Chorus Lines

The catastrophic burst of the housing bubble in the fall of 2008 shook the foundations of the world economy and instilled a fear of a new depression.  Morris Dickstein notes with irony that he completed his cultural history of the Great Depression just as the country was entering a steep recession with parallels to the 1930’s.  In his hefty Dancing in the Dark, Dickstein probes the cultural landscape of the Depression era.  He places heavy emphasis on fiction and film, but also devotes attention to photography, music, design, and architecture.  The Great Depression “kindled America’s social imagination, firing enormous interest in how ordinary people lived.”

At a time of steep economic downturn, it is no surprise that poverty should be a topic covered in a variety of media, and Dancing in the Dark notes the importance of photographers in documenting it.  Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, and Margaret Bourke-White created iconic images that have helped to illustrate the Depression for later generations, and Dickstein has reproduced many well-known photographs throughout his text.  Some of this work was done at the behest of the federal government; as Dickstein notes, because

government interventions in the nation’s economic life were controversial, the [Farm Security Administration] created...

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