Culture as Surveillance. Miller's book is a comprehensive cultural and
political survey of the decade that doesn't even register on most people's
radars. I was born in the mid '70s and therefore have no recollection
whatsoever of any of its major events. However, a recent acquaintance of mine
is a Big fan of the era, and a little of that enthusiasm has rubbed off on me,
especially in the realms of art and music. While Miller spends most of his
time analyzing U.S. history of the '70s, he reaches back just a touch into
the '60s and also makes connections to more recent events. Politics and
government of the '70s come under his microscope, as well as our social life
and activities. He also spends some time dissecting popular culture,
especially in films or poems where the social aspects of electronic
surveillance were discussed or alluded to. This makes a lot of sense when
discussing a decade in which espionage became a household word in this
country. In his analysis of '70s art, he included a long quote by Warhol
which I just loved:
"What's great about this country is that America started the tradition where
the richest consumers buy essentially the same thing as the poorest. You can
be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke,
Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a
Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the bum on the
corner is drinking. All the Cokes are the same and all the Cokes are good.
Liz Taylor knows it, the President knows it, the bum knows it, and you know it.
"In Europe, the royalty and the aristocracy used to eat a lot better than the
peasantsthey weren't eating the same thing at all. It was either
partridge or porridge, and each class stuck to its own food. But when Queen
Elizabeth came here and President Eisenhower bought her a hot dog I'm sure he
felt confident that she couldn't have had delivered to Buckingham Palace a
better hot dog than that one he bought her for maybe twenty cents at the
ballpark. Because there is no better hot dog than a ballpark hot dog. She
could get one for twenty cents and so could anybody else.
"Sometimes you fantasize that people who are really up-there and rich and
living it up have something you don't have, that their things must be better
than your things because they have more money than you. But they drink the
same Cokes and eat the same hot dogs and wear the same ILGWU clothes and see
the same TV shows and the same movies. Rich people can't see a sillier
version of Truth or Consequences, or a scarier version of The
Exorcist. You can get just as revolted as they canyou can have the
same nightmares. All of this is really American.
"The idea of America is so wonderful because the more equal something is, the
more American it is."