Was the American outlook in the early 70s really that bleak?
March 25, 2014 9:32 PM   Subscribe

Was the American outlook in the early 70s really that bleak or is that just what survived culturally?

Having been born in 74 myself I wasn't there, but I find myself fascinated with the incredibly bleak pop culture of the early 1970s. There seemed to be more than enough dystopia to go around at the time and I wonder honestly if I am just gravitating towards those sorts of cultural artifacts, that's just what tends to get put out front in retrospect or if it wasn't all Eddie Coyle, Deliverance, Vietnam, Last House on the Left and Gilbert O'Sullivan after all.
I understand that the country was going through a lot at the time, I just wonder if the heaviness of the time was really felt AT the time or if that's all in the looking back.
posted by Senor Cardgage to Society & Culture (45 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
do you remember your president nixon? i do, and yes, it was really that bleak. some mothers were the first on their block to have their son come home in a box.
posted by bruce at 9:57 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was a child then, and the first big news story I remember is Patty Hearst's kidnapping, then came Watergate. It's perhaps hard to understand the impact of Watergate now. The adults were clearly all very disturbed by it (my point of view was, boring TV and being shushed). Then, later on, the OPEC oil crisis and inflation. Again, consider what it was like for people, for the first time in their lives, to find that there was no gasoline to buy. There was a shortage of beef at one point, I think.

All this came hard on the heels of the Vietnam War, which we lost, and also multiple assassinations of political and civil rights leaders. Also riots and racial violence - images of cops setting dogs on women and men holding hands and praying and singing on TV, with your frozen dinner. While the malaise may be overstated in some sources, it was most definitely a traumatic period.
posted by thelonius at 10:20 PM on March 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

There were episodes of the era that gave common public life a certain depressive tenor -- the gas lines of 1973, Watergate, the trauma of the war, and the realization that the revolution dreamed about in the 1960s wasn't exactly going to materialize in a burst of psychedelic crazy daisies.

There were also things that gave people incredible hope and energy -- I was a kid then, I remember a lot of the mothers excitedly getting jobs after years at home, and reading Ms. Magazine...!
But mostly, people just lived their lives, then as now, in personal ways.

I think a lot of the "bleak" pop culture tone you see in the movies and novels of that era were not simply reflections of current events, but also a self-consciously cynical development against the dominant tone of what people called the "conformity" and overdone optimism of 1950s public culture. (Of course, the '50s had plenty of its own beatnik and earnest take on all that so-called phoniness, but in the 1970s, I believe there was a lot of effort put into rejecting the perceived lingering effects of 1950s blandness .)
posted by third rail at 10:23 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Watts riots, inner city blight, 1968 DNC, Bobby Kennedy, MLK, Nixon elected in part with support from racists, California oil spills, SDS, Weathermen, Manson, My Lai, secret Cambodian war, Kent State, PLF highjackings, Reagan re-elected, Pentagon Papers , dollar devalued, Jane Fonda poses with a N Vietnam AA gun, Nixon re-elected, Watergate exposed, 1973 oil crisis, Houston Mass Murders, "I'm not a crook," White House tape recordings, Nixon resigns, Ford appointed, Richard Nixon pardoned, stagflation, oil shock, Universal Product Code is scanned for the first time, Ted Bundy, Evel Knievel fails in his attempt to rocket across the Snake River Canyon in Idaho.
posted by KokuRyu at 10:38 PM on March 25, 2014 [13 favorites]

The murder of Israeli athletes at a German Olympics which had been intended to showcase how well the country had recovered from the Nazi era.
posted by brujita at 11:02 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

New York was broke, the inner cities were burn-out husks, there was a ton of inner-city violence, various rivers were so polluted they were on fire...
posted by KokuRyu at 11:10 PM on March 25, 2014 [2 favorites]

Things were so bleak that by 1975 we were going to have to learn the Metric system.
posted by Sophont at 11:18 PM on March 25, 2014 [6 favorites]

The misery index -- inflation rate + unemployment rate -- was created in the 1970s to describe them, you might say. And despite the economic dislocation of the Great Recession, we haven't come close to it
providing an opening for criticism of the index as not capturing all the ways we can be miserable but anyhoo
mainly since inflation has been so comparatively low. But consider that the index did not describe a crisis, per se, but daily life throughout most of the decade.

