Will the Twenties Roar Again?

Cate Latimer, Staff Writer

A decade immersed in flash and glamour was carved from the trauma and difficulty of a raging pandemic. New innovations took the world by storm and bars and restaurants were roaring with throngs of people. In 1918 it seemed as if the world had awakened in the wake of the Spanish Flu, but as another pandemic surges 100 years later, the promise of a complete parallel between centuries seems unlikely. 


COVID-19 has been responsible for the deaths of 3.19 million people since the first reported case in December 2019. The primary demographic? Those over 65. Nearly 80% of coronavirus cases impacted people of these ages. 


In 1918, however, millions of families were left with an absence of young people due to the Spanish Flu. With WWI shortly after, young generations were hurting, and the young people who remained felt fortunate to be alive. In a March interview with Politico, John M. Barry, historian and author of The Great Influenza said,“Since they could die young, they might as well live hard.”


With the young lost, the world fell into a brief state of collapse.“The world had come apart. Everybody knew people who died — everybody,” Barry said. The young people who made it to the 1920s did so with a sort of “survivor’s guilt,” leaving them to feel as if their newfound duty was to live life to the fullest, unlike the many who had been lost to the pandemic. 


Today, there is less of a hole in the younger generations due to COVID-19. “I don’t know any young people who have died from Covid-19,” Dory Black, a health occupations student at Ida B. Wells said. 


She doesn’t expect to either, as vaccines are now being distributed to ages 16 and up. As of May, 40% of the Oregon population has been vaccinated, with the country having given 115.5 million vaccinations in total.


However, this isn’t to say that we will not have a roaring twenties of our own. Our twenties simply won’t be as psychologically focused. Young people aren’t now feeling the urge to live their lives to the fullest in honor of the people lost. Alternatively, it will be a period of economic rebuilding and learning. 


Joshua Winicki, an AP Economics teacher at Ida B. Wells said, “Companies are realizing that they don’t need to have each employee at a desk five days a week, and I think that is going to improve pretty much everyone’s lives.”


As vaccines are distributed and quarantines terminated, there will indefinitely be a surge in activity as the weeks move forward. Our economy is 70% consumer spending, so the people who have been living frugally during the pandemic will be breathing life into the economy as they spend more regularly and jobs return to normal.


In the twenties, it was much more difficult to rebuild the economy. “It definitely took them a long time, partly because it’s hard to disentangle the 1918 pandemic from all the other things that were going on in the world, including rebuilding from WWI,” Winicki said. Without these problems, we are already closer to our normal lives than the majority of countries were in the twenties. 


The innovation synonymous with the time period may also remain. With the roaring twenties came the accessible automobile and the introduction of jazz music to the general population. 


During COVID-19, countless artists and musicians have created new material in the abundance of time offered by the pandemic, and serious technological advancements have been made in the past year, such as new approaches to even the COVID-19 vaccine itself. As the years continue on, we will likely begin to see the results of various artistic and technological efforts that began during the pandemic.


Based on what we know, our roaring twenties may look significantly different from the past, but in many ways, this is to our benefit. The twenties is painted as a picture of glitz and glamour through the media, but in actuality, it carried serious implications involving racial justice and women’s rights. We still struggle with these issues today, despite the progress we have made on these fronts in the past year. A revitalization of the Black Lives Matter movement came in the heat of the pandemic as women’s rights and racial justice has been brought to the forefront of minds through open discussions and active change.


In this decade, a repetition of the roaring twenties shouldn’t necessarily be the end goal. Instead, a combination of its qualities would be the most beneficial. We now have the ability to not only represent our relief in the ending of the pandemic through an increase in social and economic activity, but to bring true action and progress on all fronts. As a country and community, we have the opportunity to reinvent the roaring twenties for ourselves, and it starts today.