The first 1970s nostalgia party was held last October. The invitation to it came pasted on Perrier bottles, the drink of the '70s, imported water you consume to build up your body so you won't ruin your health when you sniff cocaine.
The disco decade, years without a style of their onw, a period that lived off nostalgia, that was itself a series of revivals, a rummaging through the costume-chest of earlier decades to find a mode and a pose that would fit. The '20s were tried on, but they were too buddy; the '30s were given a spin, but they had to much passion; the '60s were too close and possibly too sincere; the '40s too heroic, too tragic, so the '50s were settled on. The 1970s would be the 1950s reborn but without their self-contest vulgarity, their tranquilly obvious bad taste, their triumphant complacency.
The social critics said the '70s were the opening of the post-industrial society. It sounded as if we had learned to take the loony melodies of the '60s, the decade of the global village and nonlinear reason, and make a profit out of them. The soft-wear society. We would do the brain work while the coolies in Taiwan and our little Asiatic brethren did the grunt stuff. We would handle the billowy, exciting, low-overhead, creative angles. We'd be the insight men, the concept boys, doin' the hustle into the service economy, jukin' into the 21st century. Watch our trail, we're into organizational technology, communications, special effects, we're laid back, fed back, close-looped and ready to make money. The new growth industries, my man, are in health care, hospital chains and federated nursing home conglomerates. We don't make steel, autos, sewing machines, radios or cameras.
Some people worried about that and others worried about their mid-life crises. Pop psych, pop soc, the truffle pigs of journalism spent the period snouting out new trends. In the prior decade, the expression "basic change" was what the malcontents, the erstwhile militants, were forever demanding; in the 1970s it was what the hacks were forever descrying. We switched from doers to lookers. Basic changes of millennial import were isolated and announced every third month; the biggest trend was trends. Thus the decade began with the end of marriage and ended with its begining anew.
By the middle years of the decade even sex had failed us.
The new openness led to the new disinterestedness. The trend-trufflers discovered that manhattan cosmopolites were abjuring sex . . . even the perverted kind . . . too time consuming, too repetitive, too intimate and too unhealthy. The papers ran interviews with attractive, upper-income people who didn't care to copulate. Such a change from the Lower East side tool shops and leather tanneries of the early Nixon years.
The '60s ended on a chord of expected revolution, cultural if not politcal; the country was an aurora borealis of emotion, but when the malcontents did march on Washington they sent home souvenir postcards. The great social showdown never took place; the face-off faded off.
Plastic was the color of our money in the '70s. We used out credit cards to clean out the warehouse of Japan, used them to calm the black people, used them to make inflation, wreck the balance of trade; plastic made the '70s the Month of March decade, in like a lion, out like a lamb. We anticipated tragedy and we got disappointment, we thought we had tagged one jets streams and were riding to something wonderfully new, but the period ended with our being told we were suffereing from malaise and we didn't know whether that was better or worse than being called lazy.
No more is Chicago the hog butcher of the world, nor is Pittsburgh its forge nor Detroit's assembly lines a tourist attraction. They go to Japan to look at factories and they come here to see Mickey Mouse. We Make the movies, the Germans make the steel. That's the American apprehension as the '80s begin, but a nation that lives on mineral water is sober enough to make its own destiny.