This is an era inspired sitcom.
That '70s Show is an American television sitcom that centered on the lives of a group of teenagers living in the fictional suburban town of Point Place, Wisconsin, from May 1976 to 12:00 a.m., January 1, 1980.” (Wiki)First, a look into the name of the series “That ‘70’s Show.” The show was meant to be a depiction of the era by showing what fads were in, what was happening politically and socially as well as developments in technology. The show originally aired on FOX on August 23rd 1998 and is syndicated all over the globe today.
Retro media is popular. People love learning about our past, and the past of other nations. World War II movies for example are hugely popular, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that we learn from our past. As is common practice we look to look to the past with nostalgia, for example when we look back at WWII we think of a time under which the United States of America was a super power, influential in all aspect of its being. New York, Los Angeles were the places to be. People look back at a “simpler” time, a time in which grass was greener and everything was better. The media has been great of commodifying this and exploiting it. When we look at That 70’s Show in the 90’s we think “wow, they had it so much easier back then.” In That 70’ Show we see a lot of self indulgence by the main characters. “Decadence is a difficult word to use since it has become little more than a term of abuse applied by critics to anything they do not yet understand or which seems to differ from their moral concepts,” as stated by Ernest Hemmingway. We can see that this concept is very true; when it comes to “decadence” and “The Rules of Attraction” we can see why we would see the actions and indulgences of Sean, Paul and Lauren as decadent. However, when juxtaposing the popular TV show, “That 70’s Show,” their lazy sophomoric actions aren’t labeled as “decadent,” although they essentially partake in most of the activities Sean, Paul and Lauren do. The characters in The Rules of Attraction are a perfect example of what the German philosopher Heidegger argues, simply put, that we as a society- as human beings- have stopped thinking in a collective consciousness and rather have become ego-centric, self-centered individuals who see everything and everyone as a means to an end, a tool to further their personal gains. Sean, for example, is a drug dealer, most notably in the movie Rupert is extremely upset, high on cocaine and really wants the money that Sean owes him. In a move to save his own skin, Sean tells Rupert that he can get Rupert’s money quickly, via his “rich” friends. This is a clear example by which we can see that Sean is using his connections- his friends- to save himself and try to pay Rupert off. At the same time we see that in “That 70’s Show” while the characters do use each other, it is to a much lesser degree, the manner in which they use each other becomes rather mediocre and at times even justifiable. . In one instance Hyde, a major character in the show, takes the blame for Jackie after she is caught of possession of Marijuana, in this episode of That 70’s Show Hyde is trying to convince Jackie that he does not love her, she insists that he does and is only acting that way because he is a “man.” As the show goes on Jackie buys some pot that she intends to give to Hyde. Hyde is coming out of a bar when he meets with Jackie who shows him the baggie and offers to him as a sign of her “love” for him. However, what she fails to realize is that there is a police officer lurking in the shadows, the police office in the shadows perpetuates the sentiments that cops only wanna bust you, he takes hold of the baggie and sees that it contains pot. He proceeds to arrest Jackie for possession of a controlled substance, Hyde interjects by saying that it’s his pot, he says: “ That’s my pot, look at me I’m the criminal not her.” At this point the officer releases her and takes Hyde instead of Jackie, what Hyde did was to sacrifice himself not to gain anything from Jackie but because she is his friend and she cannot afford to go to jail. Rather than allowing Jackie to take the fall and be punished he lies and states that it is his pot; he gets taken away and gets no compensation for his actions other than jail. Here, Heidegger’s philosophy of people being a means to an end is exemplified.
Decadence especially in the ’80 is in par with the mindset of the time- a time when the country was experiencing deregulation on all levels and while the “free-love” hippie movements were giving birth to a “bastard era” under which people began experimenting with anything and everything. This also happens to be the “Reagan Years” a time of massive governmental deregulations and great autonomy and self determination, these Reagan years still cause nostalgia in many people today as they yearn for “Reagan-nomics.” Under the guise of “free-love” and “spiritual- liberation” this generation indulged themselves with the belief that it was justified. The characters in The Rules of Attraction are simply bodily incarnations of all the un-relentless decadence of this time. Just like those of the past who felt that they were justified in their quest for “free-love,” the characters of The Rules of Attraction felt that they were right in spending their parents’ money and experimenting in all ways possible. Part of this can contributed to the lack of responsibility of an entire decade.
