The inter-war years saw an evolution of the public sphere and the birth of mass culture. New technology allowed for new ideas to be accessible to an ever-growing audience, and culture was shared by many people across party, country, and socioeconomic lines. This leap in communication technology came with the advent of the telegraph and what soon became a global communication network with wires reaching as far as from England to Austria.[1] Then the telephone allowed for the transmission of a human voice though wired communications.


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Italian engineer named Guglielmo Marconi successfully sent messages with wireless radio waves in 1901, which led to the Radio.[2] Films began to incorporate stories and sound, amassing a huge audience for the distribution of early films like The Great Train Robbery in 1903. Soon Radio Broadcasts and movies where used for advertisement and propaganda, and a new mass culture emerge indeed threatening the more localized individualistic culture of the past. The spread of radio broadcasting was quick.

When the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) was reorganized as a public corporation in 1926, there were 2,178,259 radio receivers in the United Kingdom. At the end of the 1930s, there were 9 million. Nearly three out of four British households owned a radio. By 1938, Germany had more than 9 million receivers; France, more than 4 million; Russia, 4.5 million (for a much larger population); and Czechoslovakia, Sweden, and the Netherlands more than 1 million each.[3]


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Political leaders saw the advantage of disseminating their message to a mass audience such as British Conservative leader Stanley Baldwin, and Fascist dictators Hitler and Mussolini. Baldwin broadcasted his ‘friendly chat’ projected an old-fashioned rural common sense that was popular with English citizens.[4]

Hitler broadcasted fifty speeches over the radio within his first year in power, and Germany subsidized production of cheap radio receivers resulting in 16 million out of 23 million households having a radio by 1942.[5] After Bonito Mussolini ordered the Italian invasion of Ethiopia he broadcasted a proclamation of victory to cheering crowds.

Officers! Non-commissioned officers! Soldiers of all the armed forces of the state in Africa and Italy! Blackshirts of the Revolution! Italians in the Fatherland and in the world! Listen! With the decisions that in a few moments you will learn … a great event is accomplished: Today, 9 May, of the fourteenth year of the Fascist era, the fate of Ethiopia is sealed … The Italian people have created the empire with its blood. It will fecundate it with its work and defend it against anyone with its arms …Will you be worthy of it? (Crowd: “Yes!”)[6]

Mass culture brought a homogenization of shared ideas, art, music, and politics, and indicates a positive sign of growing equality in the early 20th Century as older, localized, orally transmitted popular culture disappeared in the wake.[7] The effects of mass culture will come to define the modern world as the process would be repeated again with television broadcasting, and the internet.


Sources Cited


[1] Paxton, Robert O. Europe in the Twentieth Century, 5th Edition. Cengage Learning, 20110101. VitalBook file, 236.

[2] Paxton, 236.

[3] Paxton, 236.

[4] Paxton, 237-239.

[5] Paxton, 237-239.

[6] Paxton, 239.

[7] Paxton, 245.