VI. The World Wars and the Interwar Period, 1914–1945 > C. Europe, 1919–1945 > 3. Culture and Popular Culture
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See Culture and Popular Culture)
3. Culture and Popular Culture
Literature articulated the general intellectual climate of pessimism, relativism, and alienation. While 19th-century novelists had adopted the more general stance in their novels of all-knowing narrators, 20th-century authors tended to take on the narrower viewpoint of a single individual. This was notable in the works of Marcel Proust (1871–1922), George Orwell (1903–50), Franz Kafka (1883–1924), James Joyce (1882–1941), and Virginia Woolf (1882–1941). The two latter authors also became famous for a style of writing known as stream of consciousness, a technique that demonstrated the impact of psychology on the arts.  1
As with the postwar generation in general, interwar artists rejected the rules and forms handed down from their elders. In architecture, Walter Gropius (1883–1969), founder of Bauhaus, broke with the past in his designs of clean and light buildings of glass and iron. Le Corbusier (1887–1965) epitomized the new turn to functionalism in his designs. In art, modern painters rejected French impressionism, becoming more abstract and nonrepresentational. Like the early 19th-century romantics, they wanted to portray unseen, inner worlds of emotion and imagination. This can be seen in the art of Henri Matisse (1869–1945), Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), and Wassily Kandinsky (1866–1944).  2
As abstract painters arranged lines and color but did not draw identifiable objects, so modern composers arranged sounds without creating recognizable harmonies. Such composers were led by the Viennese composer Arnold Schönberg (1874–1951).  3
In popular culture, the long-declining traditional arts and amusements of people in villages and small towns almost vanished, replaced by standardized, commercial entertainment. In the cities, the prosperity of the late 1920s and the growth of leisure among the working class, resulting from the legalization of the eight-hour day, brought a growth in the leisure industry. Cabarets and music halls did a brisk business, centers of society's loosening sense of morality. Playing to crowded rooms, the American Josephine Baker (1906–75) brought an exotic African eroticism to Parisian music halls in 1925.  4
For many, leisure also found outlets in the development of radio and cinema. Charlie Chaplin (1889–1978) became a world icon, the king of the “silver screen.” The great appeal of cinema was its ability to offer people a temporary escape from the hard realities of everyday life. While the U.S. dominated the industry during the First World War, destroying young German studios in the early 1920s, the advent of “talkies” resuscitated national film industries in the 1930s, particularly in France.  5
Radio became possible with the transatlantic “wireless” communication of Guglielmo Marconi (1874–1937) in 1901 and the development of the vacuum tube in 1904, which permitted the transmission of speech and music. But only in 1920 were the first major public broadcasts of special events made in Great Britain and the U.S. On June 16, 1920, Lord Northcliffe, the Briton who had pioneered in journalism with the inexpensive, mass-circulation Daily Mail, sponsored a broadcast of the soprano Nellie Melba, which was heard simultaneously all over Europe. Every major country quickly established national broadcasting networks. The typical pattern was direct control of the medium by the government. By the late 1930s, more than three out of every four households in both democratic Great Britain and dictatorial Germany had at least one cheap, mass-produced radio, a powerful tool for political propaganda. (See Culture and Popular Culture)  6
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.