The Beige Age

 By Shamus Oct 9, 2006 30 comments

Everyone knows how culture is supposed to work: You cherish the culture of your childhood, wrapping those memories in a warm blanket of nostalgia. Then you idolize the culture that exists as you become an adult, because your generation has obviously hit some sort of societal high note. Then you decry the culture that supplants it, since all these dang kids are messing things up.

But this isn’t what I’m seeing. The culture of my childhood was a wasteland. Television was rubbish. The music sucked. Things got much better in the 80′s, and have gradually improved since then. If I have any complaints about our current culture, it pales in comparison to my dislike for what things looked like then I was eight.

We tend to label things by decade, but of course the old culture isn’t thrown in the trash at the 10-year mark. When 1980 rolled around men didn’t suddenly shave off the Chuck Norris mustache, take down their blacklight / velvet wall hangings, and put on a clean shirt. It doesn’t really work that way. But that doesn’t stop us from trying to impose order on what is fundamentally a chaotic and ever-changing world. I will now carry on this tradition of pretending that culture can be measured and judged in neat, decade-sized portions.

I like the 50′s. It had class. The TV was bland, but polite and genial. I like the 60′s, when America stopped being such a stiff, and started thinking seriously about this civil rights thing and how that might be a good idea. The 80′s were ok, if a bit of a dork. The 90′s were filled with exciting technological and social changes – rising from the intertron web superhighway thing – and that was pretty great. The only decade I can’t stand is the one I’m supposed to cherish: The 70′s unambiguously sucked.

In the sixties, America loosened up, took of the tie, and cracked a smile. In the seventies it got drunk, took of its pants, and went streaking in the quad. The decade of loosening up gave way to the decade of coming unhinged, and the result was some of the most spectacularly awful culture the west has ever seen.

I’m not just talking about the music or attitudes: I’m talking about everything. The homes and buildings built in that era are dark, ugly bunkers. The clothing was an abominable smear of oddly shaped polyester clown suits which came in a broad mix of putrid earthtones. Women’s fashion seemed bent on making all every female look cheap and unkempt. Collars on men’s shirts became big enough to serve as an ersatz airfoil, and the most popular hair style for men was “Chewbacca”. The catchy tunes of the early 60′s faded away, and we were left with sulking musical misery, protest songs, and white guys who were bent on draining every last drop of soul out of rock music. The simple-living, smiling, friendly hippies were replaced with the sneering, angry, inarticulate stoner hippies. The cars – excepting a few nice muscle cars – were grotesque. The slang was stupid. The movies were bleak and bereft of entertainment value. Even the comedies – no, especially the comedies – were grim and joyless. I can laugh at funny movies made before that time, and I laugh at comedies made since then, but the humor of the 70′s eludes me. The television was rubbish, all the way to the core.

Stipulated: Star Wars was pretty great, and it came out in the 70′s. Of course, it was set in another galaxy, far away from the world where men’s pants ended mid-shin, and white people had afros. I think that was a lot of its appeal. Even so, when Luke and Han are onscreen I still struggle to supress the urge to shout “get a haircut!” at them.

What made the culture so unsavory? Was it the war? The economy? The rise of the baby boomers?

Who cares? I’m glad it’s over.

LATER: Looking back, I have no idea what prompted me to write this right now.

201030 comments. (A twenty-sided die has 30 edges.)


  1. Alex says:

    In regards to your post script: Could it be that I saw a quite good French Canadian movie set in the 1970s tonight that emphasised many of the musical acts of that era that I quite liked? The seventies had Queen, Bowie, the Stones (actually, the Stones started early sixties but they’re still around today) … so I’m not entirely certain about that which you speak …

    Lou Reed! Velvet Underground!

    Anyway, too tired to write about that movie tonight. Next time.

  2. Oh, god! Disco music! Ohgodohgodohgod… (thud thud thud thud thud)

  3. David McKinnis says:

    Progressive rock/Fusion (Gentle Giant, Jethro Tull, Brand X, Return To Forever)and Heavy Blues(Humble Pie, Johnny Winter) were great days for many musicians. As far as comedy, there was Firesign Theatre and Monty Python.

    Everything else pretty much sucked.

  4. Shamus says:

    Will: I only watched the first 30 seconds or so of that, but I feel like I just died a thousand deaths.

    I should have saved myself the effort. Instead of all that prose, I could have just posted that video and made my point.

  5. Will says:

    It doesn’t get any better, I’ll tell you that. I found this video via one of Ace’s guest bloggers a month or so back. I makes a pretty good vengeance link.

  6. BeckoningChasm says:

    I liked punk rock, which was a 70′s trend, but I pretty much only liked it then; nowadays it’s only a reminder of its own spectacular failure.

  7. Bogan the Mighty says:

    To be fair to the 70′s the music wasn’t all that bad. I mean its like saying that the music of the 90′s sucked because of boy bands when in reality we know that it was a combination of that, rap, and hip-hop in general that blew. Some bands were good back then, like Led Zepplin, the greatest band ever. Now that I think about it though my favorite songs were from the 60′s and most of the groups from the 70′s that I liked were really just leftovers from the 60′s. But that is not the point. And one more thing…Apache!!!

