It was the decade of the happy face, bell-bottoms, avocado fridges, disco and the Bay City Rollers; in short, the 70s was a pimple on the ass of history, better evaporated in a pot haze on a waterbed. Not so says 70s-obsessed author Pagan Kennedy, who believes the much-maligned decade is the victim of a bum rap perpetuated by the idolization of the 60s.
Kennedy says the 70s saw all the radical ideas and culture of the 60s go mainstream and mutate in a way the hippies couldn’t imagine.
Social relations and culture were profoundly reshaped during this decade as the non-traditional family took form, women flooded the workplace and unions became rich monoliths.
The social turmoil spawned blue collar red-necks with Confederate flags customizing fuck trucks – vans complete with waterbed, eight-track stereo, bong and sleazy airbrushed exteriors of naked women – to cruise the nation’s highways enjoying the liberal sexual values while keeping conservative political views. Sexual liberation for these clowns consisted of bumper stickers saying “Ass, gas or grass – nobody rides for free!”. Kennedy remembers it all too well.
“This was the midst of the energy crisis, so big cars that wasted a lot of gas were really cool,” she says. “I guess it came out of the whole drug culture, sex culture thing. It was like a basement kids have, only it was on wheels – a party on wheels. It’s not just the mattress for the fuck truck, you’re supposed to be doing your bong hits in there – so the police can’t see you.”
“Our lives are much more constrained than they were in the 70s,” continues Kennedy. “I think the 70s must seem like an exotic time to grow up in. One of my favourite parts in Douglas Coupland’s Generation X is when the characters want to take a sex holiday to 1974.
“There was a lot of obsession in the early 70s with swingers and wife-swapping. It was the one time when suddenly the sexual revolution was kicking in, not just for white, privileged college kids, but for everybody – for the working class. There were discos and orgy clubs. There was Plato’s Retreat in New York City where you would go in and there was an orgy in full progress.”
In music, the 70s rocketed between extremes. There was nauseating soft rock, concept albums and “progressive” rock. There was the outrageous glam, with artists like Slade and Gary Glitter jacked up on elevator shoes in sequin one-piece flare suits. There was disco and punk. But the sickest phenomena says Kennedy was corporate rock.
“In the 60s, people were just learning how to package rock and make it a big corporate thing. By the 70s they had learned a lot. The Partridge Family was a group that was entirely fabricated. David Cassidy had a bigger fan club than Elvis. This was a guy who didn’t become a rock star until he went on TV. In the 60s, FM was alternative radio – you could play anything. Corporate guys got their hooks into FM by the 70s. They were formatting. It was no longer what the DJ wanted to hear. You were getting playlists. The money came from big rock concerts, so there was a desire to push these mega-groups and superstars.”
Another truly 70s phenomena was TV as social conscience. Before the 70s, TV variety shows focused on pure entertainment. But now writers, directors and producers schooled in the 60s political milieu were in control.
“All in the Family, Maude and Good Times were all part of the same world. All in the Family acknowledged the deep rifts in American society – America was at war with itself. Yet it did it in a soft enough way to not offend people.”
US blacks had been ignored until the civil rights struggle of the 1960s woke up a dopey white America. In the 1970s, blacks were being portrayed like never before in the media and popular culture. But all of this awareness took a twisted turn.
“I think what happened among blacks was they saw their leaders either killed or put in jail. And that was devastating. Blacks really turned to electoralism in the 70s. A lot of black people started running for office. While trying to change things from outside the system, they realized the price was too high. A lot of black people were involved in making those blaxploitation movies, but so were a lot of white people. Shaft and Superfly are like the bookends of the genre. They were really made by black filmmakers. But then there were all these ripoff versions starring football players – whitebread ideas of what black culture was like.”
Pagan Kennedy’s latest book, Platforms: A Microwaved Cultural Chronicle of the 1970s, is published by St. Martin’s Press and available in most book shops. She’s got a really cool collection of eight-track tapes and drives a yetch! 1974 Plymouth Valiant.
Being charged with setting up a high-calibre national medical museum isn’t easy in the best of times. The new Canadian Museum of Health and Medicine’s curator Felicity Pope wants things done right in these recessionary times.
Now housed at The Toronto Hospital (TTH), the museum’s collection was relocated in 1992 after severe water damage, and the unsure future of the Academy of Medicine, Toronto jeopardized the artifacts in their previous location.
Rather than having the valuable collection collect dust, a major project began to create Canada’s first national medical museum. With AMS/Hannah Institute, Academy of Medicine, Toronto and TTH support, Pope is making detailed plans to ensure the museum is an educational success.
“The project is to create a major medical museum in Canada,” says Pope, who is working out of the public relations office at TTH. “I’m in the midst of a planning study and haven’t unpacked the collection yet because the storage rooms aren’t ready. I’m doing a market and visitor analysis to project how many visitors will come to see the collection.”
“We have guiding principles for the museum. We will have a completely new vision and mandate from before, with a new research and exposition policy. With the museum’s name there come many expectations.”
Pope says the museum will need to fundraise from corporations to be viable. And the elaborate plans will help convince potential donors of the museum’s worthiness.