Another way (expressed often in film and music) the 70s seemed depressing was the rise of urban decay, crime, and collapse of stable urban financing structures. New York City went practically broke and President Ford refused a bail-out, prompting one of the all-time infamous Post headlines.

I just wonder if the heaviness of the time was really felt AT the time

Oh, dear.

Yes, it was definitely how people felt. A lot of Americans felt, for the first time, that the US was in decline. Others felt that the effective loss of the Vietnam War meant our military supremacy had peaked. (Indeed, the drawdown of forces gave rise to the criticism "hollow military", meaning one with a lot of kit but no institutional knowledge to support a sustained war.) Imported cars were becoming popular and American cars seemed to be recalled or fall apart regularly. It wouldn't be too much of a stretch to say that this period of seeming national emasculation gave rise to e.g. the neo-conservative movement.

Add to that the coda of the Iran hostage crisis and you get a decade that seemed like a carnival thrill ride you were glad to see the back of. It's not for nothing that the 1984 Reagan presidential campaign ad, It's Morning in America, resonated with the electorate. See that it still references inflation, with the implication that it was a scarring memory on the order of Pearl Harbor. And there are still thinkers in the party who think inflation is an enemy we need to fight even when it might help Americans to have a little of it (as opposed to deflation, or the loss of wealth that was the foreclosure crisis, etc.); read Krugman to hear him fighting what has become a very viscerally felt assumption in contemporary economics.
posted by dhartung at 11:21 PM on March 25, 2014 [9 favorites]

Don't forget President Carter's 1979 Crisis of Confidence speech. Also known as "the malaise" speech, though the word is not used anywhere in the speech itself.
posted by jquinby at 4:46 AM on March 26, 2014

...born in 1970, for whatever that's worth. The earliest event I can recall was the blow-out Independence Day festivities in 1976. We lived in Chicago at the time, and the earliest news events of which I was aware were the crash of AA Flight 191 at O'Hare - we could see the smoke from our elementary school - and the discovery/arrest of serial killer John Wayne Gacy. So even as a kid, the world seemed like a really, really scary place. This was followed by nightmares of a nuclear holocaust in the early-to-mid 80's.
posted by jquinby at 4:51 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm still pissed that I spent all of 5th grade learning the metric system, for nothing! I was born in 67 so that period should have left an indelible mark on my soul. But it didn't. I grew up on USAF bases, and I guess we were pretty much shielded from the bad news. I don't remember hearing anything about Watergate or Vietnam when it was happening. I was in Spain from 71-75, so when I practiced my new reading skills with the newspaper, i was reading The Stars and Stripes. And it certainly wasn't dwelling on the bad news in Vietnam or the failings of our government. It was all history by the time I learned about it.

I grew up remarkably carefree and happy.
posted by COD at 5:14 AM on March 26, 2014

I was born a decade before you and although there was less media to stir the pot the zeitgeist was very much that the future was bleak - our [the US] worldwide influence was declining and in Viet-Nam we had lost some of the moral certainty that had seemed to be our definition, we had an energy crisis, the economy was in decline, nuclear war was a real possibility, and the rate of violent crime was triple what it is now.

There was an [still unresolved] national identity crisis.

I was a teenager, and my family is very political, so take this with 150 ug but, to answer your question, "I just wonder if the heaviness of the time was really felt AT the time or if that's all in the looking back." my response would be that as the media looks back, the Civil Rights movement excepted, the media actually downplay the gravity that people felt.

