The Decade That Reason Forgot

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The 1970’s were, by almost any measure, a strange and ridiculous time to be alive.  Once dubbed “the decade that taste forgot,” the ’70s were also the decade that reason forgot–a time when cosmic hoo-hah in all its forms gripped the popular imagination.   Being at a formative and suggestible time of life–I was five years old in 1970–it’s no wonder I was set on an early course as a junior mystic and budding spiritual warrior.

Consider what was floating around in the pop culture atmosphere at the time.  Every drugstore paperback rack proffered demented bestsellers like Erich von Daniken’s much-ridiculed “Chariots of the Gods?” and Hal Lindsay’s biblical-prophecy screed, “The Late, Great Planet Earth.”  The 1970 trial of Charles Manson, a cult leader whose mind was a virtual charnel house of occult and apocalyptic beliefs, dredged up the darkest fears of  a country so demoralized that Richard Nixon was widely seen as its last, best hope.

Given the downbeat tenor of the times,  perhaps it was no surprise that stories of demonic possession came to rule the box-office.  Although I was too young to see “The Exorcist,” lurid tales of its stomach-churning content made the rounds during recess.  (Hal Lindsay weighed in around the same time with a watch-out-for-the-Antichrist tome called “Satan is Alive and Well On Planet Earth”–which, like most works of genuine scholastic rigor, was heavily advertised on daytime TV.)

As a grade-schooler, I eagerly devoured every release from Sunn Classic Pictures, a purveyor of tawdry, speculative “documentaries” like  “Beyond and Back” (about near-death experiences), “In Search of Noah’s Ark” (it’s apparently still up there on Mt. Ararat), and “The Mysterious Monsters” (which conclusively demonstrated the existence of the Loch Ness Monster, Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman).

The notorious TV series “In Search of. . . “, which began in 1976 and featured no less a rationalist icon than Leonard Nimoy as its narrator, surveyed much the same territory.  Most of the best mysteries (UFOs, Bigfoot, etc.) were used up in the first season or two; soon the producers were relying on missing persons cases like Jimmy Hoffa and D.B. Cooper to provide them with material.  By the time of its final season in 1982, one feared that “In Search of Vic Damone” was not far behind.

And there was much, much more.  EST, Esalen, biorhythms, Moonies, Hare Krishnas, Jesus freaks, pyramid power, neuro-linguistic programming, and the immortal pickup line “What’s your sign?” were all too emblematic of the age.

Pop-culture sponge that I was, I developed a decidedly romantic and anti-rationalist view of how reality worked.  The human mind has a virtually limitless capacity to accept the palpably untrue, especially when those untruths are dispensed by journalists, bearded men in white lab coats, and Leonard Nimoy.  It’s amazing that any of us who were raised during the bizarre (if colorful) 1970s emerged with our critical faculties intact.

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