Artifacts also abound at the University of Western Ontario
Medical history students should consider a trip to the Department of History of Medicine at the University of Western Ontario to see another unique collection of artifacts and documents from Canada’s medical past.
Once located in London’s University Hospital, the artifacts are now technically on loan to the university. Hannah Professor Paul Potter recently assumed responsibility for the collection when University Hospital closed the museum.
“The collection has been created over the ages,” says Professor Potter. “The museum started at University Hospital when it was built in the early 1970s. Two rooms were set aside at the hospital for a medical museum – one room was a re-creation of a nineteenth-century doctor’s office with numerous instruments.”
The actual doctor’s office was packed off to the local pioneer village.
“We took the medical instruments and doctors’ ledgers. I took the things that were more interesting from a medical history perspective.”
And what’s there to see? For shock value there are the gruesome instruments of Victorian medicine – bloodletting knives and cups and surgical saws. Also on display is London’s first electro-cardiogram machine and microscopes dating back to the mid-1800s.
For Professor Potter, the collection livens up medical school lectures and provides a valuable research resource at the university.
The second, Recollections of a Neighbourhood: Huron-Sussex from UTS to Stop Spadina by Nancy Williams and Marie Scott-Baron (editors) (Words Indeed Publishing), details the evolution of a remarkable – and bohemian – Toronto, Canada neighbourhood in which I lived in the 1980s and 1990s. It uses an image from Watch Magazine, a youth culture biweekly I edited in 1994 and 1996. The magazine was launched during the depths of Canada’s austerity crisis. Despite the economic gloom, the magazine fizzed with youthful vitality and edge and contributed to Toronto’s resurgence. The particular piece cited is a feature on Rochdale College, a late 1960s experimental college associated with the University of Toronto that lit up the neighbourhood with hippie and alternative cultures, until it went into meltdown as drug gangs took control. It was a bold experiment and a reflection of the counter culture vibe of the time.
In 1994 I was hired by start-up Youth Culture to be Editor-in-Chief of Toronto’s Watch Magazine, a bi-weekly distributed to the city’s high schools and to all youth hang-outs. In 1996 I was hired again to help with preparing the magazine for its national launch.
In 1994, the Internet had not arrived in any great form (though Watch Magazine was on top of its emergence as Internet cafes popped up in the city) and the digital economy was still minimal. There was no such thing as ‘start-up culture’ for youth. There was an urgent need to create opportunity for youth, to create new markets, and to change the business culture of the city of Toronto, which had been hit hard by an economic crash and austerity.
Watch Magazine had had a brief false start prior to my arrival in 1994. The previous format had not worked and the magazine needed a vision and somebody with the experience and dedication to see it through. It was also entering a competitive marketplace for readers, with already existing free magazines capturing most of the advertising spend for youth-oriented marketing in Toronto (though failing to offer a genuine youth content experience as could be found in Europe – the UK especially – at that time). As an example, Toronto lacked sharp and credible coverage of youth popular culture in the early 1990s. Drawing on my extensive experience as a journalist (including at Toronto’s established alternative weekly, Now Magazine) and editor, I assembled a team of youth editors and writers to work on making the content and magazine’s design appealing to the youth demographic in Toronto. The magazine needed to turn a profit in short order and become credible to advertisers, its main source of income (in Canada, 64 per cent of magazine revenues come from advertisers)*. The design and content needed to appeal to a youth audience but work with a tight (but increasing) budget. It was doing this in a tough economy with high unemployment, austerity, business failures, and a generally negative business environment.
By having an actual youth editorial team, Watch Magazine quickly developed an authentically young 1990s voice. The magazine also benefited from its youth team’s ability to spot trends bubbling under the surface ready to explode into mainstream society. As an example, they had this to say on the Internet in a piece on Toronto’s coffee shops, “Some mean places for bean”: “The powers-that-be think we should cocoon in our houses and rent videos, play with the Internet and order in food …”
Youth unemployment was high in the early to mid 1990s in Canada. It reached 19.3 per cent for those 15 to 19 years old in 1993. “It should be noted, however, that youth unemployment relative to that of adults has worsened since the 1990-91 recession (Youth Unemployment in Canada by Kevin B. Kerr, 2000).”
The Canadian economy overall severely contracted and unemployment was at 11.4 per cent by 1993 (Statistics Canada), and as Statistics Canada said, “Because employment recovered at a snail’s pace after the recession of the early 1990s, the decline in the unemployment rate was delayed until 1994”.
As the Bank of Canada also said: “In early 1994, Canada’s economic situation was not that favourable—our economy was facing some rather serious problems. … the recession here was more severe than in the United States.
“Working their way out of these difficulties was disruptive and painful for Canadian businesses. Defaults, restructurings, and downsizings became the order of the day. With all this, unemployment took a long time to recover from the 1990–91 recession …” *
And the media in general could not avoid the crisis. According to the book The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000), Canada’s media was also in a crisis throughout the 1990s, as declining resources, staff layoffs and media closures reduced the breadth and depth of news coverage.
