The 1970s were the decade of my childhood. It was a different time. No worldwide web and no cable TV. People consumed less mass media back then and if they did, it was probably around a Zenith TV with goofy knobs and an antenna. Very few folks had remotes. Attention spans were longer because it took genuine effort (getting up) to change a channel.
Now, I’m not trying to candy coat anything. The 1970s were a vapid era. No doubt about it. They were also a very innocent era which may seem counterintuitive when you think that we are talking about the age of swinging and radical chic. But just the fact that people considered engaging in those kinds of activities, conveys a certain innocence. Today we are all too damaged and cynical to get caught up in much. Back then folks were more naive.
As a kid, when I would go on trips with my family, we would all stay in one room, usually at a Holiday Inn. My mom and dad would stay up late watching Johnny Carson. I remember lying in my hotel bed watching that show and thinking, “this is grown-up entertainment”. My dad was a World War Two Vet. Johnny and Ed were his peers. Ed McMahon was a marine in World War Two and a hard drinking foil for Johnny Carson. My dad felt he was talentless. His sympathies were with Johnny.
Me? I always liked Ed McMahon. He looked a lot like my dad. I even liked Ed on Star Search. The thing about Ed was that he was just earning a pay check. He didn’t have much talent besides being an OK announcer. But he represented a kind of old school American guy that has disappeared. He died this week. I wish him well.
Farah Fawcett died this week too. How about the Farah Fawcett poster that literally launched a thousand boners? I was too young to appreciate Farah’s hotness but I remember that older brothers had that poster in their rooms and again, when I was at friends’ houses and saw it, it symbolized something about being older.
In fact, if you were cool in suburban 1978 era Saint Louis, you probably dug Corvette Stingrays, Ted Nugent and Farah Fawcett. You talked about which chick on Charlie’s Angels was the hottest (clue…it was never Sabrina) as if you ever, in a million years, had a chance with any of them. Farah was, for me, a pre-adolescent ideal of sexuality. Thrown into a mixing pot of 1970′s iconography along with Chewbacca, The Hamburgler, KISS, John Travolta and Olivia Newton John, she represented in a way, the pre-adolescent innocence of my childhood.
And Michael Jackson, who in many ways was as much an icon of the 1980s as the 1970s, passed away this week as well. Now, I am not going to fool myself into believing that Michael was some kind of musical genius. He wasn’t. He had a few good songs, Don’t Stop til you Get Enough being my favourite. As a kid, I remember him as an animated Hannah Barbera cartoon figure singing ABC and I remember finding the whole thing shrill and annoying. As a teen, I remember wanting to smash the TV every time I had to sit through all 15 minutes of that goddam Thriller video. Seriously. That thing was banal. And tedious. But Americans can be pretty banal and tedious as a whole and that thing had profound cultural relevance there. It was everywhere. Michael then followed this with 20 plus years of being an absolute freakshow. His death this week was a post-script. It’s amazing he lasted this long.
The public outcry that we are now witnessing, has more to do with a generation losing a piece of its identity and childhood than it does with the lyrics to Beat It. Generation X does not know how to handle its grief without going to a TV, a computer, a wireless device. Mass media will provide it with closure. After all, we were the first generation to come of age bathed in its digital light. We feel lost and adrift right now because in reality, we are. We can’t ever go back to that Holiday Inn with our parents, staying up late and watching Ed and Johnny. The moment is long gone.