Some time ago I watched the 1976 show called “Car wash”. I recall seeing it when it came out. For some reason I’ve always like this show. As I sat and reflected on it some interesting things came out:
A KIDS VIEW OF THE 70’S
The show made me think of the 70’s and what it was like. It brought up aspects of the 70’s that I have never heard of before: what it was like to be a grade school kid during that time. This is a point of view that is always overshadowed by “grown-ups” points of view and the social/political issues going on at that time. Because of this, life as a grade school kid at this time means practically nothing. I sometimes wonder if this is why, in the 80’s, when we grew to teenage years, we found shows about teenagers so neat. We loved shows like “Breakfast club” and “Fast times at Ridgemont High”. In some respects, this may show how the events of the 70’s completely overshadowed our childhood.
The perspective of a small grade school kid, being somewhat indifferent to it all and distant, can give a whole other perspective than is normally seen. This is why I think its so important for me to look at it.
I’ve always said that “the 70’s was a fun time”. There was a unique quality during that time. I would say that there was an attitude of non-restriction, that a person could do what they wanted. As I thought of it more, though, it became clear that the “fun time” of the 70’s was actually only the later part of the 70’s. The early 70’s was a whole other matter.
Interestingly, I had to look deeper to recall the early 70’s. This is a time that, in a way, I blotted out of my memory.
Why is this?
Because my recollection of the early 70’s had qualities such as these:
- A sense of doom and darkness as if the world was going to end.
- Social mania and fanaticism.
- Self-righteousness and high cause.
Overall, it seemed a dark time. Interestingly, when I think of the early 70’s I keep seeing the color black. In addition, there was a quality, even as a kid, of a “madness” or “maniacal” quality that was going on in society. Its probably because of this that I began to avoid “greater society” (where the “madness” was happening). That is to say, I just kept to “kid stuff” and to myself. Its interesting that I still avoid “greater society” today, and prefer solitude. In a way, it has left me with a great skepticism of society that continues to this day.
I can even remember being scared of some people in the early 70’s . . . there was something frightening about them. They were generally adults who had this strange quality about them. I never felt threatened by them, but something unnerved me about them. I believe it was all the doom and darkness of that era.
I recall one memory that’s interesting. I often laugh when I think of it. I’d be watching TV and the next program would come on. It would be a room full of people and you’d hear the sound of typewriters. Then it’d say something like “The Watergate Hearings”. As a kid I certainly didn’t want to watch this boring thing and I’d yell “Oh no, not Watergate!” and turn the channel to “Mr. Rogers”. I had heard about Watergate here and there but I didn’t know, or care, what it was about. I recall thinking once, “how can they make a gate out of water?” and thought the whole thing was ridiculous.
Watergate was one of those things that had a quality of doom and darkness about it. Being a kid I saw this as “adult stuff” and avoided it. It also created in me a sense that “adult stuff” was of doom and darkness that has lasted, really, even down to today. When we’d watch weekly TV series, for example, I’d avoid certain shows because it was “adult stuff” and I didn’t want the doom and darkness. These were shows like “All in the family”, “The Jefferson’s”, and even “Dallas” later on, that had this quality. Basically, the doom and darkness of the early 70’s made me want to avoid “adult” things as well as any doom and darkness in things which have persisted ever since. I don’t want to get into politics, social problems, disputes, arguments, and so on because of it. I can even see a tendency where I don’t want to “be an adult” or do “adult things” (such as having responsibility) because of this doom and darkness associated with it.
I’m not sure but I may of seen news images of Woodstock. Me and my brother used to sit in the TV room with my mom and dad even when the news was on. I assume we played. But I do seem to remember several news images. In one I recall an image of a mass of people on the screen. To me, they looked like animals. I have this vague recollection (though I can’t say if it is true) that I said to my dad, “what is that?” and my dad saying, in an excited tone, that “it was a rock concert . . . the largest in the whole world . . . and its in some farmers field”. Of course, I had no idea what that meant (what’s a “rock concert” to a kid?).
We also had some hippies who lived down the street from us. I recall looking at them. They seemed like animals to me. They were filthy and had this “wild” quality about them. I recall they used to park their car on the lawn, which I thought was terrible. It also seems that they may of played their radio out loud which I thought was indecent and rude (and still do). Whenever I saw hippies they struck me that way, as dirty and animal-like. This gave me the image of a hippie as “animals” to me, as a kid. To be frank, its an image I still have.
As a kid I saw various “hippie stuff” here and there, on the news, about the place, talked about in conversation, etc. A lot of what they said I had no idea what it meant. I know, though, that there seemed something odd about it. In fact, it seemed weird to me. “Hippie stuff”, in particular, had this doom, darkness, and end of the world quality to it. Its for this reason that I never like to be around people like that, even to this day. As I grew older, and understood more of what they were saying, there seemed to be an inconsistency. What I “felt” as a kid did not match what they said. This proved to be very revealing and has left quite a stamp on “hippie stuff”.
