Postwar prosperity, socialism, and empathy: what do they have to do with each other?

worldhigheststandard

Republicans have a new tactic they’re using to turn people away from Democratic candidates who would like to see New Deal style social programs implemented or enhanced:   they’re using the scare word “socialism.”

I don’t really understand how that word became such a trigger for so many Republicans (and some Democrats).   We’re not talking about Stalin-style socialism, which was really communism: a far left form of authoritarianism.   Hitler’s “national socialist” party (Nazi Party) wasn’t socialist at all; it was fascist.   But Republicans trot out these examples  when they try to explain why socialism is so bad.

Democratic socialism and happiness.

Democratic socialism (or social democracy) is the type of government in  western and central Europe and most of the advanced industrialized countries.   The Scandinavian countries, which are the most socialist in terms of benefits to the people (and high tax rates on the rich),  also happen to have the highest happiness indices.   Finland is #1 in terms of overall happiness; Denmark is #2, and so on.

But what about freedom?   Contrary to what many people think,  people in these countries are extremely free (much more so than Americans), but there is less freedom (meaning more restrictions and laws) on corporations, which is the way things should be in a moral society.

happinessindex

All of these countries are prosperous, with little poverty, long lifespans, superior health, and high education levels.  Even the poorest working people are paid a wage they can live modestly on, and even support a family on.   People in these countries also have a lot more time to spend traveling, learning new skills, go to college or graduate school (which are free or low cost), or just enjoy life.   They have weeks’ more more vacation time than Americans do, and long maternity leaves.   Their life expectancy is higher than ours, and their infant mortality is lower.

Single payer healthcare vs. private health insurance. 

In these advanced democracies, people don’t have to worry about going bankrupt should they become sick, or dying from preventable illnesses for lack of healthcare.   And since healthcare isn’t connected to employment, losing one’s job doesn’t mean you lose your health insurance.   Private insurance companies’ motive isn’t for you to be healthy or get well; in fact, they have a vested interest in keeping you sick (Big Pharma makes more money) and denying your claims.   Your insurance company can deny a claim for a lifesaving but expensive procedure as “medically unnecessary” because a less effective procedure is cheaper for them.

Compare this to government funded (single payer) healthcare, whose motive isn’t to make a profit for some bigwig insurance company CEO, but to have a healthy and productive society.  People pay taxes and everyone benefits.  Republicans love to talk about the long wait times, but that is a myth.   They are no longer than wait times here in America, and no one is ever denied care.   Single payer aims to keep people healthy so the society is happy and productive, not rake in profits off of illness, a practice which is immoral.  Why do we have to have a middleman whose primary motive is to drive a wedge between people and their right (yes, I did say “right”) to good health?

“Oh, but I can keep my doctor!”
Really?  Maybe, but maybe not. If your doctor is “out of network,” you may be paying out of pocket to see that doctor, or your claim could be denied.  Single payer healthcare would ensure you’d be able to see any doctor you want as long as they were qualified to practice, and there would be no or very little cost to you.   So that argument is bullshit.

People should be able to live their lives without having to worry about dying or going bankrupt because they get sick.   In America, if you get sick, your life could be turned upside down or even ruined.  Too, even if you have good company health insurance, if you get a long term illness such as cancer, you could be let go from your job, and lose your insurance anyway, when you most need it.  And don’t forget about those lifetime caps (which the GOP wants to bring back, along with preexisting conditions).

So if single payer (government funded) healthcare is so much better and most countries opted for it a long time ago and aren’t exactly clamoring to have an insane, unworkable, wasteful, unaffordable, profit oriented, confusing clusterfuck of a healthcare system like ours,  why haven’t we adopted it?

Because “socialism.”

Why are we so afraid of socialism?

Many Americans (especially Republicans) are terrified of socialism.   I think they don’t understand what socialism actually is.  They think it’s communism, or Naziism, or fascism, or something to do with the old Soviet Union and the Cold War.

