Friday, June 20, 2014

Plus ca change, plus ca meme chose

I wrote this in my journal, while living in Germany, on February 1, 1998. Tell me nothing's changed. 

I was blindsided by an item in the newspaper this morning.  An insert in Stars & Stripes (the U.S. Army newspaper) took an in-depth retrospective look at 1968: The Year That Still Haunts Us.
....He's a legend in Washington, D.C., but no one
has ever figured out who "Cool Disco Dan" was.

I suppose that in each decade now, in the year that ends with an "8," we're going to get another retrospective on tumultuous 1968, the year of the Tet Offensive, the "Pueblo" incident, the Martin Luther King Jr. and Bobby Kennedy assassinations, the riots at the Democratic convention in Chicago, the "Black Power" salute at the Olympics, The Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the Apollo 8 lunar orbiter mission, and oh yes, let's not forget The Beatles' "white album:" that always gets a mention.

This report caught me off guard only because it seems to me like not very long ago that we were reading all of this the last time--in 1988, I distinctly remember reading Newsweek's cover story on the 20th anniversary of tumultuous 1968...10 years ago already since I read that???  I was just getting ready to pack up and leave Frankfurt, newly married and headed for Brazil...Now here I am, full-circle, living a two-hour drive from Frankfurt and getting the 30th anniversary treatment of the same material, which is nothing more than a re-hash of what we were fed a decade ago.

Speaking of journalism and the current scene, I thought Dave Barry's column last week about how shallow, stupid and "showbiz" local TV news shows are was real funny, but bashing TV news for its insipidity seems to be a "hot-button" issue of the moment.  There was a commentary in today's paper, written by a reporter for one of the London dailies, criticizing U.S. television news for how isolationist it's become since the Cold War ended: American network news shows largely ignore foreign news these days, concentrating instead on domestic stories that aren't even necessarily news.  (The author of the column didn't mention this, but my own recent favorite example of this was NBC News actually leading a broadcast with the "story" that NBC's own comedy series Seinfeld was not going to be continued next season.  This is news???) At the same time, the cartoonist who draws "Shoe" had a strip this morning in which The Perfesser is channel-surfing from one news show to the next: "Bacteria in your venetian blinds!  A special team report!"  "Your mouse pad may be making you sick!  Film at 11!" and so on.  Sensitive minds were beginning to notice some time ago that the line between "news" and "entertainment" in America was getting fuzzy, but now things have gotten to the point where some are beginning to think it's a real problem.

More on the "current" scene: Today, in 1998, Young America is making a "nostalgia fad" of the 1970s.  When I was in high school 25 years ago, there was a nostalgia fad for the 1950's, which gave us TV shows like Happy Days. Nostalgia seems to be America's mal du choice. 

Our Marine Security Guard detachment here at the American embassy in Bonn had a "'70s party" just two nights ago, and in a Q&A column in today's paper, somebody wrote in asking about the present spate of interest in the decade, with at least two current movies set during the "disco era."  In line with this, I wrote an e-mail letter to my friend Anya in Moscow just yesterday in which I explained why the '70s are anything but nostalgia to me.  But I'm 42, an "old goat" now.  In answer to the writer's inquiry, the column said that today's youngsters, living as they do in an era of "political correctness" in which just about everything is prohibited or seems to be, are looking nostalgically back at the drugged-out, relatively promiscuous '70's, when AIDS hadn't appeared yet and casual sex had not acquired the stigma that it has now.

All of this seems strange to me because I remember the '70s chiefly as a reaction to the wildly-permissive '60s.  Not that the '70s were the kind of bluenose-puritanical decade that the '90s have been, but repeatedly in the mass media talky-talk of my own youth, we heard about the contrast between "the radical '60s" and "the mellow '70s."  Vietnam dragged on until 1975--all the marches, sit-ins and anti-war protests of the '60s seemed to have changed nothing, and after Kent State, (not to mention Altamont, which threw cold water on Woodstock Nation) Young America threw up its hands and abandoned the idea of bringing Flower Power to the world.  It turned instead to personal growth issues; Eldridge Cleaver's Soul on Ice gave way to Richard Bach's Jonathan Livingston Seagull and Tom Wolfe promptly named the '70s the " 'Me' Decade."  It was in 1970 that Stephen Stills quit singing  For What It's Worth and had a hit with  Love The One You're With.    

True, in the 1970s, AIDS had not yet come along to put a damper on recreational sex, but the legacy of the "free love" '60s did lead to a ripple movement during the '70s that called itself "the new celibacy:" fucked-out America, sick and tired of the singles-bar scene and surfeited with one-night stands, decided to experiment with having a little less sex, while at the same time movies like Looking for Mr. Goodbar reminded everyone that the singles-bar scene had its dark and dangerous side. And then there were all the other unglamorous things I remember about the 1970s: Watergate, the ignominious finale of Vietnam, stagflation, the Arab oil embargo and "gas lines," "pet rock," polyester leisure suits, I'm OK, You're OK. Jimmy Carter.

No, I don't remember the 1970s as a wildly fun or permissive decade; I remember them as a throttling-back from the crazy 1960s, when, as my half-sister Madelon once put it, "For seven years, America threw up."  The world of  Saturday Night Fever might look glittery, sexy and dangerous to the current batch of twentysomethings, but I was a twentysomething myself during that era, and to me all that polyester looked decidedly tame when compared with the tie-dyed T-shirts and headbands of a decade earlier.  In fact it looked kitschy, just as it still appears to me now.


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