1970s Discussion and Culture

Entertainment versus Effect

Our discussion of the 1970s began with a question for today: which would leave you more disgusted and demoralized, a terrible economy defined by inflation and few job opportunities OR a presidential political scandal that showed wickedness in high places. In groups of two, my wonderful students chattered and chattered. The result was unanimous: the political scandal would be entertainment, while the economic trauma would have such a negative effect that it would be far more important to them.

This led directly into a terrific discussion of how their answers were built upon the history we were studying. Major Problems details not just the “fall of presidents” but in some ways the “fall of politics.” Watergate gets the lion’s share of attention, but the Pentagon Papers and Vietnam were just as devastating. My students don’t trust leading politicians. They expect scandal, hypocrisy, and lies. They’re living in a history transformed by the late 1960s and 1970s. We then talked about how different this was from the age of the New Deal when farmers and city folk, mothers and daughters, artists and mechanics wrote to Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt for help. We contrasted our time with the era of the fireside chats when hearing the voice of the president was inspiring, and not infuriating. I thought, all in all, what they didn’t vote for (presidential scandal) was a great entrée into some of the historical points. And to underscore this, we watched the trailer to All the President’s Men and saw how two supposedly bumbling reporters became political heroes by exposing political scandal.

Then we got into the impact of the economy. This is what they voted for as most frustrating, and so we watched a little bit of the Rocky trailer from 1976. There is so much there. The poor, ethnic Rocky (the “Italian stallion”) whose entire life was a “million-to-one-shot” living in the run down urban blight that was Philadelphia. He’s to fight Apollo Creed, the black champion who believes in opportunity so much that he’ll give Rocky a chance, who parades and parodies American nationalism so much during the Bi-Centennial that he dresses up first as George Washington then as Uncle Sam to overexpose the nation. When it comes to racial politics, notions of nationalism, the rise of new ethnic identities, and the power of stagflation, I don’t think there’s anything better than Rocky (of course, we don’t find out till Rocky III that Mick, Rocky’s trainer, is Jewish … but that’s another storyline).

And finally, we back tracked a little with the trailer for The Graduate. Underneath the political scandal and the economic travail was another massive shift – that in assumptions of what was expected of “men” and “women.” On one hand, it’s hilarious to watch Dustin Hoffman not know what to do when confronted with questions like “what are you going to do with yourself” or when Mrs. Robinson is disrobing. It’s also funny watching this “track star” run (he doesn’t look very fast!) But what I want my students to see – and they can read about this in Hist is that what it meant to be a man and a woman in American society was changing. The new wave of feminism had altered what was and what wasn’t appropriate behavior, and Hoffman’s character signaled that. We addressed several articles from Major Problems that discussed appropriate femininity in the 1950s so now the question became what and how should men act not just in a post-Civil Rights world, but also in a post-patriarchy world (at least where patriarchy is accepted as a norm).

 Next week, we follow more of Rocky and listen to the powerful 80s rock of “Gonna Fly Now” and then jet into the actual air with Tom Cruise and Top Gun. There, American patriotism and manhood are going to fight back, bed their superiors, and win the Cold War through a bravado that overcomes the Vietnam complexes. Somehow I’ll also need to work in the rise of Oprah – after teaching my friend Katie Lofton’s amazing book on the icon in my US religious history class.

11 thoughts on “1970s Discussion and Culture

  1. The document I am discussing is the 9th document in chapter fourteen (Vietnam and the Downfall of Presidents) of Major Problems entitled Senator Sam J. Ervin Explains the Watergate Crimes, 1974.
    I find it very interesting that with all of the “illegal and unethical activities” that occurred under Nixon it took two reporters, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein to uncover it. It’s just crazy to me with all of the cash contributions, borrowing CIA disguises and the attempts to conceal sources that no one slipped up, talked or someone found out. Also, I can’t believe we had a president that wanted to destroy “the integrity…by which the president is nominated and elected.” The United States has always seemed huge on tradition and integrity, so it’s crazy to me that Nixon went in the complete other direction.
    The question I have is how did these two reporters crack the Watergate crimes? What was it that looked suspicious to them to investigate? How long did it take them and did they do it on their own or did they have a lot of assistance?