I think it's instructive to note that during this time when there were basically three media outlets that the most popular shows were Happy Days, All in the Family and M*A*S*H.
posted by vapidave at 5:28 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Music hit a low point with disco, but we did have Elvis Costello to save us. (Music in general did some incredible evolving in the 70s.)
Disney hit a low point with Gus, a mule who kicked field goals. I still cringe when I remember the cheerleading scenes. (Big joke: they were fat.)
On the other hand, Ebert calls it a golden age of film. The 70s fell in a sweet spot right around when the social revolution allowed more honest story telling and before Star Wars turned Hollywood into a free-for-all money grab.
Automobile hit low points one after another. With the oil crisis Detroit tried to invent small automobiles and came out with disasters like the Gremlin, the Pinto and the Pacer.
Environmental pollution peaked, causing the EPA to be formed. It's hard to remember how polluted rivers and the area smog had become.
Saturday Night Live had one of its two greatest casts.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 5:37 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

my response would be that as the media looks back, the Civil Rights movement excepted, the media actually downplay the gravity that people felt.

I agree. Environmental protection was a huge issue (Nixon established the EPA), we started hearing about drug abuse in school.

As rural (extreme) first-gen high school grads-to-be, my schoolmates and I faced a lot of opposition from parents on going to college. (No, really.) It was too dangerous to go to college, especially in a city, and we would never get jobs, due to the economy.

Bad times.
posted by jgirl at 5:39 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Oh yes! And then some.

If you want to know what a hole New York was considered to be, watch Taxi Driver. Times Square was such a mess! Also, Barney Miller, while funny, was also a reflection of how dilapidated and sad things had become.

Inflation was CRAZY! Interest rates for mortgages were 14%! It made more sense to buy things on credit and pay later with further inflated dollars. That's where a lot of us got that whole, "I might as well buy this, it will give me some pleasure and the whole world may blow up before the bill comes anyway," mentality.

Pollution was awful. Everywhere.

Civil Rights had been earned, but things were still shaking out. Busing was a thing. So kids would sit on busses for long periods of time to go to school outside of their neighborhoods, to be picked on by the incumbent kids for being different (ask me how I know.)

We still had the cold war, if you got cancer-you probably died, television was a wasteland of T&A, cocaine was thought to be non-addictive, and music was TERRIBLE! (I love it of course, because that's what I grew up with, but objectively, it was just awful.)

So yes, the world WAS dystopian at the time. We lived between dispair and euphoria.

And we capped off the seventies by electing Ronald Regan to the presidency, thus putting the cherry on the shit sundae.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:54 AM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

This was followed by nightmares of a nuclear holocaust in the early-to-mid 80's.

I STILL have nuclear holocaust nightmares.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:57 AM on March 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

Sci-fi also reflected this growing fear of future dystopia, especially the complete destruction of the environment, depletion of natural resources, and massive overpopulation. Films like Soylent Green and Silent Running really captured that mood. I want to say books like Toffler's "Future Shock" also added to this mix.
posted by JoeZydeco at 6:59 AM on March 26, 2014

Yes, but - 1970 was also (I think) the year of the first Earth Day, with its public demonstrations which seemed so hopeful and I truly thought would usher in a new era of common sense and collaborative politics. Duh. The first strike of reality was when the auto industry dismissed out of hand the idea of fuel efficiency.
posted by mmiddle at 6:59 AM on March 26, 2014

My elementary school in North Hollywood became a hub school when mandatory bussing was enforced. White kids were bussed in from Woodland Hills and black kids were bussed in from South Central.Previously there had been Permit With Transportation which was mostly Latino kids.

That was also the year of Proposition 13 which decimated the funding for public schools.

Magnet schools ( voluntary bussing with different specialties for each and a fixed ratio of white and minority kids) were created as a response to the frustration of mandatory bussing.

I went to my neighborhood Jr. High for a year and then transferred to a magnet, where I got bullied by a girl I've just learned was biracial. I'm in the middle of reading The Fortress of Solitude and Robert Woolfolk is bringing back a lot of bad memories of Julie.