In less than a year, Watch Magazine had gone from being an unknown quantity, to being a fast-growing and profitable youth publication, significantly increasing its advertising revenue: a key metric for a magazine reliant on this as its main source of income. It had expanded in size and audited distribution and was able to make a move to new digs (the Watch Magazine “crib” – a studio and work space) at innovative “arts-and-culture hub” start-up space 401 Richmond Street in Toronto – at the centre of Toronto’s emerging media and design neighborhood in its former fashion district. All the contributors were high-school-age youth drawn from talent across the city; many had already shown their ability by starting their own publications and media. They gained first-hand experience in investigative journalism skills, business skills in a start-up, and magazine and media production skills.
“… thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.” William White
In 1996, I was hired again to help with preparing the content format for Watch’s expansion to a national magazine – further proof of its success as a publication and a business.
* (Bank of Canada: Canada’s Economic Future: What Have We Learned from the 1990s?)
* The Missing News: Filters and Blind Spots in Canada’s Press (Robert A. Hackett and Richard S. Garneau, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, University of Toronto Press 2000)
Brief descriptions of sample issues are below:
Youth Gangs Cover
In 1994, with Canada’s economy still in the doldrums, Watch Magazine exploded into Toronto’s high schools. Staffed by talented youth, it shook up the staid publishing scene and proved young people did have something to say. This first issue still remains relevant, with its exploration of youth gangs and violence in the school system.
After its successful launch, Watch Magazine was grabbing readers and getting the attention of advertisers and television. It was time to improve the design and introduce the latest in graphic design software. The results paid off: the magazine looked sharper and quickly ran from its cheeky launch, when we had basically avoided all traditional approaches to a launch (like actually having a designer).
For anoraks out there, this photo shoot with Irish band Therapy took place outside the former Wellesley Hospital emergency department in Toronto. And, yes, that is a genuine restraining ‘straitjacket’ used by psychiatric hospitals to restrain mental health patients.
Digable Planets Cover
By this issue, Watch had hit its stride: we were the first to seriously review the ballooning zine culture, get immersed in the rave and late-night party scene, and dig deep into “chopsocky world”: Hong Kong and Asian film fans. But “Hip-Hop Comb-munism”? What were we thinking?
It was also the biggest issue to date.
Highly talented Beck gave Watch his eloquent thoughts on the media’s infatuation with Generation X and how it always desperately needs to sell young people more stuff. Watch took on Ontario’s film censors over the GG Allin documentary, Hated: GG Allin and the Murder Junkies, and let students across the city blow off steam on life in the 1990s.
Bass is Base Cover
By October 1994 the magazine’s investigative powers were in full flow. Two investigations – a sex scandal at an alternative school, and whether the Battle of the Bands contests, a fixture at most high schools, are really worth it – joined a profile of the band Bass is Base and more coverage on the growing rave scene in Toronto.
In 1994, Oasis were still an indie band with a lot of bottle and big mouths. Riding a tsunami of hype from the UK, they washed up in North America to face their biggest challenge: could they become as big as The Beatles or The Rolling Stones? Lead singer Liam Gallagher does not disappoint, as he gives me an expletive-laden exposition on everything under the sun.
This was the first published print interview with the band in Canada.
Canada’s answer to the ‘Madchester’ scene of the early 1990s, Sloan, played the pop game with gusto. In the photo shoot for the feature, it was pants down and prayer hands to an unseen religious icon.
1994: Hired to re-launch and expand Watch Magazine in Toronto.
1996: Hired to re-develop editorial content for Watch Magazine’s national launch.
“As one of those high school kids and the guy who wrote (most of) this article, I’d like to say thanks to David [South] for all his hard work on Watch magazine! I learned a lot from him and it was a great experience.”William White
Toronto’s first youth culture media start-up. Introduced ‘youth culture’ concept to Canada
oversaw two format re-launches of the magazine as it expanded and grew
assembled talented youth editorial team
grew magazine and its profile as the main media source for reaching Toronto’s youth
writers trained and appeared on TV as youth commentators
first profile in Canada of British band Oasis, among many other story firsts
became first stop for anyone wishing to target the youth market, or seeking intelligence on the youth market
created youth culture market in Toronto
first magazine to be based at new start-up hub in Toronto – pioneering concept at the time
Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artefact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thought: mailto: email@example.com.
“Free teen publication Watch Magazine is going national this month – promising to more than double its high school penetration.
The self-described youth culture magazine, which last year at this time went province-wide – delivering copies to 350 high schools across Ontario – plans to send out 125,000 copies to 800 participating high schools across Canada.
Going national only four years after its inception (the magazine started as a Toronto-only vehicle in 1993) could make national advertisers interested in reaching the elusive teen market very happy.”
“Owned by marketing company Youth Culture Group, these gender – specific magazines attempt to construct a teen image that is built on spending.”
Note: Complete issues of the magazine’s first year await professional digital scanning. This could be of interest to a library, scholar or university interested in archiving this authentic artifact of 1990s youth culture. Please send an email if you would like to get in touch or share a thought: mailto: firstname.lastname@example.org.You can also fund this goal through our PayPal account here:
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