November 16, 2014

BHOWMICK | The Roaring Twenties

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Picture this: A rooftop bar in some financial district, clinking of champagne flutes, young, attractive, impeccably dressed men and women celebrating and living the dream of a generation brimming with exemplary talent and ambition. The picture I painted is not the quintessential daydream specific to a country, class of people or educational background, but is a universal aspiration of young people across the world. It could be taking place in Manhattan, Singapore, Central District in Hong Kong, London or Dubai. It is true that every generation always tends to think that the times they are living in are categorically distinct and I think the same is true for my generation. The yardsticks that define aspirations of our generation are predominantly material and I am not necessarily describing it as a good thing or a bad thing. Be it an aspiring writer, a software developer, a potential lawyer or a medical prodigy, the kind of life all 20-somethings would consider thrilling sounds strikingly similar. To list a few things, we would all love the financial ability to travel extensively, have a job that really challenges us, have friends, some amount of spotlight and a life that does not slow down or get stale. Social mobility has never been as dynamic as it is today. This generation is breeding more talent than the world can digest.

Talented and enterprising people made the “Roaring ‘20s” in America what it was. The American Dream of those years was possible because of radical individualism and an astounding sense of resolve and resilience wherein anyone could make it big and success stories were abound. Our generation is no different, except this enterprising individual today exists on every continent irrespective of religion, ethnicity or civilization and is more often than not astonishingly young. The 20-somethings of the 21st century channel everything the Roaring ‘20s was all about — especially the illusory nature of instant opulence.

The surrealism of the 1920s raved on despite and against the backdrop of the First World War and its devastating aftermath. There was acute disparity between ways of life in the same city and district. This contradiction has been heightened in the revised “Golden ‘20s” our generation seems to be headed towards. Moreover, this time around it is pandemic across the world. The contradictions of the Roaring ‘20s have lived on in the ruminations of 20-somethings across the 20th century and these contradictions are both internal and external.

The external contradictions lie in the fact that we are possibly at the brink of another Cold War, the Middle East has been in a state of war for almost a decade now, slums coexist right next to multi-millionaire residences and we are running out of most natural resources. Despite these adversities, the world of personal and material successes provides a convincingly impervious insulation. The internal contradiction lies in the fact that the golden rewards make us blind to the struggle bus that actually takes you there. If the standards of success have towered, the fear of failure has become as acute. The generations before us had to struggle as well but they were not as shocked as we are when the first few blows of failure hit. For us, the potential rewards look so scintillating that it really makes it difficult to grasp every aspect of the picture. The Roaring ‘20s have been reconstructed and the implications are entrenched and universal. The epoch we live in is peculiar indeed and remarkably pecuniary. Today, at least when you’re young, money runs the show and is to an incredible extent, the answer to everything. This analogous comparison with the 1920s was so striking to me that it was almost tempting.