Summer of Decades; The 70's
Let’s step back in time to a typical home in the 70’s. As you enter, at least one wall is covered in dark wood paneling with an accent wall or two with funky, geometric patterned wallpaper in dark earth tones. Take your shoes off and feel the lush, thick, freshly-raked shag carpet. It’s either Coppertone, Poppy Red, or Orange. From the entry, you might see exposed brick, floating stairs, and a large brick fireplace.
Take a seat on the floral, velvet couch or one of the bright, solid-colored chairs. Cover up with the chevron-patterned afghan which was crocheted by hand (probably while watching Charle’s Angels). Check out the lamp made from pottery, feel the fringe on the lampshade and curtains, and take a look at the knickknacks on the top of the huge, wooden TV.
Now, step into the kitchen. Have some fruit. You’ll find it hanging from the ceiling in decorative macramé. Everything in the kitchen, from the linoleum on the floor, to the appliances, and casserole dishes are either harvest gold, avocado, coppertone, poppy red, or orange. Dip some bread into cheese fondu or enjoy a cup of coffee from the Mr. Coffee maker. Don’t worry about spilling on the table. It’s covered with a vinyl table cloth. Make a call on a new pushbutton phone on the wall (they recently replaced the rotary one). Sit down to a baked stuffed pepper and a Tab. It’s the seventies and I’ve just described pretty much everyone’s home. (Including mine when I was a baby.)
I’m a 70’s baby, but I don’t remember this decade at all because I was born in October of ’78. Maybe that’s why it's so interesting to me.
I could also call this section, “The things ninety’s kids’ teachers glossed over at the end of the year because they spent too much time on WWII and now it’s almost summer.” That's too long of a title, so instead I called it "politics". These were the things I remember my parents talking about, but we never really covered them in much detail at school.
Politically, the seventies were tumultuous. Although Nixon began troop reductions in 1970, on May 1, a riot at Kent State broke out when troops were sent into Cambodia. The National Guard was called in. They asked the students to leave, but some of them threw rocks. The Guardsmen fired rifles into the crowd, and in a matter of 13 seconds, 13 students were hit and, ultimately, 4 died.
The My Lai Massacre, in which 500 unarmed Vietnamese civilians were killed, became public in 1971. That and the use of napalm caused even more Americans to turn against the war. By 1973, seven out of ten Americans opposed the war.
The voting age was lowered in 1971 from 21 to 18. This had been a hot button issue because 18-year-olds were being drafted to fight in the war, but they couldn’t vote for the politicians making the orders.
On June 18, 1972, a headline on the bottom of the page of the Washington Post read: “Five Held in Plot to Bug Democratic Offices Here.” And the “here” was Watergate, the offices of the Democratic National Committee. The “five” were working for President Nixon and this scandal kept getting worse as more and more evidence was found. Watergate defined the political atmosphere of the 70’s.
Americans were distracted by The Paris Peace Accords in 1973 which effectively removed all remaining US Forces, including air and naval forces from Vietnam. There was a collective sigh of relief, and the American people were under the impression that the war had been won.
Meanwhile, the US support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War led to an oil embargo by Arab nations, resulting in the first of two energy crises of the seventies.
On October 10, 1973, Vice President Spiro Agnew resigned because, after months of maintaining his innocence, he pleaded no contest to a single felony charge of tax evasion from when he was the governor of Maryland. Nixon replaced him with House Republican leader Gerald Ford.
In an evening televised address on August 8, 1974, President Richard M. Nixon announced his intention to become the first president in American history to resign. With impeachment proceedings underway against him for his involvement in Watergate, Nixon was finally bowing to pressure from the public and Congress to leave the White House.
“By taking this action,” he said in a solemn address from the Oval Office, “I hope that I will have hastened the start of the process of healing which is so desperately needed in America.”
Just before noon the next day, Nixon officially ended his term as the 37th president of the United States. Before departing with his family in a helicopter from the White House lawn, he smiled farewell and raised his arms in a victory or peace salute. It’s a famous picture I always found confusing because it doesn’t look like someone who has resigned the presidency due to a scandal. Minutes later, Vice President Gerald R. Ford was sworn in as the 38th president of the United States. Because he was appointed when Agnew resigned, Ford is the only president never to have been elected to the office of president or vice president.
After taking the oath of office, President Ford spoke to the nation in a television address, declaring, “My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.” He later pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office, explaining that he wanted to end the national divisions created by the Watergate scandal.
On April 30, 1975 Saigon (the capital of South Vietnam) was captured by North Vietnam which reunified Vietnam into the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It’s hard not to think of all those we lost in the war and the ones who came home lost because of the war only to see Saigon fall into enemy hands.
