Arts, Entertainment & Culture in the U.S. in the 1970s

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  • 00:00 Introduction to the 1970s
  • 00:20 Movies of the '70s
  • 1:21 Music of the '70s
  • 2:22 TV in the '70s
  • 3:44 Fashion in the '70s
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

When many of us think of the 1970s, we think of lava lamps and bell-bottom jeans. That's a real tragedy, as we are taking a decade that forever changed American music, TV, and film, and selling it short.

An Introduction to the 1970s

Few decades have continued to leave quite the legacy on popular culture as the 1970s. From disco balls to some of the greatest movies ever made, no other decade has had quite the hold on the American psyche, even after more than 40 years. While we may look at bell-bottom pants and lava lamps with some disdain today, we are still heavily influenced by this decade.


Few decades can claim to have produced both the variety and the depth of films as the 1970s. The cinematic works of the decade pushed envelopes that earlier films shied away from. In 1970, MASH offered a dark comedic look into war, and while it was set in Korea, everyone who watched the show couldn't help but think of that other war in East Asia, Vietnam. Two years later, The Godfather showed a society that, unlike that portrayed in MASH, glorified gentlemanly norms of old, except they were all involved in organized crime.

Away from social commentary, movies like Jaws and Carrie forever frightened viewers about what laid just under the waves or inside the minds of misunderstood high school students. This exploration of the mind was continued with One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest. However, by far, the biggest film of the decade would come in the final year; Star Wars would be one of the highest-grossing films in history.


That said, Star Wars was not the most influential movie of the period, at least from a musical standpoint. Sure, the Imperial Theme is frighteningly catchy, but it was Saturday Night Fever that forever solidified the role of Disco as the soundtrack of the 1970s. Groups like the BeeGees, ABBA, and countless others belted from speakers and stages at clubs across the world. By far, the most famous of these clubs was the infamous Studio 54, a venue in New York City that attracted the biggest names in disco despite its numerous run-ins with the law.

That said, some of the most enduring musical talent of the period would have never thought of their material as disco. James Taylor epitomized the growing singer-songwriter movement and found considerable success. In more rural areas, the likes of Lynyrd Skynyrd popularized a new genre, southern rock, best described as country music with a heavy use of electric guitars, with their songs Free Bird and Sweet Home Alabama.


While some music audiences were tuning into the rural sounds of the New South, TV viewers were increasingly turning away from the small town antics of early 1970s television. Sure, the 1970s were the decade of the Brady Bunch, a sitcom about a blended family and teenage heartthrobs, Marcia and Greg. However, the real story of 1970s TV is how gritty and real it was getting. Color TV was now widespread and people wanted more. Cable TV began to reach millions of Americans during this period, and with it came HBO, a provider of movies and exclusive content. Soon, pay-per-view TV was possible, with boxing matches and sporting events being frequent sources of programming.

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