"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, or the pulp and newspaper-strip writers who were busily concocting Proto-Superhero
stories. Finally, two Jewish boys manage to sell their seemingly preposterous story of a titanically strong hero in blue tights and red cape
that changed the burgeoning comic book medium forever
with a whole new fantasy genre
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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- "Abercombie" - a know-it-all
- "Abyssinia" - I be seein' ya, get it?
- "All the way" - for Sweet Tooths, it's chocolate cake of fudge
- "Apple" - any big town or city, like the Big Applesauce
- "Babe", "broad", "doll", "dame", "muffin" or "kitten" - just some many ways to call a woman
- "Baby" - milk
- "Bacon" or "bread" - something you bring home after work. It's a cabbage and is given by your big cheese.
- "Beat" - broke
- "Bean shooter" - gun
- "Behind the grind" - Behind in one's studies
- "Big house" or "hoosegow" - prison
- "Blinkers", "peepers" or "shutters" - eyes
- "Blow your wig" - getting excited
- "Booze", "hooch", "giggle water" - whiskey
- "Brodie" - a mistake
- "Brunos", "goons", "hatchetmen", "torpedoes", "trigger men" - Hired Guns
- "Bulge" - take advantage
- "Booping gums" or "booshwash" - talking applesauce or nothing useful at all
- "Butter and egg fly" - a hot babe
- "Butter and egg man" - the money man
- "Buzzer" - police badge
- "Cabbage" - the colour of money
- "Canary" - female vocalist
- "Cats" and "alligators" - swing fan
- "Cave" - your house
- "Check" - a buck
- "Chicago overcoat" - coffin
- "Chicago typewriter" - Tommy Gun
- "Chisel" - swindle or cheat
- "City juice" - glass of water
- "Clam-bake" - wild swing
- "Clip joint" - the nightclub
- "Copper" - policeman
- "Crumb" - a loser by social standards
- "Crust" - to insult
- "Cute as a bug's ear" - very kawaii
- "Dead hoofer" or "cement mixer" - bad dancer
- "Dick", "gumshoe", "flatfoot" - detective
- "Cinder dick" - railroad detective
- "House dick" - house detective
- "Dig" - think deeper
- "Dingy" - silly
- "Dizzy with a dame" - crazy in love, sometimes risky if she's a moll
- "Dog house" - string bass
- "Doggy" - Sharp-Dressed Man
- "Dollface" - name for a woman when a man is pleading his case or apologizing
- "Drilling", "plugging", "throwing lead" - shooting a gun
- "Drumsticks" or "gams" - She's Got Legs
- "Dukes", "grabbers", "meat hooks" - hands
- "Egg" - crude person
- "Egg harbor" - free dance
- "Eggs in coffee" - run in smoothly
- "Fem", "filly", "flame", fuss - constant girl companion to a boy
- "Five spot" or "a Lincoln" - five bucks
- "Genius" - dumbass
- "G-man" - federal agent
- "Gobble-pipe" - saxophone
- "Greaseball", "jelly bean", "wet sock" - an unpopular person
- "Grifter" - Con Man
- "Gumming the works" - opposite of eggs on coffee
- "Hocks" or "plates" - feet
- "Honey cooler" - a kiss
- "Hog", "jolly up", "rag" or "romp" - a dance, party or dance party!
- "Hotsquat" - electric chair
- "Joe" - average guy
- "Juicy" - enjoyable
- "Keen" and "kippy" - very neet and very good
- "Low down" - all the information
- "Make tracks" or "dangle" - leave in a jiffy
- "Meat wagon" - ambulance
- "Micky" - drink with drugs
- "Mitt me kid" - congratulate me!
- "Murder!" - WOW!
- "Nuts!" - telling someone they are full of booping gums and applesauce
- "Off the cob" - corny
- "Packing heat" - carrying a gun
- "Pally" - friend or chum, sometimes used sarcastically
- "Pitching woo" - making love
- "Platter" - a record
- "Ring-a-ding-ding" - someone having a good time at a hog
- "Sawbuck" - ten bucks
- "Scat singer" - improvising vocalist
- "Scrub" - poor student
- "Shake a leg" - hurry up
- "Skin tackler" - drummer
- "Sourdough" - counterfeit money
- "Squat" - nothing
- "Stool pigeon" or "snitch" - someone who informs the cops
- "Take the rap" - taking responsibility of the crime
- "The kiss off" - the final goodbye
- "Tin ear" or "ickie" - someone who does not like popular music, much not unlike the hipster a decade later.
