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I recently screened the film 9 to 5 , and was stunned to see a scene I'd forgotten, in which the three protagonists played by Jane Fonda, Lily Tomlin, and Dolly Parton smoke a joint in the midst of female bonding.


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A scene like the one in 9 to 5 requires explicit contextualization if it is to have the impact on teenagers now it was designed to have on audiences at the end of the '70s. The changing status of marijuana affects its position as a potential generational object.

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To put it rather crudely, the Boomer's pot is different from that of the 13er. They both differ from the cannabis that that is now experienced by the "Millennial" generation identified by Howe and Strauss. Differences in generational location go a long way to explain the ambivalence with which popular music of the '70s was often regarded during its period of rehabilitation.


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  7. One brief example from the trade book press can stand for many. Speaking of disco, for instance, Bayles imagined it as having a unidimensional groove that became aesthetically and morally worse when the groove was produced through the rigid algorithms of a drum machine. Her beef with electronics encompassed synthesized orchestrations as well.

    For Bayles, irregularities participatory discrepancies, to invoke Charles Keil were the primary loci of musical values; the perfect regularity of electronic sound production automatically put these values in danger. Throughout her account, words like "mechanical" and "cold" expressed her displeasure at the unholy triumph of the machine over the human being. At the same time, Bayles deplored the hedonistic environments in which disco flourished.

    Her section heading, Disco: Invasion of the Sex Robots , married the values that ground her musical disapproval to those supporting her sense of sexual restraint. The greatest problem with disco in Bayles's account it seems to me, arose because disco could not be anything like a generational object to her.

    The style's values were too different from those of the objects she treasured, and its consequent remoteness led her to refuse to look closely at the values it did carry.


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    Early in her book she offered a mild defense against the likely accusation that she was "an aging flower child longing for the music of her youth" by claiming that it was a full tradition she defended rather than merely the music of her cohort. Following Bollas, we might suggest that if a set of generational objects let's say music seems to be endangered, then the form of community it constitutes is also at risk. Bayles was genuinely concerned about the loss of "beauty and meaning," not least because its disappearance betokened her community's relocation from actuality into history.

    It's popular music's astonishing power to mediate community that gives it such a central role among generational objects. Bollas points out that considered more abstractly, generational objects may be said to. It is a curious mix of the fashioned and the imposed, as the musical choices and lingual inventions rub shoulders with events beyond control: a war, and economic crisis, and so on. Yet generational objects are pop art objects, fashions, precisely because they weave into historic time. It is adolescence that is curiously true to the dialectic in human life between the personal and the social, the responsible and the irrational, the premeditated and the accidental.

    The reality of our world and the complexity of its events are not fathomable; their simple chaos is always somewhat beyond our organization. It is the adolescent who somehow most intensely lives this tension to its fullest, and who-upon recovery in the twenties-can form ideas of culture and society that identify the group's experience of life. Generational objects are thus always powerfully copular when not actually transitive. Linking choice and compulsion, mental time and mental space, they offer intersubjective spaces that balance our individual status with our membership in a particular group.

    To think of a piece of music as a generational object leads us to seek the complex fabric of significances that surrounds it for a particular listenership. In each of these cases, the generational object in question entails elaborate, sometimes elusive issues of politics, aesthetics, and most importantly, morality, insofar as these things can be disentangled from one another. Put another way, a generational object helps define a space of values understood as characteristic of a temporal cohort.

    A particular object is susceptible by its very structure to carrying some values more easily than others, of course, but it is never a simple matter of deciding whether the object can have been prior to the values it is held to carry. What matters most, I think, is how we attempt to unpack the generational objects-our own as well as those of others-so that we can be clear not only about the values they hold but also about the location from which our interests proceed.

    This never exhausts the meaning of a piece of music, of course. Music's evasive relationship to words allows it to be reinflected in the minds of multiple social worlds and time periods, not to mention individual listeners. Bollas's account sees generational objects as consolidated in early adulthood, when their working through of historical raw material creates a more or less coherent sense of temporal affiliation between contemporaries.

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    We all have these objects, and when we are young and wrapped in "generational narcissism" we are apt to think of them as permanent; but the approach of midlife finds our objects displaced by those of our successors. We become history along with the things we have chosen to love. We are lucky when we have the chance to get old in this way before we die; we can see the objects of our former choice metamorphosed so that they fit into other fields of passion, serving other interests.

    When we encounter them thus, they show us more about the objects themselves as well as the nature of desire in self and other. It may seem as if thinking about generational objects has taken us rather far from Rhino Records and its canny rehabilitations of what might have been and might still be ephemera.

