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Songs, Attitudes, and Time - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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December 19th, 2007

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01:18 pm - Songs, Attitudes, and Time
I recently acquired a copy of the classic anti-war song One Tin Soldier, which I remember from my youth in the 1970s. It's vividly a song from that era, with all of the hope and idealism that was so common then, and so rare now. After listening to it, I also dug out some of my old Joan Baez albums and thought about how things have changed in the past 30+ years. I've previously written about the fact that progressive ideals were far more mainstream in the US than they have been since that time and about the changes in the role of men in the media. However, the saddest change is larger than either of those. Whether it was happy or sad (and a vast amount of early 1970s mass media was deeply sad, in large part because like now, the nightly death-tolls from a murderously stupid war were an ever-present fact), much of this media, whether songs, movies, or whatever, was both more hopeful and more humane than most of what we see now.

I've considered how much of the differences I've noticed might be childhood nostalgia, but I've looked over various media and discussions of media in the 70s , 80s, 90s, and 00s, and it honestly seems that starting sometime in the early to mid 1980s, the level of mean-spiritedness seemed to significantly increase in songs, movies, TV, and other mass media. While there are clearly wondrous exceptions like Stranger Than Fiction, for the past 20 years, a great deal of comedy (which I deeply loathe) focuses on the pain and humiliation of others. Some crucial mixture of hope and kindness is missing from popular culture in the US and it has been missing for at least the last 20 years. Perhaps the easiest way for me to express this is to say that over the past 30 years or so mass media has become on average less fundamentally kind.

I regularly hear discussion of how naïve and foolish people were in the 1970s, and when you compare many of the films and songs of that era with those from the past 20 years, that's one very easy way of looking at the difference. The idea that people believed that marches and protest songs could help end a war or a deeper and more fundamental belief that people were on average at least as kind and good as they are mean and cruel.

Some of these changes are due to the resurgence of fundamentalist Christianity, while is ultimately built on fear of punishment and contempt for different beliefs and much of the rest comes from the spread of the libertarian idea that personal greed is something between a virtue and the most fundamental human trait. However, regardless of the origins when I listen to old anti-war songs and watch some 30 year-old films and think that hope and kindness are not naïve, they are merely out of fashion and have been so for far too long.
Current Mood: sadsad

(8 comments | Leave a comment)


[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2007 10:16 pm (UTC)
I was very young in the 1970's, all I remember is politically correct (1975 standard) children's programmes on TV and "progressive" records made by people who probably are working as ad agency consultants or media bosses now.

But what strikes me as different with US media compared with the 1980's is that movies and TV shows back then didn't have to be so bloody nationalistic. I mean, take a movie like the wonderful "The Right Stuff", one of my favorites and in a sense a tribute, not uncritical but appreciative, of a people, time and nation to perhaps criticize but also respect.

Now imagine that being made twenty years later. It would have been a nationalist-patriotic mess. And no, I don't think it is just 9/11, I think it started earlier. Before Bush II. And I think that's sad, because when I look back at my youth in the shallow 80's only the really silly-rotten movies, like Missing In Action, Red Dawn and Rambo II, felt like they were toting the flag and you could laugh at them for that.

Today the flags feel like they are everywhere, even in supposedly good movies and TV series. And then I miss the American media of my youth.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2007 10:26 pm (UTC)
I completely agree. Rabid nationalism drastically grown in prevalence, and while it's become even more obvious since 9/11, it was definitely there 15 years before that. My feelings about nationalism are summed up by this quote from Ken MacLeod's novel Engines of Light:
'What you are looking at', said Matt, 'is the most obscene and disgusting thing I've seen in centuries. It's a map of the world which happens to be a rectangular sheet of chauvinist shit. Every one of those barbarously, artificially carved-up fragments of the world is tagged with a little rectangle of its own, a bloody badge of shame - a flag! They've got nationalism down there. If they had a virulent strain of bubonic plague instead I'd be happy for them.' [Engine City page 137].
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2007 10:42 pm (UTC)
The sick thing is that not just the conservative crazy fringe is attempting to create a difference between "good nationalism" (usually "ours") and "bad nationalism" (like say, Serb nationalism). You can hear liberals, socialists and even greens go for that jingo.
[User Picture]
Date:December 19th, 2007 10:41 pm (UTC)
i used to sing that song during the 80's and 90's at the summer camp i went to for about 10 years. it's one of my favorites. :)

(i think i even used the lyrics as place holder text for a "unwritten song" in my 2nd novel because they fit).

[User Picture]
Date:December 20th, 2007 03:47 am (UTC)
I happen to like the song "One Tin Soldier" as well. It always had this sense of deep loss at the senselessness of the acts committed in the story line. Nowadays that song would have contained some sort of justification for the acts committed.

I remember listening to Melissa Etheridge speak when her set was on at the Live Earth series of concerts this past summer, and she was asking where the idealism had gone that had marked the same time period you are mentioning, before launching into "I Believe".

Personally, I don't think idealism is naive. I think as a culture, we've gotten so inured to "bad things happening" in that nihilistic sense you mentioned re "No Country For Old Men", that we are numb from it, and have gotten jaded and callous instead.

That idealism, however, is still there, and raised it's head just this past week as hundreds of thousands came together via protest to force two countries, namely both Canada and the US, to acknowledge environmental restrictions. Of course it remains to be seen what these two countries, as well as Japan, who was also in the mix attempting to block reforms, do, but they now can't ignore the intense public pressure either.
(Deleted comment)
[User Picture]
Date:December 21st, 2007 11:49 am (UTC)
I agree with the timeline here. I think it was really the Reagan administration that started the shift. It might not have started out as political -- there was certainly a social component as well -- but that's really when the cult of justified selfishness started breaking into popular discourse.
[User Picture]
Date:December 21st, 2007 03:43 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
Date:December 24th, 2007 03:03 am (UTC)
"I regularly hear discussion of how naïve and foolish people were in the 1970s, and when you compare many of the films and songs of that era with those from the past 20 years, that's one very easy way of looking at the difference."

Being born exactly two weeks after Nixon resigned, I have always lived in cynical times. Howeer, I have witnessed the media in general becoming more and more removed from reality over the past seventeen years or so (since I was mature enough to pay attention to that sort of thing). What I mean is that TV and print media is focused more and more on the lurid and the sensational until anything informative is lost. Pop culture is nothing but snarky dreck.

Law & Order, once upon a time, used to be a good police procedural. Now it focuses more and more on the bizarre until it sounds like it was scripted by VC Andrews (the author of Flowers in the Attic). The newer editions, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, seem especially prone to this.

Example: One recent episode of Criminal Intent showed the corpse with a speculum in his mouth and his pants down.

Example: An episode of Special Victims showed the corpse dressed in white, with blood liberally coating the area between her legs.

The plots of both of the examples were very convoluted and more like something out of a bad horror novel than a police drama.

By contrast, Mash, which was about the Korean War, was never half that gory, even in the operating room. I may have cried after watching some episodes, but I never suffered from paranoia after watching it.

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