21 January 2010

Why 70s Kids Appreciate The Internet

To those who lived it, the elementary and secondary education system in the 1970s was one continuous flow of urban myths occasionally interrupted by classes, recess and vacations. Forget about weak tea like Richard Gere or Jamaicans breaking into houses and photographing their exploits in the master bathroom - in the 70s urban myths were invented, repeated, reinforced and in too many cases completely believed by the young and relatively innocent.

Inquisitive minds were hardly sated by schoolwork and youth's appetite for adrenaline still meant kickball, basketball, '500' (semi-brutal football game in which a dozen or more vie to catch a thrown ball), bike rides and front lawn activities such as tag and statues. In the downtime that accompanied these activities a kind of communal flight of fancy would take place. 70s decadence was a bit of a puzzle to the average square suburban kid who couldn't figure out why Dad suddenly got his hair permed or why Mom went with the gold reflective wallpaper in the family room. In response to this crazy quilt of images from posters, record album covers, comic books and Tolkien-inspired fiction and games, myths and legends began to flow freely long before MSNBC got in on the act.

Did you hear about Rod Stewart? Did you know Elton John has a pair of glasses with windshield wipers? What about that creepy house down the street? What about that kid who drowned at the high school in a neighboring suburb? Did you know if you lay down and I rub your temples for 5 minutes you will start to hallucinate and act like a madman? Do you know what the symbols on Led Zeppelin's 'Runes' album (aka LZ IV) stand for? Did you know that Gene Simmons of Kiss had his own tongue removed and had a much larger cow's tongue transplanted? It's why he can pierce it without pain every night to draw the blood he spits out during concerts!

The 'big kids' never seemed to run short of these Believe It Or Not stories nor did they tire of telling them in dramatic fashion - their reward was a string of gasps, open mouths and of course the 70s refrain of 'No Way!'

Of course, expressing disbelief or even suspicion was usually considered bad form and the assembled throng would beat you down verbally for daring to question such a fascinating, if far-fetched, tale!

Back then computers were huge things your dad worked with (for unknown purposes) and they involved punch cards and reel-to-reel magnetic tape. If you were lucky your local TV market had three network affiliates, a UHF station and possibly an independent that expended the minimal amount of effort possible to bring you cartoons and reruns of The Brady Bunch and Hogan's Heroes. Is it any wonder so many can effortlessly recite dozens of Brady episodes and lines verbatim?

But computers, of course, went from oddities seen in a science or children's museum to becoming conduits for information every bit as crucial and addictive as that old color television set (to quote Greg Brady).

(By the way, what constitutes a television 'set?' There's only one television and it is a self-contained unit. Is the tube, tuner, speaker and antenna considered a set? Could any of these function without the others in terms of delivering sound and vision? Granted the term 'set' has all but vanished but it stuck around for many years.)

The Internet came along with those mysterious-but-powerful search engines (remember Webcrawler?). In true 70s kid form we ignored topics like genetics, the reign of Louis XIV, the Civil War and the history of smallpox and instead scrutinized every corner of cyberspace for answers to the burning questions of our (younger) day. Some set up sites like http://snopes.com to help those similarly afflicted with urbanmythitis. In true support group fashion we shattered as many myths as we could for each other and for our own sanity. Did we feel relief? Of course. Anger? A bit perhaps, directed at ourselves for being so gullible for so long or even for repeating the lies. But mostly we felt a sense of relief and completion. We finally walked by that creepy house down the street - at night! - and lived to tell the tale.

It's just too bad there aren't any 'little kids' left to impress with our 'courage' - they all have the Internet too.

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