Off The Record: Not sentimental about the '70's

September 22, 2003|HERB BROCK

The recent death of comic actor John Ritter has produced a lot of warm memories not only of his old show, "Three's Company," but also of the era in which the show aired, the 1970's. My memories, however, are more lukewarm.

I will join everyone else in expressing shock at Ritter's early demise. It certainly was a mortality check for me. He was my age and died of a heart condition, something that afflicts me along with being over 50.

I will join everyone else in saluting Ritter as a decent comic actor. He never was a superstar but he was a dependable actor who usually added something to whatever he was playing in.

I will join everyone else in noting that Ritter was good guy and a self-deprecating bloke who just wanted to bring a few laughs to American hearts. He was unlike some of his Hollywood colleagues who believe the talent to memorize a script somehow gives them the stature to tell the world what they think about important issues. I really do think Martin Sheene believes he is president of the United States and Sean Penn believes he is secretary-general of the United Nations.


But don't count me as a fan of either Ritter's old show or the decade it played.

While "Three's Company" produced a few yuks, especially for viewers in an era before there were 897 TV channels to select from, it was basically a show of jiggles and giggles, innocent by today's "Friends" and "Sex in the City" standards. To put it another way, Don Knotts was a lot funnier as Barney Fife.

And as far as the decade is concerned, who could be sentimental about the '70's? Who could get warm and fuzzy over the decadent decade, a 10-year span of debauchery and depravity made so largely by my and Ritter's now graying, boomer-to-bust generation.

Here are just some of the "highlights" of the sinful and silly decade about which far too many people are romanticizing:

* It began with the grinding end to the humiliating and frustrating war in Vietnam, which was costly in lives and money and divided the country.

* It ended with the grinding beginning of the humiliating and frustrating hostage crisis in Iran, which eventually dragged on for 444 days until early 1981.

* Pet rocks and Rubick's Cubes. One was cute but ultimately stupid and became a paperweight. The other was ingenious but ultimately insolvable and became a paperweight.

* Oil embargoes and long lines at the gas pumps.

* 21 percent inflation.

* Jimmy Carter's pre-Nobel Peace Prize "malaise" and generally inept presidency.

* Pacers and Gremlins and Pintos, oh my.

* Watergate.

* Free love and expensive abortions.

* Expensive drugs and free needles.

* Disco music. Musical geniuses like the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Jimi Hendrix of the '60's gave way to such musical lightweights as Kasey and the Sunshine Band, the Village People and Toto of the '70's.

* Disco dancing. John Travolta gave the nation a disco-dancin' fever and not just on Saturdays. The fever didn't break until 1980. The Disco Duck of the '70's was about as choreographically sophisticated as the Funky Chicken of the '60's, but they both had good beats, were fun to dance to and totally lacked any redeeming musical qualities.

As bad as the aforementioned people, events and things were, the absolute worst thing about the '70's was fashion. There is haute couture. In the '70's, there was crappy couture. And we were all forced to wear it because of some insidious conspiracy of the fashion industry.

The fashion folks decided to replace natural materials with synthetics. We no longer were supposed to wear materials that began in cotton fields and sheep-grazing grounds. We were supposed to wear materials that began in chemical labs and fashion factories. Cotton and wool were replaced by Rayon and Dacron - and on and on and on.

During the '70's, we entered and exited the wonderful world of polyester, and most of us lost weight during the uncomfortable journey, whether we wanted to or not. Cotton and wool clothing "breathes." Polyester suffocates the pores. And it was itchy to boot. Global warming is nothing compared to the polyester heating of the earth.

If you did one of those disco dances, after two minutes you'd look like a deep sea diver emerging from the ocean. Your winged-collar shirt and flared pants would be sopping wet. Even the gold chain around your neck would be stuck to your chest, which, of course, was exposed down to where your shirt was buttoned at your navel. Even your platform shoes would be slippery from the sweat.

And at formal events, especially during the summer months, it was even worse. I recall the wedding of one of my brothers. I was best man - and dampest. You should have seen my Edwardian. I looked like I had been in a dunking booth competition rather than a wedding.

The style wasn't only uncomfortable, it also could be dangerous to your health. Two examples:

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