  2. Since this post is telling about entertainment, I will be discussing the 3rd article in chapter 15 titled TV’s Archie Bunker sings, “Those Were the Days.” This song is played in the opening scene of All in the Family. It is sung by two older people who are reminiscing about the world in which they used to live in. The world is now different than what they used to live back in the day. It is more modernized and they feel left behind. They are probably also confused with gender roles and how they had changed. Before men had manly roles like work and women stated in the house; cleaning, cooking, and taking care of the children. They also never had Welfare, social security, retirement, disability, etc. Social Security came in with Roosevelt. Before people worked to support themselves and didn’t think about all these other aspects that have come into play. They then talk about the LaSalle which is an older car. It ran great and they probably still have the same simple car. They probably don’t want to purchase a new car because of the modernization and the changes that they would have to learn to deal with or use.

    -Nadin T.

  3. The article I read was Senator Sam J. Ervin Explains the Watergate Crimes, 1974. This article was interesting to me because the whole Watergate crime was really fascinating to me. It lists eight crimes that Nixon and his employees committed. It really shocks me that we had a president that committed crimes like the ones the happened while he was in office. For example something that astonished me from the reading was , “They exacted enormous contributions-usually in cash-from corporate executives by impliedly implanting in their minds the impressions that the making of the contributions was necessary to insure that the corporations would receive governmental favors…” Some questions that I thought of when reading this article were did other presidents besides Nixon commit crimes like this but not get caught? Did Nixon really think he would not get caught committing these crimes?

    Zoe Carroll

  4. I’m going to talk about the third document of chapter 15, “TV’s Archie Bunker Sings ‘Those Were the Days,’ 1971.” The song talk about the old days and how simple life was. It brings up issues of the time such as homosexuality, “And you knew who you were then, Girls were irks and men were men.” By reminiscing about the old days, we can see just how much America has changed. It criticizes people not pulling their weight, but if i remember correctly, the 30’s and 40’s were no picnic. With the depression depression taking a toll on everyone and WWII leaving lasting scars, i would think progress would be a positive thing. The 60’s and 70’s were two eras full of change and progress, and although this song criticizes that, America kept moving forward.

  5. I’ll be discussing document 8, “White House Counsel John W. Dean III Presents the ‘Enemies List,’1971” the article is basically suggestions on how to ‘screw political enemies’ of the Nixon administration. I was both amused and shocked. Especially at how straight-forward the memo was. It’s true that nowadays there is a general idea that we’re not supposed to trust politicians and there’s a negative attitude toward government, but seeing a document like this is still surprising. After I read through it the first time, I felt that it was funny that there was much effort being put into screwing with other people at that level. Politicians/ government officials are supposed to be sophisticated, admirable, etc, or at least appear that way, not playing games with each other. Reading it again, I decided it’s not that funny. It’s sad that people like that have been involved in the management of our country. The idea of someone getting paid to spend hours as a project coordinator giving people a hard time because they opposed the administration is infuriating. It just shows that they were more concerned with staying in power than serving the country.

  6. The article I will be discussing is the sixth document from chapter 15 titled, “Draftee Sebastian A. Ilacqua Recalls Coming Back to ‘The World,’ 1967”. A soldier makes his way home two days before Christmas after serving in the Vietnam War. It surprised me that this soldier literally had almost no personal belongings left upon his return home. The constant muddy and wet conditions in Vietnam as well as this statement, “Trivial things like having floors in a house or refrigerators or running water took on a new and much appreciated meaning”, really made me stop and think. With so many soldiers currently at war in Iraq and the Middle East, I feel as though so many people take so many simple and large conveniences for granted. This article also made me appreciate what the men and women do in service, that much more. I thought it was such a nice gesture that the cab driver waved the fee when driving the soldier to his house and question if such gestures are still carried out today as much as they should. I wonder what the conditions are in the current war compared to that of the Vietnam? As well as if we are doing enough to support those who are overseas?

  7. The document I will be discussing is from Chapter 13, document 9 called “Carl Wittman Issues a Gay Manifesto.” This document goes from 1969-1970, which is the beginning of the gay liberation movement. Carl begins with a statement that San Francisco is a “refugee camp” for homosexuals, that many have fled there because where they used to live had too much pressure on being gay. He repeatedly uses the word fled, and he says he fled many things such as: blackmailing cops, families who disowned them for not accepting being gay, armed services, fired from jobs, and drunks and policemen. From there, he explains everything that homosexuality is not, to further emphasize that homosexuality is simply this: “the capacity to love someone of the same sex.” He makes an interesting point that people in his time have must’ve been hard to accept gays because the majority of people, and people in high power, were all straight. He then makes more statements, but finishes his speech with “Come out,” hoping to bring all gays together to help stop the madness that is anti-homosexuality.