In 1976, the nation celebrated its bicentennial, Jimmy Carter (a peanut farmer from Georgia) was elected president, and NASA unveiled the Space Shuttle.
Just when things were looking up for the end of the decade, in March of 1979, a nuclear accident occurred on Three Mile Island when the cooling system on the second reactor failed. Meanwhile, the country was dealing with its second oil crisis of the 70’ due to the Iranian Revolution. Then, on November 4, 1979, fifty-two US diplomats and citizens were held hostage when a group of militarized Iranian college students took over the US Embassy in Tehran. The students belonged to the Muslim Student Followers of the Imam’s Line and they supported the Iranian Revolution. For those watching the drama unfold on their TV’s, the end of the decade couldn’t come soon enough. The hostages wouldn’t be released until January 20, 1981.
Sure, the politics of the 70’s were rough, but the toys were primo (that's 70's slang for cool). Kids of the 70’s, had Nerf Balls (The first ball safe for indoor play.) In fact, one of the commercials had kids playing right beside the TV and their Grandma. So, it was TV and Grandma safe. Weebles hit the market in 1971. They wobbled, but didn’t fall down. Some of the toys from the 70’s that are still popular today are: The Magna Doodle, Connect 4, Hungry, Hungry, Hippos, Shrinky Dinks, and Star Wars figurines. (You could actually buy a coupon which was good for 4 figurines of your choice so you could collect your favorite characters). Toys that stayed in the 70’s are the Stretch Armstrong Doll (who was filled with corn syrup), Pong, and a handheld football game that was a precursor to the gameboy. Toys that should have stayed in the 70’s but are still available today are Baby Alive who poops when you feed her a special mixture, and of course, Slime. Yes, parents who have dealt with slime related mishaps on carpet, we have the seventies to blame for that. Personally, I love that I share a birth year (1978) with such greats as Simon and the Speak and Spell. We had both of these toys and they were amazing!
Drugs, Killers, and Cults
There was a seedy undercurrent that grew up in the 70’s. Indicators of a societal breakdown like drug use, violent crime, gun ownership, pornography, missing children, divorce, serial killers, and cults were on the rise in the 70’s. The average yearly murder rate of the 70’s was double that of 1960.
Drug use among teens in the 70’s became so commonplace that the US government issued a book called “Parents, Peers, and Pot” with case studies of families across the US who were able to help their teen break free of the grip of drugs. I read a little bit of it, and it’s actually a good resource. Parents couldn’t bury their heads in the sand anymore. Drugs were everywhere. Between 1970 and 1971, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, and Jim Morrison all died of drug overdoses.
The seventies also had its share of serial killers. Experts have long debated why there was such an uptick in the the 70’s. Some believe air pollution, caused by the use of leaded gas, made people more violent. Peter Vronsky, the author of “Sons of Cain: A History of Serial Killers from the Stone Age to the Present,” notes that the most famous serial killers of the 70’s were raised by war-traumatized fathers and were victims of abuse. Serial killers were also considered attractive by the media who sensationalized the stories in order to sell papers and magazines. Some of the most notable serial killers of the 70’s are the Zodiak Killer, Dean Corll, Son of Sam, John Wayne Gacy, and Ted Bundy. I won't go into details because I'll never sleep again, but feel free to look them up if you're curious.
Cult involvement was often headline news in the 70's because of the people who worked tirelessly to extricate family members from their grasp. One cult was known as The Unification Church, led by Sun Myung Moon. The main points of criticism was the church's unorthodox theology, especially the belief that Moon is the second coming of Christ; the church's political involvement; and the extreme lifestyle of most members, which involved full-time dedication to church activities often at the neglect of family, school, and career. The Children of God was a cult led by David Burg. Former members have accused the group of child sexual abuse, physical abuse, exploitation, the targeting of vulnerable people, and creating lasting trauma among children raised in the group. Lastly, Jim Jones and his cult The Peoples Temple which ultimately built a compound in Guyana, South America were they performed mass suicide (and murder) from cyanide-laced Flavor Aid on November, 18, 1978. Over 900 people died in the massacre. One third of them were children.
Listen, I know the majority of people in the 70’s were normal, non-violent, non-cult members. But reading these stats made me ask one question: what was going on with the church in the 70’s? Clearly, something was amiss. People who are drawn into cults are seekers. They’re looking for something to believe in. I did a lot of research about churches of the 70’s and of course there were plenty of good ones, but I found more information about revivals than church involvement. It made me wonder if people were being moved by the spirit at these revivals, but had lost their conviction by the time the tent was disassembled. I’m not saying revivals weren’t affective. My late Grandmother gave her heart to Jesus during a revival and her strong faith had a huge impact on those around her. But these stats of the seventies are staggering. It made me wonder if the church wasn’t connected to culture enough to be heard through the noise.