Democratic socialism (or social democracy) is a system of government in which there is a free market and capitalism, but unlike our system, there are regulations and laws that keep corporations from exploiting the people.    People in social democracies are actually more free to start businesses of their own, because they don’t have to worry about being without healthcare while their fledgling business is first getting established.  People also earn more (and get unemployment benefits, and sometimes even a guaranteed minimum income) so they are more likely to have the capital to start a business of their own.   In America, most people are slaves to their jobs, and can’t leave because they can’t afford to lose their healthcare or paycheck.   They also have no protections from employers who want to exploit them due to “right to work” laws that  benefit the employer, not the worker; and the busting up of unions, which used to protect workers from exploitive employers and guarantee a living wage.

Postwar prosperity and socialism.

Most people would agree that America’s most prosperous years were the two decades following the end of World War II.    That postwar prosperity and optimism petered out by the 1970s (Watergate added a pervasive distrust of government to the mix that has only grown worse ever since), but in the 1980s and 1990s, America experienced somewhat of a resurgence under the optimism of Reaganism and the centrist, almost conservative fiscal policies of Bill Clinton.  But unlike the postwar years, a family was unable to live on just one income unless they were wealthy.  By the 1980s,  women had entered the workforce in large numbers and the now politically active religious right had begun to bleat and screech about “diminishing family values.”

Conservatives love to wax nostalgic about the Fifties — a time when families were strong and women stayed home and raised children while their husbands worked.   If women worked, they were usually teachers, nurses, librarians, or secretaries.  While there were always nonconformists and  outliers (such as the Beatniks), most Americans lived this cookie cutter suburban lifestyle.   Crime was generally low, and the gap between the richest and poorest was narrower than it had ever been before, or has been since.

While women didn’t have as many choices as they would later on, and people of color had few rights (that wouldn’t change until the civil rights movement), for most, life was prosperous and America became the envy of the free world and eventually the most powerful nation on earth.    Americans’ new prosperity and our national wealth would not have been possible without the new social programs the New Deal created: social security, Medicare, public schools, Eisenhower’s Interstate Highway System, and the GI bill, which helped young veterans and military workers purchase homes.  Although single payer healthcare never got off the ground (it was on the table from FDR through Nixon, but for various reasons never became law), healthcare wasn’t generally very expensive compared to what people earned.    Most people could easily afford to see a doctor and private health insurance was not expensive (and was provided by almost every employer, which it no longer is).

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Returning to the “Good Old Days.”

It always floors me when Republicans wax nostalgic over how great the 1950s were. They always forget one of the main reasons we were prosperous (and the reason why families were able to live on just one income, allowing women to stay home and take care of the house and kids) was because there was a lot more socialism.  In fact, capitalism works best when leavened with a little (or even more than a little) socialism.  Franklin D. Roosevelt knew this, and it was his socialist policies, including his support for unions that helped build a strong middle class, that brought us out of the Great Depression and into the prosperity of the postwar era.   Most Republicans in the 1950s and 1960s agreed these policies and programs were desirable.   The Republican Platform of 1956 (pictured above) is to the left of even the current Democratic platform.    As a nation, we have moved so far to the right we have become almost a fascist state.

Today,  Republicans refuse to acknowledge the role socialism played in the “good old days” they yearn for so much.  They seem to think that to go back to the simpler times of the 1950s, we must have laws that restrict women’s access to reproductive healthcare including access to birth control.  Four states just passed the “heartbeat bill” which effectively bans abortion after six weeks (in Ohio, it just became law), when most women don’t even know they’re pregnant.   They think that forcing women to carry every pregnancy to term (even if her life is in danger or in cases of rape and incest), and enacting “religious freedom” laws (which are actually the opposite of freedom)  that allow discrimination against groups ultraconservative evangelicals don’t like (LGBTQ or Muslims, for example) will magically bring back an era they idealize.

Oppressing women, people of color, and other marginalized groups will not bring us back to the postwar years.   Instead, it will bring us back to the Gilded Age (a time of great inequality, robber barons, and grinding poverty and early death for most people), or even earlier than that.  The bottom line is that people who think this way care only about controlling women and keeping people of color “in their place.”   They don’t care about prosperity or a good life for most.

If we are ever to get back to the kind of prosperity we enjoyed in the 1950s and 1960s, we have to get over our fear of socialism, and expand beneficial government programs such as Medicare, Social Security, the public school system, infrastructure, and other public works that benefit the common good.  We need to introduce single payer healthcare like other developed countries did decades ago.   We need to bring back unions which protect workers and their families.

