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Class of '93: Oh, The Places We Have Been!

POP CULTURE REMINISCENCE

By Beth L. Pinsker

GROWING UP IN THE '70s wasn't an easy task. How many of us will let peers see our childhood pictures complete with shaggy hair, big glasses and polyester playsuits in day-glo colors? Speak for yourself! you might all be shouting. But I know I speak for more than a few people when I say that these were ugly years to be a child. Luckily, we didn't have to grow up alone.

Jim Henson, the creator of the Muppets, made it okay to be green, even if it wasn't easy. Dr. Seuss made it fun to be red and blue (as long as you were a fish). As the head of the Brady clan, Robert Reed gave us all room to be groovy and made it acceptable for men to get perms. And Michael Landon championed the spirit of adventure on the American frontier on "Little House on the Prairie."

We lost all of these childhood heroes while we were in college. By the time they succumbed to illnesses--cancer, galloping pneumonia, AIDS and old age--we were supposedly too old to enjoy the products of their imagination.

Oh, The Places You'll Go! and the Brady Bunch kitsch revival certainly put a dent in that theory. There was even an underground movement to make Ernie our Class Day speaker. And Michael Landon, whose "Highway to Heaven" didn't score too highly with viewers our age, brought back many fans for his last appearance on "The Tonight Show" shortly before his death.

We lived by these men's words as children, and we will miss them as adults--especially since our world has become increasingly sordid in the past four years.

We need the simplicity of Cat in the Hat to counterbalance "The Last Stand in Waco" and the Spur Posse's paid talk show appearances. Our generation is caught between the counterculture of the sixties and the Nintendo culture of the eighties, and we need all the help we can get to overcome our cultural schizophrenia.

We reached political consciousness in a world where our biggest enemy suddenly stopped being the monolithic Communist empire, and instead turned out to be the insidious dictators of small nations. While in high school, we basked in the glow of corporatism; life never felt much more dire than a Saturday-afternoon detention. Then drugs stopped being cool as crack hit the scene. Casual sex became an even bigger taboo in the age of AIDS.

Our world turned into one big catastrophe waiting to happen--or waiting for our agents to sell our story to alien producers looking for a disaster-of-the-week movie. But at least all the destruction means we've had at least some kind of earth-shattering changes to yell about since we got to college.

With free love and acid trips out the window, one might ask what is left for those of us who had to sit through the morality lessons of the Reagan-Bush era? Scandals. Big juicy scandals, Sex, drugs, rock and roll, war, chaos, infidelity, treason, embezzlement and hypocrisy--and that's just the government.

Harvard, always on the cutting edge of the new way of life, hasn't been far from the end of civilization as we know it for the past four years. Professor of Government Harvey C. Mansfield. Need I say more?

As the Class of '93 moves into the bleakest job market since the Depression and the tightest competition ever for professional schools, we know we will be the class to face the "hard truths" of the '90s. Are we prepared to face a world that has changed so dramatically since we got to Cambridge?

Since we watched most of the recent world events happening on TV, I'd say we have a good chance.

The defining moments of our four years in college have taken place either on the television screen or in the dining hall. But the world has shifted so much that each event in turn seems to outweigh the others. Which affected us more as Harvard students and as Americans, the Gulf War or the L.A. Riots? The search for new president Bill Clinton or Neil L. Rudenstine? Blossoming democracy in former Communist states or bloody war in Bosnia-Herzogovina? Michael P. Berry as the Mealtime Messiah or Messiah No More? Charles Stuart or Amy Fisher?

The biggest change of our college career has been the nation's move into a world where scandal is now establishment journalism. Woody and Mia, Charles Stuart, the Jackson family, Pamela Smart, Amy Fisher, Bob Packwood, Tawana Brawley, Patty Davis, Clarence Thomas, Milli Vanilli--you name it, we've read headlines about it in the past four years.

Doesn't everyone love to find out from The New York Times that Woody Allen won't take a shower in a stall that has a drain in the middle of the floor? These days, television movies go into production before the smoke clears. Barbra Streisand and Sharon Stone roam the corridors of power. And politicians are starting to buy infomercials to sell their wares like so many cans of spray-on hair. Most people wouldn't consider these positive trends, but they're wrong. Dead wrong.

Sensationalism is all we have in the television age. We watch our wars on the screen. We watch riots and hurricanes live on CNN. People all over the country called the Waco fire department to tell them that the Branch Davidian compound was on fire.

It's hard to settle on a defining moment that sums up our ambivalence. Perhaps the best symbol of growing harmony in an increasingly surreal world is that the two lonelyhearts in the Taster's Choice commercial finally hooked up. It looks like we're in for a couple more decades of pseudo-happiness, so we'd better learn to enjoy it.

And we thought the '70s were tacky.

The defining moments of our four years have taken place on the television or in the dinining hall.

It's hard to settle on a defining moment that sums up our ambivalence.

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