Monthly Archives: October 2012

Where Were You in ’72? (Reflections on the passing of time and of George McGovern)

Hi. My name is Dave. I’ve been thinking a lot about 1972 lately, and of what a long time 40 years is, even if it feels just like yesterday.

It was a big year for me. I started first grade, and not at just any school, but at “The Alternative School.” You can get a pretty good idea of what the school was about from the name and the fact that it started in 1972.

I was in class when I heard about Nixon beating McGovern. Our teacher’s name was Steve. It was the afternoon and we were in our makeshift classroom. The Cuisenaire rods were put away in the closet; math time was over. We were transitioning to the afternoon, sitting on little squares of carpet with the lights dimmed, attempting to have some sort of quiet time, but it was no use. “I think they had the election for the President yesterday!” a kid said.

“No way. Just for one day? That seems like a rip-off. Let’s ask Steve.”

Steve confirmed that it was true, that the elections had been the day before and the results were already decided. “Nixon beat McGovern in a landslide,” were his exact words. A landslide.

You take stuff literally when you’re six. I had just learned about the horrors of quicksand, and I was pretty sure people were killed in landslides. My take on the whole thing was that the popular vote was neither here nor there, but that Nixon became President by default because McGovern got taken out by falling rocks.

Aah, memories…Hard to believe 1972 was 40 years ago. In 1972, 40 years ago was 1932. Hoover was President. The New Deal was still in the future. The world changed unfathomably in those four decades. Sociologically at least, 1972 would have been unrecognizable to a citizen of 1932.

From our current vantage point, 1972 was a different world as well, but not nearly as different as 1932 was to 1972. The Alternative School opened for business in the fall of that year, meaning the school would have begun to be conceptualized and realized in 1970-71 or so. In other words, the Alternative School emerged during America’s most turbulent decade since the Civil War, founded by a small group of committed parents and educators.

It turns out that the tumult and upheaval of that period had largely run its course by 1972, but there was no way of knowing this at the time. The Weathermen and Yippies were still very much active as the 1970s began. The 1968 Democratic National Convention would have been the most recent presidential political marker. Kent State and Jackson State represented the contemporary state of relations between government and higher education.

To us they were Nixon, to them we were Manson. Having long hair in public could still land you in a fistfight.

This was the zeitgeist into which the Alternative School was born. Not all the goals of the school’s ideologues and their generational cohorts were attained.  Few of us first graders stuck with the program all the way through high school. Most of my former classmates who now have kids of their own have chosen to raise them in a far more structured environment. The Alternative School itself ceased to exist by the early 1980s.

But looking back now, 40 years later, in an era when the Rolling Stones play Super Bowl halftime shows, a multiracial former Occidental College student sits in the While House, and the term “alternative” itself has acquired mainstream cachet, it’s easier to appreciate how far we’ve actually come since “The Landslide” of 1972.

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Categories: 1970s, counterculture, Politics | Tags: , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Six Million Dollar Man and the Gestalt of the Gerald Ford Years

I haven’t seen so much as a clip of the Six Million Dollar Man since the program actually aired in the 1970s. For all intents and purposes, Steve Austin has been living exclusively inside my head for the last 35 years. But the memory is a sharp one. I was a TV child and the Six Million Dollar Man was officially my favorite program during the 7 to 9 age bracket, when whatever your earholes and eyeballs glom onto gets etched into the wet cement of your brain pan and hardens into the long-term memory that stays with you forever.

“Steve Austin, astronaut, a man barely alive…Gentlemen, we can rebuild him. We have the technology…We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic man…Steve Austin will be that man.”

These words, set to the beat of Viking war drums, form part of the show’s intro, which still plays randomly from time to time in the surround-sound of my cranial jukebox. For 35 years I’ve been carrying this secret around with me, and I need to get it out in the open.

Turns out there are full episodes of The Six Million Dollar Man available for viewing on the Internet now. So, after a four-decade separation, I finally squared the circle and queued up one of my favorite episodes, “The Secret of Bigfoot (Part I).”

 

“Bigfoot” begins with the dramatic whirr of a chopper’s blades. Within moments it all comes rushing back to me, not just the Gerald Ford-era banter of Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman as they fly over the “San Madrian” Fault, but the whole gestalt of 1975-76 itself, of what a strange time it was to be alive and living in L.A.

