Looking Back on the 1970s

Burt Atkins, Ph.D.





By Burt Atkins, Ph.D.

In May 1970, members of the Ohio National Guard opened fire on students at Kent State University who were protesting the war in Vietnam.  Four students were killed and a number of others wounded.  The shootings sent shock waves across the United States. Some people might have assumed that events like this one could have occurred in less respectable, less tolerant and certainly less democratic countries around the world. Many, however, were aghast that it had happened here, in the so-called “shining city upon a hill,” a phrase used by Ronald Reagan just a few years later to describe the United States.  Looking back, however, without the “fog of war” distorting our view, we can see more clearly that Kent State in 1970 was a continuation of violent trends occurring since the late 1960s. It’s too easy, then, to dismiss the 1970s as a “kidney stone of a decade,” as Doonesbury’s Zonker Harris did, or to think about it simply as an era of bell-bottoms, disco music, long unkempt hair and polyester leisure suits. The 1970s was a truly difficult decade, born amidst violence like Kent State, in which we had to endure gasoline shortages, economic stagflation and the Watergate scandal, among other events and problems. This was a decade in which one president was forced to resign from office, another was appointed, and a third would fail to be reelected once the decade ended.

My winter 2018 course is about this difficult, sometimes confusing, decade. It uses politics, popular culture, music and especially movies as a way of remembering the events and people who, for better or worse, made the 1970s what it was. The movies, especially, will serve as a cultural mirror reflecting the mood of the decade.  Often, the mood was one of ennui and alienation, as in Five Easy Pieces starring Jack Nicholson, or rebellion, as reflected in another Nicholson film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or a conservative reaction to the liberalism of the 1960s, as in Dirty Harry and Death Wish. But sometimes movies used satire and humor to examine the mood of the decade, like Being There, a movie with a marvelous performance by Peter Sellers, and Woody Allen, at the top of his form in Annie Hall.

This is a course to take if you want to look back at an important decade that serves as a link between the turbulent 1960s and the fast-paced and dynamic 1980s.


Burton Atkins, Ph.D.
The 1970s: A Movie Retrospective on “a Kidney Stone of a Decade”
Wednesdays, January 10, 17, 24, 31, February 7, 14, 21, 28, 2018; 3 – 4:30 p.m.



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