The Great Funk: <BR>Falling Apart and Coming Together <BR>(on a Shag Rug) in the Seventies

In his 1986 book of the same name, cultural critic Thomas Hine invented the word "populuxe," -- now widely used by others -- to describe the aesthetic the '50s. Twenty years later, he gives the same treatment to the '70s, an era that, as he acknowledges, "has replaced the thirties as the decade people most want to forget." Neither decade was "normal," he says, and in fact the two canceled each other out: "The seventies undid the fifties, and to a great extent, the fifties deserved to be undone." Like Populuxe, Hine's new book combines lavish period photographs and advertisements -- shampoo ads, geodesic domes, mind-boggling bedroom suites combining flowers and stripes and plaid, all in virulently clashing color schemes -- with his own deeply insightful and often hilarious commentary on what it all meant. The Great Funk of the title evokes panic, depression, bad smells, and a kind of sexy, hard-won authenticity. This was a decade of actual gasoline lines and accidental toilet paper shortages (the latter caused by a joke made by Johnny Carson that his twitchy audience took literally). Women protested the fashion industry's attempts to lower hemlines, gay men became musclebound "clones," baseball players wore rainbow polyester, and snappy tailored suits were left to the pimps and gangsters. Hines is a marvel at wringing out meaningful connections between big ideas and their expression in everyday culture. He sees the dreaded leisure suit as a poignant expression of men attempting to take "a half step into the revolution" by combining traditional styling with loud colors previously worn by women. At a time when more adults lived alone than ever before, they became convinced they could talk to their house plants and actually paid money for Pet Rocks. In the search for a more authentic past, people shopped at flea markets, kicked off urban gentrification by moving into lofts, and bought the Kleenex Americana line of tissue boxes. While Hines identifies plenty of problems rooted in the decade that have dogged us to this day -- among them stagnating income and longer working hours -- he also finds lessons there. Tying the much-lamented '70s distrust of authority to post-9/11 America, he reflects that the country may have been too quick to trust in leaders. "The experimentation of the seventies in retrospect," he writes, "seems to be a mark of resiliency, not decadence." -

April 24: "[The HST] lifted a curtain from our view of the universe, changing it so profoundly that no human can look at the stars in the same way..."

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