Politics & Media
Jun 13, 2024, 06:29AM

I Stand With Peter Cottontail

Squared up with the USA. What year is it (#498)?

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As I understand it, from cursory looks at dozens upon dozens of articles (the media’s shrunk, but it still spurts over a media story), The Washington Post is undergoing a brutal upheaval, after losing subscribers, $77 million over the past year, advertising and digital views. The Post’s fortunes, or lack thereof, don’t really interest me and I’ll stay in the weeds on the various controversies over the villains, “the good guys” (probably no one) and what the future holds for the daily. I do wonder when Jeff Bezos, who bought the paper for a song ($250 million) in 2013, likely as a home base to court legislators and the Beltway establishment, will say enough is enough and enough is too much and unload the property.

But I did come across a weird May 24th Post article, via a link from Craig Calcaterra’s baseball newsletter, headlined “America’s best decade, according to data,” cluttered with about 579 charts, about Americans’ opinions when “the good old days” were. Translated: a shameless clickbait article, that was probably fairly well-read, or skimmed. I got sucked in. Post staff writer Andrew Van Dam opens his “analysis” with this silly lead: “The plucky poll slingers at YouGov, who are constantly willing to use their elite-tier survey in service of measuring the unmeasurable, asked 2,000 adults which decade had the best and worst music, movies, economy and so forth, across 20 measures. But when we charted them, no consistent pattern emerged.”

I’ve never thought of YouGov as “plucky”—“unreliable” is more accurate (like every polling organization—but maybe Van Dam, sniffing out the ch-ch-ch-ch-changes at his workplace, said fuck it, I’m going to have some fun! That’s legit. He writes, putting on that analytic pointy hat, dissecting the YouGov data: “The good old days when America was ‘great’ aren’t the 1950s. They’re whatever decade you were 11, your parents knew the correct answer to any question, and you’d never heard of war tribunals, microplastics or improvised explosive devices… The best economy, as well as the best radio, television and movies, happened in our early teens—ages 12 through 15.”

It’s difficult to respond to such random “green, green grass of home” nonsense, whether purposeful or not—do kids born in 2002 know what a radio is?—but I’m a sport and will go along.

I was 11 in 1966 and a happy kid. I rarely asked my parents schoolwork questions, although my dad and I agreed that “hypotenuse” was a helluva word. In late-1969, I was temporarily infatuated with song “Jesus is Just Alright” (which the Byrds covered on their LP Ballad of Easy Rider), and my parents were perplexed when I sang (badly) the lyrics, perhaps concerned their youngest song was slipping into the Jesus Freak camp, and asked, “But what does the song mean?” My reply, “I have no idea, but Roger McGuinn’s vocal is tops.” That went over their heads, we retreated to neutral corners and then Dad and I watched a re-run of I Love Lucy.

The best economic decade? Unfortunately, for millions of Americans the answer is “none,” but I’d say the 1990s, when I wasn’t a teen. In my lifetime, the 1970s was crummy, but I was a kid/young adult and didn’t care too much; the collapse of 2008, built up over years—and sealed Barack Obama’s election—was nerve-wracking, and not much fun.

The “best music” for me wasn’t when I was 12-15, but spanned from when I was young (Everly Brothers, Stax and Motown chart-busters, Aretha, Beatles, Dylan, Stones, Kinks, Zombies, etc.) through the mid-late 1970s (Bowie, Sly, Patti Smith, Roxy, Talking Heads, Spinners, Clash and so on) and the 1980s (Cure, the Smiths, Prince, Pretenders, Furs, dB’s, Graham Parker, Simple Minds… you get the idea). I’ve liked movies from every decade, but will say TV got better when I could buy DVDs around the turn of the century, and watch British shows like Inspector Morse, MI-5, Life on Mars, and anything with John Simm, Bill Nighy and Nicole Walker in it.

That’s enough, I’m getting as stupid as the Post article.

I was 16 when I took the above photo, a concert at Heckscher Park in Huntington, a memorable event (although perhaps not for my friend nodding off in the front row). Take a look at the clues to figure out the year:

The Soviets’ Luna 20 (no crew) lands on the moon; Angela Davis is released from jail (Joe Biden was a key negotiator); the presidential election in Uruguay is tainted by alleged fraud; Rhodesia is expelled by the International Olympic Committee; zero good vibrations in Munich; the A’s win their first World Series since 1930; Jean-Luc Godard works with Jane Fonda for the first and last time; John Lennon plays a rare solo concert at Madison Square Garden; Billie Joe Armstrong is born and Clyde McPhatter dies; poet Joseph Brodsky is expelled from Soviet Union; P.D. James’ An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and Martin Amis’ The Rachel Papers are published; and a Led Zeppelin concert in Singapore is cancelled because government officials won’t let the band off the plane because of their long hair.

—Follow Russ Smith on Twitter: @MUGGER2023

  • In possible defense of Craig's thesis, you have made a fair number of references to Mr. Ed, over the years. How old were you when that was first on?

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