The Geeky Seventies
CNN is following up their successful series on the 1960s with one on the 1970s:
Tom Hanks is an Executive Producer.
The existence of this series is kind of funny to me. I did a comedy bit years ago on our community access TV show (Freedom from Fear) called “In Search of the Seventies”. I treated it as a mystery as to whether or not the Seventies even (culturally) existed. I asked if they were really just “…the end of the Sixties and the start of the Eighties”.
I think that’s because I was too close to it. I was really engaging in pop culture in the Seventies…well, often culture that wasn’t so popular, but you know what I mean. ;) I didn’t have the distance from it and maturity to recognize what was special about it.
Certainly, I thought the 1960s had a unique culture…with the Beatles in part driving the bus.
As to the 1980s, well, New Wave music seemed to stand out to me.
The 1970s? At that time, I wasn’t seeing what made it special.
Now I do. :)
This post is going to give you an overview of geek-friendly culture in the 1970s.
It was definitely a transformative decade…even if the Transformers didn’t arrive until the 1980s. ;)
Geek culture moved mainstream in very big ways. Predominantly, there was Star Wars, which made space opera a blockbuster, but we could also look at The Exorcist for horror, and Interview with the Vampire (Anne Rice) for vampires.
We saw the arrival of Stephen King as a novelist, and the publication of Dungeons and Dragons.
Home video technology meant that people could easily watch movies after they were out of theatres…decades after, in some cases. Prior to that, some of us had three-minute long Super 8 movies, and the real hobbyists might have 16mm reels, but the Betamax and others meant our cinematic history (including the geeky part) was much more accessible.
Star Trek: the Original Series was canceled in 1969…but the fandom continued. That led to the first Star Trek convention in the 1970s. Science fiction conventions went back to 1939, but this was different.
Batman in the 1960s might have made superheroes a hit on TV, but Wonder Woman and The Incredible Hulk were part of the 1970s scene.
The Weird World interested a lot more people…the In Search Of TV series was only one part of that, but was many viewers’ first exposure to some of these topics.
Let’s look at some of the highlights in different areas:
How times have changed!
When you look at the top ten US grossing movies released in the 1960s, arguably only two are geek-friendly (GF) and not specifically intended for the family/children’s market:
- The Sound of Music
- 101 Dalmations
- The Jungle Book
- Doctor Zhivago
- Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
- Mary Poppins
- My Fair Lady
- Thunderball (GF)
- 2001: A Space Odyssey (GF)
By the end of the 1970s, that picture had entirely changed, and would look more like our box office today:
- Star Wars (GF)
- Jaws (GF)
- The Sting
- Animal House
- The Rocky Horror Picture Show (eventually) GF
- The Godfather
- Superman (GF)
- Close Encounters of the Third Kind (GF)
- Smokey and the Bandit
- Blazing Saddles
The Exorcist (1973) brought straight up horror to blockbuster status and mainstream acceptance (along with a lot of protests).
In 1975, Steven Spielberg changed the summer. Up to that point, it had largely been a season of cheapo exploitation movies. People actually went outside (including drive-ins), not to the movies. Jaws reshaped all that, giving us the summer blockbuster season. There have been heated debates about whether or not Jaws is a fantasy (are we supposed to believe the shark is just a shark, or something more?), but it was clearly a monster movie.
Then in 1977, Star Wars changed it all.
While those movies were all big hits, there were a lot of other significant geek movies. Undeniably, we have to count the Rocky Horror Picture Show as establishing midnight movies and a special kind of cult film. It flopped when it came out, but then got a new life in a new way. He’s the hero…that’s right, the hero. ;)
Here are some other stand-outs:
- Alien (1979)
- A Clockwork Orange (1971)
- Mad Max (1979)
- Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (1971)
- Carrie (1976)
- Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
- Halloween (1978)
- Young Frankenstein (1974)
- The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974)
- The Omen (1976)
- King Kong (1976)
- Eraserhead (1977)
- Solaris (1972)
- Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979)
- Logan’s Run (1979)
- The Wicker Man (1973)
- Live and Let Die (1973) (the first Roger Moore James Bond)
- Soylent Green (1973)
- Enter the Dragon (193)
- The Amityville Horror (1979)
- Dawn of the Dead (1978)
- Zardoz (1974)
- The Wiz (1978)
- Westworld (1973)
- Four of the original Planet of the Apes movies
- A Boy and His Dog (1975)
- Phantom of the Paradise (1974)
- Tommy (1975)
- The Lord of the Rings (1978) (Ralph Bakshi)
- Escape to Witch Mountain (1975)
- The Andromeda Strain (1971)
- Phantasm (1979)
- The Sentinel (1977)
- Suspiria (1977)
- Death Race 2000 (1975)
- Rollerball (1975)
- The Hills Have Eyes (1977)
- Picnic at Hanging Rock (1975)
- The Omega Man (1971)
- Tales from the Crypt (1972)
- The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976)
- Freaky Friday (1976)
- The Kentucky Fried Movie (1977)
- The Car (1977)
- The Muppet Movie (1979)
- The Stepford Wives (1975)
- Dark Star (1974)
- Eraserhead (1977)
Sure, the 1960s had been huge for high concept TV (with 1964 particularly important), but the 1970s built on that with many geek-friendly hits. Batman on TV had burned out by 1970, but opened the field for other superheroes (DC, Marvel, and bionic). Star Wars and James Bond were both big in movie theatres, and we saw their effect on the small screen as well. Home video arrived, which began to give us more options (although cable wouldn’t be a factor until the 1980s). Saturday morning got trippy with the Kroffts (although H.R. Pufnstuf debuted in 1969), and saw the return of Star Trek with the original cast…in animated form.