The lack of responsibility in The Rules of Attraction becomes apparent when the students talk about abortion as if it is just another method for birth control. The students here do not fully or even begin to understand the consequences of their actions. The amount of sex that these students have, and with the number of people they have intercourse with is alarming because many of the students did not think about STD’s or getting pregnant. In “That ‘70’s Show,” the characters smoke weed and drink beer. They do not worry about tomorrow and think more about the here and now. This devil-may-care attitude is further exemplified when Kelso gets a girls pregnant after having sex with her in a bathroom. We clearly see that there is a lack of maturity and that he in no way is ready for a child and while this shock of becoming a father serves to try and get him to “grow up” it doesn’t do much. This is a direct commentary on what is going o no only in the 70’s but also the 90’s and even now. The lack of maturity and forethought when engaging in sex. This particular even is two-fold however, the reason being is that when Celso finds out he is going to be a father he makes a conscience decision to get a job and be there for his baby, the birth of his baby happens close to the conclusion of the series when they are in the late 70’s this is showing a turn in the country’s mindset under which we are taking a little more control of our future and as a collective conscience progressing both in terms of politics and technology and as a nations as a whole. Judith Butler talks about feminist and queer theory; part of her theory entails “a potentially important element in how the male/female distinction gets played out in any specific society.” (Barker 239) Many cultures attach the difference between men and women to various cultural expectations. In The Rules of Attraction, women are portrayed as objects of desire. In “That ‘70’s Show” the women although they do not always portray themselves as objects of desire, they do however illustrate that they do enjoy sex which is radical for the time. The women of The Rules of Attraction, as well as those from “That ‘70’s Show” are portrayed as radical because their enjoyment of sex and their pursuit of it is no secret. Moreover, the book Women Under Polygamy states that in the past, the punishment for women having more than one partner and committing adultery is death; whereas, men did not receive any punishment. It is radical to see how things have changed over the time span of less than a year.
As mentioned earlier the politics of the era had a significant impact on everyone’s lives. For the duration of the series would carry socio-political undertones also necessitated a chain of social events which could influence the characters, Thus, 1976 was chosen, which allowed episodes set within a short time frame to address: streaking, the Equal Rights Amendment, the 1973 Oil Crisis, the presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, all of which were culturally influential events that occurred in the earlier years of the 1970s. The shift to 1977 during the last half of the first season also allowed the inclusion of a Star Wars episode (20), as its premier airing roughly coincided with the box office debut of The Phantom Menace. Furthermore, a great example during of the break with the traditions is when Eric decides to join the Peace corps. His father had joined the military and fought in Korea, Eric however had not joined the military nor did he go to college, while Donna did. Donna going to college is expressing women’s right and the coming age for equality and the radical feminist movements of the time. While Donna didn’t go out and burn her bra in protest she is educating herself and become independent of both her father and Eric showing that woman are on the road to “liberation”. Eric going to Africa for the Peace Corps shows a lighter side of humanity, more specifically Americans. In the 90’s when American’s and NATO were seen as savage war hungry entities Eric shows the alternative to route, while still making difference. In the 90’s we had gone through the gulf-war and experienced the atrocities of Serbian and Montenegro, Eric choosing a peaceful route to change is showing America’s growing dissent with its role as the international police force and yearning for the time of remote isolationism.
In all we see That 70’s Show as our looking back to a time in which we were allowed to experiment and try new things due to all the deregulations and “free love” that was going on around the United States at the time. In That 70’s Show we see that they are decadent to a certain extent but are never truly indulge themselves that way that the characters in The Rules of Attraction did. As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said, “the great thing in this world is not so much where you stand, as in what direction you are moving.” We see that in the early 70’s we are moving in a direction of self destruction under which the country was experiencing mass demonstrations and chaos, the attitude of our country at this time can be seen embodied in Summer Palace under which the Chinese students reach the breaking point due to the rules and regulations imposed by their government. Here in the United States in the time of the Rules of Attractions we see that these kids have no regulations or rules and as thus indulge in drugs, sex and alcohol while abusing everything and everyone around them. In That 70’s Show we see that the attitudes shared by not of complete decadence but rather of indifference to the events going on around them, in other words they are just careless, however unlike the characters in The Rules of Attraction they mature and grow up reflecting the coming of age of a nation and of individuals, in The Rules of Attractions they only perpetuate the mindless self-indulgence.
That 70’s Show, “That 70’s Show”
TV.com, “That 70’s Show,” (5 Dec. 2009) < http://www.tv.com/that-70sshow/show/246/summary.html> ( 15 Dec. 2009)
Barker, Chris. Cultural Studies: Theory and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications, 2008.
Gallichan, Walter M. "Women under polygamy." Google Books, 1915.Web. 13 Oct. 2009.
The Futon Critic, “That 70’s Show Says Goodbye to an Era,” ( 17 Jan. 2006) “