Finally, we need to raise taxes on the rich.  In the 1950s, the rich were taxed at 90%!   That sounds excessive, but it really isn’t.  A wealthy person will still be rich even if most of their wealth is paid through taxes to benefit the community.  In an ethical and empathetic society, the wealthy don’t mind paying taxes for the common good.   Rich people in other countries don’t mind.   We never used to either.   When the rich don’t pay their fair share of taxes, they don’t create new jobs, as we are told they do.    Instead, they buy back their own stocks, and they can literally buy politicians and political parties whose agenda benefits them the most.  Inequality increases, and everyone else’s quality of life declines.  Fascism begins to creep in.

Our empathy deficit.

At its core, the problem with America is a severe empathy deficit.  Greed and selfishness got the upper hand due to Reagan’s policies and tax breaks for the wealthy in the 1980s. Those who benefited the most and became rich (or richer) liked their newfound wealth so much they wanted more.  And more, and more, and more.   Demonizing the poor (and later, even the middle class) became a way to rationalize their insatiable greed, and to do so, they had to sacrifice empathy.   The utter heartlessness and cruelty of Trump’s America is the end result.

I’ll take democratic socialism any day over the kleptocratic near-fascist state we are now living in.   But democratic socialism (and really, any kind of democracy) requires empathy and a desire to contribute to the greater good.  We need to get back to that.  The lack of empathy is anathema to life and could lead to the end of humanity, not just the end of America.

*****

Further reading:

The Benefits of Socialism

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Two myths about Trump Republicans.

Myth #1. Trump Republicans are Conservatives.

conservative

No. Trump Republicans are not conservatives, and here is why:

Conservatives believe in conserving things, not tearing everything to shreds.  Trump Republicans are radical fascists and anarchists who seek to tear down “the establishment” and all the things that made America great (and held it together) before. They seek to  replace those things with new things that will hurt the vast majority of people and destroy the Constitution itself (conservatives believe in upholding and defending the Constitution).

Conservatives believe in traditional values. But Trump Republicans literally worship a president who is a serial adulterer, slept with a porn star (while his third wife was pregnant), had five children by three different wives, and bragged about grabbing women by the pussy because he’s a big star who can do anything he wants (and then he denied ever saying it).   And he’s never, ever repented or apologized for any of it — or anything else he’s ever done.   It seems to me that if God chose Trump to be president (as some evangelicals believe),  he would have chosen someone who is NOT a narcissistic psychopath and also  someone capable of empathy, remorse, and repentance.

The concept of traditional values goes far beyond just family values, though.   Having traditional values also means you believe in civility, kindness, generosity, being nice to strangers, and holding your tongue if you have something unkind to say out of respect for that person’s feelings (or broaching the subject in a sensitive, mature way).   It means being neighborly.  It means being concerned about people who are not as fortunate as you are.   It means not mocking or demeaning people you dislike or who are different from you,  not calling immigrants “animals,” and not treating people of color and women like slaves or second class citizens.

Conservatives believe in small government.    Trump does not believe in small government.  Sure, he and his minions like to talk about small government, but the huge windfall they just gave to the rich and corporations through their tax scam created the hugest deficit in history, which is now in the trillions (which will be paid for by us — through huge cuts to earned benefits like social security and Medicare).

Sure, they’re slashing those annoying regulations (most of which help keep us all safe and healthy) because they don’t believe corporations should be accountable or responsible for anything at all,  but they sure would like to put a lot of new laws and regulations on private citizens, including our sex lives and reproductive freedom.  They’re busy expanding the military and turning ICE into the American Gestapo.   The Trump GOP is pushing through all kinds of new laws and bills that will greatly restrict our civil rights and freedoms, especially if you’re in one of the groups they don’t like or respect (women, LGBTQ, POC, and non-white immigrants).  They are also pushing through legislation that blurs the line that has always separated church and state in the name of “religious freedom” (which it’s anything but).

The endgame is an oligarch-controlled, evangelical “Christian” theocracy that wouldn’t differ much from living in Saudi Arabia under Sharia law — or Europe during feudal times.

