Cage Match: the Seventies vs. the Eighties

The Seventies were better. There. I said it.

Yes, this is the promised “shocking” post I planned to write, only I’ve been sidelined, mostly by car issues and the Post-Nasal Drip Cough Of Doom. And it’s a gorgeous day and I really need to be out taking pictures, not cooped up indoors typing on this keyboard. But I just have to get this out before it festers.

See, I’ve been thinking. Really thinking, not just reading blog posts that agree with me and nodding my head. I’ve been re-evaluating my position on a lot of things. And one of those things is my attitude towards the decade that I spent my formative years in: the 1970s. Actually, this is time period is more like 1972-1982, because cultural decades don’t neatly start and end with zeroes, and 1970 and 1971 were still part of the Sixties, just as 1980-81 were still part of the Seventies. But anyway, this is the time period I refer to as “the Seventies” in my diatribes. Warning: this post will contain a lot of generalities and sweeping statements. YMMV.

The Seventies are widely decried as “the Me Decade,” a time when Americans at least (I can’t speak for other countries) turned inward and became selfishly concerned only with their selfish selves. Instead of getting out in the streets rioting and protesting, hippies all got married (or at least together with someone else), moved into homes, and cocooned themselves in silly, self-involved feelgood philosophies and pseudo-religions and went around saying things like “follow your bliss” and “if it feels good, do it.” That being said, a lot of people actually tried to engage in the sort of self-reflection and exploration of their psyche that Americans really don’t do enough of. We prefer “practical” solutions to “problems” like taking a pill, passing a law, or having a rally. It sounds like a paradox to say that actions don’t always effect reality, but in the case of personal psychology and cultural problems stemming therefrom that is mostly true. Americans have a tendency to think that they’ve done their bit if they show up to a protest or donate to a charity, but all they’ve done is made themselves feel a little better about themselves. “If it feels good, do it,” indeed.

A lot of what people complain about re the Seventies boils down to fashion. I admit a lot of the fashions were hideous: plaid bellbottoms? Jumpsuits worn by anyone not about to jump out of a plane? Clothing made of Dacron double-knit polyester that made you feel like you were wearing a sealed plastic bag? (No fun in the heat and humidity of South Florida where I grew up.) And of the American popular music of the time, the less said about most of it, the better. Then again… I’m going to say this now: Seventies disco was better than whatever that tuneless electronic garbage is they call “dance music” nowadays. And it was better than Eighties dance dreck. KC and the Sunshine band was fun. 80s dance music was not fun, just bland and flavorless. And I hated disco and always will.

But that’s just the frivolous stuff. There’s more — there were still wars, oil nations were kicking our ass economically, our presidents were embarrassing, we had real pollution to worry about instead of pretend “light bulbs are killing people in Bangladesh” pretend pollution, the Cold War was still pretty cold, cars were huge ugly gas guzzlers, there was no cable, etc.

But: in the Seventies we were more culturally and politically progressive — by which I mean advanced towards a state of better equality — than we are now. In many ways we’ve regressed, and that regression started in the Eighties when the anti-feminist backlash bloomed along with a thousand Laura Ashley flowered dresses. About that feminism: in the Seventies we had “I am woman, hear me roar,” pantsuits were in and dresses were out, “natural” makeup or no makeup at all was okay, “earth shoes” and boots and flats replaced the foot-destroying high-heeled pump. The only person protesting my wearing jeans was my grandmother, who thought “dungarees” were trashy. Women were beginning to get respect — and jobs. TV shows had women who worked, like Mary Tyler Moore (who was also single and didn’t seem too eager to get married despite all her dates). They featured older women in prominent roles, like Maude. The idea that all actors no matter their age or race had to look like skinny twenty-something white people hadn’t hit the tv screens yet: there were popular shows like Cannon, whose star was a fat, middle-aged man. People still looked like people on tv instead of airbrushed dolls.

Movies were better. They had moved away from shoot-’em-up Westerns in the Sixties and started to pay attention to other, better film industries like those in Europe, which made movies that were about people not cardboard cutout ideals. The movie industry actually preceded this whole thing a bit — and they also preceded the suckage that was the Eighties: Star Wars came out in the late Seventies, and while it was loads of fun, it was nothing like the thoughtful, cerebral (or at least attempts to be thoughtful and cerebral) films that had dominated the Seventies. After Star Wars movies gradually became more shallow, more preoccupied with special effects, more cardboard and formulaic as to plot, more and more filled with lookalike, airbrushed, fluffy-haired, smooth-faced, young prettysomething actors.

