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38 Historically Speaking July/August 2008 Making Sense of American Culture in the 1970s: An Interview with Thomas Hine Conducted by RandallJ. Stephens From 1973 until 1996, Thomas Hine was the architecture anddesign criticforthe Philadelphia Inquirer. His book Populuxe (Knopf, 1986) analyses America's postwarprosperity andculturalpeculiarities. Hine scrutins tailfins on space-age cars, TVdinners,fads thattargetedbaby boomers, andthe look andfeelof the era. Isaac Asimovremarked, 'No onewho haslivedthroughthisdecadecan readthis book withoutstoppingahundredtimesto recallhisown experiences. " Hineturnshiscriticalgas* onthe 1970sintheentertainingandinsightfulThe Great Funk: FallingApart and Coming Together (on a Shag Rug) in the Seventies (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007). He examines interior design and the trends of the age that are so memorable, andoften embrarasnng, today. Associate editorof Historically Speaking RandallStepbens recently spoke with Hine aboutbis work. Randall Stephens: Do you think of The Great Funk as a companion to Populuxei Thomas Hine: Absolutely. Twenty years passed between the two books. That is pardy because various people that I trust, including my literary agent, felt that the world wasn't ready for a seventies book in 1990. The first wave of nostalgia hits about twenty years after the fact. People become adults and get nostalgic for the clothes and pop music of their youth. And dien thirty years after the fact people start to crave a sense of the culture as a whole. Stephens: It seems that during die seventies there was a particular interest in history—not only fifties revivalism (Happy Days, Grease, Sha Na Na), but also turn-of-the-century-style pizza parlors , movies like The Sting or The Godfather , and the hoopla surrounding the Bicentennial. Hine: I agree. Even though people have never been without nostalgia, nostalgia didn 't become a powerful cultural force until the 1970s. As I detail in die book, one of the prevailing activities was salvage: garbage picking, flea markets, the number of old styles that got revived in die seventies ranging from Victorian to Art Deco. Stephens: You contrast the sleek interiors of the sixties with the earth tones, layers and textures , and the wall-to-wall and wall-to-ceiling carpeting of the seventies. What does that contrast tell us about the culture of the seventies? Hine: It was about finding a place. The rhetoric in the decorating magazines focused on creating a retreat , a nest. It was very personal and tactile. Your shelter was supposed to contain things that were idiosyncratic; things that you'd found; tilings that you loved. It was about expressing yourself, but also about separating yourself from the world and taking refuge. Mario Praz, who wrote a famous book on the history of interior decoration, said diat diere are two ways to think about interior decoration: one is to think stylistically and the odier is simply to weigh the materials, what he called density. Density was very in during the seventies. Album cover of the soundtrack for Grease (1978). Stephens: Where are we now? Are we closer to minimal modernism? Hine: I think we are beginning to nest again. Early in this decade diere was an attempt to revive the supercool 1960s look. This is still very much with us. But I think on a popular level it's being supplanted by nesting. There is a lot more texture. We are now getting back to earth tones. In the last couple of months, two exhibitions on the mid-century period that I've been working on have opened. One is about post-World War II Florida, and die odier is a show called Birth of the Cool, which was organized by the Orange County Museum in Newport Beach, California. I realize now that in the midst of writing die seventies book, I wrote my essay for the Birth of the Cool exhibit. The 1960s were defined by an understated metallic look, a cool look. And then Vietnam killed cool, just like Bush's Mission Accomplished seemed to kill die revival of cool earlier in this decade. Stephens: Do you think that your designation for the seventies as the Great Funk effectively sums up the decade? Hine: Well that was my hope. Actually, I was under a certain amount of pressure from my publisher to come up with a word diat would...


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