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Saturday, January 28, 2012

Adult Child of the 1970s

My continuing News Fast (See prior blogs by Doc S) has led me to look to new guideposts to set  my compass. Lately, my compass seems to point directly to the 1970s.

Now, I don't want to return to the actual 1970s, with its high unemployment, mediocre and kooky politicians, and crumbling infrastructure (so different from today, right?). Or even the 1970s of my childhood (I grew up in a semi-rural, working-class part of western New Jersey -- it was more Norman Rockwell than Norman Lear). Rather, I align with the sensibility of the 1970s as I have lived and re-lived it through movies and television. It seems more relevant to me, my life today, and the world I find myself in, than any other time in history.

Like many Gen-Xer's I learned most of my history through movies and television. History from the movies seems "more real" than reading it in a book. The great storyteller of our generation, Steven Spielberg, who broke out in the 1970s with Jaws and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, later shot Schindler's List in harsh black and white, and Saving Private Ryan, in overexposed, grainy film stock, because he knew that would make them "more real" to those who learned about the Holocaust and World War II though similar images.

Accordingly, my 1970's compass tells me the following:

Lifestyle--We now snicker at Alan Alda's chicken-chest on M*A*S*H, and note that movie thugs were more likely to be wiry, swarthy guys than huge muscled lummoxes. But the average peson in the 1970s was twenty pounds lighter than the average person today, all while eating red meat and swigging cool drinks like Brandy Alexanders, Pina Coladas and Black Russians at lunch. Joggers were obsessive weirdos, and "health food" was a joke waiting for a punchline.

Clothes and Fashion-- Forget all those hackneyed jokes about bell bottoms, mutton chops, and polyester leisure suits. Watch an old episode of The Dick Cavett Show, or peruse a few photos from Studio 54, Rolling Stone, or of the original cast of Saturday Night Live. What strikes me is the mix and match of clothing and styles; suits and ties mixed with jeans, cowboy boots, lots of hats, scarves, sunglasses, a t-shirt from an obscure bar or eatery, etc. Every persons' individuality seems to be expressed through their wardrobe, hairstyle, and attitude.

Politics -- After Vietnam and Watergate, 1970s politics were not, as they are today, arguments about whether Big Government or Big Business was the problem. Movies such as The Conversation, Three Days of the Condor, The Parallax View, Marathon Man, The French Connection, and Apocalypse Now all spoke to an intense yet somehow healthy paranoia about all large institutions (military, government, and corporations), and spoke about how, in any institution,  evil could easily become the norm when people rationalize their behavior by claiming to be "just doing my job".

Role Models -- Jack Nicholson as Randall McMurphy fighting with lust, profanity, and raw joie de vivre against a sadistic nurse in a mental hospital, and as Jake Gittes getting his nose sliced for sticking it where it doesn't belong to expose a corrupt, incestuously monstrous water baron.  Clint Eastwood as Dirty Harry and Josey Wales- both violent, damaged, haunted men unable to distinguish their sense of justice from their own rage,  who nevertheless, out of a sense of compassion that they barely understand, take misfits and castaways under their protective wing. Al Pacino as Serpico, thumbing his nose at his family, his friends and his culture just to end up shot in the face and in hiding in pursuit of his own incorruptibility,and as Michael Corleone, putting his own unique take on family values above all else, and losing his soul along the way.  To me, these anti-heroes, while tough, cynical, and flawed, struggled for truth, and, curiously, what was right, against the inhuman faceless enemies that surrounded them. Their courage was exemplified in their persistence and their ability to get beat up again and again and come back for more, supported by their wits and street smarts rather than martial arts and high-tech weaponry. They made their choices, took their chances, paid the price, and didn't apologize for their lack of polish. Even the greatest TV private detective of all time, Jim Rockford, was an ex-con, flat broke, drove a beat up Trans-Am, fought dirty, didn't carry a gun, and lived in a mobile home trailer with his dad.

So today, after my News Fast I find myself vacillating between being mad as hell at the waves of crapola (Like Howard Beale in Network), and seeking enough wisdom to be amused enough to weave through it (Like Popeye Doyle's adroit driving in The French Connection) with Hawkeye Pierce's angry, absurd humor.

I'm going to uncork (or uncap) the Champale and toast the 1970s...


  1. As a teenager growing up in the late 70s I seems to wax poetic about that decade as well (My kids would agree). Then compared juxtaposition of the 80s and its ultra political conservativeness and political correctness movement, … and don’t get started with the music, we took a wrong turn somewhere. Maybe that’s what happens when we get older, idk but I think we all need to let our freak flags fly again… even for just a little while.

    Cheers to the 70s

  2. Ah, the 70's...they were the best of times and the worst of times :-) I was a 70s sitcom junkie, probably because they seemed to mock the suburban South Jersey WASP world I knew. Interesting to be at a point in life where we reflect upon influences that have shaped us.