Why Was I Raised Evangelical? – or – What I Think I’ve Learned From 70’s Movies

I have an unsubstantiated, somewhat out-there theory regarding some possible socio-political influences on my Evangelical upbringing. Basically, I blame the 1970’s.

Now I wasn’t around for any of the 70’s, so all of my primary sources are the films of that particular decade.  But something happened during the 70’s that gave a lot of people from my parents’ generation cause to do some major life reevaluation and ultimately turn to Jesus. And I think there are a lot of clues in these movies.

Recently, I was watching the 1976 film Network when it dawned on me: The 70’s sucked! This fantastic movie contains the iconic quote, “I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take it any more!”  This, I think, is how a lot of people felt during the seventies and the phrase served as a rallying cry for the masses in Network as people watched and identified with the ravings of a news anchor descending into madness.  The film also features a violent, ultra-left terrorist group, early discontent with globalisation as a major American corporation is sold to Saudi Arabian investors, and the dramatic desensitization of people through popular media.

I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s just say the film does not end happily.  Then I started to think about other movies from the 70’s.  The Godfather. Godfather II.  The French Connection.  China Town.  Apocalypse Now.  Taxi Driver.  Godfather I and Taxi Driver have arguably the happiest endings of all, but that’s not saying much.  SPOILER ALERT – Michael wins his war on the five families but is still left without a father or brother.  And the praise for DeNiro’s character’s heroism in Taxi Driver seems tacked on, especially since we know he’s more angry than courageous, simply disgusted by the moral emptiness of the city.

Happy endings were hard to come by in the seventies. The films were mostly dark both in color and subject matter. The line between hero and villain was often blurred. They were largely bleak and devoid of hope. Compared to these movies the Gospel message must have been pretty appealing.

That’s actually why the original Star Wars movie was such a big hit in 1979.  After a decade of tragic endings and moral ambiguity, the American Public was ready for a straightforward, action-packed, good vs. evil, western/martial arts movie that happened to take place in outer space. Star Wars, to its original audience, was an enormous breath of fresh air.

But that was after an entire decade of suckiness.  It seems to me that the some pretty exciting stuff happened during the 60’s but it kind of peaked at Woodstock and it was all downhill from there.  The things that the 60’s romanticized took an ugly turn in the next decade.  Happy hippies twirling in fields via recreational drug use gave way to an epidemic of crack addiction in major cities. The sexual liberation of the 60’s was replaced by an HIV/AIDS panic, explicit pornography and discos where people would apparently do coke and have sex with each other (if the E! True Hollywood stories are to be believed). Fortunately, we’ve classed things up a bit now.

And weren’t there a lot of serial killers in the seventies too?  Two more contemporary  movies, Summer of Sam and Zodiac, remind me of this fact.  Worse still, you had Charles Manson using the lyrics of Beatles’ tunes as motivation for his murders.  Talk about ruining the sixties.

Annie Hall demonstrates how throwing off the shackles of society’s rules to seek your own happiness devolved into a neurotic over-obsession with self-actualization. The characters all follow their ‘analysts’ advice and end up jeopardizing their own happiness by over-thinking it. Even comedies didn’t have happy endings in the seventies.  Ugh.

In a way our culture has returned to morality a bit since then.  We don’t have much ultra-left-wing violence.  Protests, at least in our country, maintain relative peacefulness.  We don’t do drugs or have sex in public (at least its not a prominent thing, anyway).  We’ve cleaned up Times Square (a pretty apt metaphor I think for removing ‘sin’ from the public space or at least the public eye)  and I think we’ve realized as a culture that some amount of restraint is desirable in both public and private life.

My parents have always said ‘liberal’ as if it was a dirty word.  I have to admit I’ve been somewhat baffled by this.  But I think when my parents rant and rave about ‘liberals’, they have the seventies in mind.  The seventies were about as ‘liberal’ as I can imagine.  The were ‘liberal’ to excess. And I believe most of our parents acted pretty ‘liberally’ in the seventies and then thought better of it.

So for having lived through the seventies, which as far as I can tell completely sucked, I suppose I need to cut my parents some slack.  But I think also that they need to recognize that that era is over.  The United States has changed.  Movies today by and large have happy endings.  And even the raunchy comedies (Knocked Up, Superbad) end up coming down on the side of love, family values, loyalty and moral choice.  These days, the good guys win.  Our society has learned from its mistakes.  We’ve grown.  We’ve compromised.

It’s time to forget the stupid, sucky seventies and move on.  And that may mean stepping back and reconsidering our faith on contemporary terms; viewing it in a less reactionary way.  It’s not as simple as an us vs. them mentality anymore.  The secular world is no longer spiraling down a liberal toilet bowl as I was taught growing up.  And while that makes things more complicated, I think it’s ultimately something to be thankful for.  It’s a new challenge.  And it’s our responsibility to step up.

Correction: The original Star Wars was released in 1977, after not quite an entire decade of suckiness, not 1979 as previously reported in the above post.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m pretty sure my entire weird Christian school experience was a product of this extreme reaction to the ’70s. But the school and its principal never got past their overreaction to that decade. Which is probably why it closed in 2002 and there are a lot of traumatized students wandering around now.

    and my curriculum totally had this on going cartoon strip that promoted segregated schooling. In the ’90s! Totally unrelated to this post, but horrifying.

  2. You’re right about Star Wars, except that it was released in ’77.

    I’m not certain that the culture at large is much better morally today than 30 years ago. I’m not certain it’s much worse. It’s just different, like we’ve replaced our faith in drugs with a faith in the perpetual incline of the stock market (whoops!).

    Also, while the 70’s may have appeared in film a much darker period than the 60’s, I’m not so certain they were better or worse times. Ask your parents how 1968 went. Ugh.

  3. i thought the original star wars came out in ’77

  4. I totally agree. I dpn’t know what it was that caused all the craziness in the eighties but this is a pretty good guess. Half the people I know weren’t allowed to watch the smurfs at some point or go trick or treating because there were satanists EVERYWHERE. I still get regular chain emails from my mother saying things like if you park next to a van you will definitely get murdered. But lots of my mothers fear comes from the seventies. She even admits that A Clockwork Orange scarred her for life.
    Have you ever seen the “Tribulation” movies from the seventies? If you want a real scare see movies like “Stranger in the Night” and “Distant Thunder” Its the basic left behind kind of story but they must have been directed by Roman Polanski or something because I got nightmares for like ten years. Also my first grade teacher regularly reminded us that we had to prepare ourselves for the tribulation because the Russians were going to come and kill us for being christians but we had to stand firm.
    I’ll bet the internet has helped a lot. It has increased the amount of crazy rumors not diminished them but I think that has brought a little skepticism. These days perhaps people are less likely to believe that something is satanic just because they heard it from a friend.


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