While “that 70’s Show” has long since ended it’s run, the 1970’s in America’s cultural and political life never ends. In my post Obama’s America: Is it Jonestown? I explored one aspect of the return of the 1970’s, the eerie similarity between the People’s Temple and eventual suicide and the Obama cult. Certainly, Obama echoes also many unattractive aspects of Jimmy Carter’s Presidency, from supine surrender to Jihadist Islam in Iran and elsewhere, to an emphasis on a never ending apology for America and her existence, to a “sweater and tire gauge” approach to energy policy, and anti-nuclear hysteria.
But it is in the economy and culture of America where the 1970’s are making a roaring comeback.
First, in the economy, many of the same factors, that is soaring inflation, particularly in gas and food prices, coupled with declining wages and high unemployment, bring to mind the “stagflation” of the 1970’s, and anger with a bipartisan elite that will not fix the problem. Gone are the heydays of the 1990’s, and even the early 2000’s, when advertisers sought ever smaller niches for luxury or specialty goods. Gone too, are the discretionary spending on consumer goods, including electronics, computers, and various status symbols. Instead, most of consumer spending (and advertising) is focused on “value.” Good gas mileage cars, cheap and healthy food, budget friendly consumer items. Ford, Chrysler, and GM are slashing advertising spending on TV, leaving networks scrambling to sell their spot market inventory to other buyers, at deep discounts.
High gas prices make discretionary travel by consumers a thing of the past. Gone too are spending on custom rims for cars, and other status-mongering displays. Starbucks has closed 600 stores, and will likely close more, as consumers stop spending $4 or more for a latte. Declining wages, economic uncertainty, fear of future layoffs, as companies plan massive budget cuts ($500 million next quarter for NBC Universal alone), amidst high gas and food prices naturally lead to a stagnant consumer economy.
Movie attendance is down, way down, and only inflated ticket prices and a few mega-hits such as “Iron Man” and “The Dark Knight” have produced profits of any kind for movie studios. Meanwhile, infusion of investment money from outside sources has dried up among Wall Street’s meltdown. In an economic downturn, $12 ticket prices for movies make them a once a year event, not a weekly one.
But it’s in culture where we can see the return of the 1970’s the most. While TV is filled with warmed-over X Files derivatives, such as “Fringe” and “Eleventh Hour,” complete with dark, brooding 1990’s Vancouver location shots and plot lines, one series stands out.
Which is, ABC’s “Life on Mars,” which at it’s heart is the examination of the cultural battle to impose PC on the old, White Male dominated world. Based on the British series from 2006-2007, it features a modern day policeman from NYC, Sam Tyler, hit by a car and in a coma, imagining he is in 1973, or perhaps has traveled back in time, or both, or neither. The very ambiguity is post-Modern, from the era of today, rather than 1973. But, ironically, the main character Sam Tyler encounters, lead cop Gene Hunt, shows what is wrong with the modern era of PC.
Played by the dean of modern NYC-based method actors, former “Bad Lieutenant” star Harvey Keitel, Gene Hunt tells Tyler that his aim is to get thugs and bad guys off the street, and says, “When my time is done, people will he has been here, of that I am certain.” In pursuit of this aim, Hunt will rough up suspects, intimidate witnesses, and ignore calls for a lawyer, to find his own brand of justice. Hunt and the nearly all male precinct ignore the contributions of “Annie Norris,” played by Gretchen Moll, the lone female policewoman relegated to clerical duty. Casual sexism and un-PC expressions of the same, along with disregard for minorities and gays, also abound.
But what stands out is with all the lack of modern forensic technology, evidence, and scientific support, how EFFECTIVE Hunt and his crew are, unbound by the rules of political correctness and excessive legalism. Ironically, the character of Hunt, in the British version, became very popular, despite the original version’s penchant for casual, minor corruption and brutality. Of course both shows, the British and American versions, are obsessed with pushing the “correctness” of the PC line, as opposed the result oriented good old boy world of 1973. Much in the same way of AMC’s “Mad Men,” the audience is invited to have contempt for the bygone world before PC, yet the audience in both cases actually LIKES the world before PC.
What stands out is how crippling the effects of PC have on getting anything done. Without computers, cell phones, DNA analysis, or other modern technology, Hunt and his team get results. It’s striking how large the cultural appetite is for throwing out PC, in favor of getting results.