Happy Days: Images of the Pre-Sixties Past in Seventies America

Rutgers Univ. Jan. 2024. 240p. ISBN 9781978830530. pap. $29.95. SOC SCI
Any study of the mood in the United States in the 1970s needs to address the issue of nostalgia: How did the U.S. as a country go about reestablishing continuity with its own past? Alpers (history, Univ. of Oklahoma; Dictators, Democracy, and American Public Culture) attempts to answer this question by writing about nostalgic images of the past, especially of the 1950s, in 1970s films. He discusses the revivification of a stereotype of the ’50s that was largely defanged in Grease, in the characterization of Happy Days’ the Fonz, and in Sha Na Na’s parody of doo-wop; however, this image of the ’50s was intensified by rebellious outsiders in the 1970s punk counterculture. Alpers also looks at similarities and differences between American noir films made in the 1940s vs. the 1970s; discusses the controversies surrounding the bicentennial celebration of 1976 and the hollow optimism it evoked; and examines Alex Haley’s Roots and Octavia Butler’s Kindred and what they say about Black history. The first two essays in the book fit together well. The fourth, though it too addresses how one retells and reclaims the past, is an outlier, though an intriguing one.
VERDICT An intriguing perspective of 1970s American culture and nostalgia. Of interest primarily to history buffs.
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