    But the Have a Nice Decade box set is interesting precisely to the degree that it appears so "undigested. Those of us for whom the '70s were crucial with respect to generational identity want to find a set of commonly-agreed-upon songs along with a story into which they will fit. Rhino's collection does not serve this purpose. It is too random.

    It's true that the problem of licensing may have been partly at fault: anyone who teaches surveys of rock and soul, for instance, is aware of the difficulty of gaining permissions to include music by an assortment of groups in pop music surveys. But I think that the commercial inaccessibility of major groups is less widespread with respect to music of the '70s than is the case with the music of any other decade in pop music history. The problem is more one of historiography. Any survey of standard rock music texts will show that when the '70s are considered, the customary narratives fall apart.

    This is a musical narrative that is, a decade after Rhino's box set, still up for negotiation and construction. As long as they are unnarratable, the popular songs of the '70s are trapped. They cannot pass beyond the state of generational objects until they begin to lose their power to identify for listeners a particular temporal location connected with individual memory, until they can be fitted into more general stories. This does not mean that the songs float free of their surroundings; if anything, the cultural contexts of the songs become more important for discussion, because so much that was tacitly assumed as interpretive background is no longer shared by other audiences.

    The songs must begin to die to generational use so that they can live as other kinds of objects. The stories into which the songs may fit remain to be told. What goes for the music also goes for other aspects of the culture of the time. The Have a Nice Decade collection points up a persistent difficulty with making sense of the period as a historical narrative. The decade of the s invariably seems historically opaque and confusing. Our techniques of representing the recent past as well as the media we choose to do so encourage us to assume that the '70s have a distinctive identity; we can allow the eight-year success of the popular television sitcom That Seventies Show to stand in for the assortment of books, articles, and other kinds of commentary that combined with personal reminiscences from the end of the '90s into the present to create our shorthand image of the decade.

    Excesses of material style, dopey New Age ideas and practices, "weak" politicians, and the omnipresence of drugs and sex both approached with little fear -the '70s seem innocent or witless, depending on our point of view. But when we look at all closely, the appearance of unity in the decade shatters.

    This is not news-it's close to a commonplace for some time to note the difficulties of maintaining a decade-based scheme of periodization for a time bounded by the social shifts that marked "the long s" and the s.

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    On one end there are any number of mythologized events-potential generational objects-filling out the year that we might treat as "the end of the '60s. Just past the end of the decade, the events of include John Lennon's murder, the collapse of disco as a mainstream interest, the U. Although it may seem that most of these symbolically resonant events mattered primarily with respect to social and aesthetic values, many of them had significant political and economic consequences as well.

    But there are just as many objects and occasions that we could cite to prove that the '60s lingered far into the s, to such an extent that we could argue that the two decades form a microhistorical whole; and at the same time, we could show that fundamental aspects of the '80s began to appear as nascent critiques of the doubled decade it would eventually try to replace.

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    At the same time, however, the decade contained a strenuous impulse towards cultural retrospectivism bolstering the significant appearance of the conservative cultural movements that marked the '80s , inasmuch as the materials of earlier moments in popular culture either persisted at the margins or were deliberately revived.

    In television, for instance, Norman Lear's epochal sitcom All In The Family premiered opposite the classic '60s domestic fantasy Bewitched in January Instead of a Camp parody of witches in the suburbs a mainstreamed and thinly disguised allegory about the place of women and queer folk in Cold War America , Lear offered a lower middle-class family fighting uninhibitedly about vexing current social issues.

    It's worth remembering, in fact, that before the first episode of All In The Family , CBS attached a warning notice for potential family audiences: this new show was for mature audiences only. The season proved to be the final one for Bewitched. It was the last of the great surreal sitcoms that had dotted the television screen during the '60s, only to be replaced by shows that wanted to manufacture a style of realism.

    In place of djinnis in bottles, pigs who painted, hapless castaways who never could get off that tropical island, the successful sitcoms of the '70s presented vociferous arguments about pressing political issues such as the Vietnam war, abortion, changes in gender roles or the position of sexual minorities.

    The history of the '70s sitcom points up the value of "realism" on television. Politics and history were especially prized during primetime hours, often at the expense of frank entertainment.

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    Four years later, the number available was only five. In there were no primetime variety shows at all on the three major networks. Of the variety shows on the primetime schedule near the end of the decade, only one of them, The Carol Burnett Show , had lasted longer than five years. And the longevity of Burnett's program arguably had much more to do with the comedic brilliance of Burnett and her co-stars Harvey Korman, Tim Conway, and Vickie Lawrence, than it did with the appeal of the format.