- "Togged to the bricks" - dressed up
- "Whacky" - crazy
- "What's the story, morning glory?" - what do you mean by that?
- "Wheat" - Country Mouse
- "Yo!" - Yes
- "You and me both" - And how!
- "You shred it, wheat" - You said it.
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.
- Cool Car: The sweeping, chrome-awash designs of the 1933-1940 age.
- Crapsack World: Pretty much mandatory if you're portraying the common peoples' life - it basically was.
- Damn, It Feels Good to Be a Gangster : Even more so after the repeal on Prohibition in America. Just ask Bonnie and Clyde, or the Barker family.
- Diesel Punk
- Fashionable Asymmetry
- From Bad to Worse: The Crash of '29 was just merely the appetizer, while the the main course is still out there sizzling in the pan.
- Genteel Interbellum Setting
- 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. note
- 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. It's even more pimped out thanks to Coco Chanel and rising designers like Adrian and Elsa Schiaparelli.
- Surrealism: Became very popular in this decade as a remedy for the Depression. It gave us melting clocks by Salvador Dali, floating apples on faces and an early case of manbabies by René Magritte, and hot pink lobster dresses by Elsa Schiaparelli.
- Thieves' Cant: Traveling vagrants developed a cant of symbols to leave messages for other vagrants. A symbol might mean someone in a nearby house is willing to provide a meal or a place to sleep, for instance.
- 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
- 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.
- Dick Tracy. First appeared in October 4, 1931.
- Little Lulu. First appeared in February, 1935.
- Little Orphan Annie. First appeared in 1924, still on going.
- The Phantom. First appeared in February, 1936.
- Terry and the Pirates. Appeared in October of 1934.
- All Dogs Go to Heaven
- Angels with Dirty Faces
- Annie (1982)
- Atonement in the early part.
- The short The Backwater Gospel takes place in an isolated and forgotten town in the Dust Bowl.
- Bonnie and Clyde
- Bound for Glory
- Cinderella Man
- Emperor of the North (a movie about rail-riding hobos).
- Everyone's Hero (an All-CGI Cartoon movie starring a boy named Yankee Irving)
- The Facts in the Case of Mister Hollow is set during the fall of 1933, as an Occult Detective investigates a Spooky Photograph that may contain evidence of a cult operating in Depression-era Ontario.
- Gold Diggers of 1933, made and set in the year of its title. Its Busby Berkeley Numbers include "We're In The Money," where the Gold Diggers sing that they "never see a headline 'bout a breadline today," and "Remember My Forgotten Man," which obviously was inspired by "Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?"
- The Green Mile
- The original three Indiana Jones movies.
- Part of It's a Wonderful Life takes place during this period.
- Johnny Dangerously
- The Journey Of Natty Gann
- King Kong
- The Last Gangster (the first part takes place in 1927 however)
- The Legend Of Bagger Vance
- Me and Orson Welles
- Modern Times
- The Music Box
- O Brother, Where Art Thou?
- Our Daily Bread, in which some American workers found a collective farm of the sort that Joseph Stalin would have liked.
- Our Gang (a.k.a. The Little Rascals)
- Paper Moon
- Pennies from Heaven
- Public Enemies is set in the early '30s.
- The Purple Rose of Cairo
- The Radioland Murders
- The Rocketeer
- The Sting
- These Three, and The Children's Hour by extension.
- They Shoot Horses, Don't They?
- The Three Stooges: Their pre-1940 shorts, obviously.
- This Property Is Condemned
- Time Cop: One of the unauthorized time travels the protagonist busts is a man who went back to this time period to make it big in the stock market armed with future newspapers.
- The Untouchables: Part of which took place during The Great Depression.
- 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.
- Monsieur Charlatan
- Daniel is set in 1934. The titular character himself is said to had been laid off from a job due to the Wall Street Crash.
Works made, but not set, during the thirties: