In the fall of 1931, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda, returned to the United States after spending much of the ’20s abroad. They found the country much changed. Having left the Champagne-soaked festivities early, by the time they returned, all that was left was an empty dance hall with glitter on the floor. They’d been so busy careering around Europe in a dizzying cloud of cocksure charisma—and personal drama—that they didn’t notice the moment things began to unravel. After the stock market plummeted in 1929, the Fitzgeralds were on holiday in North Africa. As Fitzgerald later wrote, “We heard a dull distant crash which echoed to the farthest wastes of the desert.” But they kept drinking, seeing no need to sail home. The crash echoed through their lives nonetheless. That year, Zelda’s mental health declined, and she checked into the Swiss clinic Les Rives de Prangins, where she scribbled letters about spending her days “writing soggy words in the rain and feeling dank inside.” Fitzgerald, for his part, was unable to finish his next novel. When they finally arrived home on a steamer, Fitzgerald wrote, they found that several of their most buoyant friends had also begun to sink. “Somebody had blundered,” he wrote in an essay that year. “And the most expensive orgy in history was over.”
It is never easy to pinpoint the exact moment that a party begins to wind down. But, as Fitzgerald noted looking back on the Jazz Age, the party is usually over before anyone notices. It is ending all the time, from the moment someone kicks off their first heel. Decadence—that state of ecstatic, almost sublime decay—is really just opulence with an expiration date. Fitzgerald wrote that friends were living far beyond their means, and they knew it, and they simply didn’t care. “Even when you were broke you didn’t worry about money, because it was in such profusion around you,” he wrote. “Now once more the belt is tight and we summon the proper expression of horror as we look back at our wasted youth.”
We are living in the ’20s again. But our times are not roaring; at least not with giddy, boozy elation. Who can afford the performative nihilism of doing the foxtrot into oblivion? Wasted youth is a privilege, one that so many young people today cannot access; the planet is crumbling, right-wing extremism is on the rise, wealth disparity is worse than it has been in a century. (This we do have in common with Fitzgerald’s time.) The party is very much over—or at least the record player is snagging and people have started to grab their coats. The biggest drinking trend among people under 30 these days is sobriety. If fashion is flirting with decadence—the recent runway shows glittered with grandiosity and razzle-dazzle—then at least this decadence is gimlet-eyed and somewhat sobering. There is a kind of winking meta-maximalism happening at the moment; a luxury that knows itself and its own limitations, knows how precarious it all is. Fashion is having riotous fun, but it is not blithe or indulgent. This is sartorial raging against a dying light; this is eating a chocolate cake at two in the morning because who can say when the sun will rise?
In entertainment, we are in a clear period of heady excess. The streaming revolution has led to an explosion of new stories with monumental production values—and opportunities for fresh faces seeking stardom. This may be a scary time to be a person, but it is an excellent time to be in Hollywood; there has never been a more diverse, textured, exciting array of projects and talent, with real money and energy fueling their development. How long can it last? No one can say, but for now, we should revel in it, and in the thrilling crop of newcomers that have bubbled up in this new era. So what if the party’s dwindling, let’s dance. [More at Source]