Typically when a person is asked what decade they’d go back to if they could go back in time, they often respond with the 20’s, because flappers and Gatsby, or the 80’s, because legendary pop music icons and neon clothing. What you seldom hear a person say, however, is the big 4-0.
When many people think of the 40’s, they imagine a time of wars and rumors of war, parties of white men dressed in fancy attire for, what seems like, no reason, and Nazi Germany. For many, the initial recall of the era is unsettling. Yet, there is one guy who, unashamedly, lives and breathes the 40’s, and he’s here to give it a good name. Enter, David Szathmary.
David, popularly known as “That 40’s Kid,” is a 19-year-old, French-born, American. He lived in France for the first eight years of his life and credits his devotion to the 40’s to his very birthplace. It all began with the time he laid eyes on a cartoon called “Gremlins from the Kremlin.” After his parents explained to him who the mustached-man in the cartoon was and gave him the whole spiel on World War II and the Nazi party, the young David found himself becoming increasingly fascinated by the subject of war. From then on he could only move up.
In his late teens, he began attending events related to the era and through these, his love for the era intensified. People far and wide travel to these conventions to witness re-enactments, engage in swing dances, and hear stories from veterans and other important speakers, and David has even met some of them. One recent event, World War II Weekend, in Reading PA, attracted some 55,000 people (including some of David’s friends who live all the way in Texas)! Concerning this particular convention, David says,
I met a holocaust survivor, I met a man who was wounded at Normandy and then was later a guard at the Nuremberg Trials, I met a man who did three combat jumps as a paratrooper and was captured on what everyone calls D-Day. . .as well as several pilots who flew over Europe and the Pacific.
In addition to wild stories and memories, David has also picked up many other relics of his beloved era along the way.
World War II is the theme of his collection. He’s gotten his hands on jackets, helmets, and other gear or uniform from the war. As of now, he’s working on obtaining more relics that will suit his vintage style:
…while [I] dress vintage, I’m not completely there yet. I’m not as ‘vintage’ as I could or should be. I’m in transition – I’m getting there…I’ve collected a lot of civilian clothes recently, which isn’t too challenging since I’m about the same build as a member of that generation was.
Dressing vintage for David and many like him is not simply to grace the crosswalks with killer 40’s fashion but primarily for the sake of honoring the generation.
With any lifestyle contrary to what society would regard as “normal,” there’s always the threat of rejection from friends, family members, and outsiders. For David, his choice to live as citizens of another era has not been met with much too much opposition from those closest to him, but he has had to face a few obstacles. While his parents have always supported him in his decisions, having a 40’s kid took some time for them to adjust to. But with a bit of convincing and 40’s kid charm, they eventually began to open up to their son’s new reality. His high school friends, however, were completely unaccepting of his new love and would often try to pressure him to nix the era altogether.
Much of this peer-rejection let up once David entered college. Unlike in high school, his university is a place where he feels he’s free to be the 40’s kid he wants to be. He credits much of this acceptance to the diversity of his college campus and the fact that many students “always stood out and were different, so not fitting in, not ‘being like everyone else’” is, as he says, very commonplace at his private university.
Still, there will always be haters and commentators. While no one has ever personally come up to him or given him any “flak,” with apps like Yik-Yak, trolls have a field day sharing their thoughts and opinions on David’s 40’s lifestyle, anonymously. David has noted that our ability to have meaningful face-to-face conversations with people has declined since seventy years ago. The rise of social media usage and applications are what David believes to be a reason for this decline.
At least in the 1940’s, you had to say something to someone’s face, and if you didn’t have the gall to do so, well, you just kept it to yourself,” says David. The Internet and social media allow for people to tear each other down in ways they would never dream of doing face to face with someone.
While social media trolls are never a fun time, one great thing that has come from David’s own usage of a popular social media application is his Instagram page. Reaching nearly four thousand followers, David’s account “that40skid” is booming with traffic.
David says he isn’t exactly sure how his account has become so popular. According to him, his vintage style isn’t as great as it could be and there is one “charming young man from Belgium,” whose own account is, according to David, far greater than his own (though it has a significantly smaller following). By these standards, he doesn’t think his account should be this well-praised, yet he is humbled nonetheless.
From the success of his Instagram page, to the thousands of people who regularly attend special events, to the passion with which he speaks of the era, it would seem the 40’s may not be as awful as many believe. It’s clear 40’s devotion is largely underrated, and largely overlooked, even.
Yet despite the fervor that David and many like him may have for the 40’s, other are still plagued with the question of “how does one love an era that was filled with such violence and racism?” Can a person truly love such a time period and simultaneously remain detached from major attributes of said period?
I mean, it’s a hard question, but I think that interests don’t always reflect the values…I think that our society has become accustomed to jumping to conclusions, and isolation of beliefs and interests, because truth be told, if someone had some question about what my true motives for being so fascinated with that era, or what aspects of it I admired, all one would really have to do is reach out to me, and ask. Just ask…I’m happy to educate anyone who would care about that era because part of why I enjoy doing all this so much is because I also want to honor the generation that saved the world, which the journalist Tom Brokaw described as ‘The greatest generation any society has ever produced.’
Well, there ya have it, folks! As a woman of the 21st century, I say, “to each his own.” This has been an interview with David Jerez-Szarthmary – the man, the myth, the 40’s kid.