My elementary school is now a charter school. The magnet is now mostly Latino.
posted by brujita at 7:08 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

My dad has always said that things really were pretty bleak. But at the same time, a lot of that stuff you're seeing is left-wing critique, or at least liberalish. What strikes me about stuff from the seventies (born in 1974, me!) is how entrenched a basically liberal worldview had become (soon to change, alas). Those dystopias were based on the idea that everyone who mattered would want a cleaner, safer, more equal world or at least have to act like they did, which isn't an assumption that anyone would make now.

This is particularly evident in science fiction - you go from some pretty bleak (and sophisticated) and critical humanistic work in the seventies to the "sharp turn to the right" of cyberpunk and the return to hard SF in the early eighties. Women writers and writers of color disappear or get more marginalized (like, I'm always discovering new women SF writers and often discovering new SF writers of color who were active in the seventies and disappeared in the eighties).
posted by Frowner at 7:09 AM on March 26, 2014 [5 favorites]

All of these answers are so interesting and are evocative of a mood present when I was a child (b. 71) that I couldn't quite parse. Thanks for this great question.

I wasn't as conscious as a child as the others - probably because small Southern pretend-to-be-still-in-the-50's town upbringing - but I remember being mildly traumatized by the environmentalism movement mentioned above, because the ads were so scary. They all showed these terrifying, treeless, bleak worlds where a dad explained to his kids what trees were and that we used to have them, etc. I thought that Science has decided that was going to definitely happen.

I also remember that nobody thought twice about drinking and driving and they introduced "don't drink and drive" campaigns that confused a lot of children and caused unnecessary, panicky comments from kids whose moms opened a Tab in the car.

Wow, also teen pregnancy was a Big Issue, and the nation was starting to gear up to fear nuclear war and produce a bunch of horrifying made for TV movies on such - The Day After, ugh.

Yep, pretty bleak and dystopian-predicting era.
posted by Punctual at 7:17 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

I was a child of maybe six or seven (so 1977-ish) when I asked my dad what "stagflation" meant. We sat on the stairs and he told me about how the country was kind of depressed, down in the dumps. The slow economy meant that people who had jobs weren't getting raises and people who wanted jobs couldn't find them (sound familiar?). The US felt a sense of powerlessness at the fall of Saigon. OPEC was messing with our cars and people were getting jumpy about the environment, what with the Cuyahoga River catching fire.

I a child of six and I noticed that things were off-kilter. So yeah, it really was that bad.
posted by workerant at 7:19 AM on March 26, 2014

Inflation was CRAZY! Interest rates for mortgages were 14%!

I think they got up to about 21% by 1981. iirc, this was a consequence of Volker's anti-inflation policies at the Federal Reserve. Really there should be a statue of the man in Washington; also Carter gets no credit for choosing him, as the benefits of all this did not come in during his term, just the pain.
posted by thelonius at 7:26 AM on March 26, 2014

Well, there was something of an underground culture though, as perhaps there always is when the larger social world is out of order... The gay scene had had Stonewall and started Pride parades, but not had to face AIDS yet; health/vegetarian movements had started, and "back to nature" hippie communes were resulting from the more vague free love explorations of the sixties; there was some hope of alternative economies, vehicles, and other technologies (like recycling, composting, and geodesic domes). Also perhaps a lot of drug use made some people feel more optimistic while others saw a lot of negative effects...

So, within very particular culture, I think the 70s were more optimistic, and Thatcher-Reagan getting elected/ the cold war coming back with a vengeance was the end of that hope, at least for a while. That pushed punk/goth as the underground, rather than happy veggie eco hippies...
posted by mdn at 7:48 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Just remembered that the PSAs were not the Care Bear type you see these days...

Only YOU can prevent forest fires!
(With a scary Smokey the Bear and cartoon animals dying in flames)

Give a Hoot! Don't Pollute!
(With a river and sickly animals barely surviving - ducks swimming by Pabst cans, etc.)

The messaging was incredibly negative and hopeless/dystopian.
posted by Punctual at 7:50 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was a preschooler in San Francisco in the late 60s and my favorite tee shirt said "Flower Power!" Five years later, in elementary school, my favorite tee shirt sported a goofy, grinning caricature of Gerald Ford that said "Nixon's Revenge!"

