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The 70s

Every New Year, the memory comes back to me as if it happened yesterday.  Craig turned to me in homeroom and said, “Can you believe the 70s are nearly over?”  31 years on it seems more like a ghost than a question.  But the 70s, as a decade, were a lot more than really bad hair, clothes, and dancing.  A lot of interesting things crystallized at this time that define the world we live in now.

The leadership in the USofA veered away from Nixon to Ford and Carter – two of the most open and compassionate men to ever be President, and both of whom were quickly hated in large part because of their openness.  That experience has defined our leadership since that time, emphasizing control of the message over accessibility and heart.  The poison that Nixon brought to the White House didn’t hurt us as much as the antidote.

I mention this development first because it’s the one way that the experience of the 70s centralized power and control.  In nearly every other way the experience of that decade was marked by growing chaos while 1968, as one event, reverberated through the culture.  Particular episodes such as the Fall of Saigon or the Iran Hostage Crisis aren’t worth recounting here as much as the patterns of thought that crystallized around them.

For example, most of what we think of as the 60s took place in the early 70s.  The film “Woodstock” wasn’t shown until that time, which is when the Hippie Movement became more mainstream and acceptable throughout the nation.  As powerful as this was, it was only one assault on the old order.

Fractal imagery and theory was first developed in the 1970s, as was Game Theory.  Both of these more or less through out the relentless determinism that defined the world before them – basically, if you knew everything that went into a system you could understand everything about that system.  These new theories showed that complex systems could be chaotic, but bounded, and respond to forces that were impossible to control completely.

James Burke released his Connections series in 1978, an epic work that questioned our ability to understand anything at all in our world.  This opened with a question about how “appliance users” can ever fully take part in a Democracy and ended by wondering where the ever-expanding web of technology would take us.  It was not anywhere near as cheery as his glib style delivered.

Lastly, in film, we had the end of the auteur style of movies that made their way to larger audiences.  From the 70s on films were either big studio productions or they had to make their way through an indie world that required constant demands for attention.

What does all of this add up to?  The 1970s were the time when the pieces that made up the great American Empire started to fall apart. They have not been put back together since.  We have consistently run massive trade deficits since 1980 in large part because our manufacturing base has been constantly eroding.

It may not seem relevant to think of one decade as an event in itself, but there is a very consistent theme throughout the 1970s – there is a limit to nearly everything, and we do not have the control over our world that we desire.  That’s what drove the hatred of Jimmy Carter and his candor about how we approach the limits of our desire.  Our politics has, since this time, been largely defined by how we feel about the limits of control, wealth, and understanding in the world.

As always, I’m posting this to ask you for your thoughts.  Granted, most of you who have an opinion of the 70s will be at least 40 years old.  But if you didn’t live through that decade you may have heard stories or legends about what happened – I’m interested in those as well!

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12 thoughts on “The 70s

  1. I remember the 70s well, which I guess means I wasn’t there, right?

    You want to talk about a bad decade, that was it. Carter took the rap for a lot of what went wrong but he was a decent guy. Just probably in over his head, but I think anyone would have been.

    It does seem like everything did change about that time. I’ll have to give more thought to the things like Game Theory and all that because I don’t know how important they are in the long run. But you are right that we sure got hit with the idea that we can’t do everything which I wish we had taken more to heart then and didn’t keep fighting with now.

  2. I guess I was too busy “getting by” in the 70’s to concern myself with “Game Theory” or the degenerating “American Empire.” Still training to bust hippie heads in the National Guard in spite of my opposition to the war, trying to hold a family together–ending in failure by 1974 and being peeved when first-class postage climbed to 13 cents I was too focused on survival to care about much else.
    And then there was the polyester leisure suit and platform shoes…

  3. In 2004, I wrote a relatively light-hearted article about decades and the boundaries between them http://today.msnbc.msn.com/id/5345119 suing the VH1 “I Love The…” series as a starting point.
    To quote myself:
    “Historical perspective takes time, and the farther you go back, the fuzzier the lines become between what we consider a decade. What most people identify as the ‘60s didn’t really get started until The Beatles came to America in 1964, weeks after President Kennedy was assassinated.
    And you could just as easily stretch the end of that decade well into Watergate. The smartest move the creators of “That ‘70s Show” made was by starting the series halfway through 1976 — on the other hand, their dumbest move was thinking they could stretch 3½ years in real time into seven TV seasons with a rapidly aging cast. But I digress.
    If you’re going to base the turn of a decade on big events, the Y2K crisis was a dud, and the last day of the 20th century would be Sept. 10, 2001.”

