I'm mulling an old argument that Americans have no culture, only sub-cultures. My own version involves slang—simultaneous and partially overlapping worlds defined by languages, inbred tongues. With the advent of "All Talking Pictures" during the Depression, our nation suddenly sung in raucous dialects, mostly defunct now of course. James Cagney yells "Bezark!" and the silent film myth of a unified audience is broken. And, to my ear, nationhood itself goes utterly blooey.
Sadly, however, this wealth of regional, ethnic, and occupational gab would be squelched by the Hays Code, with its demand for homogenized speech, mores, etc. There's some push-back in the noir vogue several years later (which often featured the use of underworld slang) but nothing as extreme as pre-Code, where people could, and would, suddenly bust into Yiddish:
So I tend to search for and occupy strange corners of history, gleaning dialectal curiosa. Antique today, perhaps, yet once it soared popularly on Vitaphone waves. From carnivals and prisons, from tenements and speakeasies, they came—America's outcasts were crashing the movie palace via synchronized sound technology. It was a cruel irony—as Hollywood began to lift up and ballyhoo underworld culture, law-abiding citizens were slipping into economic hell. The panic was on. Ordinary folks spoke of "big business" with a mounting sense of ire. "Don't worry," says Cagney's tailor in 1933's Picture Snatcher (yes, even the tailors were wised up), "you'll be the best dressed gonif in America." I can hear the accent now, swarthy as double-chocolate babka.
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