Friday, April 19, 2024

Insight: A Decade To Forget

By Ed Pierce
Managing Editor


Someone recently posted on a social media page that I follow about how much better life was in the 1970s. Having lived through that decade myself, I’d much rather be living today than go back to the way it was then.

Ed Pierce visits ancient Indian ruins at Chaco
Canyon in New Mexico in 1975.
COURTESY PHOTO 
First as a financially struggling college student, then launching a career as a journalist, and later as a member of the military, the 1970s for me were not the fun-loving disco dancing days people have come to associate with that decade. There was the Vietnam War, soaring inflation, gasoline shortages, and the minimum wage was just $2.50 an hour.

The 1970s was the decade of the Watergate Scandal, violent international terrorism attacks such as at the Olympic Games in Munich, Germany, and the introduction of video games to society.

Caller ID and telephone answering machines had not yet been invented. And there were only two ways to make a phone call, either from a landline tethered to the wall at home or in the office, or from pay phones, which were everywhere but have since disappeared in America.

To take a photograph you needed a camera with film to be developed or a Polaroid which could make prints in a matter of minutes.

There were no MP3s or earbuds for listening to music. There were stereo systems with vinyl records or cassette, 8-track, or reel-to-reel tapes. Since there was no Amazon or Spotify in the 1970s, many people visited a record store to purchase music, or they belonged to a mail-order service which shipped albums to them. Cassette tapes would sometimes come loose and needed to be rewound by inserting a pencil into the reel hole and twisting it in the other direction.

Pop-tops for cans of soda pop or beer had not hit the market. To open a can, you had to yank off an aluminum pull tab, which was often discarded as litter and stepped on at the beach as popularized in Jimmy Buffett’s hit song “Margaritaville.”

Television choices were limited to four live broadcast channels of either ABC, NBC, CBS or PBS, not the proliferation of options we have today. If you missed a program, you waited until the summer for it to show up in a rerun. There were no TV remotes back then. To change the channel, you had to get up from the couch and turn the television dial yourself.

Uber did not exist. It was an era where many would consider hitchhiking as a method to get from one place to another.

Fashion trends of the 1970s included platform shoes, leisure suits, flare jeans, mini-skirts, prairie dresses, tie-dyed T-shirts, maxi dresses, wide suit lapels and neckties, wide belts, hot pants, plaids, high waistbands, puka shells and love beads, tube tops, leg warmers, wrap dresses, headbands, safari jackets, go-go boots, large floppy collars, crop tops, halter tops, and the heavy use of synthetic materials such as nylon and polyester in clothing.

In home d├ęcor, shag carpeting was all the rage. Beanbag chairs and avocado or copper-colored appliances were popular choices for homeowners. Many kitchens contained cannisters with a mushroom motif.

Cigarette smoking was permitted on airplanes and in restaurants and passage of the 25th Amendment in 1971 meant adults could register and vote at the age of 18.

Popular 1970s fads included mood rings, pet rocks, streaking, waterbeds, tetherball, CB radios, jogging, roller skates, blacklight posters and lava lamps. Popular dance steps of the 1970s included the Hustle, the Bump, the Funky Chicken, the Robot, the YMCA, and the Bus Stop.

Frequently appearing on the most magazine covers in the 1970s were Farrah Fawcett, Lauren Hutton, David Cassidy, Leif Garrett, Cheryl Tiegs and Michael Jackson.

Streets and highways were filled with AMC Pacers, Hornets and Gremlins, Dodge Chargers, the Chevy Vega, Range Rovers, the Mercury Capri, Ford Mavericks, the Buick Riviera, Volkswagen Golfs, Plymouth Dusters, the Pontiac Trans Am and Datsun 240Zs. New automobiles sold in the 1970s did not come with seatbelts and bench seats were still available in many models.

The movement to create equality for women in pay, housing and credit led to the introduction of the Equal Rights Amendment in 1972 to ensure gender equality across America, but that measure failed to receive ratification by two-thirds of the U.S. states by 1979 and never was enacted. A different type of blow was struck for gender equality though when Billie Jean King trounced Bobby Riggs in a televised tennis match billed as “The Battle of the Sexes” in 1973.

Candy sales skyrocketed in 1976 when Pop Rocks were first introduced and the 1970s also marked the debut of Hamburger Helper on supermarket shelves across the U.S. Without the benefit of scanning and barcode technology which came around much later, all items in the grocery store had a price sticker so a cashier could ring you out at the cash register.

As the 1970s began, I was still in high school and by the time the decade ended, I was fully entrenched in a career that continues to this very day.

While the decade of the 1970s proved to be a turning point in my life, I greatly prefer the era we live in today.

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