  8. Shamus says:

    Ok, a few people here like SOME 70′s music. Fair enough. I still insist that the bad stuff in the 70′s was worse than any of the bad music in any subsequent years.

    Listening to boy bands will make you want to kill someone. Listening to disco will make you wish you were dead.

  9. Curiously enough, 70s were the pinnacle of Soviet Union. In Irkutsk, the 70s were the short period when cheese was available in stores without a voucher (that period was a little longer in Moscow). Before that, it was the post-WWII recovery and people lived poorly overall. After that, food disappeared due to the overall economic collapse. Also, in the 70s they had a decent space program, not to mention one of the mightiest militaries on Earth – which whipped Chinese good a couple of times (can you imagine that happening now?). I knew many older people who remembered 70s and the food. Even so, food now is much better than it was back then, although of course some things are gone forever, like cream in little tetraedrons.

  10. ubu roi says:

    “Disco is not dead! Disco is Life!”

    Actually, yes, disco is dead, and I, for one, don’t lament or miss it. And Mystery Men was a 90′s comedy. Not that there’s much reason to mention that but I’m in a weird mood, I guess.

    1960′s: Barbarella. The only Jane Fonda film I’ll watch to this day, just to watch her be exploited for the only assets she ever had beside her name.

    1970′s: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (technically, 1969, but like Shamus said…) A movie so suck-ass, they didn’t even make an ending to it. On the flip side: Patton, 1973. (starts whistling the tune…badly.) And my uncle’s snow-cone shop. Never found any as good since.

    1980′s: The heyday of the Star Wars and Star Trek film franchises. On TV: Night Court. My college years & entering the workforce.

    1990′s: The Matrix. Terminator 2. Ghost in the Shell.

    I wonder what we’ll remember the “oughts” for? Episodes II and III? Syriana? Farenheit 9/11? The crappy finish to the Matrix trilogy? I can’t say as I’m impressed so far.

  11. Ohs? Lessee… Spirited Away – 2001. Azumanga Daioh – 2002. That should be enough to carry the decade. But in fact the best seems to be yet to come. We may remember it as the decade of Haruhi some time in 2030s. American visual culture lost its appeal to me though. I think the last flick that I liked was Captain of Tomorrow or what was its name.

  12. Ubu Roi says:

    Ah, I know the one you’re thinking of. To misquote another great anime of the 90′s (Excel Saga): “That was just short of cool.”

  13. DrHeinous says:

    Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (i.e. ‘lenscap!’)? I really liked that one. The whole film had a very pulp 40′s feel to it, which I have to admit being partial to.

  14. Heather says:

    I loved Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow (though you might say that that is retro in nature, since it is based on 50′s style)!!! I like some 70′s music but as others have said, most of them are 60′s leftovers. I was born in ’74 and HATE the style of that time, HATE it. I remember horribly uncomfortable clothes, awful colors, even for toys (my Tupperware kitchen playset was horrendous shades of earthtones, including Olive (puke green) and Pumpkin (nasty orange).) There was the occasional decent music (I am a fan of Psychadelic Furs–which is officially 1980–and Jethro Tull–which I mostly love for their cover art, though the music stands to be replayed ) The 70′s were forgettable at best, and the faster the better.

  15. BeckoningChasm says:

    I loved Sky Captain, it was easily my favorite film of ’04, but it was doomed to box office failure since it depended entirely on a sort of “science nostalgia” rather than genuine science fiction. Viewers had to put themselves in a sixty-year old mind-set, which was too difficult for everyone (except the folks who visit Twenty-Sided, naturally).

    Indiana Jones was pretty much the only time audiences ate that sort of thing up. I guess he ruined it for everyone else.

  16. Ermel says:

    Cat Stevens. Unix. Billy Joel. Volkswagen Golf GTI. Elton John. Ikea. Chris DeBurgh.

    No, the ’70s can’t have been all bad.

  17. AndrewNZachsDad says:

    While I don’t remember when it was exactly, I recall a time when I realized that Indiana Jones was not actually set today. You would think that the Nazis might have been a clue for me, but I was young at the time. Is it possible that the style of the movies (also reminiscent of the style captured by the Romancing the Stome movies) is not sufficiently nostalgic as to awaken those thoughts in people? Sky Captain was very stylistic.

    As far as “Apache” goes, the tune is pretty cool, IMHO. I am a fan of the surf guitar style, and this evokes it nicely. This video, however, is a blot. In fact, I am losing respect for YouTube (seems impossible, but) as we speak. The quality is poor enough that I can’t quite tell if this guy is grinning like a coked-up monkey whenever he looks toward the camera. Mind you, having three scantily-clad 70′s slu…errr, ladies dancing with you might explain it. I may never hear that tune the same way ever again.