So tell me again how Trump supporters don’t want big government?

Hell, they want fucking Big Brother.

Please stop calling Trump Republicans conservatives.  They are conserving nothing.

Myth #2: Trump Republicans Want to Bring Back the 1950s.

1956gop

Perhaps Trump Republicans like the idea of the 1950s — doting housewives whose lives revolve around husband and kids,  husbands as the breadwinners, girls who look like girls and boys who look like boys, clearly defined sex roles, conformity, safe suburban neighborhoods, low crime; children’s books, movies, and TV shows that feature lily white protagonists; and little tolerance for cultural or racial diversity or “difference.”

The sexism and racism of the 1950s is well known, but was not really the result of oppressive policy, just the kind of culture we lived in at the time.  Most people just took for granted this was the way things worked so it wasn’t an issue for most people — at least not for a few more years.  Blacks were definitely discriminated against under Jim Crow, but women at the time for the most part welcomed the opportunity to marry and have “victory children” once their men returned from overseas in the Second World War.   There were no laws that women could not pursue traditionally male careers or a more independent life; it just wasn’t something most women considered.

But the 1950s are also known for strong labor unions, higher taxes on the wealthy (in fact they were quite high!), well paying jobs that enabled even working class people to buy homes and new cars, New Deal policies that made it possible for the elderly to live (and die) with dignity and independence rather than be a burden on their children who were trying to raise their own families; affordable healthcare, doctors who actually spent time with their patients and seemed to care about them personally, companies that cared about their employees and offered good benefits and even pensions, good public schools and a strong emphasis on public education, a recognition that science and scientific research trumped superstition and religious dogma, a healthy respect for education and intellectualism, an importance placed on treating others well, having a moral compass and a sense of responsibility to the community,  and a general acceptance by all that for the greater good, the rich should pay more taxes.

Hell, by today’s standards, the 1950s were downright socialist!

During the 1950s (and through the early 1970s), government worked for the people instead of the other way around.  Our checks and balances were intact and working well. Sure, there were always problems — rampant sexism and racism, communist “witch hunts,” etc — but the gap between the rich and poor was low (much of this due to the rich being taxed at a much higher rate) and most people lived pretty well and felt secure in their lives.  Even the less educated, working class could afford nice homes, cars, vacations, and were able to raise children who would later be able to attend college and live better than their parents.   The American Dream was a real thing almost anyone could achieve, not the huge lie it is today.

Life was pretty good in the 1950s because of the things Trump and his staff want to take away from us:  all the New Deal changes FDR made after the Great Depression, including Social Security and Medicare;  high taxes on the rich and corporations; corporate requirements to offer certain benefits to employees, such as health insurance, overtime pay (time and a half) and holiday pay;  a minimum wage that was actually a living wage that kept up with inflation; strong public schools, strong labor unions, federal grants for college, a GI bill that allowed veterans and military personnel to purchase inexpensive homes,  large public works projects, public libraries, and a public interstate highway system; and all sorts of other things that made life more enjoyable and less stressful and made advancement possible for most Americans.   In the 1950s, most people trusted the government, and the government believed that taking care of its people created a healthier and more productive society — as it does in all healthy democracies.  We were the envy of the free world.

While Trump Republicans appear to bemoan the “traditional values” of the 1950s, they never stop to think about the fact that much of what Americans enjoyed then was possible because of a government that actually served its people, instead of one that expects to be served by the people.

Trump Republicans do not want to bring back the 1950s, because that would require them to do all the things they hate: raise taxes on the rich,  offer more social programs, increase funding for public works projects, public schools, libraries, and infrastructure, raise pay for teachers; take care of the elderly, sick and veterans;  improve our national parks and monuments (instead of destroying them and selling them off), encourage and support labor unions, and stop gerrymandering and suppressing votes.   It would require the realization that enhancing the common good matters more in building a strong nation and a strong economy than rewarding and placing value on only wealth and power.

Trump Republicans may want to bring us back to the ’50s, but it isn’t the 1950s — it’s the 1850s right before the Civil War and the Gilded Age — or maybe even the 1350s, if the Christofascists ever get their way.

