Wish You Could Throw a Gatsby Party? You Might Be Living In One.

Wish you could throw a Gatsby party to ring in the new year? Well, you might be living in one. 

The 1920s are stereotyped in parties and movies as a decade of gorgeous flappers and extravagant parties. Of course, the decade was a lot more complex. What are the other facets of the decade that aren’t often represented at Gatsby parties? There was an emerging mass consumer culture, an anti-communist Red Scare, anti-immigrant sentiment that led to the highly restrictive National Origins Act of 1924, rising Ku Klux Klan membership in some parts of the country, the Great Migration of African Americans to the North, the Harlem Renaissance and the prohibition of the sale and manufacture of alcohol. 

One hundred years later, young people in 2020 are still throwing some pretty epic parties and are still rocking some pretty short skirts — but there are other similarities. 

The young people of 2020, also known as Generation Z, are just as adept as their 1920s counterparts at finding a way around a prohibited good time as evidenced by underage drinking and recreational marijuana use. The United States of 2020 is still marred by systemic racial inequity and anti-immigrant sentiment. Although white and Black Americans use marijuana at around the same rates, Black Americans are more likely to be arrested for illegal marijuana possession than white Americans and Black Americans are disproportionately incarcerated. As 2020 nears a close, the country’s economic future is unclear and some still fear a double-dip recession. But after the stock market crashed earlier in the year, the S&P 500 and the Dow Jones are hitting record highs again despite it all in typical ‘20s style. 

The similarities don’t end there. 

Gen Z, and what for the purposes of this article I’ll refer to as the Lost Generation, have a lot in common. The two generations of young people had both lived through a global pandemic and had witnessed significant violence by the time they reached their ‘20s. While the Lost Generation lived through the 1918 influenza pandemic and the incomparable atrocities of World War I, Gen Z grew up with terrorism attacks and school shootings as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The two generations also share a bit of a bad rep among older generations. The Lost Generation was chastised by their Victorian parents for their short skirts, smoking and hard partying. Gen Z has been criticized by previous generations as phone-obsessed youngsters with a short attention span. 

In a way that few other generations can, these two generations can argue that their parents don’t always understand the world they live in. Gen Z is a generation of digital natives who can’t clearly remember a time before the internet, which is perhaps a perplexing fact to their Gen X parents who grew up with landlines. The Victorian parents of the Lost Generation also might have struggled to understand their children a century ago. There had also been massive technological innovation then too with the advent of Model Ts and phones. The Lost Generation was living with technology that might have been unimaginable to their parents when they were young. 

Both generations have also struggled with immense mental health challenges. Gen Z is the most likely of all of the American generations to report poor mental health according to a 2018 report by the American Psychological Association while many in the Lost Generation a century before who had served in World War I might have struggled with shell shockand other mental health issues. 

Finally, it can be argued that both the Lost Generation and Gen Z were distinctly disillusioned. Both generations witnessed violent and deadly world events at a young age that likely seemed contrary to the supposedly progressive world that new technology had brought about. Behind the booze and the short skirts, the young people of the 1920s were perhaps attempting to process how the world could allow millions of people to die in a world war. Growing up in a world marred by school shootings, the killing of Black Americans by police, continuing systemic racial inequity and high profile sexual harassment and abuse cases, it would be shocking if Gen Z was not a disillusioned generation. 

Of course, this is a shameful oversimplification of two highly complex and distinct periods. To truly compare the two time periods and the two generations would necessitate serious research. Also, each individual likely experienced a time period differently. Langston Hughes as a poet of the Harlem Renaissance likely had a vastly different experience than Ernest Hemingway living in Paris who in turn had a vastly different experience than a person who had recently immigrated from Italy living in the Northeast or an African American sharecropper in the South. 

Yet, as we’ve explored there are similarities between the two time periods.