I was looking forward to Dominic Sandbrook's programme on The 70s. My sensibilities were largely formed in that decade, and I feel defensive, if not proprietorial, about it. My memories of the sixties - at least beyond my immediate circle - are relatively vague, and I hated the '80s as a betrayal of all that I loved about the curmudgeonly, communitarian, mystic shabbiness that was my world. Not only that, the things that people find ridiculous about the '80s now, in terms of style, music, politics ("How could we ever have thought that was a good idea?"), I felt that way about at the time, when everyone around me was taking it seriously. Hell is other decades.
However, I began to have a bad feeling as soon as the programme started, which it did with a series of full-screen questions:
- What did you do in the 70s?
- Get married and have kids?
- Move into your first home?
- Join the world of work?
- Take your first foreign holiday?
- Try to change the world?
- Try to change yourself?
Long-time readers of this blog may remember my intemperate rant about boomernormativity (and possibly even its partial palinode), some three years ago. I thought I'd got it out of my system, but this brought it back in all its acrid piquancy. Just as all programmes about the sixties are about teenage rebellion, so it seems that a programme about the seventies can do nothing more interesting than look at the same generation a little later - settling down, marrying, getting a job, having kids, and starting to accumulate a little wealth. Because, as ever, the experiences of anyone older or younger than them cannot possibly be of any interest.
Well, I was alive throughout the seventies, mister, and did none of those things, except of course the last. (Okay, I think it may have been 1970 that we took a ferry and stayed in a caravan in Brittany for a week, but to make up for it I didn't go abroad again for another 16 years - and I've a feeling that's not the kind of foreign holiday Sandbrook had in mind anyway.) Nor for that matter did my parents, who had done them all long before. But we are all invisible to the eyes of the boomernormative Dominic Sandbrook. Most depressingly in some ways, Sandbrook isn't a boomer himself; in fact he's considerably young than I am. Internalized boomernormativity - it's a dreadful thing.
For anyone who doubts that the seventies really did exist, at least with me in them, I offer as evidence this recently-unearthed photograph, which caused my daughter to double up in breathless laughter when I showed it her yesterday.
I couldn't stand to watch any more of the programme at the time - but does it get a little wider in its focus? Should I persist?
Where the While Things Are was born the same year as I was, but (unlike Dr Seuss) Sendak wasn't a big part of my childhood - always excepting The Nutshell Library, which I did like a good deal. In my twenties I went out with a huge Sendak admirer, though, so I persuaded myself that I was a fan too - which, since he is obviously very talented, wasn't hard to do. All the same, I've never been able to love his work, and recently Where the While Things Are has increasingly irritated me. I think I've worked out why, now: it's because of the way its moral is imparted. Now, I don't mind a book with a moral. I don't mind that Pierre was made to care, that Albert was eaten by a lion or even that Suck-a-Thumb fell victim to the Red-legged Scissorman. In fact, I cheered. I like a bit of utile sprinkled on my dulce. But those correctives were imposed from without. The trouble with Max is that he has to find the moral of his story (which is of course that Mummy Knows Best) all by himself. In the nineteenth century, the child was made to kiss the rod that beat him. In 1963, Max only has to sip the soup, but the demand for self-abnegation is the same, and it icks me out in a way that feels very basic and primal. In fact, I feel like chasing a dog with a fork, just to make a point. Any point.
As so often, Blake said it best, and most honestly:
Struggling in my father's hands,
Striving against my swaddling bands;
Bound and weary I thought best
To sulk upon my mother's breast.
Never let it be said that I have dealt with my shit!