Like the subconscious of the Manchurian Candidate being activated whenever the queen of diamonds is played, the moment I hear that chopper taking Steve and Oscar to their rendezvous with Bigfoot, my brain’s sleeper cells are switched on and I’m right back there in the third quarter of fiscal 1975, this time with the omniscient perspective of a boy from the futuristic year of 2012 AD.

“The Secret of Bigfoot” aired at the very end of the Vietnam era. By this time, choppers are not only synonymous with Southeast Asian jungle combat scenes, but also the harried evacuation of the US Embassy in Saigon that so embodied the unceremonious (some would say humiliating) retreat of a superpower back to where it came from.

And of course, right about then the same thunk-thunk-thunk of the chopper’s blades accompanied the visage of a disgraced President being whisked away from the White House lawn into a hasty exile.

Fall of Saigon, evacuation of US Embassy

Nixon bids his adieu.

By this time, the whirr of the chopper was also synonymous with our own post-apocalyptic urban condition: cops in hot pursuit of violent criminals, g-men engaged in surveillance and crowd control, news crews updating the citizenry on the myriad traffic jams and high-speed chases affecting the roadways.

The Seventies is when the ominous rumble of the chopper became ubiquitous, when the Vietnam War finally came home.

And to think, in the 1950s helicopters burst onto the scene with such utopian fanfare–a helicopter in every garage so dad could beat traffic on his commute. By the 70s, everything about the Fifties seemed impossibly naïve, but that’s a whole other subject.

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In “The Secret of Bigfoot,” Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman are on their way to help a team of researchers set up a state of the art earthquake monitoring system in the remote mountains on the other side of the “San Madrian Fault.”

Earthquakes loomed large in the 70s for some reason. Maybe it was because LA had kicked off the decade by recording the deadliest quake of its history on the morning of Feb. 9, 1971.

In 1965 it was the Watts Riots; in ’67 it was the acid-eating runaways on the Sunset Strip; in ’69 it was Manson; in ’71 the earthquake. And the even years were no picnic either. It all seemed to be part of LA’s descent into savagery and chaos, and by extension the end times of America’s so-called golden age.

A year before “Jaws” made us afraid to go in the water, a movie called “Earthquake” was the summer blockbuster that made everybody afraid that California was about to fall into the sea. The film was said to be based on the real-life 1971 L.A. temblor; it chronicles the struggle for survival of six ordinary people after a major quake destroys most of Los Angeles. Why not believe it? An earthquake was as likely an event as any to usher in the post-apocalyptic future that seemed inevitably headed L.A.’s way.

“The Secret of Bigfoot” episode of Six Million Dollar Man aired a little over a year after “Earthquake” the movie swept the nation, planting the fear of the fault-line into our hearts. So when Steve Austin and Oscar Goldman fly out to help with the seismic monitoring stations, we know the future of all Americans is at stake here.

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And of course, as the title postulates, this helicopter ride across the “San Madrian” is all leading up to Steve and Oscar’s imminent encounter with Bigfoot himself.

Bigfoot was another counterculture hero of the Seventies: a loner who wore his hair long and went underground, living off the land and staying one step ahead of the law. During those difficult Gerald Ford years of Mourning in America, Bigfoot was the anti-Nixon.

Steve and Oscar in the helicopter, surveying the San Madrian Faultline, unaware that they will soon encounter Bigfoot.

The Six Million Dollar Man was more than just the stylized choreography of a bionic action hero, more than just homo-erotic stump porn. The Six Million Dollar Man offered helicopters, earthquakes, and Bigfoot–the gestalt of American culture writ small for children to digest. That’s why we loved that show so much, it didn’t condescend; it spoke to us as people, not pupils.

The show was dark, with little time for cuteness or humor. It delved deeply into the paranormal, playing out against a stark backdrop of good versus evil. It was the closest thing we had to the X-Files in the 70s. Before Mulder and Scully there was Steve and Oscar, whose on-screen chemistry fell somewhere between that of Mulder & Scully and the two cops from Adam-12. The love between the two men was real; I can see that now.

I didn’t get more than a few minutes into the episode. I didn’t have to.  Everything I needed to see happened right there in the first sequence.

Categories: 1970s, counterculture, television | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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