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The Great Funk: Falling Apart and Coming Together (On a Shag Rug) in the Seventies

The Great Funk: Falling Apart and Coming Together (On a Shag Rug) in the Seventies

Author:Thomas Hine
Release Date:2007
Publisher:Sarah Crichton Books

By Joab Jackson | Posted 12/19/2007

The 1960s may be remembered as when we first loosened ourselves from the bonds of social conformity, but it was the following decade when we actually did the heavy lifting of getting to what we now think of as the modern age-so Thomas Hine's The Great Funk asserts.

For those of us bopping around then, everything appeared normal, even a comedown from recent highs such as Woodstock and the moon landing. Yet time has rendered bare the sheer oddity of polyester leisure suits, gas lines, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, geodesic domes, exploding Ford Pintos, fears of overpopulation, streaking, and pet rocks, all of which-and much more-Hine covers in both words and glorious photos.

The book amply shows the 1970s had enough cultural flotsam to dwarf most other decades, weirdness-wise. But beyond these many curiosities, Hine argues that the '70s were a time of fundamental change. This was the decade when the nuclear family hollowed out as people pursued their individual muses, fragmenting the dominant culture while enriching its diversity. Women's liberation, gay rights, and alternative spiritual paths may have all gained traction in the 1960s, but they didn't fuse into the zeitgeist until the '70s. For the first time in recent U.S. history, "having a worldview different from the one you learned in school or from the television did not necessarily make you an oddball," he writes.

Hine was a design critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer from 1973 to '96, and, at his best, he connects many seemingly unrelated elements. "It's striking that at the same time that Hustler was objectifying women . . . feminists were engaged in the much the same exploration," he writes. "In the latter case, though, it was about knowing enough about their own bodies to claim ownership and control."

Too often, though, Hine retreats to dry prose reminiscent of high-school history textbooks, moving from topic to topic with a swift superficiality: So how were porn and women's lib related, anyway? Worse, Hine tries to co-opt the reader into his quest for etymological immortality. The title of a similar book he penned on 1954-'64, Populuxe, ended up in a few dictionaries (Hine's coinage means, roughly, the synthesis of pop art, populism, and luxury). Now, he's coined his own term for the 1970s, "the great funk" referring both to stupor and a musical groove. Almost every page drops the phrase, subtly leading the unaware to believe someone actually used that term back then. It's journalistically disingenuous and somewhat annoying, marring this otherwise thoughtful coffee-table book about a much-maligned decade.

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