    While the regrettable change in American culture began in the ’70s, obviously the watershed event was the election of President Reagan in November 1980 (where despite the Electoral College landslide, he only got 50.7% of the popular vote).

    I prefer to define decades by the Presidents in charge, making the ’50s Eisenhower and Kennedy (JFK was a false start for the ’60s), the ’60s Johnson and Nixon, the ’70s Ford and Carter (the shortest decade), the ’80s Reagan and Bush Sr. (the longest decade so far), and the ’90s all Clinton. Now, whether we can give the ’00s solely to Bush Jr. or include Obama will be dependent on what happens in the next 2 years (and if he’s reelected). The Change is not really all that obvious or sure to last.

    But from my 1955 birthdate perspective, the ’70s were the end of America’s Golden Era and the ’80s the start of its True Decline. Something clicked when I got my first paycheck after the Reagan Tax Cut and thought “great, now I don’t have to ask for more overtime… waitaminute, wasn’t this supposed to promote productivity?”, realizing the Economic Big Lie that has driven the country ever since. The ’70s should have taught us a humility that would have made the USofA a true beacon to the world and the fact that it did the opposite was tragic.

  4. Dale, Jack, I’m sure my parents would say they were just getting by, too. I was a little rat and I don’t remember a ton, but I do remember a lot of complaining about inflation and so on.

    Wendell, I agree that there was something in there that we were supposed to learn but didn’t. I referred to “The 70s” only because I’m looking for a way to tie together a lot of things that happened at the same time which seem to add up to One Big Thing but on the face of them have nothing in common. Yes, not learning the right lesson from them has given us 30 years of wallowing – and, to be honest, I think may be the real root of the Depression we’re in now.

  5. I was too young to remember anything at all since I was born in that decade (and that’s all I will admit!). But what I do remember and what my parents have said does sound like they were constantly worried about everything.

    My Dad lost his job for a while and we were on welfare briefly. I’m just glad that I have a chance to repay that debt but it scared my folks pretty much forever. They don’t like to talk about it to this day.

    There was a lot going on and I think people did get the wrong message from the times if they think Reagan was the answer.

  6. “Yes, not learning the right lesson from them has given us 30 years of wallowing – and, to be honest, I think may be the real root of the Depression we’re in now.”

    Wow, rarely has anyone agreed with me as much and made it so much clearer than I had. (And I’m trying so hard to be an Skeptical Iconoclastic Contrarian who NOBODY can agree with) Of course, your use of the word “Depression” could refer to economic decline or emotional decline. Although that may be better described “Psychosis”.

    BTW, I used to be Wendell but dropped the semi-pen-name last year in favor of my real name Craig – a name I share with much cooler people. (And will be a factor in a new blog I’m working on. Tagline: “No list, No late late show, No lo-cal foods, No license to kill…”) And how’d I get the plum gig writing for msnbc.com? A benefit of being part of the first Blogging In-Crowd (circa 1999-2001); there were only a few of the dozens of us who did more on pop culture than tech and one of them got a job as TV Editor at msnbc.com so the rest of us followed. Sadly, there’s less freelance work there now, and the focus has changed to way too much celebrities and ‘Reality TV’ (I blame the decision to put it under the TodayShow subsite) .

  7. Also NOT the same Craig in Eric’s homeroom (I can’t believe I didn’t immediately notice that – I was definitely “Wendell” for too long).

  8. You guys are the best! I’m so lucky to have a group like this to chat with.

    It’s clear to me that all of you understood what I was thinking about without my even saying all that well. There are several things going on here, and you’ll see one of them on Friday. I have to thank you for helping me to clarify what I was trying to get at.

    Oh, and yes, it was Craig Hardwick in my homeroom for 9th grade, not oneswellfoop. 🙂 Anyone who knows me in person has heard a few stories about that Craig! 🙂

  9. Here’s a classic for you. Social security under Nixon. “When 2 parties battle for an advantage with an important constituency a bidding war can result”… Democrats sought to capitalize on their advantage but Nixon was unwilling to be outdone. “Party rivalry in a divided govt. was one cause of this extraordinary escalation .” Later the COLA came into being taking it out of the realm of politics to some extent. Could some of the 2010 election senior turnout have been effected by an era of deflation?

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