The Strangerhood indicates Tovar was taken from Wall Street just around this time. His Evil Twin, ignorant of the coming depression, ends up going back with plans to make millions on asbestos.
Works made, but not set, during the thirties: