Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Can We Love the '70s and Still Outgrow its Attitudes?

It broke my heart when certain now universally-known facts first emerged about the 1970s glam superstar Gary Glitter. To those of us of a certain age Glitter personified everything that was fun and sparkly about that unique period in our recent cultural history.

He was no musical giant, of course. But his songs were audacious and bursting with braggadocio. He gave us a laugh, and made young men like me feel mightily good about ourselves.

Needless to say it was less of a laugh for the victims of his sexual abuse. Less too for those of the astoundingly prolific pervert Jimmy Savile. And in the wake of the shocking revelations about the literally hundreds of inappropriate liaisons that Jim managed to fix came news of so many others in the world of seventies music and popular culture who, albeit on a thankfully smaller scale, also seemed to have groped and molested their way through the decade with impunity.


It seems a tad selfish then to remark that the discoveries of the erstwhile antics of Glitter, Savile et al were like daggers to the hearts of '70s-worshippers such as myself. For all the soul searching it has caused the likes of me, and for all the worry and heartache that accompanies the thought that we may for so long have been living a lie, the experience cannot begin to compare with that of those who suffered directly at their hands.

By comparison with what was going on in music the world of seventies comedy would appear to have been relatively untouched by the hand of scandal. However recent documentaries and television features have served to remind us that the sitcom and stand-up that passed for innocent entertainment in those days had an intrinsic shock value all of its own.

Jokes of a racial and homophobic nature were for a very long time at the root of much if not most of our comedy. Along with, of course, laughing at people with disabilities and generally adhering to negative stereotypes of all kinds of people. It is only fairly recently that this long prevalent culture has been successfully challenged.


Furthermore it wasn't only those sitcoms which had racial adversity at their core, such as Love They Neighbour and Till Death Do Us Part, that were guilty. Even one famous episode of Fawlty Towers, written by the impeccably liberal John Cleese, contained the words "w*g" and "n****r" - terms the use of which would rightly be unthinkable today.

Stand-up was probably more tainted still. Stupid Irishmen, tight-fisted Jews (or Scots), smelly Asians and criminal West Indians were the foundation stones of a goodly proportion of what was more or less universally accepted as good comedy in those days. And if we're being honest, how many of us could truly say we did not find Manning funny?

Thankfully our perceptions have changed. Much of what I used to laugh at now makes me squirm with embarrassment. I hate Political Correctness, but subconsciously have probably taken on board 90% of its fundamental premises.


So how can it be then that so many of us still so love the 1970s? What, precisely, is to celebrate about a decade of sexual abuse, racial stereotyping, industrial unrest, Cold Wars, impractical attire and vomit-inducing bubble gum?

The answer is, I think, that all our shortcomings were trumped with love. There was a magnetism, and an overriding self-deprecating humour, which if it did not make all the ignorance and the prejudice okay at least relegated it to something less serious, less integral to what made that society tick than might suggest itself to somebody looking back at the 1970s today. We fought on the football terraces wearing loon pants and butterfly collars, for goodness' sake. We said and did some very dumb things but nothing was meant too literally.

If you think that sounds like an excuse then probably you have a point. But nothing will take away from me the affection I had for that glorious, golden decade, from which my soul has held onto everything that was pure and conveniently rejected everything that was hateful. There's no going back to Love Thy Neighbour or Gary Glitter, but I still had my gang and it was mine.