How did narcissism get so “popular”? (part one of two)

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When I was compiling my lists of songs about narcissism, it didn’t pass my notice how few songs there were prior to the 1980s that focused on it. Oh sure, there have always been a few here and there (Carly Simon’s 1972 hit “You’re So Vain” immediately comes to mind) and there were always those “you/he/she done me wrong” love songs, but songs specifically about narcissism were pretty rare.

I think the reason for this is because it wasn’t until the 1980s that narcissism became so dominant in western (especially American) culture that it became a new virtue–something to aspire to if you wanted to be financially and professionally successful. And it wasn’t until the 1990s that narcissism became recognized as a real problem and websites, blogs and forums about narcissistic abuse began to spring up all over the Internet.

But I think the problem really started long before that, back in the post-WWII days when the Baby Boomers started being born. Of course there are exceptions, but as a generation, the Boomer generation was raised to be grandiose, entitled and lack a collective sense of empathy for others. As the Boomers aged, their collective sense of entitlement bled over into everything they touched–politics, business, and the culture at large. Today this narcissism affects all living generations, but generations older than the Boomers generally frowned on it.

1950s.

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After our WWII victory, America became very hubristic. We had become a superpower to be reckoned with the world over, and American life never seemed better. Life was very different than it had been even a decade earlier, and most newlyweds now had TVs, new kitchens with modern appliances that made a wife’s job much easier and left her more time to spend with her children, and often two cars. Employment was high and jobs paid well compared to the cost of living at the time. Young husbands were able to afford to buy tract homes and new cars on the GI bill, and could afford to support a wife and children. Of course, these were very conformist times too, and “keeping up with the Joneses” was a thing.

Enter the victory babies born in this national mood of optimism following the war: the Baby Boomers. Raised according to Dr. Benjamin Spock’s indulgent philosophy of “feeding on demand” and “Johnny will clean up his room when he feels like cleaning up his room,” Boomer infants and toddlers were pampered, indulged, and trained to be entitled. They were given anything they wanted and discipline tended to be light and consist of trying to “reason” with children. There was an endless array of new toys and snacks marketed to children, and mothers were made to feel like bad parents if they refused to comply with what advertisers told them to buy. The kids caught onto this attitude of entitlement, and if Sally got the new Barbie doll or Eric got the new battery operated toy truck, then Debbie and Paul had to have them too. The culture at the time was child-centered. It was a given that a child’s needs and wants always came before the parents’ and children were constantly told how “special” they were.

As they entered school, young Boomers’ attitude of entitlement and specialness carried over into the classroom. As a generation, they expected to be treated as little gods and goddesses, just as their parents had treated them.

1960s.

hippies

As the Boomers entered their teens, they began to rebel against the parents who had showered attention and material comforts on them. I believe this rebellion was due to a collective fear of engulfment by overindulgent parents. They were attempting to break away by reacting against the very lifestyle that had given them so much. Of course not every child had overindulgent parents, but teenagers always try to emulate what’s popular or cool. Rebelling against “the Establishment” or the Vietnam War (which also represented the values of their parents) became hip and cool. Adolescent Boomers, having been raised to believe they were unique and special (and most of those middle class and above were able to attend college and were often the first in their family to be able to do so) embraced causes that were anathema to the values of “the old fogies” and at first, really believed their causes were superior to those of their parents. They tuned in, turned on, and dropped out. They experimented with marijuana and LSD. They dressed in hippie clothing and wore their hair long, which horrified “The Establishment.” They listened to rock music, the louder and harder and more offensive to the older generation, the better. They protested the war, attended “love ins” and participated in campus sit-ins, and eventually riots. Young Boomers believed their values were exactly what the world needed, but their attitude was based on entitlement rather than realism. They were idealists who believed the world could be changed by smoking pot and listening to the right sort of music.

Due to the sheer size of the Boomer generation, anything they did got a lot of national attention. Besides the many disapproving and negative news stories about the Vietnam protests, communal living, and recreational drug use, others were also beginning to emulate them. The next-older generation (The Silents), who had been largely ignored as they came of age, tried to seem younger by emulating the Boomers in their dress, tastes, and general lifestyle. The Boomers were never short on collective narcissistic supply (both negative and positive), and this continued to feed their attention-getting behavior.

Parents wondered where they had gone wrong, and why the children they had raised so lovingly had turned so rebellious and so insistent on “doing their own thing.” They wondered why this new generation seemed to hate them so much.

By the end of the 1960s, the “hippie lifestyle,” like everything else the Boomers would ever start, had become a lucrative market. But by the time The Establishment caught on, the Boomers were beginning to move on to other things, including embracing what they had rejected.

The power was still in the hands of the older generation of course, so narcissism had not yet become a noticeable part of the culture (although hubris and conformity definitely still was). By the 1970s, the first signs of a growing narcissistic culture would begin to make themselves felt.

1970s.

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Boomers, now entering their 20s, had by now largely abandoned their earlier hippie incarnation for a more subdued “back to the land” movement, in which they opted for whole foods, fresh air, and healthy living. Others began to infiltrate the job market, often with degrees in esoteric subjects. Having children was something to be avoided, as Boomers wanted to prolong their adolescence or make a mark on the world. The Pill and newly legal abortion made all this possible. Around the same time, women began to demand equal rights in society and the workplace. The 70s wave of feminism was very anti-child and pro-career. If you preferred to marry and raise children, you were looked upon as a throwback to the 1950s.

Around the same time, various forms of non-traditional, humanist psychotherapies (EST, Esalen, etc.), grassroots religions, and cults became popular. Collectively known as “the human potential movement,” self-improvement and self-development became a priority for Boomers. Putting your own needs before those of others was not only normal, it was considered healthy. New York Magazine dubbed the 1970s “The Me Decade” for this reason. Couples opted to cohabitate rather than marry(because it was easier to break a commitment), and divorce was becoming very common. Children raised during this time (Generation X) found themselves ignored, treated as second class citizens, or sometimes even abandoned by their self-involved Boomer parents who seemed to put their own needs ahead of theirs.

Around the middle of the 1970s, a new kind of music (disco) became associated with materialism, hedonism, and over the top sexuality. By now, Boomers had done a 180 from their emergence during the 1960s as hippies, and now embraced the crass materialism they had once rejected. They were ready for a President who would encourage their pursuit of luxury and material success.

At the same time, fundamentalist Christianity, which had been “rediscovered” by some Boomers as an outgrowth of the Jesus movement of the 1960s, was becoming increasingly popular, and the new conservatism was using it as a way to attract newly saved Christian voters.

The new narcissism wasn’t lost on Christopher Lasch, who published his book, “The Culture of Narcissism,” in 1979.

1980s.

yuppies

Ronald Reagan popularized trickle-down (or “supply side” economics), which basically meant allowing people to pay less taxes and keep more of what they earned. This played right into the hands of financially successful, entitled Boomers, who didn’t want to share their newfound wealth. The hippies had become the Yuppies–young urban professionals who had to “dress for success,” live to impress, and have the best of everything. Clothing wasn’t acceptable unless it had a designer’s logo on it. Housewares weren’t acceptable unless they were handmade in Outer Mongolia by native women. Food wasn’t acceptable unless it was “nouvelle cuisine.”

Having the perfect body was a priority, and Boomers started going to the gym or even personal trainers to tone and sculpt their bodies, sometimes to the point of unhealthy obsession. Boomers, mostly in their 30s by now, were finally deciding to have families, but children themselves became a status symbol, and getting your child into the “right” preschool or having the “right” designer clothing, or the “right” dance instructor became all-important. It was common for Boomer parents to watch other people’s children closely, to find out what they needed to do to “one up” each other as parents.

In 1987, a popular movie called “Wall Street” was released, in which its most famous quip, “greed is good,” became a national meme. While it was intended as a joke at first, “greed is good” quickly became a new philosophy of life, in which greed was not only good but became a virtue. Greed may have been one of the seven deadly sins, but even Christians made an exception for it, and we even had a Christian president who encouraged as much of it as possible. After all, it was the American way and America was a Christian nation, right?

Please continue reading Part Two of this article. 

*****

For further reading, see my articles:
1. Are Millennials Really the Most Narcissistic Generation Ever?
2. Why is Narcissism so Hot These Days?

