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A Return to the Roaring Twenties

The announcement of several vaccines approved by governments across the world and, more recently, their roll out has begun to turn peoples attention to life post pandemic.

Upon entering a New Year people are generally full of hope, excitement, and personal promises of what they want to make of the next 12 months. Yet this New Year was in stark contrast to previous firework-filled welcomes. Personally, I’m not the type of person to make New Year’s resolutions, however I do always feel some sense of a new beginning when the clock strikes midnight. This year, however, the Big Ben countdown did not create such feelings of change, rather, it felt pretty similar to every other day since March: unremarkable.

The events of the past year have been continuously defined by the pandemic, with almost every news article forced to mention the dreaded C-word. It has undoubtedly shaped every aspect of our lives: from personal relationships curtailed by household rules, to rising unemployment, to soaring levels of Netflix watching. It also looks likely to continue to shape life, at least for now. The Bank of England predicts unemployment will peak at 7.7% in April to June of this year, and with limited opportunities to spend inflation has decreased to 0.5%. However, despite the limited changes we may see over the coming months, news of vaccines has filled us all with hope and excitement for life post-pandemic.

A century ago young adults may have felt something slightly similar to what we feel now. As the world entered the 1920s it said goodbye to the Spanish flu, a disease which infected 500 million people and is believed to have killed between 20 to 50 million. They also said goodbye to a decade defined by war, inflation, and the austerity it brought. They entered a new decade, with no war, no disease, and a budding social revolution.

We’re no strangers to the stories of the roaring 20s. Flapper girls symbolised the culture of this decade, with jazz and dancehalls entertaining the youth who had been starved of such activities the decade before. Consumer spending skyrocketed with new cars, in particular the Ford Model T of 1924, providing young people with the freedom all young people desire. Of course there was also a sexual revolution, spurred on by all the freedom and fun the 1920’s had to offer. Perhaps, with the hope of the three vaccines which the British government have approved, and the millions who have already been vaccinated we can look forward to a 21st century version of the roaring 20s?

An economic boom does look to be possible considering the current climate. With governments purposefully suppressing the economy in order to in turn suppress the virus the current economic slump is quite unique. Many middle class families are fortunate enough to have acquired large unwanted household savings – having been unable to spend on holidays, dinners and activities. When life goes back to normal these savers will want to spend.

However, perhaps bigger than the economic boom could be the cultural one. Whether or not you have been economically impacted by the pandemic, almost everyone has been socially impacted. The young have been told not to party, the middle aged not to go to work, and the old not to see their family members. The end of the pandemic will throw us back into socialising just as quickly as we were pulled away from it, and with it may come a cultural explosion. The arts, nightlife and travel have all become distant dreams over the past year, with many pining for their return. The things we missed most this year might just come back the biggest. With a surge in demand for ‘fun’ these sectors are likely to deliver and come back to life almost as fast they disappeared. At the very least there will be a renewed appreciation for culture and the importance of it within our society.

Some modern writers however are predicting that the pandemic will have changed our attitudes towards intimacy forever. Some have even gone so far as to declare the death of the handshake and the hug. However the 1920s is not just renowned for a cultural revolution but also a sexual one. Just as a return to normalcy must have seemed impossible in 1918, with dating and partying denounced to a fond memory, 103 years later we appear to be in a very similar boat. Whilst it may take time to return to the party there is one thing the abundance of facetime calls, socially distanced walks, and Zoom quizzes have made clear over the past year: human beings are determined to socialise.

Perhaps, we could also see a revolution in attitudes. The 1920’s did not just see a sexual revolution but also a political one. Women became more equal members of society, able to vote and with more free time following the creation of household gadgets, changes which resulted in a gradual shift in attitudes. Maybe our 20s will see something similar. The pandemic has made us alter our attitudes about lots of things,  from appreciating moments spent with friends and family, to having more time to self-reflect and pursue personal interests. Maybe this will see a change towards a more caring society, which is more accepting than it has been in the past.

One of the most significant changes in attitude is perhaps towards a renewed understanding of the need for the welfare state. As a society we have collectively faced a global crisis, creating a renewed empathy towards strangers. Just as World War 2 forced people to recognise the need to support all members of society, hopefully the welfare headlines of this pandemic will do the same. From the recent free school meals scandal to stories of an overwhelmed and overworked NHS the pandemic has highlighted some of the problems which have been present for years. Just as the welfare state blossomed after World War 2, maybe it will see a regrowth following this latest humanitarian crisis.

However, just as the original roaring twenties was brought back down to Earth by the depression, we must make sure we aren’t blinded by the 21st century version of Gatsby-esque glamour. Even when the pandemic is over its effects are likely to be lasting. Unemployment may remain high, and whilst many will have been growing their savings, others will have been eating into them as a result of lost jobs and economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic. The psychological effects of the pandemic will also be severe. Many will continue to struggle from grief or will suffer from the after-effects of such intense social isolation. And these are just what the developed world may face. Developing countries may continue to battle the virus with vaccine roll out dates a distant dream for many.

Predictions which envisage a far more bleak life post pandemic are just as prevalent as those which predict the opposite. Children and young adults are one demographic which have been hit particularly hard, with effects that could last a lifetime. School students have been thrown into a year of Zoom calls and Teams lessons with exams cancelled and grades changed. Such an experience has undoubtedly affected the most deprived students the most, with restricted access to study space and technology. What will be the effect on these children in 5 or 10 years? Whilst the British education system is certainly not perfect, education does have the power to act as an equaliser, however the pandemic has highlighted its gaping inequalities. Will we see a swing towards a more unequal society as the Covid-19 generation grow up and their educational disparities grow in importance?

The pandemic has not been easy on anyone, and we must not forget the awareness this collective experience has brought us when it’s all over. So, whilst the excitement of life post pandemic is certainly something to keep us going through the seemingly endless days of lockdown, we cannot forget those who won’t have such roaring 2020s.

Predictions of what life will be like in a couple years time will always be uncertain. No matter how advanced the economic models or historical comparison may be there will always be a hint of the unknown. However hopefully 2021 will get to see the glimmers of hope which the vaccines bring come to life. And, hopefully, roaring twenties Round 2 will be even more fun and inclusive than the original ever was.

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