The Long 1970s

I can’t help noticing a recent resurgance of interest in the 1970s at the moment. The ’70s have long had a fun popular cultural resonance, with fond memories (for some)of flares, the Bay City Rollers, the Brotherhood of Man, the drought of 1976 and the Silver Jubilee. There is also the memory of the counter-cultural response to this bubblegum stuff with the rise of punk (crystalised in the popular imagination in the Sex Pistols).

However, over the last year or so, a different aspect of the 1970s is emerging in popular culture. Damned United, the new film about Brian Clough and Red Riding, Frost/Nixon (a film about the Frost/Nixon interviews of 1977) and the recent TV adaption of David Pace’s novels both, in their own ways,both reflect a very view of the ’70s, with a reminder of the shabbiness (physically and socially) of the 1970s and the political complexities of the period. The ‘long 1970s’ from Paris ’68 until the Miner’s Strike of 1984 saw a period of social and political discontent that arose out of the failure of the 1960s hippies to effect change (and the re-politicisation and radicalisation of the left in the events of Paris 68) and was dealt a death blow (in the UK at least) on the picket lines of Orgreave, Ollerton and Ferrybridge. Although the Tory’s came to power in 1979, it was only following the Falkland’s War and the Miner’s Strike that they were secure enough to push through many of their most distructive and radical policies. The local and global problems, Cambodia, Vietnam and Beirut and the rise of Republican violence in Northern Ireland and the appearance of left-wing terrorism (Angry Brigade in Britain; RAF; Action Direct and the Red Brigades in Europe; the Weather Underground and the SLA in the States), as well as considerable labour unrest and the rise of the unions, were ignored as much by punk as by the Bay City Rollers (with the honourable exception of the anarcho-punk movement including such bands as Crass), who as early a 1978 sang ‘I see the velvet zippies in their bondage gear, The social elite with safety-pins in their ear,I watch and understand that it don’t mean a thing,The scorpions might attack, but the systems stole the sting.. ‘

I’m not sure why this interest in the seemier, or at least more mundane side of the 1970s is reviving. Possibly because its now far enough away to be looked at slightly more dispassionately, rather than through the ironic lens of Abba tribute acts (is Mamma Mia a crime against humanity? Discuss). We’ve just had the 25th anniversary of the 84 strike, and whilst the wounds are still deep, it was noticeable in recent coverage, that those involved on the right from tory ministers to police on the front line were much more conciliatory and at least openly acknowledging the social damage done, whilst those on the left are willing to admit that whilst the struggle may have been a just one, the timing of the strike and the decision to proceed without a ballot were badly mishandled by Scargill. An interesting take on the memory of the strike is Jeremy Deller’s 2001 re-enactment of the Battle of Orgreave, one of the key turning points in the strike.

Published by David Petts

Assc. Prof Archaeology, Durham University - landscapes - old music/books - folk traditions - early med Britain - community heritage - post-medieval - views own @davidpetts1

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  1. We had a non-nostalgic reminder of the 70s in the states with the whole Bill Ayers+Obama+Weather Underground=terrorism news cycle at the end of 2008. I\’ve wondered if that hampered the enthusiasm for things 1970 in America, or if it\’s just the popularity of Mad Men keeping everyone excited about the 60s.


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