“Simpler times.”

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I remember growing up in the late 1960s and 1970s, I always heard grown-ups talk about the 1950s, which I don’t remember because I was born at the tail-end of that decade. People of my parents’ generation talked about how much simpler things had been in the decade of poodle skirts, The Honeymooners, Chuck Berry, and suburban conformity.

I remember my record player that I got when I was about 6. It was one of those boxy plastic affairs inside an aqua faux-leather box and had a pearlized plastic and chrome handle. It had a dial that said 16-33-45-78. Even back then, 16 rpm and 78 rpm records were pretty much obsolete, but one of my favorite things to do was obsessively play my children’s records on the various settings. My favorite was 78 rpm because it made everything sound like the Chipmunks. It made me laugh. The 16 rpm setting was scary because it made voices sound demonic–like the death metal which was still far off into the future. I used to wonder if there was even a such thing as a 16 rpm record? If so, I never saw one. I do remember a babysitter gave me a molded plastic album filled with her old records from her childhood, which included 78s. They were very small and came in colors other than black. I should have kept them; they would probably be worth something today.

My first album was The Monkees. I was obsessed with the TV show and in love with Mickey Dolenz. I used to play “I’m a Believer” and “Last Train to Clarksville” over and over, and kept scraping the needle back over the record to hear those songs again. All the other little girls I knew were in love with Davey Jones, but he just never did it for me. I look at old pictures of Mickey today and wonder what my 8 year old self saw in him. He really wasn’t that cute. One time a babysitter and her boyfriend played a joke on me. She had her boyfriend call and pretend he was Mickey. She handed me the phone and with a twinkle in her eye, said “it’s for you.” I half-believed it was true. I wanted to believe it was true. But when she told me it was a joke, I just said, “oh, okay, I knew it was a joke anyway.” I’m not sure if I did or not. I was so gullible back then. I went back to my room to play my Monkees album again.

the_monkees

I remember the orange and white plastic AM transistor radio I got for Christmas that same year. I was so proud of being able to keep up with all the hit songs. It made me feel so grown up, almost like a teenager. It seemed in those days new songs stayed on the radio for a shorter period of time than they do now–the maximum was about 3 months. “American Pie” was one of the few that remained in rotation for 4 or more months. I lost my radio about a year later when I failed to rake the leaves. When my father found out, he took me out to the garage, told me to bring the radio with me, and as I stood there, he smashed it to bits with a shovel. I was inconsolable. I would have rather been beaten.

I was in my teens during the 1970s and graduated to a real stereo. It was a one-piece console but still a stereo and I could get FM radio, which was considered much cooler than AM. Stereos were a big deal in the 1970s. Outside of fancy stereophonic equipment and color television, we didn’t have a whole lot in the way of entertainment technology. That wouldn’t happen until the 1980s with its VCR and personal computer revolution.

The advances made since the 1980s have been staggering. In the 1990s the Internet was introduced to the public and at first people dismissed it as a fad that would soon pass. Ha! Little did I know that in two decades, it would completely change my life. The Internet was like manna from heaven for socially awkward introverts like myself.

There were also the first cell phones (which almost no one had due to the expense and they didn’t work too well). The turn of the century ushered in the communications revolution, with cellphones beginning to supplement or even replace the old landline phone. The Internet is barely recognizable from what it was in the 1990s. When I look at videos now of the early Internet, it looks so primitive, like something from 100 years ago. It’s hard to believe it was only 20 years ago it looked like that. Things are changing with dizzying speed and time itself seems compressed.

netscape

When I look back on the 1960s and 1970s now, they seem so innocent. Kids didn’t have computers and TV was still pretty limited because so few people had cable TV yet. But what we did get was free. Watching TV became a something families did together after dinner, instead of each family member going off to watch their own show or play a game on their own TV or computer. Kids played outside, because, well, there was nothing else to do. In a technological sense, the 1970s weren’t a whole lot different than the 1950s, even though attitudes had changed pretty drastically.

The 1970s to me seem like another lifetime, not merely 40 or so years ago. Now I hear people talk about “those innocent 1970s” and I laugh because when we were in them, no one thought they were that innocent at all.

With all that said, I’ll leave you with this: