Thursday, May 25, 2017

The History and the Power of 1977

Almost fifty years ago, the journalist Gay Talese published an explosive book about The New York Times called The Kingdom and the Power: The Story of The Men Who Influence The Institution That Influences the World. It was an expose about the people behind the mighty newspaper, the power behind the power, the rulers of this informational kingdom. Who were these people? Where did they come from? What did they do? How did it affect us?

In the mid-aughts, another journalist named Jonathan Mahler published a book about New York City in the pivotal year of 1977 called Ladies and Gentleman, the Bronx is Burning. It summed up how, in that one year, Rupert Murdoch took over the New York Post, Ed Koch got elected mayor, the cultural powerhouse Studio 54 opened, the Son of Sam killer was caught, the quintessential New York movies Annie Hall and Saturday Night Fever were released, and the Yankees capped the year by winning the World Series. It was an amazing year, the first full years of my life, and it profoundly affected how NYC was governed and perceived in the decades ahead. I blogged about it extensively here in 2007. 

But that year, and that time, was even more extraordinary than we realized even as late as 2007. Because back then the seeds that would come to rule not only NYC but our entire country were being planted.

As previously mentioned, the movie Annie Hall was released. The impact of that movie on our culture, the entire genre of late 20th and early 21st century romantic comedy -- ironic, revisionist, and sometimes even non-romantic -- was born. Who could have guessed, back then, the impact that movie would have on American culture? Who could have guessed that Woody Allen would still be making movies and winning Oscars 40 years later? And yet here we are.

This was also the year that a young radio DJ named Howard Stern began his broadcasting career. He wasn't in NYC yet, he was stuck at a little radio station in Westchester, but 40 years later he is the absolute King of All Media and one of the most powerful people in American culture.

But there was a dark side to accompany this cultural excitement. In 1977, NYC was still reeling from the 1975 fiscal crises when the city nearly went bankrupt. Never shy to seize an opportunity, this was the time when the rich took back control of NYC. No longer did the unions, the working people, and the political clubs run this town, at least not absolutely; instead, the financiers and the real estate developers asserted their clout, and austerity policies were forced upon the city's populace along with more lenient rules for the aforementioned financiers and real estate developers -- one of who was named Donald Trump. He was a product of that time, a time when the rich brushed away the impediments to their greed while the common people were trampled underneath it. Today, NYC and America are more economically unequal than ever -- and Donald Trump is, horrifyingly, president of the country.

The power of today started here in NYC in 1977. In many ways, that year, that time, has never ended. History is forever present. 

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