What amazes me about that time is how in tune and involved everyone seemed to be in politics and current events, even the little kids. We didn't understand the intricacies of what was going on around us, but yes, the heaviness of the time was very deeply felt.
posted by LuckySeven~ at 7:54 AM on March 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

I grew up in NY in the 70's. The Scorcese, not Woody Allen NY and I don't remember any bleakness to it at all - mostly because it was all I knew. I remember playing in the streets from morning to night, vacant lots were adventure frontiers, being taught in school by a lot of hippies who played me Cat Stevens and CSN. I remember coming home to watch Magic Garden. In my opinion the 1970's were the most creative and expressive decade in the history of the United States. If you look back on the books, movies and music made during that decade, none can even compare. When I look back I think America truly lost its way in the 80's and it may never return. The 2000's were by far the most bleak and traumatic for me. At least in the 70's the hippies from the 60's hadn't yet sold out their country and were all still trying to make a difference on a micro level but now it seems like I live in a country absolutely bereft of culture where creativity is expressed more by how you market your product than the content.
posted by any major dude at 8:04 AM on March 26, 2014 [11 favorites]

A lot of what influences public opinion is what's on the news every night. The combination of the Vietnam war, the wave of high-profile assassinations in the late 60s, growing economic malaise after the boom of the 60s, and the resignation of the U.S. President in disgrace, made it pretty grim. I was only jr-high aged around the time you're talking about, and had already become a heavy reader and escaped into that much of the time -- but thinking back I sometimes wonder if the cynicism and "things aren't the way they SHOULD BE" attitude that feeds my Tea Party-sympathetic dad didn't take root around that time when he was a thirty-something struggling to support his family.
posted by aught at 8:07 AM on March 26, 2014

I would contend that what filters forward though media and pop culture rarely give an accurate view of what any particular time is like. You could make both bleak and positive assessments of just about any time period in history. The 20's... fun and exciting, or racist and backward? The 50's... content and happy, or repressed and isolated. The Renaissance... time of remarkable advancement, or bleak outlook for the average man.

So the 70's... I was in my teens, and recall much of what is cited above, but in suburban America it was a pretty tame existence. Oh, my folks would complain about the gas situation and inflation, but it wasn't a daily dark cloud over our heads. As a kid in the 60's my life was much more Wonder Years than Haight-Ashbury. To my recollection, I never even saw a real "hippie."

I'd say when doing this kind of back-thinking assessment, it's important to realize that most of daily life did not make it into popular media or the news. Only the extremes in most cases.

Is now any more or less bleak?
posted by ecorrocio at 8:13 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'm still thinking about 70s films...how about the sudden fad of blockbuster disaster films? We had stuff like The Towering Inferno, the Airport Series, The Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake... were we looking for catharsis here? Did it just reflect our inner mood?
posted by JoeZydeco at 8:34 AM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I graduated from high school and started college in 1972. Looking back now my reaction is the early 80s were the bleakest time - stagflation, recession, layoffs and no hiring, the hostage crisis - and then John Lennon's assassination and (shudder) Reagan. But the early 70s were great - Vietnam was finally resolved, no more draft, then no more Nixon.
posted by Rash at 8:42 AM on March 26, 2014

And then there were the awful cartoon versions of classic TV shows.

The seventies brought us The Barkleys, the dog version of All In the Family; M*U*S*H, the dog version of M*A*S*H; Patridge Family 2200 A.D., The Brady Kids, and The Oddball Couple (cat and dog).
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 9:33 AM on March 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was a teenager in a big city in the US in the 70s. My mom got cancer, to me the treatment seemed barbaric and brutal, and she died. I remember the hostages at the Olympics, Patty Hearst, the Manson family, Watergate, seeing soldiers coming home from Vietnam in wheelchairs and drug-addicted, rivers so polluted they caught fire. I signed up for science experiments by mail and one of the experiments included a card with varying shades of grey to black. You were supposed to hold this card up and compare it to the color of smoke coming from a factory smokestack to gauge how much pollution it was spewing.

