American Comedy and The Great Depression.

Essay by Omsam December 2003

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The Great Depression had an impact on many aspects of American culture. American Film, especially in the Comedy genre was a good example of this.

By the 1930s, the country had undergone huge social changes. Women had recently gotten the vote and were beginning to gain a previously unheard of social independence. The Stock Market crash of 1929 began an economic depression that soon affected most of America. By the peak of the Depression in 1933 almost twenty-five percent of the country was unemployed, while even more people just made ends meet. Motion pictures and radio however just grew in popularity and gave Americans a common culture and a greater sense of connectedness.

American film soon reflected these realities. Film was rapidly becoming the entertainment of choice for the vast majority of Americans. Even with huge unemployment and widespread poverty, 60 to 70 million people a week were escaping from their problems for a few hours at a time by spending fifteen cents to go to the movies.

As American social structures were rocked by the depression, comedies released in these years began to express a disdain for traditional institutions and values. The Marx Brothers spoofed everything from class structures, to universities, to patriotism in such films as "Animal Crackers" (1930), and "Duck Soup" (1933). Mae West used sexual innuendo to poke fun at the middle class code of morality and was the first woman to make racy and suggestive comments on film. Her early films, "She Done Him Wrong" (1933), and "I'm No Angel" (1933) resulted in the Motion Picture Production Code. Bowing to pressure from various groups, the Industry instituted the Production Code of 1934 that prevented films from depicting sexually suggestive actions or dialogue.

At the same time Hollywood had to contend with these restraints,