The 1970s was a time of unparalleled growth and prosperity that brought forth a cultural and artistic renaissance that still influences our society to this day.
Everything I just said is verifiably untrue, a blatant lie. But that is the beauty of nostalgia, the past is made perfect not by the truth of a thing but rather by how we choose to remember it. Still the 70s is a tough sell. In fact the 1970s was a time of cultural unrest and political disillusionment, rampant crime and increased terrorism wrapped in an aesthetic that was questionable at best. And no matter how many pairs of rose-colored glasses I wish to wear at one time can change the fact that the 70s were a bit messed up.
So why on earth am I nostalgic about it? Because I am nostalgic for it. I have a deep, abiding love of things from the 1970s. I love the movies, the TV, the comics, literature, and (for the most part) the music. Hell I even love the whole aesthetic – polyester, avocado green appliances, bellbottoms, and carpet so deep you need a machete to make your way from the Barcalounger to the TV.
Now the simplest answer to this question of why I’m nostalgic for the 70s in the plain fact that it’s the decade I grew up in. I was a single digit-er during the 70s and so of course I have a fondness for that period where everything was new for me.
But there is something else to the decade that taste forgot that I am fascinated by as well, and that is its transitional nature. This was a troubled period politically, culturally, economically and many movements and ideas arose from this time that – for good or ill – affect our politics and social consciousness today.
I separate the decade into three overlapping parts: Post 60s disillusionment, mid-decade depression, and end of decade surrender.
(I should point out that this is my own delineation and actual historians my dispute me on this and wonder what substance I am full of, and of what quantity. Still, I stand by it.)
Post 60s disillusionment
At the start of the decade the 60s cultural revolutions were still being felt and there was still a feeling of change and hope. But something was a bit off. The assassinations of King and Kennedy and others cast a gloom over the movements. And there was a fierce push back from those who didn’t much appreciate those pesky folks that didn’t want to go back to the status quo. Nixon was in the White House, the moral majority was in its infancy, the war in Vietnam still raged, and a general feeling of social malaise was creeping in and the bright dreams of a cleaner, fairer future just didn’t seem as clear.
A cynicism started to permeate everything from movies and TV to music and literature. Stories of crime and vigilantism became popular as people felt more and more helpless. Anti-heroes and morally fluid protagonists flourished. And in the world of horror tales of demonic possession suddenly became all the rage. As if something evil were inside causing horrors beyond our control.
And then Watergate happened.
By the middle of the decade crime was increasing in major cities, no one trusted the government, terrorism was increasing, and we were having problems finding energy to power an increasingly high tech lifestyle. Things looked bleak. So the people did what they always did in time of trouble and strife…they stubbornly pretended it wasn’t happening. Denial is a powerful tool. From the excesses of cocaine fueled Disco clubs to nihilistic Punk mosh pits people found a way to ignore the problems and party on. Still that creeping malaise was there growing and festering, looking for an answer.
End of decade surrender
And this is the saddest part. Nothing really came of it. There was no happy ending, no satisfying resolution or lessons learned. Punk became New Wave, cocaine became crack, Jimmy became Ronnie. The 1970s, so full of hope and promise, just sort of petered out and everyone just sighed bought into the “greed is good” mentality that carried us into the 80s. And yes, I know this is a simplistic way of looking things – there was much more nuance and complexity to this period – but this is how it felt. Instead of fighting or resisting the world just said: fuck it, let’s go shopping.
So, what is it you are nostalgic for exactly?
Well, as messed up and crazy as it all was the 1970s saw the rise of some really interesting things. Artistically this was a really creative period. Music saw the psychedelic garage bands of the 60s morph into prog rock and stadium bands with high powered anthems and fist pumping tunes. While at the same time there was the rise of the singer/songwriter crooning emotionally driven ballads as the aforementioned disco and punk scenes were growing alongside a brand new form of music and poetry, rap and hip-hop.
And at the movies auteur and independent filmmakers were making deeply personal films alongside the rise of summer blockbusters the likes the industry had never seen.
TV was doing socially conscious comedies, soap opera-like dramas and a wave of genre programs that would change TV to something more than simple escapism. Also, Cable happened and that was neat.
Literature saw the rise of New Wave fantasy and science fiction movements as well as more traditional genres becoming more experimental. In addition the self-help craze began in earnest with multiple takes on health, spirituality, wealth, and sex. So much sex.
Comic books as well (yes, I consider them literature) went through a bizarre and weird period in the 70s that led to new ways of expanding the medium.
In short the 1970s saw a unique rise in the avant-garde alongside an increase in popular (pop) mainstream fare. It was a creative bonanza that took the form of highbrow and lowbrow entertainment unashamed to try new things while often mixing together in unusual ways.
And then of course there was fashion. It was…an interesting effort.
All of this – the fashion, the design, literature, film, TV, politics – as gaudy as it may seem today was a truly groundbreaking time. It didn’t always work and to be honest led to some consequences that weren’t always for the best, but it was always interesting. The 1970s was a time when things were just tried because…why not? Throw it at the wall see if it sticks. And if it does make it into a macrame shirt.
What I hope to do in the coming days and weeks (or possibly years, I write really slow) is to talk about the topics, trends and tropes from this truly unique decade and maybe piece together where current trends and ideas originated from. I will do this in two ways. First I will directly address a particular trend attempt to put it into context of the time and then to see where it evolved and what it means to us today. Second I will simply be purely nostalgic with “do yo remember this?” pieces that will be admittedly fluff but I hope to possibly set the stage for a deeper essay later. Also it is fun to do those.
This will be a journey. I have an idea where this will go but hopefully I’ll be surprised as the journey continues and maybe entertain as I go along.
That’s it for now.