TV wasn't much of an escape. The show "Roots" played out the tortures of slavery for many nights. Shows like "Good Times" and "Sanford and Son" portrayed black families as trapped in poverty. From my perspective, "Archie Bunker" was a non-stop spew of ugliness and arguments; I don't care how loveable a bigot he was supposed to be.

What I remember most clearly from school was a sharp loss of innocence. In middle school, girls were already wearing short-shorts and halter tops and boys were dressing and acting like pimps. One classmate got pregnant at 13. There were sexual assaults and at least one rape in my high school. Drugs were everywhere, and gambling. You had to be careful entering the girls' bathroom so as not to interrupt a game of craps (I'm referring to dice here). Many girls carried knives.

I came out of the era a little tough, and I sneered all through the 80s.
posted by ceiba at 9:44 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

The seventies brought us The Barkleys, the dog version of All In the Family; M*U*S*H, the dog version of M*A*S*H; Patridge Family 2200 A.D., The Brady Kids, and The Oddball Couple (cat and dog).

Emergency + 4
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 10:32 AM on March 26, 2014

What went on there was an extended cultural transition phase. A fairly large number of social, political, economic, and scientific trends hit inflection points almost simultaneously between the late 1960s and the early 1980s.

You've read, heard, or heard of Hunter S. Thompson's so-called 'Wave Speech' from Fear n Loathing in Las Vegas (1972)?
There was a fantastic universal sense that whatever we were doing was right, that we were winning. . . . that sense of inevitable victory over the forces of Old and Evil. Not in any mean or military sense; we didn’t need that. Our energy would simply prevail. . . . we were riding the crest of a high and beautiful wave. . . . So now . . . with the right kind of eyes you can almost see the high-water mark—that place where the wave finally broke and rolled back.”
Thompson thought the wave had broken a few years earlier, and maybe for him it had, but globally, certainly for US culture, dozens of waves broke within a ten to twelve year period.

The reassessment (and retrenchment) following from this is what the 1970s were.

So, this is Aquarius? What do we do now? Oh -- that's not what I was thinking, at all. And from now on, everything good is going to take longer and be harder to achieve than we thought.

A few rolled up their sleeves and tried to shape Aquarius, or shape their own thing within Aquarius. A few shouted "No Future!" Most -- as any objective observer would have expected -- simply fell back into more familiar patterns: why not? And of course, there were some who thought, "Well: I'm glad that's over. It's morning in America."

And most of these groups in one way or another infuriated each other.

To be honest, it didn't really seem that bleak at the time, just frustrating.
posted by Herodios at 10:48 AM on March 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Huh, I just realized that my Carter speech link points back to this page. Here is the text of the speech. Remember, this is the President talking and this wasn't even for the State of the Union. For historical context, the Iran Hostage Crisis kicked off less than four months later.
posted by jquinby at 12:09 PM on March 26, 2014

My mother always described the Watergate Era as "weird," which is her code word for "totally fucked up." My parents became political during that time, when they were in their early 30s, after having been entirely apolitical. They haven't been political since then, either, but felt that it was essential to stand up to all the bad things that were happening. In 1974 we spent a summer in Europe with English and American friends, and the parents were so tense and fearful that the kids totally avoided them. My memory of that summer is bliss with a dark cloud hovering behind. I imagine things were a lot worse during the McCarthy Era and the Depression, but the 1970s were definitely really tough times. Those yellow ribbons on every tree were a constant reminder of how adrift we all felt.
posted by Capri at 12:48 PM on March 26, 2014