  8. The document I will be discussing is from chapter 12 document 7, “Multiracialism (and Détente) on TV: Star Trek, 1967.”

    The producers of this show “attempt to “boldly go where no man has gone before”: into a universe of ethnic diversity and interracial harmony.” There was a wide range of cast members that were Whites, African Americans, Asian, Russian, Scottish, and alien from Vulcan. They worked in harmony as a team that defended the galaxy in a future where race was no longer an issue. Star Trek was a major success and it open now doors to many other interracial shows to be accepted in society. My question is, how did viewer immediately react to this show? Was it an instant success or did it have one of those cult followings that slowly built up?
    Kelsey Rodocker

  9. I just wanted to quickly talk about Archie Bunker’s song, “Those were the days”, 1971. The 70’s was kind of depressing as you showed us from the Bee Gees song- “Stayin Alive”. So i understand the song to be portrayed during that era. He sings about the earlier days when “men are men” and the times were so depressing. But, there were a couple of things in teh song that just didn’t make sense to me. At first when i read the comment about “girls were girls and men were men” i immediately thought about teh roles and satisfaction men and women had in family life. Women took care of the families and men made the money. In the 1970s that started to change with the hippie era of being free and equal. After the 50s, women started to make a name of themselves and have jobs and careers. But then, I also thought maybe Bunker meant by that comment was the intro to homosexuality and the lack of tolerance that most of America had for the new wave of people idetifying themselves. Either way, I was able to make the sense that he was being ignorant in his comlpaining song.
    The next thing that caught my eye was his wishfulness for ” a man like Herbert Hoover again”. Now, why would he want a man like Hoover who was not seen as a powerful or influencing president. In fact, he didn’t really help America in recovering from the Depression.
    Maybe actually knowing this character and seeing how he felt about America might answer some of the questions I have, but from the song, I just don’t understand why Archie Bunker would pick these things in his song of cry.

  10. I first want to comment on the part that says how different politics looks to us as we’ve grown up, compared to how it was in the 50’s area. It’s amazing to me that people would write letters to the president and first lady, something so genuine as that would not be probable in today’s society I would think. It is all the scandal and negative problems that have occurred by the government that we don’t look up to politicians, that many Americans are turned away from getting involved because they rather be ignorant to all the problems that still happen.It’s almost absolutely crazy to think about. To think if things don’t change, who will be there to support and follow?

    To me the 70s seemed to be a big time of change, although a lot of the imagery in my head includes those big Volkswagen vans and a hippie inside showing off the peace sign. Yet we see movies like the Graduate and Rocky that show things that have never been seen occurring. The switch of the male and female role, as woman gain more power and hold a different atmosphere to themselves. Along with Rocky which gave us an Italian boxer trying to win at the only chance he has. It shows the norms of race and sex shifting, slowly but surely all the same.

  11. Before I talk about the document I choose to talk about for this section, let me just say, I LOVE ROCKY. My mother loved ROCKY. One of my earliest memories is of my mom (a single mother) taking her three little girls to the theater to watch the latest Rocky movie. in hindsight I see what a production it must have been to take us all but it was the only way she would be able to see that movie. Maybe the reason I love those movies so much is because I remember my mom loving it so much and now it just brings a smile to my face.
    okay now lets talk about this sections document. The document I found interesting is document number 9: Senator Sam J. Ervin Explains the Watergate Crimes, 1974. What I find interesting it that its this scandal that people point to as the incident when the public started not trusting politicians. I find this interesting because I dont know what its like to be able to trust everything a politician says. As I got the voting age I have always loved that right to vote and exercise it every chance I get but I always remember the distrust that automatically came with the label of politician. I cant even imagine fully trusting them, it seems naive to do so and I find it interesting that there was a time when politician were trusted.
    also, reading of the Watergate crimes I cant help but think of that part in Forrest Gump where this scandal is briefly portrayed. 🙂
    -G. Aldaba

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *