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Home > Media

1970s Bloke: Missing, Feared Made-up

16 February 2007

As 'Life on Mars' returned to our screens this week, so did one of the media's favourite topics: 'Whatever happened to 1970s blokes?' You know the types: Carter and Regan, Bodie and Doyle, Rod Stewart, Robin 'Confessions of a Wank Fantasist' Askwith. Fred West, Andreas Baader and The Black Panther went strangely unmentioned.

In various papers there were fond reminiscences of the aforementioned 70s icons, not long after 'Daily Sport' editor Tony Livesey tackled the same topic in a lightweight BBC documentary. But what's odd about these retro trips is that they all attempt to say something about male attitudes and the 1970s using mainly fictional examples. The result is a bizarre nostalgia for a time that was, er, made up. It's an odd form of sociological analysis - a bit like earnestly describing sexual politics in the future using examples from 'Battlestar Galactica' and 'Blade Runner'. And treating fiction as real throws up a deeply distorted picture of any era, because it's reality according to what TV writers think it's *probably* like.

Thus, with loving hindsight, the 1970s have become a time when coppers drank Scotch out of mugs, blokes weren't afraid to be blokes, there wasn't any of this poofy 'moisturising' business and everyone drove Ford Cortinas. But there are a couple of problems with this selective view of the 70s. It omits to mention that the 1970s were frequently sexist in a grim, not playful, way. (For some reason we're reminded of the faintly menacing Mungo Jerry lyric 'If her daddy's rich take her out for a meal / If her daddy's poor, just do what you feel.') And it wasn't just the fact that rape was practically legal - the 70s were a bit backward in oh-so-many ways. Racism in the 1970s was endemic, with real NF-in-the-streets, niggers-and-jungle-bunnies nastiness, not your piddling 'institutional racism'.

Fondly mourning the passing of (fictional) 1970s bloke is also quite obviously rooted in very contemporary malcontent with 2007. It's the idea that modern man has been neutered, that women are somehow taking over, and you can't even make a few sexist comments without the thought police coming down on you. (This, incidentally, must be what it's like to be trapped inside the mind of Peter Hitchens.)

But what makes this worldview somehow worse is that the examples of 1970s man are fictional. It's worth noting that *real* 1970s bloke icons were often utter wankers (Rod Stewart, Brian Clough) or had distinctly non-fictional drink problems (James Hunt, George Best). And when you start confusing fiction with reality you're being a bit naive. In 'The Sweeney', and now 'Life on Mars', 1970s bloke has been idealised in many ways, because a TV character who's a drink-driving, racist knobhead who knocks his wife about somehow might not do too well in the ratings.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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