July 18, 1942


Wars have always occupied a unique place in American culture, particularly for the upper classes who were the target audience of The New Yorker magazine. During the Civil War rich families would stake out hillside seating to watch the battles, while during the Spanish-American War people clamored for pictures of victorious American soldiers. WWII was no different, as millions of Americans at home would watch the news reels that were shown before movies, sometimes over and over again. The role of WWII as a spectacle (especially for the upper classes) had the added effect of making some, especially among the upper classes, seek to emulate soldiers dress as a sort of novelty. This picture shows a society women creatively (at least in her mind, one can be sure) using a gas mask as part of her insect-like dress for a costume ball. The image scene of the mirror also suggests that the way this gas mask is used as part of a costume may imply something about the way that many Americans at home wanted to feel a part of the war without actually having to risk life and limb through combat (or, in the case of women, as a nurse or other functionary). The sharp contrast between the roses (which the women would be smelling if she wasn't wearing the mask) and the sorts of chemicals (such as mustard gas) which the gas mask was designed to protect soldiers from, indicates the depth of the separation between the United States and the war that prevailed in some cases.




The War at Home

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