Yes, it was that bleak. I started the decade in college and ended it in low-end minimum-wage jobs, and while people's personal experiences obviously varied, there absolutely was a widespread sense of despair. You have to remember that the sixties, for all the well-remembered violence (assassinations, riots, war), was a period of hope; those of us who were pushing back against the bad stuff had a real sense that we could make a difference, that we really might get the war ended (and pot legalized, and all the other stuff we thought would make life wonderful). The election of Nixon was a kick in the gut, and it soon became clear that nothing was going to change for the better: the war was escalating and spreading (as was the drug war), the cops were ratcheting up the brutality, the movements of protest were fracturing, and a few turned to frustrated violence (Weathermen, etc.) while others turned inward and gave up on political change. In retrospect we can see positive change beginning in that period for women, gay people, and other previously excluded groups, but that wasn't so visible at the time. (For me and my people, the election of Reagan was the ultimate insult, the cherry on top of the shit cake; for many others, of course, it was a triumph, the alleged beginning of morning in America... but for those people, obviously, the previous decade was the nightmare they wanted to wake up from.)
posted by languagehat at 1:01 PM on March 26, 2014 [7 favorites]

It wasn't bleak at all. I graduated from high school in 75, college in 79, and look back on that decade with fondness. It was the best time in music ever, new tech like the personal computer and video games were developed, and it was the last time liberal wasn't a dirty word. The 80s brought in the bad times with the Reagan administration. In my mind the bleakest time in America was the GW Bush administration. Also, my 72 Chevelle and 77 Delta 88 were great cars.
posted by rfs at 5:03 PM on March 26, 2014

dances_with_sneetches: "The seventies brought us The Barkleys, the dog version of All In the Family; M*U*S*H, the dog version of M*A*S*H; Patridge Family 2200 A.D., The Brady Kids, and The Oddball Couple (cat and dog)."

This is true? This is not a joke?
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 7:12 PM on March 26, 2014

I'll add one small example. In Ken Grimwood's novel Replay, the protagonist keeps living his life over and over, and there's one line that goes "Maybe he was still vulnerable to the general malaise that always gripped the world the week of the Jonestown horror, despite his having heard the loathsome tale revealed afresh three times before." And when I read that, I was like, oh ... yeah ... that takes me back. I remember the news was strange and terribly depressing.

I think in some respects it wasn't just the content that was affecting, though, because I could hardly imagine the deaths per se. It's the solemn, meandering news reports that I recall vividly. Today, I reckon we'd be like, "Tonight on Anderson Cooper: Cults in America--could Jonestown happen in your town??" or "Republicans weigh in on massacre" or whatnot, trying to make sense of it with random commentary or opinion more relevant to ordinary experiences and attitudes. Maybe I wasn't paying attention to things like that as a kid--I'm sure there must have been opinion pieces on it somewhere--but what I recall is the whole thing being presented as just a big, mute, inexplicable fact. Very bleak.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:52 PM on March 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Consider, too, that all of this took place well before the 24-hour news cycle. It would be easy - and probably correct - to place the blame for modern pessimism on the constant stream of news and attendant analysis.

Your sources for current events during that period were the local newspaper, radio and the nightly newscasts from CBS, NBC, and ABC, period. You could get deeper analysis from PBS shows like McNeil-Leher and early-morning weekend shows, but that was about it.

So on a much more restricted diet of media consumption, the general mood was still less than stellar.
posted by jquinby at 5:52 AM on March 27, 2014 [2 favorites]

This is true? This is not a joke?

Mostly true, unfortunately


It wasn't all bad, though.
posted by jquinby at 5:56 AM on March 27, 2014

the general malaise that always gripped the world the week of the Jonestown horror

But that was 1979 and the question is specifically about the early 1970s.

IMO a lot of the answers here are muddling up the time period. For example, President Carter was elected 1976, inaugurated 1977, ergo anything about his administration doesn't qualify as early 70s.
posted by Rash at 8:00 AM on March 27, 2014

Born in 1968. My earliest memories were of the Vietnam war footage on the news giving me night terrors. The news showed people getting shot, set on fire, and horribly mutilated bombing victims.

My dad worked three jobs so that my mom could finish school. I was raised by a parade of babysitters and down-and-out friends who needed the extra cash.

Public parks had trash, soda pop tops, trash and dog shit everywhere.


and yeah the pop music / mainstream radio of the early to mid 70s was Vogon-poetry bad.
posted by lonefrontranger at 12:49 PM on April 1, 2014

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