By Jennifer Weymark, Archivist
Last night was a hard one in our home. Our eldest had been struggling with missing her friends, tired of only seeing them through a screen, and she finally broke down in tears as she struggled with the emotional toil of the stay at home guidelines. Through her tears, she was also able to express her anger at the situation. She was angry at her friends who haven’t been practicing social distancing, sharing photos of having fun with friends. She was angry at their parents for letting them get together and angry at us for not allowing her to get together with her friends in person. She was angry, sad, and just over the whole pandemic and more than ready to defy the government and their stay at home order.
I have seen all sorts of memes floating around social media with the messaging that “in order to help our government, our grandparents were asked to go to war – we have been asked to sit on our couches at home.” I understand the point that this messaging is trying to make, but I just don’t think it is an accurate comparison. A more accurate comparison would be examining society’s response to the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, but even then, it isn’t all that accurate given how different our society is today.
I follow several different historians on Twitter because, well, I am a history nerd and I find their insights rather interesting. Recently one of those historians tweeted a rather interesting hypothesis, one I think has relevance to what is happening currently. He stated that historians tend to examine the decadence, criminal activity, and subversive undertones of the 1920s through the lens of a response to World War I. As he watched in real time people protesting stay at home orders, defying government guidelines and gathering in large groups, he began to look at the 1920s as, perhaps, a response to the flu pandemic and the societal impacts of stay at home orders during that time.
History is not a passive reciting of facts. It is an interpretation of events through a lens. What that lens is changes. I find it fascinating that current events may well shift the lens through which we examine that pivotal time between World War I and II. Our understanding of what it is like to live through a pandemic may help us to better understand what life was like for those who lived through the 1918 pandemic. Perhaps as we see people rail against governmental guidelines now, it will help us to understand the roaring ‘20s.
We are right in the middle of this historic event, so there is no way to know through which lens we will examine this time period. The idea of the subversive undertones of the 1920s being directly related to the 1918 pandemic seems to be supported by the reactions of many to the current stay at home guidelines. My kiddo is more than ready to defy prohibition and visit her friends in person.