Book Review: “The Seventies” by Bruce J. Schulman

Posted: April 2, 2017 in Book Reviews
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The Seventies: The Great Shift In American Culture, Society, And PoliticsThe Seventies: The Great Shift In American Culture, Society, And Politics by Bruce J. Schulman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A very good and insightful overview and analysis of the Seventies and the “wasted generation” (for those of us who were kids in the 1970’s, this moniker is the one applied to us).

Schulman contends – and I think he’s right – that the Seventies began in 1968 – the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, and the disaster of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago ended the peace and civil rights movements in the U.S. and from it emerged an ugly and increasingly violent America that has only gotten worse with time – and ended in 1984 (with the re-election of Ronald Reagan). The unprecedented post-World War II economic boom that characterized the entire lives of the Baby Boomers who were teenagers and young adults at this time also began to unravel beginning in 1968.

These years saw the transition of the Baby Boomers from idealists to the “Me Generation” that by the end of the Seventies had become right-leaning Yuppies totally immersed in selfishness, self-absorption, materialism and getting what they believed they were entitled to (ironically, Baby Boomers level this same charge at Millennials) no matter who or what stood in their way.

As this thunderous and multitudinous (Baby Boomers represent the largest segment of the American population, then and now) force who dominated (and still dominant) American society surged and conquered (by whatever means necessary: fair or unfair, legal or illegal, etc.), the two generations on either side of them were left behind.

The first generation – their parents – was the Silent Generation (reference: Strauss & Howe’s explanation of the cycles of generations and turnings throughout history) who, despite providing the Baby Boomers with a more prosperous life than perhaps at any other time in American history, were abandoned, first to absence and then to the care of others at the end of their lives because Baby Boomers were too busy and couldn’t possibly be expected to make any sacrifices in their own lives for anyone else if it meant losing out on getting what they deserved (again, ironic, because this is the same charge Baby Boomers level against Millennials).

The other generation that got left behind was the 13rs (Gen X), who became known as the “wasted generation.” This generation has been the one whose entire adult lives have, especially economically (Baby Boomers have ruled the workplace and they refuse to give any ground to younger generations, even when their effectiveness and usefulness has long passed its expiration date) been a struggle just to try to stay at break even point, at best, and not entirely implode, at worst.

Much of what is behind these generational dynamics is what Schulman’s book covers (not all the blame lies at the feet of the Baby Boomers per se, but they have certainly had an outsized role in American life, always finding a way to thrive and prosper, despite the continual political and economic disasters that have characterized American life since 1968).

My only complaint with Schulman’s book is with his embrace of 1970’s entertainment (except for a few filmmakers – Francis Ford Coppola is one example – who broke the general mold of canned and banal films). Although there was some decent music here and there in the Seventies, Schulman’s elevation of the worst genre of that period – disco – to some enlightened form of entertainment just doesn’t cut it.

Disco – which had no musical value (everything sounded the same) and had no lyrical content (deep meaning was conspicuously absent) – was a reflection of the hedonistic, mindless, “me” Baby Boomer charge that dominated the Seventies. There is nothing, in my opinion, redeeming about it at all. In fact, it fulfilled Timothy Leary’s famous quote of “Turn on. Tune in. Drop out.” more than any of the music of the mid-to-late 1960s.

To suggest otherwise, in my opinion, as Schuman does in this book is to give credibility to a part of culture that doesn’t merit it.

Other than that, though, this is a very informative look, that is eye-opening in many ways, at the Seventies.

View all my reviews

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