In 1973 The Listener did a three issue feature article on what it was like to be young, middle-aged and elderly in the 1970s in New Zealand. It seems to me that this is a rather tidy way of looking at the three generations in my own family story in 1973: my grandparents, my parents, and me. Of course, it’s not quite as neat as that as it turns out The Listener didn’t interview anyone from my age group (0-5 years) for their feature on the young (I’m as shocked as you are). Instead they interviewed scruffy weirdoes from Richard Bassbag’s generation. Let’s see what these no-hopers had to say for themselves.
I’m more discontented than satisfied due to the general decadence and pessimistic outlook of most people…. Most people are living more or less meaningless existences. They don’t think what they are doing each day; they just try to collect money, trying to get rich. There’s general disregard of ecology, plus depletion of natural resources, reserves and wild life. Dollar worship I find abhorrent. I regard human values and human dignity as more important than the pursuit of dollars and profits.
Peace of mind is important, freedom from hassles, freedom to do things like smoke marijuana if one wants to without fear of prosecution. And good health from eating good food. Wholemeal bread instead of white bread, and naturally prepared foods rather than over-processed garbage.
“Good food is hard to find. It’s all processed and chemicalised.” She went on to slate the rugby, racing and beer attitude of many New Zealanders. “Go into any pub and you’ll see a picture of a horse, a rugby match or a cigarette ad.”
Library assistant (21)
I’d like to see more people instead of rubbishing [homosexuals] try to understand us. It’s a simply a choice of different sexual partners. I don’t really want to change the world; I just take life as it comes. What I would like to see change is people’s attitudes.
Record salesman (18)
More and more dangerous things are banned. Housewives campaign to prohibit sales of fireworks, and so on. Some people won’t be satisfied until we’re wrapped in cotton wool from birth to death. It’s the same with drugs – they’re restricted as part of the ban on danger. Why does the government treat us like kids? I believe that an adult of sound mind should be allowed to injure or kill himself in any way he sees fit, providing society is not harmed or disrupted in the process.
Government clerk (23)
Kids will say the darndest things… “allowed to injure or kill himself in any way he sees fit”…. What a hoot this guy is. That silly government. Thankfully, some people were actually happy to be in the prime of life in 1973.
I’m well-adjusted, glowing, happy and with springs on my feet! Springing and soaring! I don’t like the way people judge you on what you’ve got rather than who you are – as a human being. I don’t like the manifestations of the consumer society. Material success is of no consequence to me – I just want to be a happy soul doing things my impulses lead me to. To dive right into it!
A postie (21)
Well, she was sort of happy. Bloody hell, what a miserable bunch.
I am discontented, because of the irrational and inconsistent actions on the part of the government in depriving me of pleasures. This includes restrictions on the consumption of specific forms of drugs and the prohibition of certain forms of sexual practice.
Curiously, this man was married with one child. I wonder if it was the government restricting his sexual practices or his wife’s sense of self respect. He goes on to say that being totally resigned to one’s fate means:
I can absolve myself from any sense of social responsibility whatsoever. All I want is to be left alone by the elected representatives of society…. I want to take every damned advantage of the system available to me!
I would never have suspected that lurking in the heart of my rubbish man was the blood of a nascent ACT supporter.
At first I found it surprising how the issues that frequently dominate the media now-a-days (the environment, what’s in our food, uneasiness about where capitalism is taking us, gender and sexuality issues… wholemeal bread) are all there in the consciousness of New Zealand in 1973, but then I realised that it is this youthful generation of the 1970s that were until quite recently the experienced top-tier of our parliament in the 2000s, and setting the political dial.
I say until recently, because until recently all these wishy-washy liberal views matched nicely with the agenda of the Clark-led, Labour government. Cullen and Clark must have been about 28 and 23 when this Listener article came out in 1973, while Key would have been 13. By the time Key was putting his values together – which really only happens when you leave school and start trying to work and pay your own bills – it was the dreaded 1980s. As I remember, the 1980s were something to do with leg warmers, synthesizers, and The Cosby Show, and not wholemeal bread, ecology and hating the “man”, but I was only eight when that decade started so this may not be a fair representation. Cullen and Clark were politically formed in a rather different milieu than Key.
Of course also represented in the Listener comments from 1973 is the very strong “leave me alone to get on with my own life” view. Because it was the 1970s, getting on with your own life mostly seems to have been about smoking pot and having sex, but I’m sure as these people became middle aged in the 1980s their concerns changed from this to running unregulated businesses for maximum profit and not wanting to pay any tax to dole bludgers.
In a curious way the politics of now is like the light from a distant star. While it shines into the contemporary world it comes to us from the past.