Some geek-friendly series:
- Wonder Woman
- The Incredible Hulk
- Saturday Night Live (Coneheads! Land Shark!)
- Battlestar Galactica
- Fantasy Island
- Mork & Mindy
- Land of the Lost
- Buck Rogers in the 25th Century
- Kung Fu
- Space: 1999
- The Six Million Dollar Man
- The Bionic Woman
- The Muppet Show
- The Tomorrow People
- Kolchak: The Night Stalker
- Blakes 7
- The Amazing Spier-Man
- Nanny and the Professor
- Tales of the Unexpected
- Paddington Bear
- The New Avengers
- Schoolhouse Rock!
- Super Friends
- Star Trek: The Animated Series
- Man from Atlantis
- Return to the Planet of the Apes
- Sigmund and the Sea Monsters
- Sapphire & Steel
- Star Blazers
- The Prisoner
- Josie and the Pussycats
- The Invisible Man (David McCallum)
- Electra Woman and Dyna Girl
- Doctor Who in the United States
- Monty Python in the United States
I’ve gone into depth on the general topic of literature of the 1970s in another blog of mine:
I Love My Kindle: Books in the 1970s
In terms of geek-friendly, it was a huge decade! Just as movies saw the mainstreaming of geek-friendly genres, bookstores saw bestsellers from a new author named Stephen King, and a vampire hit (Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice).
While geek-specific bookstores (and comic book stores) were crucial, you could walk into a the newly national Barnes & Noble chain and get a variety of science fiction/fantasy/supernatural horror. You wanted military SF? You had Joe Haldeman. Light fantasy? Enter Xanth by Piers Anthony. Social science fiction? The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner. Ringworld…Riverworld…we weren’t only reaching out to new planets, we were visiting new worlds and universes.
Here are some of the stand-out titles and authors:
- The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
- Rendezvous with Rama by Arthur C. Clarke
- The Lathe of Heaven by Ursula K. Le Guin
- The Stand by Stephen King
- Nine Princes in Amber by Roger Zelazny
- Gateway by Frederick Pohl
- Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein
- To Your Scattered Bodies Go by Philip José Farmer
- Lucifer’s Hammer by Larry Niven
- The Stepford Wives by Ira Levin
- Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon
- Logan’s Run by William F. Nolan
- Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm
- The Sheep Look Up by John Brunner
- Altered States by Paddy Chayefsky
- Autumn Angels by Arthur Byron Cover
- The Cave of Time (Choose Your Own Adventure) by Edward Packard
1974 saw the release of Dungeons & Dragons…and we had Advanced D&D by the end of the decade. This was really the decade that saw the RPG (Role-Playing Game) world established, and would include Runequest and Traveller.
Star Trek: The Original Series ended in 1969, but the people who had come together to fight for a third season kept at it. That included the first Star Trek convention (well, the first widely available to the public one in 1972), the return of the original cast for the animated series, and eventually, 1979, to the big screen.
Again, there was a transition happening, with some significant experimentation.
- Jack Kirby jumped from Marvel to DC, and introduced Darkseid
- The Overstreet Comic Book Price Guide first appeared
- Green Lantern and Green Arrow take a philosophical walk-about across America
- Mister Miracle debuts
- An arc in Spider-Man features drug use, and defies the Comics Code Authority
- Ra’s Al Ghul first appears
- The Kree-Skrull War storyline
- The Sandman
- War Machine makes his first appearance
- Wonder Woman gives up her powers
The Weird World
- The TV series In Search of… (hosted by Leonard Nimoy) was instrumental in reinteresting people in the Roswell Incident
- 1973 was dubbed “The Year of the Humanoids” by UFO researcher David Webb…one of the most famous was the Pascagoula incident
- Uri Geller was famous, even appearing on the Tonight Show in 1973 to “bend spoons”
- Psychic Discoveries Behind the Iron Curtain by Lynn Schroeder and Sheila Ostrander was published in 1970
- The Mysterious Monsters was a Sunn Classics documentary, featuring Peter Graves
- The Legend of Boggy Creek was released in 1972
- The Unidentified, published in 1975, by Loren Coleman & Jerome Clark, is Coleman’s first “name on the cover” book
- John A. Keel’s inimitable The Mothman Prophecies was published in 1975
- Momo, the Missouri Monster, was just one of many hairy bipeds
- Newsstands had magazines galore, including Ancient Astronauts
- The “flipper photo” of the Loch Ness Monster was taken in 1972 by Dr. Robert Rines’ team
- In 1975, Travis Walton is missing for several days, and a report emerges of an abduction by aliens
Listening to LPs was definitely a 1970s thing, and there were some definitely geeky concept albums.
- 1972: David Bowie’s The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars
- 1973: Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells
- 1978: Jeff Wayne’s War of the Worlds
- 1978: Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo!
- Home computers became a thing in 1977, with the Apple II, the Commodore PET (Personal Electronic Transactor), and the TRS-80 (Tandy Radio Shack)
- Skylab launched in 1973…and docked with the Russian Soyuz in 1975
- The Atari 2600 was released in 1977
- The first Pong arcade game was put to use in 1972. Arcade games would really take off with Space Invaders in 1978
There’s a bit of the geeky 1970s for you! We certainly didn’t cover everything, but you can see the big shift from geek culture being kids and niche to becoming the mainstream pop culture force that it is today. Want to add something? Feel free to comment on this post.
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