Herbert Hoover, the president of the United States, has been in office for eight months. His firm belief in efficiency and the power of private industry steers the nation. Thanks to the eighteenth amendment, the possession of alcohol has been illegal for almost a decade, resulting in a new, divided culture of the law-abiding and the dissident. Thanks, in part, to the 19th amendment, granting universal women’s suffrage, the traditional roles between men and women have begun to blur.
The world is changing like never before. Within just a few years, the private ownership of automobiles has shifted from a privilege of the rich to a necessity of the working class. The American dream to go big or go home has taken the nation by storm, leaving those who can’t compete to fall by the wayside. Many of these “forgotten men” are those who are still suffering from “shell shock” from the World War. But in this big, big city, where everybody’s busy — a constant race against the clock — few have time to care for the weak. By day, in this age of sobriety, crowded streets, and assembly lines, the towers must constantly get taller as the world inevitably gets smaller.
But by night, when the bootleggers run the show, many rekindle the embers of trampled humanity through secret rebellion. While “flappers” sport scandalously short dresses and bobbed haircuts, the Charleston is the hot dance among the mom and pops. Swing music is an unstoppable sensation, inspiring its listeners to move in ways that are anything but predictable. As if in spite of the drab routines of Henry Ford, the dance floors are packed with spastic flailing of the limbs, crazy rolls from side to side, pointless leaps into the air, more energy than one can bear. Through the sweet hours of the dark, sacred night, responsibility gives way to the most fundamental American virtue: freedom.
That is, until the coppers show up. Then it’s either back to one’s proper dwelling place or to the slammer. Either way, the system will ensure that one resumes a proper role in society, because the governmental and corporate gods will not stand for those who defy them. Though the line between man and machine grows ever thinner, life must go on, come what may.
But in every crowd there’s a fellow or two who doesn’t know where he’s going. With his head leaning back, he thinks, “what do I lack?” as he’s pushed right along with the flowing. He thinks, “Maybe tomorrow I’ll figure it out, when life’s not so dreary and hot.” But when will he learn that the world’s gonna turn, whether he’s ready or not?
Every hero faces the same challenge: the quest to find and fulfill his calling in spite of the stifling circumstances around him. This is our challenge today.