Wednesday 18 April 2012

The 70s: don't believe everything you see on television

Ten years ago, the BBC launched BBC4 with the slogan "Everyone Needs a Place to Think". I wrote to them saying I already have one, thanks very much, and it's called BBC2 (they didn't reply).

Since then, I've gone digital and become a huge BBC4 fan. As for BBC2, it's obviously not a place to think any more. I was looking forward to the new BBC2 series The 70s. I should have known better.

The trailer suggested it would be a serious history programme, but the fact that they used the 1970s BBC2 ident and the funny voice should have given me a clue... and the fact that they programmed yet another music clips show immediately afterwards. They were positioning it as a nostalgia show.

This become immediately obvious when the programme started off with 'What were you doing in the 70s?' This wasn't a history programme, it was 'I love the 70s' with a vaguely intellectual gloss.

And there were the uninformed young on Twitter saying things like 'I wish I was born in the 70s' and 'The 70s seems like such a cool era to grow up in'. Not to mention the ultimate in laziness: 'the decade that taste forgot'.

If you actually grew up in the 70s (as the presenter did not), you'd know there was more to the era than quaint fashions and good music. And much more than Blue Nun and brown furniture. This is my past you're talking about, not some retro theme park.

I'm sure the BBC are delighted that the show's such a great hashtag hit, but most of the people tweeting were idiots, spammers and trolls ('If you're old enough to remember the 70s you're too old to be on Twitter.' F*** off.). The rest were people my age trying to restrain themselves from putting their foot through the television.

Was it supposed to be social history? Was it supposed to be political history? Was it supposed to be a light entertainment clip show? Was it supposed to be true?

Did I say 'vaguely intellectual'? I meant patronising. The guy's written an article for the BBC website which lists a few 1970s cliches and adds 'all of those things, which are so easy to satirise today'. By whom? And why, exactly?

Yes, let's laugh at how unsophisticated everyone was in the 70s. As if we're more sophisticated now, when Simon Cowell's sex life is on the front cover of a newspaper and people actually think that reality television is, well, reality. 

The programme was full of similar unsubstantiated generalisations (including some uncalled-for union bashing). Someone on Twitter called it a Ladybird book; another liked it to GCSE revision notes. It was definitely history lite. Superficial, badly researched, badly presented and not even coherent enough to count as revisionist propaganda.

And it wasn't the 70s that I remember. Sandbrook describes it as an era of affluence: well, we never had any spare money. Or foreign holidays. In the 1970s that I lived in, there was more idealism than consumerism.

What really pisses me off is that a whole load of television viewers (and reviewers) are going to end up thinking that this was what the 70s were really like. Please believe me: they weren't.

I'm not sure whether I can face watching another three episodes. I think I'll just go and watch The Filth And The Fury again. And remind myself how the 1970s actually felt, in the real world.

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