Friday, June 6, 2008
I was going to entitle this short post "Swingtown - a quickie" and then realized it was a double entendre. So I nixed that. Why I feel the need to tell you is something for a psychological profiler to explain. I dunno.
For those of you who don't watch TV or haven't read any of the reviews (the latest being in the New Yorker, surprisingly), Swingtown is a new show on CBS that premiered last night. I watched it and was utterly bored. I see no future for this show. I would be surprised if it made it through the summer (like last year's Pirate Master, which now looks better than this new fare, shockingly).
On the face of it, a show about about drugs and group sex would seem to be immune to being boring. Both subjects are inherently interesting for titillation's sake alone (if one likes that sort of thing). How anyone could render either of them as banal as the writing on Swingtown does is a mystery. This is one of those cases where I truly wonder about the stupidity of my fellow human beings (and feel like a jerk for doing so, mostly because I hear my father inside of me).
But never mind that. This show, besides being boring, has got quite a bit wrong. First off, the neighborhood of large homes that these young couples live in, well, would not have been populated with such young couples. Or at least, they would have been a minority. Second, their clothes seem more sixties than seventies, even though I assume that this was well researched, and in reality, people were not so conformist to current fashion standards, just as they are (or not) now.
I must remind myself that this is television, after all, and bad television at that. Nor is it a documentary. But still. Another thing - those mustaches, the kind that Burt Reynolds wore and so did all the gay clones of Castro and Christopher streets, well, they weren't as common as all that, especially on the folks who lived in the big houses.
I recall plainly being in the public library one day and having a man hit on me who did, indeed, have this sort of awful mustache. He thought I"d be interested, not only in him, but the "shag carpeting at his pad". No, I wasn't, and found both the invitation, the idea of a shag carpeting and his mustache all completely distasteful. This was before 1976, and even by then, all these icons of bad seventies styles were already recherche.
Men with big mustaches, eight-tracks and the like were decidedly low-class. There: I've said it. They were the men portrayed in porn and in jokes about a time period that was embarrassed about itself seemingly as soon as it started.
Yes, there were swingers, swing clubs, middle class folks doing recreational drugs and people casting off mores. But I believe that, at least, this was accompanied by at least a bit of angst, which this tv show does not even hint at (unless a woman furiously scrubbing her oven in lieu of having group sex is what's supposed to tip us off to this).
I'm not sure why I'm even analyzing this bit of fluff. Perhaps it's because I've been prone to rumination lately and many of the memories I've been mining take place in the seventies. But these are not the seventies I remember, though of course, I was not an adult then. But I saw enough, heard enough and was exposed to enough to be able to detect bullshit when I see it. Spike Lee (surprisingly) got the time period all wrong in "Summer of Sam" when he portrayed CBBG's as a bastion of conformity where everyone had spiked hair, "punk clothes" and lots of piercings, especially of the tongue. I do not recall a single tongue piercing at the time, and know with surety, that if one was to encounter one, it was more likely amongst a very small underground of leather enthusiasts in Los Angeles.
The majority of folks during the seventies looked quite average. Men who worked in offices wore suits, though their ties and lapels were wide and their hair may have been a tad longer than in 1955. Young people, for the most part, still looked like hippies, in tattered clothes or clothes that were nondescript and could be placed in any time period since 1964. Grown women ran the gamut, though I'd venture to guess that the majority of them, too, were fairly plain. "That Seventies Show" has the look down pretty well, I think. I don't care to watch it, but it visually rings true.
I'd say that like other things that are meant to be evocative, if they don't trigger some memories, they have failed. I don't believe that this show was meant to do that. I think it was mean to titillate, especially given the endless commercials we've been subjected to in the last few months, hinting at the wild behavior that we would be shocked to see on national television. So, on all counts, this show is a worthless hour (or less, if you have Tivo) of fare. There: I've written a review. If you want to know this time period better, rent "The Ice Storm.
Photo note: The Loud family, in 1971, when the first reality tv show, an American Family, was made (for public television!) There is no better way to get a glimpse into what was happening in middle class America during this time than watching this show (and the movie mentioned above). I could be totally wrong, since I haven't seen the show since it was aired, and I was terribly young. Maybe I ought to watch it myself. Sounds like it might be quite painful, however. These were not lovely times, as much as anyone would like to paint them as such.
Addendum: I came to fix a typo and thought to myself, upon revisiting the photograph of the Louds, that indeed if it was not in black and white, and not identified as being from 1971, it could be now. There is no one who smacks of a particular time, except perhaps for poor Lance (the one in the t-shirt with I-can't-read-it-can-you? on it. Even though it's not polite to tease the dead, if one supposed it was 2008 (is it really almost 2010 already?), one could assume he was just a teenager with very bad taste.
As to Lance Loud, let me tell you something about him. I had remembered, incorrectly (as have most people who saw the show, which aired in 1973, but was filmed in 1971) that he came out of the closet on the show. He did not. His mother, however, asked her husband for a divorce on air. I only just re-learned any of this, from reading the Wikipedia entry.
One of my closest friends at school considered Lance Loud to be his hero. This is my friend who kept Horticulture magazine in his fabulous dive of an apartment, mentioned in the last post, who I last saw at a party one week before I escaped from the world by moving here to Maine. His apartment was lit with hundreds of candles and the poor cat's tail caught on fire.
I never thought much of Lance Loud's band, the Mumps, but I didn't think much of most any one back in my youth, I suppose. I just deleted a small list of bands I did like. I liked more than I seem to remember. I suppose I didn't like anything that smacked of camp and I still have little appreciation for it. Though I loved to hang out in gay bars, especially when I could pass myself off as a boy, I had no use for imitations of femininity. Because I was, indeed, a woman? I don't know. I love Andy Warhol, so I must have some appreciation for camp. But was Andy Warhol actually camp? I think not, now that I give it some thought. There was nothing ironic about the movie Trash or Chelsea GIrls. They were just sleazy.
And while we're marginally on the topic of 1976, it was the year Andy Warhol's film, Bad, came out. A very thoughtful friend went down to Warhol's headquarters (which I'm not sure was still called the Factory at that point) and bought me a t-shirt that said "Andy Warhol's BAD". I went out to dinner with my mother and brother wearing the t-shirt and when the waitresses came out to sing the obligatory song, they didn't know my name, so they sang "Happy Birthday Andy Warhol". This being New York, all heads turned to see Warhol, but all they got was me and mine. What were they thinking? I doubt Warhol would have deigned to eat in some fern bar on the upper west side, but who knows? I saw him walking the streets of Manhattan almost every day, it seemed (like a regular person and not the superstar he was). By the way, Warhol coined the term superstar, if I am not mistaken (and if I am, someone will surely correct me). Remarkably, I still own the t-shirt, though I never tried to hold on to it. It is worn as thin as a piece of fabric can get and still hold its integrity. Sounds rather metaphoric, doesn't it?