Pop culture of the 70’s was iconic. On April 22, 1970 the nation celebrated Earth Day for the first time. This day is special to me since my book, “I Made the Earth” will launch in time for Earth Day next year.
Teens of the 70’s liked to hang out at pizzerias, roller discos, and (in California) skate parks -which were usually just empty swimming pools. Young Adult fiction took off as well as magazines geared toward teens like Tiger Beat and Right On! Colorful sneakers were popular as well as bell-bottom jeans, graphic tees, and mood rings which could range anywhere from $45-$300 when they came out in 1975.
Music was played on home stereos and record players or 8 Track players. The sounds of the 70’s included a lot of disco, hip hop, and funk. Teens drove around in their cars playing: The Jackson Five, Simon and Garfunkel, Don McLean, Donna Summer, KC and the Sunshine Band, Abba, The Beach Boys, and David Bowie.
Television was more important in the 70’s than ever before. More and more kids were spending lots of time in front of the TV, and stations responded with programming that helped to enrich the eduction of children. ABC began airing After School Specials in 1972 (about 6 times a year). These episodes were a dramatized version of a classic work of literature or an original drama that helped kids cope with difficult situations, like the death of a family member, divorce, and even pregnancy. School House Rock used rock music to teach kids about grammar, science, economics, history, math and civics. Sesame Street and Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood had been on the air since the late 60’s, but they became more of a staple in the 70’s. I’ve written about Fred Rogers before if you'd like to read that post. I always loved the way he looked directly into the camera and talked to kids in a calm and comforting way. Some kids probably felt like they were “raised by television”, and these programs actually gave them some tools to succeed.
Packaged Snacks became more popular in the 70’s. If you wanted candy, you might go for Space Dust, Pop Rocks, or a Reggie or Marathon Bar.
Dolly Madison made some fun snack cakes in the 70’s that featured the Peanuts Gang. They were called Googles, Koo Koos, and Razzys. Yes, you read that right. Before it was a search engine, a "Google" was a snack cake. Nickels made the Banana Flip which looked like a cake taco. If you’re looking for a sweet that’s on the lighter side, try a Pillsbury Food Stick. It was billed as a “space snack” and it was flavored with chocolate, peanut butter, or caramel. They were only 44 calories each, but they looked like a dog treat. Something I wish Kraft would bring back is their flavored peanut spreads called Koogle. The flavors were chocolate, cinnamon, vanilla, and banana.
Not everything in the 70’s was sweet. You could enjoy some Pizza Spins (wheel-shaped, pizza-flavored crackers) or Nabisco Tidbit (which looked like a cheeze-it in stick form). Looking for lunch food? How about Mug-o-lunch. Just add hot water and you have…spaghettios? Or you could flavor your tuna with Tuna Twist. It not only gave your tuna an Italian, onion, or cheddar cheese twist, it also stretched the canned tuna so you could make 6 sandwiches instead of 4. It was quickly recalled, weirdly enough, not because it was disgusting but because it contained soy protein. People in the 70’s were pretty ignorant of allergies and many people didn’t know they had a soy allergy. If you can’t have Tuna Twist, just grab a can of Snackmate spray cheese for your crackers. Spray cheese probably should have been recalled too, but it’s still on the shelves today.
Breakfast cereals from the past are always interesting to me. General Mills began selling Crazy Cow cereal in the 70’s. It was a regular rice cereal with a flavored powder that made the milk at the end chocolate or strawberry flavored. Another cereal was Fruit Brute which is featured in Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. If you’re not a cereal fan, you could try a Nabisco Toastette, a Danka Pastry, or a Kellog Danish Ring.
Obviously, not all food was processed.
One popular recipe during the 70’s was quiche Lorraine. I still remember my mom having friends over regularly for quiche. Dinner entrees that were regulars in seventies kitchens were: beef and rice stuffed cabbage rolls, beef stroganoff, Frito pie, chicken paprikash, meatloaf, and Swedish meatballs.
It’s been a wild ride researching the 70’s this week. One of the most significant events in our house was the blizzard of '78. With snow drifts between 15-25' high, families were stuck inside for weeks. I was born nine months later and the hospitals were packed. (We even got “blizzard baby” T-shirts.) So, I guess of all the things that happened in the 70’s, I’m most thankful for that blizzard. I hope you’ve enjoyed learning about this decade or taking a trip down memory lane if you remember it. I wish I could invite you over for a Banana Flip or some Tidbits, but, unfortunately, they’re a thing of the past.