In 1930s Sweden, the issue of domestic help was the subject of lively debate, as a new film genre about maids emerged in the early days of talking movies. These films were enormously popular with the public, while critics often labelled them lager movies. This project centres on the maid, in order to investigate how specific notions of class and gender shaped the Swedish welfare state.
Even today, Swedish Television shows Swedish comedies from the 1930s and 1940s in the afternoons. An underlying theme of this project is that the appreciation of these and other similar films by the audiences must be taken seriously. It shows that the films fulfilled an important function in a popular context. Popular cultural media, such as film, keep very close to their audiences and thereby reflect a broad spectrum of identities, views and aspirations.
On the basis of Swedish feature films and the theme of the maid from around 1930 to 1950, this project therefore aims to study the limits of how one could “do” class and gender at that time, and how the role of the maid in these films can be related to a present-day and past understanding of class-structured society and the rise of the welfare state.
By investigating the way in which the maid was represented both verbally and bodily, traditional images of class are problematised, at the same time contributing to the theoretical debate about class. The study focuses on 23 films. In addition to these, I include texts from daily newpapers and trade jornals. In this way, my intention is to deepen knowledge of the cultural exchange between films and people’s everyday lives. Then as now, the feature film was indeed a form of story-telling which fed on the symbols and rites of everyday life, interpreted them and fed them back to the audience to which and about which it was speaking.