In the Seventies, you weren’t looked down on if you didn’t have a big house and shiny new car and impressive job. My father was a teacher: we never had a lot of money, and we lived in an old run-down house in Miami that originally was a 2 BD 2 BTH, as the real estate ads put it. Later my father and his buddies fixed up our little-used dining room to be a bedroom for me and added a half-bath that was just a toilet and sink. But I never felt inferior to my friends who lived in nicer houses. Oh, I used to wish we would move to a nicer house, because we had no a/c in ours and in general it was falling down around our ears, but I never felt inferior, like a lesser person who wasn’t quite a “proper” American, because we didn’t have a big shiny new house. And the car: my parents never owned a new one. We had the same Chevy station wagon since I was born until it finally gave up the ghost sometime when I was in junior high, and then there was a succession of used cars. The best one was a black Oldsmobile with an FM radio and working air-conditioning. But just about everyone had an old, beat-up car. Cars were transportation, not status markers. Not in our neighborhood, anyway.

Race relations: they weren’t good, but they were a lot better than they are now in many ways. I grew up hearing things like “Black is Beautiful” and seeing interesting, vibrant, individual black characters on television. (We only had three main network channels and a few extra ones on a band called “UHF” and none of them were on 24 hours a day so we watched all the tv we could get.) Even in Florida, a southern state not known for its stellar race relations any more than any other southern state, we kids were taught that all races were equal and to treat everyone with respect. Only bad people used racial slurs. The weird (to me) phenomenon of racist Hunger Games fans would just not have happened, at least not in my circle of friends. White kids all read books with black main characters and watched tv shows with black main characters and listened to black popular music by people like the Staples Singers, the Chi-Lites, the Temptations, the Supremes, and so on. It wasn’t a perfect non-racist Utopia but racists weren’t made to feel comfortable with their atavistic thinking and given the respect that they are getting now. And yes they are getting it. Racists are getting their ideas — that it’s better to segregate into tribal groups based on skin color, that it’s okay that people feel “more comfortable” with people of their own race (funny, I don’t, I feel a lot more nervous being surrounded by white racists than by normal people of any skin color), that there’s something horrible about white people having less babies and the idea that there will be less and less people of paleness in the future — listened to and agreed with. They were wrong then, and they’re wrong now.

There’s a lot more I have to say, so I guess that this is part one. I’ll just leave this now and come back with part 2 later. Gotta go.


8 thoughts on “Cage Match: the Seventies vs. the Eighties

  1. One thing I noticed is that the 80’s tv and films seem to have many more closeups, while films from the 70’s and before had more medium range shots. The closeups are wearing on the viewer and suggest a fragmented approach to the immediate action rather than the story as a whole, so I prefer the older approach, but then I’ve pretty much stopped watching tv or seeing recent movies.

    • Yeah, I think excess closeups is the reason I found tv increasingly hard to watch too. They claim that tv has more closeups because “smaller screens” but that hasn’t really been true for a while, and the screens of tvs got bigger and bigger as closeups got more and more frequent, so there goes that theory.

      I think this trend was more having to do with the idea that we need to be up in our faces and personal with peoples’ “emotions.” Yeah just like in real life, when we’re always an inch away from everyone’s face and get even closer when they’re screaming and crying. Not. And it just keeps getting worse and worse — when I dumped tv for good a few years ago eyeball closeups were getting more and more common, especially if the person was teary-eyed. I don’t know what sort of charge we’re supposed to get from a watery eyeball filling our tv screens.

      • Right. That’s pretty much the way I feel too, and it’s not just regular tv. They’ve been doing for a while now on football, basketball, and baseball. They even give you closeups of the back of the player’s helmet. So even football is now unwatchable.

    • The odd thing is that by going close you are losing all the extra cues that body language outside the face gives – and going to the eyeball is just absurd.

  2. The 70’s were the last gasp of an America sensibility of 100+ years duration. Since then much of the country has either become willing clients of the government or has stopped considering doing so as shameful.

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