To put it simply, “hippie stuff” is, in a way, hypocritical or two-faced. What I mean by this is that they emphasized all this “peace and love” but, behind this, was a great terror. It was the dark and doom. They never talked about this though, only “peace and love”, which gave them this superficial, phony, and hypocritical aspect about it. I now know that this dark and doom was nothing but an aspect of the cold war and the threat of nuclear annihilation (what I often call the “cold war panic”). Not very often was “it” referred to but it motivated everything they did. In other words, they were a people motivated by panic but acted like they were “saints” bringing peace and love.
This panic was aggravated by the media, which made it spread like a disease in the population (what I often call the “cold war hysteria”). This gave it a quality of a “social mania”. In this way, it made them look like “people who are controlled by the mania of the situation”. In other words, they were not in control of themselves but was following the general mania blindly, much like blind sheep. This, no doubt, was part of the “madness” of society I felt.
It also had this self-righteous quality about it. In some respects, “hippie stuff” was much akin to Christianity preaching peace and love. In many ways, they were all “playing the part of Jesus”. In this way a lot of “hippie stuff” was not a whole lot of different than saying “repent, for the end is at hand”. In a sense, the threat of nuclear annihilation and war was identified with the “end of the world” as well as the representation of the “evil” and sinful nature of humanity which they often emphasized. No doubt there is great Christian themes here.
In short, “hippie stuff” had a quality of a social mania turning people into blind sheep. Behind this mania is an uncontrollable terror of doom and darkness. Stuff like this dominated the mood of the early 70’s it seems to me.
The early 70’s have created a number of dislikes for me, such as:
- A dislike toward liberalism, which seems an outspringing of “hippie stuff” with its high-minded hyprocrisy – an inner terror hidden behind self-righteousness.
- A distrust of media and mass mentality.
- A dislike of “seeing the worst in things” and accusations.
- A dislike of being “too serious” about things.
- A dislike for “greater society”.
- A dislike toward “adult things”.
After the end of the Vietnam War, Watergate, “hippie stuff”, and all that (about the mid-70’s) there was a change in the mood which I felt as a kid. Interestingly, I originally described it as a “freedom” no doubt reflecting the attitudes of the early 70’s. On reflection I felt that this was not correct. What the late 70’s felt like was more like a “release” as if a great weight had been taken off of us. This gave a sense as if we could “stretch our arms” and relax. All the dark, doom, and imminent world destruction was gone. There was a sense that we could “do what we wanted”. This doesn’t mean in the sense that one could misbehave. It was more in the sense that we were no longer restricted by something (the dark and doom) or that a great pressure has been removed that was previously restricting us. This sense is what made the late 70’s so fun . . . there was an absence of dark, doom, and the restrictions it imposed upon us. This same sense was seen in the movie “Car wash” I think.
The whole show is about what happens to a bunch of people at a car wash, of all places. It was just a place nobody thinks that much about with everyday people in an everyday place. It reflected this sense that only the simple everyday things in life matter. It was like saying “who cares about all that other crap”, meaning the politics, issues, and such of the early 70’s. There’s no dark and doom, no imminent end of the world, no high cause, no self-righteousness. Its just people living their everyday lives.
So we see that the “freedom” I felt in the late 70’s was not freedom in the political sense but the absence of the dark, doom, and the threat of world destruction of the early 70’s. In addition, it seems that the late 70’s was a sense that things weren’t as bad as it seems.
This “release”, in a way, created a form of rebellion or, rather, what appeared as rebellion. I would say that it was more like an “eagerness to get away from all that”. In short, I think we were tired of living under the dark cloud of the early 70’s. The rebelliousness was just the desire to be away from it. This rebellious, though, did seem to inspire a rebellious quality in some kids.
PERCEPTION OF LATER YEARS
This late 70’s attitude continued on into the very early 80’s but I’d say about 82 or so a change began to appear. The sense of “release” turned into a sense that “everything is a crime”. In some sense, the attitude of the early 70’s appeared again, though in a different way. The fear resurfaced. People, especially, began to see malicious intent in the most simple of things. I recall people always saying, “you look at someone the wrong way and its a crime”. This carried over into law where we began to have horrible and ridiculous lawsuits over the most stupid and trivial of things. Certain people (such as black people and some females) got so paranoid that they saw the worst in what anyone else was doing, to the point that they were fabricating malicious intent in peoples actions or statements. It was almost unreal.
What was the solution to all this?
Regulation, control, and criminalizing.
By the late 80’s it seems that regulation, control, and criminalizing had become a common thing and attitude. You had to be careful of what you said, did, or behaved around other people (some people in particular). If you didn’t hire, for example, a black person, then you would be villainized and viewed as a “racist” and even criminalized even to the point of being charged with a crime. This absurdity went so far as the creation, later on, of the idea of “PC” (political correctness).
