Have you ever asked someone who lived through the ‘70s to defend one of their more egregiously offensive fashion, music, or life choices? If yes, then you’ve probably heard the well-worn defense, “Hey, it was the ‘70s…” I’ve gotten this response, which is simultaneously illuminating and cryptic, from my parents, my teachers, and pretty much every respected authority figure at some point or other. I’m beginning to suspect that every planetary citizen got together on December 31st, 1979, to hash this answer out after they realized, “Crap, we’re going to have a lot of explaining to do.”
“Hey, it was the ‘70s…” can be used to justify anything that happened during those neo-Dark Ages. You snorted cocaine through a garden hose and passed out naked on a dance floor as people circled your unattended body on roller skates while doing the Hustle? “Hey, it was the ‘70s….”
You went to a Bee Gees concert wearing a suit jacket with no undershirt and grabbed Barry Gibb’s penis? “Hey, it was the ‘70s…” You get the picture. The implication is that one can’t possibly comprehend the events that occurred in the ‘70s without having lived through them. This is probably true.
The ‘60s are similar, in that living through them apparently gave people the right to do things that are now considered morally and legally objectionable. However, the people who lived through this era of decadent drug use and sexuality are now in positions of authority requiring them to condemn today’s youth for the very same activities. Of course, this is nothing new — the wild youth of the past are bound to become the concerned adults of the present, and their memories will always be sepia-tinted and bittersweet. Hence the hypocritical slant regarding drug use and sex among an older generation that seems to think their experimentation exists in a conveniently sealed-tight vacuum.
“So you’re telling me you smoked weed three times a day, dropped acid, and had unprotected sex with half of San Francisco?”
“Sure I did, but you don’t understand… it was the ‘60s!” So says the judge as he bangs his gavel and sentences you to life imprisonment for having a nickel bag of marijuana.
Apparently tripping balls and finger painting under a strobe light was a valid form of social protest in the ‘60s. Nowadays, it’s called a “Liberal Arts degree.” Liberal Arts degrees were actually once considered a worthwhile pursuit, which is truly amusing to those of us who recently obtained degrees in English and various other “fake majors” in the humanities field. The attitude towards a Liberal Arts education has certainly changed over the years.
In fact, just the other day I saw a decaying man walking along the street, shrouded in tattered cloth and stinking of old books and soup broth. He was even ringing a bell to ward off innocent bystanders.
“My God man, what’s become of you?” I beseeched him, covering my mouth to hold back the onrush of bile.
“I have a … Liberal Arts degree …” he whistled through rotting teeth, one of his lips peeling off his face and falling to the street. If that poor gentleman had been a youth in the 1960s, he would likely now be a respected congressman, soliciting gay sex in the airport bathrooms of America. Alas.
I try not to begrudge survivors of past decades for their ability to pin their moral and cultural failings on an arbitrary time period. It just seems a bit unfair in light of the fact that the people of my generation have no such excuse. I was born in the mid/late ‘80s, but produced little in those early years other than dribble and cooing noises. Much like The Golden Girls, I had an indisputable excuse to spend the ‘80s staring blankly into the distance and trying to sit upright as people of a more capable age bracket laughed contentedly.
The majority of my life to this point was spent in the neon ‘90s and the grey — nay, colorless — ‘00s, and I’m really not sure what temporally justified privileges this has provided me. What will today’s defecating babies inquire wonderingly of me in future years?
Perhaps, “Why do you have like a million Pogs, you freaking loser?” Or, “Why do you have a xenophobic fear of foreigners and resent anyone with a full-time job?”
To which I might respond, “I developed those defective tendencies in the ‘00s, young lad! Don’t mind me, I’ll just be compulsively Googling ‘terrorist threat’ and popping Paxils out of this Dane Cook Pez dispenser!” Unfortunately, the ‘90s and ‘00s don’t really have the cultural connotations of the free-spirited ‘60s, the decadent ‘70s, or even the Alf-ish ‘80s; not yet, at least.
Well, maybe there is one unique experience that living through the ‘00s allows me to legitimately justify. I can envision, years from now, bouncing a cherubic grandson on my knee: he’ll look up at me, and, using his optic keyboard to search my name into Google Pangaea (“The Worldwide Superpower”), he’ll say, “Grandpapa! My iBrain tells me you had a … Myspace profile? What’s a Myspace profile?”
And I’ll triumphantly answer, “Grandson, I’ll tell you why — it was the ‘00s…”