  18. Simon_Jester says:

    The problem with “Sky Captain” is not that it is set in the past, but that it is set in the past’s idea of what the future was going to be like. The Indiana Jones movies are historical fiction; they involve Nazis very much like the ones that really existed. But “Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow” is set in an era that would logically be *our* past based on the calendars, but which never actually happened.

    That confused people at the box offices.

  19. Otters34 says:

    Mr. Young.

    As well, I’d like to say two words, and walk away.

    Billy.Jack.

  20. Otters34 says:

    That alone should suffice to include a vast amount unsaid.

  21. Magistothewise says:

    Well…I don’t know what you guys were listening to in the 70′s but it wasn’t touted as the superband era for nothing…and shamus I really love reading a lot of your views …and being a christian how did you not love the introspective music of Kansas..where 2 or 3 of the members went on to start or play in other christian bands…and then there is jouney, rush, triumph, Foreigner, chicago (they may have been late 60′s), van halen, boston, and thats just for standard rock…there are blues and metal that were really good as well…with the rest I’ll go with you …it sucked

  22. roxysteve says:

    Led Zeppelin, Yes, Bad Company, Elton John, Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Electric Light Orchestra, Jethro Tull, Ralph McTell, Fairport Convention, Sandy Denny, 10cc, Genesis, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Eno and of course, the one and only Roxy Music all made their mark in the 70s and made of it something musicians have been trying ever since to re-invent.

    ILM was formed in the Seventies, as were two of the movies that rebooted (to use a current phrase) the whole SF movie biz: “Star Wars” and “Alien”.

    Apple, Tandy, Commodore Pet, Exidy Sorcerer – the PC world was getting its start guess when?

    SPI produced simulation games so good the US army bought them to teach strategy to soldiers who now run the show. Avalon Hill made clever games that would entertain and challenge, and made them look nice into the bargain.

    And right in the middle of the 70s, along came an idea that would revolutionize the game world, a true paradigm change at a time before the term was in throwaway use: Dungeons & Dragons. Followed shortly by Empire of the Petal Throne, Gamma World, Traveller, Tunnels and Trolls and I don’t know how many others.

    Ringworld, The Gods Themselves, Dragonflight, Rendezvous with Rama, The Forever War, Lord of Light and Nova all written in the 70s.

    “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” was made for BBC radio in the mid 70s. So was “Foundation”. Shortly afterwards, so were “The Hobbit and “The Lord of the Rings” (which gave a lucky few of us an easter egg when Jackson’s version came out, since Ian Holm played Frodo in it). Radio plays? Are they like a podcast?

    I think the 70s were a very rich time to be growing up myself. Of course, I’m not trying to compare the real thing with what you saw episodes of “Starsky and Hutch” or “The Partridge Family”.

    What really sucked were the movies coming out of Hollywood, which up until Star Wars were just about all “The Towering Quake in the Airport(77) Shark Attack Adventure”.

    I was glad to have been there. And for all the fuss, I can see young women in the quad outside wearing the same style of pants girls did in 1975.

    Steve.

  23. Loneduck3 says:

    To me the 70′s were the antithesis to the Victorian age of England. Both cultures were certain they had life, culture, etc. all figured out. Both of them were filled with terrible works of literature, architecture (they frickin’ whitewashed cathedrals!) and art. The main difference is the focus on social conduct. Victorians had a stick up their butt, the hippies from the seventies used said stick for the protest signs. :D Now mind you, the classics of each generation tend to stand out. But in my view, the classics of Victorian times and of the 70′s stood in contrast to the general moods of those times.

  24. Talrogsmash says:

    I agree, anything you find that is good about the seventies was in fact counter-culture at the time. Thank God it won out.

  25. Vladius says:

    I think the 70s were a direct result of the 60s. This sounds obvious, but I couldn’t help but think that many of the things you mentioned for the 60s like hippies and civil rights were just made more extreme. Instead of peaceful protests, there were riots. The “culture of love” made everybody want to go crazy psychosexually and we’re still reeling from the effects of the morons then. I would mention Barack Obama, but that goes too far.

  26. SatansBestBuddy says:

    In Rock Band, the 70′s has some of my all time favourite songs.

    The 80′s were sweet, the 90′s were cool, the 00′s is a great big mixing pot of everything that came before, but the 70′s has the standards, high standards, and few songs live up them.

  27. orangeban says:

    Now, I live in Britain so I can’t speak for America but I don’t see anything particularly unique about the 2000′s. I mean sure theres the videogames and internet and stuff but I doubt all thats going to change between the 2000′s and this decade.

  28. Felblood says:

    “The clothing was an abominable smear of oddly shaped polyester clown suits which came in a broad mix of putrid earthtones.”

    My father has a closet full of this stuff, as he is still waiting “for the look to come back.”

    I actually wore some of his old jackets, back when I was working as a clown.

    (Honestly, if the patterns were printed larger, so they didn’t hurt to look at from a distance, they’d have a sort of Masamune as a dadaist fashion designer charm. What was that soft-spoken, old deacon smoking, as a young man?)

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