Saturday, May 01, 2010

Eat Your Eskimo Pie with the Six Brown Brothers While Playing Tops and Anagrams: A 1930s Trend Retrospective

The New Yorker was in a tizzy about humanism throughout 1930, as the philosophy had suddenly come back into vogue and gained national attention. Thanks to Charles Francis Potter and the establishment of The First Humanist Society of New York, discussing humanism became a frequent pastime among the New York intelligentsia. You can't pick up an issue of the magazine during this period without reading stories and sly jabs about the debates, the propaganda, and the reactionary religious response to the movement.

In the May 31, 1930 issue, Donald Moffat wrote "The Crime at Mrs. Ward's," in which a young man -- fed up with all the latest fads -- actually SHOOTS the guests at a swanky party when they are unable to tell him what humanism is. This supposedly indicates that lots of people gave lip-service to humanism at the time, and they loved to talk about it, but none of them had the faintest idea what it was all about (which seems strange to me, frankly).

Anyway, the interesting thing about the story isn't the heavy-handed plot, it's the long list of PREVIOUS crazes that are presented. Want to know what the highbrow fads were in New York between 1905 and 1930? Here you go. friend acquired a leather-burning set, and happily joined the nation in burning Indian heads on leather--he was too young for the first ping-pong wave. He shouted 'Uneeda Biscuit' to street-car conductors and cabbies, 'Get a horse' to stalled motorists, and said 'ZuZu' to the groceryman. He was among the first of the 1906 diabolo addicts, and as the years rolled by he similarly took to his bosom put-and-take tops, Eskimo Pie, mah-jongg, Coué, scofflawry, categories (or Guggenheim), Queen Marie, crossword puzzles, sex, anagrams, badminton, Yo-Yo tops, and backgammon, as each in turn came into fashion. He seideled to Hoboken and taxied to Harlem when those were the things to do, and wrote little pieces on the social, artistic, and economic significance of....Charlie Chaplin, the Six Brown Brothers, short skirts, Joe Jackson, Lillian Gish, Will Rogers, the return of the corset, Rudy Valée, 'The Well of Loneliness,' Amos 'n' Andy, D. H. Lawrence, Krazy Kat, long skirts, Paul Whiteman, and kindred modern phenomena. He returned from France last summer wearing a beret and espadrilles, and he'd thrown away the top part of his bathing suit.
Whew! Some of them are self-explanatory. Here are my thoughts on the others that require a bit more explanation:
  • Uneeda Biscuit: I assume this was just a joke on the name of the biscuit -- "Hey, you need a biscuit" -- along the lines of other knee-slappers at the time like "Do you have Prince Albert in a can? Then you'd better let him out!"
  • Zuzu: A ginger snap brand. Their advertisements said "For a bang-up time take five cents to the grocery and ask for Zuzu ginger snaps. You'll hit the mark every time!" I guess this was similar to the hordes of people who walk into Tim Horton's and say "Rrrrrroll up the rim to win!" It's the adoption of a catchphrase.
  • Seidel: I have no idea what this means. A seidel was a glass of beer, but how this relates to traveling to Hoboken I don't know.
  • I also don't get the "beret and espadrilles" and "threw away the top half of his bathing suit" references.
I love a good piece of culture-spew, and I also love a good mystery! Any insights?

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