Essay: The Great Depression and the Rise of Modern Mass Culture

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  • Subject area(s): Sociology essays
  • Reading time: 2 minutes
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  • Published on: January 17, 2020
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  • The Great Depression and the Rise of Modern Mass Culture
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For this week’s response paper, I focus in on Radio’s America: The Great Depression and the Rise of Modern Mass Culture. This week’s reading is on “Radio’s Champions: Strange Gods,” the fourth chapter in this book. The chapter begins with the importance of the radio during the Great Depression. At this time, many people were struggling to make ends meet, piecing together anything to help benefit themselves. Motivation was a key factor in recovering from the Great Depression, and radio became the catalyst for the task. By having such pioneers in radio; Roosevelt, Coughlin, and Brinkley, all gave their best at shifting people’s thoughts from what bad was going on during the time.
Before going on, it’s important to distinguish between a primary and a secondary source. Not being there first class, I do not recall going through the difference, but by researching via Indiana University’s library page, I’ve come to some explanation. According to Indiana’s Library, a primary source “provides direct or firsthand evidence about an event, object, person or work of art.” (IU, Web) Examples of a primary sources include diaries, works of art or literature, or audio/video recordings. In contrast, secondary sources “lacks the immediacy of a primary record… materials produced sometime after an event happened.” (IU, Web) I believe it is important to go through the differences between the two, especially in the topics that we will learn in class. Throughout the years in radio and in TV, many events were documented and recorded. From the Great Depression to 9/11, these events become engrained in our memory and we must know what is from the legitimate source, or what may be a documented piece after the event.
Going into the read, one important concept that I found to be constantly appearing throughout the chapter was the idea of this “personal connection” with radio speakers. The three main speakers at the time were Dr. John Brinkley, Father Charles Coughlin, and president Franklin Roosevelt. Each spoke of their respective topics, and did so with such charisma that it fostered a connection down to a personal level for the listeners. Because of this, they became stars, showcasing the influence they can have in a society, especially during a tough time like the Great Depression. When you think about this time, we have to remind ourselves that social media, computers, even screens in general, were absent during this time, and entertainment revolved around listening to a voice. By promoting ideas that many can relate to, the radio became more than just an electronic device to many.
One interesting topic that was brought up in the chapter was this idea of power that radio speakers, in a sense, had during the time. This criticism came largely from those who despised the idea of a radio, and put to action their thoughts. Lenthall writes, “on the air a skilled speaker could reach and, importantly, sway thousands or even millions of listeners.” (Lenthall, 130) Putting this into action, very obviously, was Franklin Roosevelt. By being charismatic, yet gentle in his speaking voice, he was able to have enough influence to sway the public opinion towards him in the 1930s. As Lenthall said, “the microphone, listeners asserted, was Roosevelt’s greatest weapon.” (Lenthall, 131) This type of influence powered Roosevelt into presidential contention, and is a great example of what power could be achieved via the radio at the time.

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