Monthly Archives: October 2012

Growing Up in the 70s—A View from 1979

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My current book project begins with a big dream I had as a teenager. I remember the dream very clearly, but decided to go back and find how I wrote it down originally. So I spent a few hours the other night in an absolute time warp, re-reading journals from my freshman year in college.

Just a couple weeks after graduating high school in 1979, I moved out of my parent’s house in Oakland and into the student co-ops in Berkeley. My journals are full of the painful struggle between my parents and me, as well as the adventures and friendships that marked my eager entry into a larger world.

Most of what I wrote is not fit for public consumption, but I came across one piece from December 27, 1979 that I think is worth sharing. I was 17, home for winter break, and wrote every day to maintain my sanity. This particular day I was on a tear about the impending decade change, my relation to older Boomers, and what growing up in the 1970s had really been like. Enjoy:

So many people say that the only thing happening in the 1970s was 50s and 60s nostalgia. Or they say it was the Me Decade. Or that everyone went out and bought new improved consciousness, or found themselves, or bought designer jeans. What a bunch of hype.

I have too large a stake in the 1970s to see it dismissed, panned and put-down so much. I grew up in the 70s, I am a product of the American society of those years. My first political awakening occurred during Watergate; I watched Batman, Room 222, The Waltons, All in the Family; I saw Star Wars, The Graduate, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Annie Hall; I loved Big Macs and chocolate shakes, I liked Saturday Night Fever, I was into baseball, football, and chess, I went to public schools—what more do you want?

We were exposed to, opened to, and offered excesses of a whole lot of stuff, mostly sugared drinks, lots of TV, sex and violence. Also rock and roll when it became rated PG. There was a lot of talk about the apocalypse, and I sat two feet in front of Daniel Ellsberg at the Bear’s Lair and listened with gaping mouth as he talked about Eisenhower and Cambodia and Tonkin Gulf and all that I’d missed.

For a child of upper-middle-income WASP parents, the seventies were a fantasy land. Television said you could be anything you wanted to be, and we believed it without realizing it. Things were wonderful, and if you couldn’t be who you wanted to be in real life, at least you could give it your best shot at night when the lights were out.

Television showed us how very sophisticated scenes were handled, how the woman was silent and smiled knowingly and how the man couldn’t quite penetrate her depths. Unfortunately, being that woman later on, I couldn’t remember what it was I was supposed to know so secretly, the one thing that had been taken for granted, so implicit on the screen.

I don’t know, it seems to me that we were shown the surface of a universe of things. We were given so much on that level, that most of us didn’t bother with its foundation, with the root images or impulses that might spawn such symbols. So much you were supposed to have been born knowing. If you asked you were uncool, and definitely not hip to what was happening.

But, with such free rein to go out and explore life, we also found ourselves with the freedom to reject what we were shown, to search for new alternatives as any spoiled child will do. We did. Our parents had not seen that they had given us this right to snub our noses at their neo-conservative values, as had been true in previous generations also. So we were not dramatically unlike our older friends, except we consumed more drugs earlier and in greater quantities with less reason than they did, but they had better stories to tell. They still do.