We’re seeing a lot of these comparisons between what you had to do to get kids ready for school in the ’70s compared to what parents have to do today floating around ye ole Intertubes. Lest anyone get the idea that The Clam is written exclusively by with-it young hipsters, it behooves us to mention this particular Clameditor was alive during the ’70s. We actually attended elementary school in a few of the ’70s. Yeah, it was a simpler time, but so were the Dark Ages.
’70s and ’80s nostalgia always rubs us the wrong way. It’s always heavy-up on VW Beetles and flower decals, but forgets the much, much darker shit going down back then. I know the world seems crazy now, but trust me. Check out the Wikipeda page for any year in that decade and you’ll be faced with horror after horror. Here, for larfs just read the entry for 1972. Actually, just skip to May.
As is the Way of The Clam, we hereby offer our list of the top seven things from the ’70s we are NOT sending our kids off to school with.
1. Lead I’m sending my kids off to school with new notebooks, sneakers and pencils but greatly reduced blood lead levels from those we had in the ’70s. You wacky funsters today harsh on Fluoride and GMOs with a bunch of unsubstantiated arguments as to the long-term effects of each. When we were kids, we stuck to the classics: Lead has been shown many, many times to cause permanent cognitive damage to kids and it’s been a known toxin for centuries. Yet it wasn’t banned in interior house paint until 1978 and was in everything from gasoline to solders to vinyl and water systems. Lord only knows how it’s going to affect us later in life.
2. Real social strife We’re as concerned here at The Clam about the militarization of police and the crazy-ass stuff going on in Ferguson as anybody. But when we were kids, this kind of shit happened all the time. Kent State, where National Guard troops opened fire on protesters with real bullets killing 4 and wounding 9 happened in the ’70s. 11 days later the police did the same thing at Jackson State killing two more. Here in Boston we had the busing riots. Just take a look at this bullshit going on less than 30 miles from here and try and convince us the ’70s were a better time:
3. Carpet Bombing Another thing we won’t be packing alongside tree-nut free snacks and tahini sandwiches is the knowledge of our country straight-up indiscriminately bombing the crap out of a foreign land. Yes, the “drone war” gets a lot of attention for killing around 2,500 people in five years, many of them civilians. But the year we ourselves were scampering off to kindergarden in our Toughskins and Buster Browns, the US was dropping literally tons of bombs on the city of Hanoi, the capitol of North Vietnam. In the spate of less than two weeks we’d killed 1,600 civilians. The whole Vietnam War, which wrapped-up in 1975 killed about 4 million people. I know we’re still fighting wars all over the place, but it does seem like the overall body count is going down from the era of “peace and love” which is a good thing.
4. Terrible, Terrible Music Our favorite quote about pop culture of this era is “People of the Seventies thought they were living in a golden age of music. They weren’t. It turns out they were living in a golden age of film.” Yeah, there was some great stuff, but most of it was crap. And most of the great stuff; like the Ramones, the Clash, the Velvet Underground and the rest of the nacent punk movement came in direct response to the rotting possum carcass sausage that was being cranked out of the music industry. Tired of the Frozen soundtrack? How about “Billy Don’t be a Hero”? Or “Seasons in the Sun”? I could go on and on, but I’m happy to sing any Taylor Swift number driving the minivan over the horror that is this:
Update: We read this post to our wife and she kicked us in the nuts. “What about Led Zeppelin? Queen? KC and the Sunshine Band? Joni Mitchell? Marvin Gaye? Neil Young? Fleetwood Mac, Simon and Garfunkel, Bruce Springsteen, pre freaky-Michael Jackson 5?” Ok, ok there was great music. But Captain and Tennille unironcially dedicated to Henry Kissinger is what I’m saying and please stop kicking because pain.
5. Rote memorization One thing that singes our stones is people getting all bent out of shape around “all the technology the kids have to have nowadays…” You know why? BECAUSE WE ARE LIVING ON THE CUSP OF A TECHNOLOGICAL SINGULARITY, THAT’S WHY. In fifth grade we memorized facts and learned simple equations. We took quizzes and tests. They might as well have taught us to sew the oilskin fabric coverings of zeppelins for all the good that will do you today. Within our kids’ lifetimes’ products will be produced by nanoscale replicators and it’s very likely computers will be able to mimic most of the functions of the human mind. So, what’s the complaint about them needing a multi-function calculator along with the colored pencils? Think about the change you’ve seen in just the past ten years and then multiply that by an order of magnitude, then you understand the world our schools are trying to get these kids ready for. We are Amish compared to what they’re going to be seeing.
6. Unsafe everything I know parents today get a lot of grief from older folks for making kids ride scooters in helmets and wear seatbelts and not breathe the secondhand smoke on an eight hour car trip to Maine, but I’m not sure why we hate so hard on reasonable safety precautions. The oft heard “we somehow survived” meme is a weird construct. It goes: “We didn’t have all that safety stuff these kids do today and we survived, right?” Um…anyone else see the problem with that statement? There is a logical fallacy big enough to swallow a Ford Country Squire.
Who the fuck does that statement address, both the living AND the dead? Is this a seance? It’s like saying, “Anyone who lost both upper limbs in a wood-chipper accident please raise your hands. Okay, I don’t see any hands so wood-chippers must be safe!” Talk about your sampling error. Those invoking the “we survived” proof are only able to do so because they are THEMSELVES obviously survivors, correct? There is no way the kids of the 70’s who DIDN’T survive can be represented in this affirmation, right? People who say this: were your parents using the lead paint chips as a salad topping? For fuck’s sake.
Ok, so let’s try this again: “When we were kids we didn’t have all that safety stuff, but we survived, didn’t we? I mean all of us except, for instance, the additional 50% of kids who died as the result of injuries sustained in car crashes because no one wore seat belts and are now buried in the cold, cold ground.” There. That’s better.
7. Alienation I don’t know about other kids of the 70s and 80s, but a lot of us were just left. We were free to roam around and learned a ton about how to get tetanus from old razor wire and which barrels of creosote down at the old factory were best for dipping your head into on a dare, but I dunno… Along with the freedom, which was great, there was a distance, a gulf between the kids and the adults beyond just years and roles.
At holidays we had kids’ tables. We were expected to go downstairs and play ping pong or watch TV while the adults upstairs drank and smoked. There was our music and their music. Until Star Wars there were our movies and their movies. That’s not how it is today. My kids and I play with Legos together, we listen to music together, we read some of the same books, play the same videogames and watch some of the same films. I’m not another kid to them, I’m a real-live authority figure who will turn off the wireless network if the dishes are not done in a heartbeat, thank you very much. But at the same time I won’t feel when I send my kids off next week that these are small strangers who also happen to live in my house.
For those of you who missed it, and I’m glad you did, life in the ’70’s was lonely for a lot of people. Outsiders, victims of abuse, gay folks, anybody different, really, did not find that decade or even much of the next a comfortable place. The communal sensibility of the ’60s had given way to atomized individualism, where you could be “yourself” as long as that fit into a narrow set of descriptors. We still have glaring issues around acceptance, but society and most importantly kids today are significantly more tolerant than the supposedly “anything goes” ’70s. As a grateful resident of the 21st century, I’m hoping empathy is something my own kids will carry to school next week, along with the new ergonomically-designed backpacks Grandma sent.