When asked about life in the 1970s, many baby boomers lie and say they remember it. They snicker and say -- inevitably -- something about bell-bottoms, polyester and disco. They mention Vietnam or Nixon, then revert to giggling. As if we haven't learned what causes that.
They should have been awake for the decade. At least that's this Generation X member's crude take.
Sure, the '70s saw Afros and gas shortages, Watergate and the Gremlin. The (vomit) self-help book, "I'm OK, You're OK," was published in the dark Decade of Disco.
But for every "bummer, man," there were at least two popular-culture highs. And they were achieved by -- generally speaking -- slovenly dressed, Day-Glo attire sporting, long-hair freaks, who, no doubt, occasionally lounged in low-level couches on a shedding sea of shag carpeting. (And, one can't forget their polyester bell-bottoms a-ding-dongin' all the way to "Funky Town" ... uh-boom-waka-waka/uh-boom-waka-waka).
The fashions, the films, the music, and, yes, even the shag-carpeted bachelor pads and bachelorette cribs were part of the first "me" culture.
It was the generation that first displayed signs of abandoning large societal issues and worrying about just themselves, said Dr. Daphne John, an associate sociology professor at Oberlin College in Ohio.
Thus, Americans became more indulgent, took more risks, saw racy foreign films and wore gold medallions.
But as much as people try to forget the '70s, there are still some crowning achievements that justify the sloppy decade and keep it alive -- so each generation that comes along can have their own '70s "retro" parties.
* Film: Because of the emergence of film school graduates who were taught with cutting-edge foreign films -- coupled with a loosening of the morals in America -- "Hollywood couldn't miss," said Steven A. Carr, an associate professor of communications at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.
To wit, in chronological order:
"The Godfather," "Patton," "M*A*S*H," "A Clockwork Orange," "Shaft," "Dirty Harry," Polanski's "Macbeth," "Deliverance," "Klute," "The Last Tango in Paris," "Lady Sings the Blues," "The King of Marvin Gardens"
... that's just from 1970 to 1972. "The Sting," "Paper Moon," "American Graffiti," "Serpico," "Papillion," "The Exorcist," "Godfather Part II," "Blazing Saddles," "Chinatown," "Jaws," "Dog Day Afternoon," "Rocky Horror Picture Show," "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest," "Tommy," "Taxi Driver," "All the President's Men," "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly," "Rocky," "Annie Hall," "Star Wars," "Saturday Night Fever," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Grease," "Deer Hunter," "Up in Smoke," "Apocalypse Now," "Animal House," "Night of the Living Dead" and "Breaking Away."
* Music: Punk grew from the "American Underground" scene in New York City, where bands like the Ramones, New York Dolls, Iggy (Pop) and the Stooges, and MC5 thrived. Britain's the Sex Pistols stormed America with their anarchist antics in 1977.
The punk movement grew hard and mean as it reached the '80s. Called hard core, the metamorphosis saw such groups as Bad Brains the Cromags, Seven Seconds and the Beastie Boys. The sound softened and the speed slowed and it became the "Seattle Sound" of '90s grunge.
Like '70s punk becoming grunge, disco, too, had its effect on modern music. Disco, with groups like KC and the Sunshine Band, Donna Summers, Le Chic, Afrika Bambaataa, and even the Bee Gees, helped form the hip-hop genre. The disco, boogie-down all night grooves also ultimately spawned the rave culture, because for the first time in club-style music, the DJ was the star of the dance floor.
* Television: The birth of cable television was in 1972, launched by a company called Home Box Office.
There were the great Norman Lear sitcoms, such as "Archie Bunker," "The Jeffersons," and "Good Times," where social norms were tackled in comical settings. "Charlie's Angels" and "The Mod Squad" had an impact, too ("Baywatch," anyone?).
The '70s is also marked by one of America's biggest television events: ABC's airing of the TV-movie "Roots," by Alex Haley. In January 1977, the miniseries ran for eight days, tracing the life of African slave Kunta Kinte, who was later named Toby. On the last night of the original airing, more than half the population of the United States, or about 100 million people, tuned in. The miniseries was born.
* Sports: Many epic sporting events took place during the disco age, including the great Muhammad Ali-Joe Frazier fights and the baseball domination of the Cincinnati Reds' Big Red Machine, starring Pete Rose.
One gridiron event is still considered to be among the greatest moments in sports: the
Immaculate Reception. In 1972, the Pittsburgh Steelers' then-rookie running back Franco Harris made the shoestring catch behind the line of scrimmage and ran it for a touchdown to end the season for John Madden's Oakland Raiders.
As amazing (and controversial) as Harris' catch, so are some of the bricks that built the 1970s pop culture. ("She's a brick house.").
If it weren't for the 1970s, we'd be without Jiffy Pop popcorn, the "Brady Brunch," and Parliament's "Mothership Connection."
So, those boomers who quickly dismiss the decade as some prank -- as if to say, "we were just kidding" -- I say, cool out, man. We Gen X-ers dig the decade's groovy vibes. Be proud. ... But, yo, what was up with that feathered hair? Which style were you going for, the Farrah Fawcett or the Shaun Cassidy?