During the great depression America’s morale was low in the best of cases. Propaganda was dispersed to try and raise the zeitgeist (spirit of the time) like the billboard “There is no way like the American way.” This billboard was created by Arthur Rothstein in February of 1937 (Picture History) and displayed in Kentucky (Abagonds). Not only was this billboard displayed during the Great Depression but it was also displayed during the aftermath of the Louisville flood (Abagonds). According to the National Weather Service the flood caused over seventy percent of Louisville to be submerged under river flood waters. Of course, this seventy percent of land submerged was a low income area and displaced about 175,000 people (National Weather Service).
The billboard displays the proud claim that America has the “World’s highest standards of living” and has a smiling family glowing with American Pride to support this claim. The family in Rothstien’s work is a white family driving in a brand new car. Father is driving the car and mother is happily sitting next to him with perfect makeup decorating her slender face. The couple has two children: a boy and a girl. The children share the back seat of the automobile with their medium sized dog who is happily sticking his head out of the window. Everyone is happy and content. The people in this image represent the perfect nuclear American family and the ideal for American life.
The photographer Margaret Bourke-White took a photo during the aftermath of the flood in 1937 that captures the truth of American life for many people (Women in History). White’s photo shows a long line of flood refugees waiting for rations. The people in line are real Americans standing underneath the dominating billboard of the ideal nuclear white American family. The people in line are all African Americans who are bundled up in layers of clothing to protect against the cold, they are hungry, they are probably going without showers, and are living with the heavy weight of having lost everything to the flood and with the Great Depression threatening that what was lost will be near impossible to regain.
White’s image represents a huge disparity between reality and propaganda. Rothstein’s image shows the ideal American family and therefore exposing the prevailing ideology of the time. There are clear racial, economic, and political ideologies being portrayed by Rothstein and White’s photo points these out. One ideological subtext to these images that isn’t as obvious but there are gender ideologies as well. The same year as the creation of the billboard and the flood “FDR delivered his second inaugural address: ‘I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished,’” acknowledging the fact that the ideal was not the reality (America’s great Depression). “There is no way like the American Way” shows racial, economic, gender rolls, and political ideologies. My final ideological assignment will explore the ideologies that White’s and Rothstein’s images display.
America’s Great Depression
National Weather Service:
Women in History