Midtown’s lights a little discomfiting at the brink of a depression

It struck me as a little inappropriate, as I walked through Midtown tonight, to see bright, elaborate Christmas lights and displays in store windows just as the nation is entering a severe economic downturn.  Because of this incongruity, I was curious whether the lights were toned down during the Depression and discovered, at least according to a paper from a fellow at Yale, that the Roosevelt administration’s initiative to bring electricity to the south with the Tennessee Valley Authority actually allowed parts of the country to light up:

By 1939, 25 percent of rural Americans were receiving electricity, demonstrating a trend that increasingly allowed isolated Americans to enjoy the comfort of Christmas lights.

Still, the mood could have been more solemn than those lights I saw in Midtown:

All blue light displays, popular during this period, reflected the somber mood of a nation in trouble.

(This article reminds me so much of writing history papers, cobbling together facts from all kinds of primary and secondary sources and trying to make them fit together using stilted verbs like “reflected” and “demonstrated”).

In other Depression news, I was kind of surprised at the big leap David Brooks made in his November 17 column about the negative cultural effects of past Depressions:

The recession of the 1970s produced a cynicism that has never really gone away. The share of students who admitted to cheating jumped from 34 percent in 1969 to 60 percent a decade later.

Seems like there were plenty of non-economic related events going on in the 1970s like, ahem Watergate and the Vietnam War, to provoke cynicism, and it is another jump to blame high levels of cheating on cynicism about government.

All this said, doesn’t it seem a little weird how so many of us are prognosticating about what a Depression will be like, as if we are standing on a high dive, fearing how much the jump will hurt but never jumping?  It makes me wish that more people had tried to imagine how much excessive corporate profits, low tax rates on the very wealthy, weak lending standards, and securitizing subprime loans, would hurt.

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About elainemeyer
I'm a writer and editor. I work in communications at the Columbia School of Public Health, where I write about epidemiologic research. In the past I've worked as a reporter and studied journalism and history in school.

3 Responses to Midtown’s lights a little discomfiting at the brink of a depression

  1. hm says:

    You are so right to cite Watergate and Viet Nam as the prime reasons for cynicism, especially among young people, in the late 60s and 70s. I remember!

    Christmastime 1973 during the oil embargo, people doused their lights. It was really noticeable in neighborhoods and along the highway, and the dimming lasted for years, with only a gradual comeback. The sensibility seems different now, whatever oil may cost.

  2. Lee says:

    I thought that Brooks column was idiotic. Given the currently bleak economic situation, that he decided to spend his column lamenting the reduced affordability of upscale luxuries/indulgences (not to mention the “mature, heavier, more reassuring” women likely to start appearing in Playboy Magazine) says a lot about where David Brooks’ priorities lie. Not only is the column shallow and narrow-sighted, it embodies and reinforces the very pessimism and cynicism it describes. What’s more, Brooks then goes on to predict that the recession will cause “a political response” or “the next big social movement” as if these things are undesirable! As if people should be warned! As if we’d be foolish to take part! Granted Brooks is one of the NYTime’s resident conservatives, I find it disgusting that he has already begun to posture himself as being against or at least ambivalent towards the politicized anger and alienation felt by the “ex-middle class”. Give me a break.

    In other news, I rather like Christmas lights. What’s wrong with a little x-mas cheer? It only comes just once a year!


  3. elainemeyer says:

    Hi Lee!!
    Yes, you are right about Brooks. He does seem like an uber-yuppy trying to deny it by being self-aware. As a I learn more about how good reporting is done, I become increasingly skeptical of the value of a column like Brooks, which mainly provides his sense of situation without actually talking with people who are a part of the groups he describes, like the “ex-middle class.”

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