In the previous depression, the government employed serious writers at the WPA to keep them from doing something rash, like writing popular books people might actually enjoy. Many were sent around to write guides to the states; I’ve looked at just a few, but they’re so leaden the only possible purpose they served was to be stuffed in the pockets of a body you wanted to dump in the Hudson. My favorite resource for understanding ’30s culture isn’t a government guide or an economic treatise, but a Sears Roebuck catalogue from 1934. The goods spill off the pages; the men are sharp and cheerful, the women lovely and begowned — or trussed to the point of asphyxiation by their undergarments. Best of all, there are pages of vivid color, which surprises those who thought FDR passed a National Monochrome Act. Times were hard, but the trees were still green, the flowers still bright, the sky still blue. If you’re headed to hell in a handbasket, why not tie a ribbon to the handle?
Which brings us to the most depressing article to arrive in mailboxes this month: the new Restoration Hardware furniture catalog. Predominant colors: death, decay, rot, ennui, collapse, and brown.