Wednesday, June 4, 2008

A Bicentennial Minute

It's entirely possible to view America between 1960 and 1980 as a national nightmare. In some ways everything fell apart. True, the shattering of the post-war cultural hegemony was needed, but did we really need to kill each other in order to loosen up a bit? Kill each other we did: racists killing civil rights protesters, war protesters killing themselves, cops and National Guardsmen killing war protesters, rioters killing bystanders, cops killing rioters, on and on. President after President lied to the public. The economy went to hell. Drugs stopped being freeing and turned deadly and ugly.

In the middle of all this can be found one brief reprieve, one shining year filled with a bit of optimism. "Aaah," I imagine millions of Americans thinking, "That horrible war is truly over. Nixon has been banished. That Jimmy Carter seems like a nice fella. Time to put some ferns in macrame hanging baskets around the split level, buy a flag-decorated wastebasket and celebrate. It's the Bicentennial!" 1976 was a good year indeed.

It was a year when polyester was celebrated without irony. It was a year when avocado and harvest gold looked really good in a kitchen. It was a year when divorce was socially accepted, women were working, gay men were inventing disco, cocaine was everywhere. It was a year when swingers could have key parties in suburban living rooms or just go to Plato's Retreat. It was a year when the new social and sexual freedoms could be enjoyed, before AIDS, family values, crack.

1976 was the last time patriotism would be kitschy. I remember flag sneakers, flag cut-off shorts, flag beach towels and floats. The Bicentennial was an orgy of merchandising. Tall ships, fireworks, commemorative coins given out with fast food. Love of country at its finest.

1976 featured an Olympics unmarked by radical gestures on the medal podium or terrorist kidnappings. 1976 was the year my menses commenced, for whatever that's worth. It was a year when it must have felt as if a long period of national pain and struggle was finally over and relief was in sight. It was a year when it was possible to feel good about yourself and your country.

1976 is when the action of Swingtown takes place. It premiers tomorrow (Thursday, June 5) at 10 on CBS. If it's any good, it will do for the Bicentennial what Mad Men did for 1960, which is to bring the period to life through studious costume and set design while at the same time allowing through character a glimpse of the dark undercurrents at work in the culture. I doubt it will be that good, but sometimes I miss 1976 all the same, so I'll be watching, if only for the fun of it all.


Sandy said...

Swingtown sounds like a blast from the past.

In 1976, I was newly on my own and had my first apartment. Though your synopsis was mostly correct, I must tell you that those of us with our adolescent or teenaged feet in the 60's found polyester a little gross...sorry! We were still hanging on to the blue-jeans with both fists.

Thanks for the cool memories! I'll try to watch the show!

tunsie said...

I was engulfed in the jazz scene which was changed 4 or 5 times by one,miles davis,I went to ambler often 2 see concerts at the temple music festival which was an outdoor tent.I helped my brothers with 4 jazz shows a week at the lafayette bar.I was afraid of my peers because I thought they were wierd.I don't remember any of the things u r talking was free.does that mean that the prostitutes didn't have a price tag.Was there more promiscuity.our kitchen was off white.I never experimented with drugs.I guess u were cool if u did.but I see some of those people that did indulge and they look like they would be better off somewhere else.I spent time with old people because they were what I thought was cool.I wasn't rebellious towards my parents.I loved them very much.mental illness is all around us.I guess we have 2 live with it.peace out. Iluv u el.tunsie.tunsie.tunsie