The transition from a largely manufacturing to a white-collar economy played a role, providing more settings in which managers could see happiness as a business advantage. Consumerism was central. All sorts of advertisers a newly distinct profession discovered that associating products with happiness spurred sales. This is what most clearly explains why the intensified happiness culture of the midth century has, in the main, persisted to the present day.
Understanding the happiness imperative as an artifact of modern history, not as an inherent feature of the human condition, opens new opportunities to understand central facets of our social and personal experience. Some undeniable challenges emerge. Will a happiness surge be part of globalization?
Some experts argue that happiness is an inborn trait, so urging a person to become happier is like insisting she become taller. More important, whether globally or nationally: What does the evolving culture have to do with actual happiness? This probably goes too far. Cultures that stress happiness likely do produce more happy people, but the link is complex and fragile. The historical evolution of our happiness culture also suggests limitations. We have seen that the translation of happiness norms into family and work expectations produces frustration and disappointment when experience contradicts cultural hyperbole.
When too much is expected, less actual satisfaction may result.
The History of Happiness
New norms might also make it harder to confront experiences, such as death, where happiness is hard to find—another vulnerability of contemporary culture. The happiness imperative certainly hinders exploration of the gray areas of modern experience, and its compulsory quality can misfire. Here are the two clearest downsides.
We may miss opportunities to improve situations, for example in work settings, because we assume that problems result from personality and not from more-objective conditions. Those risks suggest the need to cut through the pervasive happiness rhetoric at certain points.
The History of Happiness
Second, and at least as important, a culture saturated with happiness makes it difficult for people to deal with sadness, in themselves and others. What are their acceptable outlets? The same applies to adults.
We know that at least a quarter of depression diagnoses are mistakes, confusions of normal sadness with a pathological state. Every cultural system has drawbacks to go with the advantages that facilitated its adoption in the first place. Seeing a culture as the product of historical change is an invitation to step back, assess, and then consider further change.
We may not wish to alter the happiness culture that modern history has bequeathed us; its considerable problems may be outweighed by the pleasure of having cheerful artifacts and smiling faces around us. But we can at least consider the possibility of modification. In our happiness culture there might yet be, after a couple of centuries of acceleration, room for improvement. Peter N.
Stearns is the provost and a professor of history at George Mason University. Motivating people. Archaeology hit the mainstream with the discovery of King Tut's Tomb. There were an amazing number of cultural firsts in the '20s, including the first talking film, Babe Ruth hitting his home-run record of 60 home runs in a season, and the first Mickey Mouse cartoon. The Great Depression hit the world hard in the s.
The Nazis took advantage of this situation and came to power in Germany, established their first concentration camp, and began a systematic persecution of Jews in Europe. Other news in the s included the disappearance of aviator Amelia Earhart over the Pacific, a wild and murderous crime spree by Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow, and the imprisonment of Chicago mobster Al Capone for income tax evasion. World War II was already underway by the time the s began, and it was definitely the big event of the first half of the decade. The s also witnessed the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi and the beginning of apartheid in South Africa.
The s are sometimes referred to as the Golden Age. The s also saw segregation ruled illegal in the U. A common joke goes, "If you remember the '60s, you weren't there. Martin Luther King Jr. The Vietnam War was still a major event in the early s. I think that this is something the audience could relate to in the forties and fifties. The new society of gigantic cooperation's created a feeling of powerlessness among the workers.
Thomas N. Maloney, University of Utah
He who had been his own boss earlier in this own small scale business , now had become one of many pay-check collectors. This alienated mood in film noir can be seen as a reaction to the large, impersonal, dehumanizing cooperation's of the new consumer society. I view the hard-boiled heroes disillusionment as a reaction to contemporary Americas loss of old myths and identity. The way women are presented in film noir I find rooted in the fact that in America during World War II women had won access to the economic sphere, which field had formerly been exclusively for men.
Twentieth-Century American Culture
This creates a problem, not only in the noir world, but also in the real one. The females patriotic duty in the work force, led to a redefinition of their place within culture. A consequence of this was a confusion in regard to the traditional conception of sexual roles and sexual identity, an identity that had been non-practicing during the war because of the separation of the sexes.
The female entry to the male dominated world made the American male lose track of his position within a society he formerly controlled. The war dislocated men from their former sense of being the prime movers of culture. The family, or absence of it, in film noir is valuated with negativity. It is possible to view the family as a metaphor for the larger society, and its negative value as social discontent.
About the Author
In film noirs the rebellion against a traditional valued institution like the family often ends with destruction. Movements within the medium of film--like the German expressionism--occur as an answer to a national crises. If the noir phenomenon is seen as a movement--and it partly is--so did film noir. In postwar America there are threats like the Red scare, the resent emerged from global war, extended borders, widespread crime and violence, and the possibility of annihilation. Personally, I would call this a crisis.