While living in the 80’s I often spoke of it as the “sterile 80’s”, no doubt as a result of this sense. It was sterile because the fear was constraining and as if suffocating us again. Because of this, the “release” attitude of the late 70’s slowly waned and disappeared and was gone by the late 80’s.
By the 90’s these “sterile attitudes” were prevalent with regulation, control, and criminalizing a common trait. It seems like this has been the norm since then. There only seems to be minor changes from the early 90’s to today. In other words, there’s not that much of a difference in the past quarter of a century or so it seems to me.
In the past quarter of a century the mania for regulation and control became particularly directed toward the youth. Every kid, and their dog, now HAS TO GO to college and LEARN EVERYTHING under the sun and then MAKE A LIFE OUT OF THEIR JOB. They have made unreal and unbelievable demands on the kids to the point that kids can’t be kids anymore, having to go to school and do homework instead. Its sort of interesting how, in my generation, the ‘cold war hysteria’, and all it created, overshadowed our childhood and now, with this new generation, the latter effects of this same historical situation are doing basically the same thing. It seems worse with the kids nowadays, though. Of course, its OK if they do what the system wants, but if you don’t . . .
In ways, such as this, they turned young people into something like a show pony whose intent is to display the ideals of the parents under the hand of regulation and control. I’ve talked to many people who feel sorry for kids, nowadays, because of this. I’m glad I’m not part of this younger generation.
To me, it seems that the younger generation (since the early 90’s on) are really living under the shadow of the cold war. Their parents, and older people, are basically imposing upon them attitudes, ideals, and perspectives from their generation who lived during the cold war (such as fear and the mania for regulation, control, and criminalizing). In this way, the cold war has been passed on to the younger generations and hangs over them. I’ve even remarked that the younger generations are probably more “cold warish” than we were, who were living in it. With us the cold war was a situation that happened to be there. With the younger generation it is something that is imposed upon them. I don’t think the younger generation really realize how much they are “cold warish”.
AN OVERALL VIEW
When I look at it I see a pattern revealing an interesting aspect of the American character. There are basically two aspects to this:
- A fear. This is something that scares people. In the 70’s it was the threat of nuclear annihilation, the effect of the cold war.
- The “cover”. This is really a “defense” against the fear. That is to say, it “covers” or hides the fear, it is something to hide behind. It often appears as a high cause, self-righteousness, or a preaching (such as of “freedom” and “peace”) which would instigate regulation, control, and criminalizing later on.
These two create something like a hypocrisy or an illusion quality in the American attitude. In general, the fear is as if repressed as if it doesn’t even exist. Because of this it is seldom mentioned directly. Despite this, one see’s continual indirect references to it. Generally, the “cover” is what is emphasized and focused upon . . . the high cause, “peace”, “love” and all that. It diverts things from the fear and, in a sense, counter-reacts it. In this way, the “avoidance of fear” is a significant part of the American attitude, particularly since the 70’s.
Being that the fear has persisted so strongly shows that America has a basic deep-rooted somewhat hidden fear within it that is so strong that it influences a lot of what it does and how it views things. I tend to view that the fear is rooted in centuries of Christian teaching about the doom of life, of hell, sinning, damnation, etc. The ‘cold war hysteria’, civil rights, war, etc., of the post WWII world, seemed to of brought that fear out or, rather, gave it a new face. This association with doom, fear, and Christianity would also be seen with the attitudes of “hippie stuff”, such as “peace”, “love”, and such. These are all Christian-originated ideals. In other words, I tend to view this fear as “taught” and not necessarily based in a real situation of fear. In that way, it is really being “frightened for no reason”. I believe this to be the case.
During the 60’s and early 70’s the Vietnam War, Watergate, civil rights riots, assassinations, etc. gave this fear a real face. Because of this, fear was a very prevalent theme. Later, during the 80’s, the lack of substantiation or demonstration of the fear tended to cause a prevalence of various forms of the “cover” which really ended up causing regulation, control, and criminalizing . This would only grow in the 90’s and since.
We could see a historical progression of fear and “cover”:
- 60’s – problems give a real face to fear
- Early 70’s – fear turns to hysteria and forms of “cover” appear (such as “peace” and “love”)
- Late 70’s into the 80’s – the “release” . . . hysteria disappears as well as the “cover”
- 80’s to the 90’s – a slow resurfacing of fear with the appearance of control and regulation
- 90’s to today – control and regulation is predominate
And so, in about 50 years, we went from fear as predominate to “cover” (in the form of regulation, control, and criminalizing) as predominate. This shows the power of fear in the U.S. Fear plays a far greater role in U.S. history, attitudes, and behavior than people admit. I know that many Americans would deny it (national pride remember!). I’d say that much of my life has been living in a society with a “hidden secret fear that it won’t admit to”. Its because of observations of things like that inspired this saying:
“The U.S. is nothing but a frightened country that pretends that they are not.”
Copyright by Mike Michelsen