Two things I was fairly certain I would never do: say "You should all read this thing in Marie Claire!" and comment on the death of Don Cornelius. Having already done the former this week, let's go ahead and knock out the latter.

The famous Soul Train host died on Wednesday, leading to many topical Facebook posts and shared video clips. I remember the show well from childhood – it followed Saturday morning cartoons and was also popular on Sunday evenings – but it is hardly an integral part of my life or memories. It has been a good 25 years since I watched or thought about it. But this clip, of the much-loved "line dance" portion of the show, caught my eye:

A lot of things have changed in 30-plus years, obviously, but it is striking how much different these people look than the ones we see on TV today (or would see if Soul Train was still on the air). They look like real people. No fake hair, fake boobs, fake nails, fake collagen-pumped lips, fake eyelashes, or fake smiles. The women don't look like porn stars and the men don't look like steroid addled He-Men with abs like cheese graters and zeppelin arms.

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They're all dressed loudly but quite differently. And they look like they're having actual fun rather than wearing fake, practiced personalities for the camera.

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Nothing's easier than idealizing the past – usually unjustifiably – so I'm trying to tread lightly here.
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It's just surprising to me in a way that has probably already occurred to older readers to see how the idealized image of cool people listening to cool music has become so overwhelmingly fake and detached from reality in a relatively short period of time.
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Would any of these women make it on an MTV-type program today without a boob job and/or lipo? Would any of those guys be trying to make it in Hollywood today without hitting the gym until they looked like UFC fighters? And we wonder why kids transition to adulthood with such horribly distorted self images these days. I'm sure the pressure to be thin and pretty has been around forever, but it would be nice if Hollywood suggested that you could look like an actual human being and still be cool.

25 thoughts on “NPF: REALLY”

  • duck-billed placelot says:

    Seriously, I mean, rich/popular/high society folks have never had to practice permanent body modification or wear silly, restrictive clothing like corsets… Also, while there were a delightful number of afros in that clip, there were plenty of ladies with relaxed hair, which I understand was a fairly terrible-er experience in the 60s/70s.

    You ever seen Georgian style? Cool kids listening to cool music has often been High Fashion Low Normality. I think the deal is that, rather than oh-the-worst-40-years-ever, there was a short period recently-ish when our culture espoused a mild form of body positivity (in certain arenas with massive restrictions).

  • c u n d gulag says:

    Whether it was "Soul Train," or "American Bandstand," the kids on the shows all came dressed up – to show off: To themselves, to their friends who might tune-in, and to their parents (ok, maybe that wasn't to show-off, and was more like "in-your-face!").

    But you're right about body/face image in this country.

    Turn on the TV in off hours and watch the half-hour infomercials. Watch some of the lower rated channels, who can't demand high 30-6 second spots. A lot of them are for for improving your body, depending on your sex. For men: Six-pack waist, biceps, thigh, chest, etc., machines. And all sorts of butt, waist, etc., machines, and make-up, and facial and other surgery ads for women.

    And if you look at TV in the 70's and 80's, you had all types of body types and looks, as well as ages, on the actors – white, black, etc. This may be been the residual effect of the 60's, and the wider acceptance of variety – in beliefs, looks, attitudes, and so on.

    Somewhere in the late 80's and 90's, that changed, and all of the TV actors started to look like male and female models.

    Maybe it was due to the growing prosperity, and wanting to look like the richer people (remember that ancient adage? 'You can never be too rich, or too thin.").
    Maybe it was something else.
    Maybe, it's just me…

    I'll be interested to see what everyone else here thinks.

  • Teeth. Stars bleach their teeth nowadays. Next time you you a fifteen or twenty year old movie, look at the normal color of the actors teeth…not pure white like now.

  • I am prone to whitewash my memory, but in general in the 70's & 80's I don't remember people being so obese (because of the crap they eat & because they are stuck in front of a tv or computer.) as a consequence, in general people looked better in general.

  • What jumps out at me about television and movies from the pre-1990s is that the women have 18-inch waists…but corresponding busts. You almost never saw a woman with a 48DD chest and an 18-inch waist before the implants.

  • What struck me is Fred Wesley, arguably the best trombonist ever. Go get some Maceo Parker music and see if you can't find Fred. "Life on Planet Groove" is a good one. Still making great funk music through the 90s, fallen off some lately.

  • The 70s gave us a messed-up-body-image era when emaciated supermodels normalized malnutrition. (Watch the first season of SNL and marvel at how these talented women were forced to look *really* horrible by starving themselves into 'acceptable' standards.) (I'm not just blowing smoke–Curtin, Radner, and Newman are all on record about this.) The battle between Marilyn and Audrey was over, and Hepburn won, alas.

    The only thing that could be said in defense of this trend was that it didn't require general anesthesia and being carved up on a surgical assembly line. Then the 80s happened. I'd say it was porn, rather than high-fashion, that normalized the huge balcony with the minimized back porch. (Plus that whole "Pubic hair? What's that?" phenomenon, which, from an evolutionary standpoint, is just…creepy.) High-fashion still likes 'em built like flagpoles. Porn, on the other hand, tells 'em they can have it all–yowza breasts *and* 0% body fat! And since porn was now readily available in every home thanks to the home video revolution, the images and expectations crept into the national consciousness.

    I have *no* idea, really, when men started to become goons. Well, except for one thing–James Spader told an interviewer that when Brad Pitt appeared in THELMA & LOUISE, every young male actor in Hollywood took one look at his abs and said "God-*dammit*! Now I have to look like *that*?!" And thus it was that we end up with Channing Tatum getting parts solely on the basis of his resemblance to a homoerotic action figure.

    God we suck as a species.

  • Also, these people are willingly dancing on national TV without being super-trained athlete dancers. The only time you see that now is on the joke auditions for American Idol, So You Think You Can Dance, etc. — everyone else is a specialist.

  • "…He-Men with abs like cheese graters and zeppelin arms."

    LOL! Always a great takeaway phrase or two from Ed, even as I agree with the thesis.

  • johnsmith1882 says:

    in agreement regarding how the cool kids look(ed) then and now, as covered above by others, but quickly want to touch on how cool kids act(ed) yesterday and today. i've been to hundreds if not low-thousands of rock shows in the last 20 plus years, so i'm so old i can remember when being cool and getting geeked up were not contradictory. we used to slam dance, mosh, stage dive, yell, scream, sing along, and act the fool at shows, because it was fun. you paid money to see this band, you supposedly like this band, their music makes you feel something, like, you know, music does. nowadays, the kids stand there and look at it, oh so cool and detached, maybe do a little head bob. like say, i went to see lcd soundsystem last year on the farewell tour, and danced my ass off. cuz it's dance music. only to have a girl behind me keep tapping me on the shoulder because she couldn't see. what do you need to see, a guy at a laptop? shut up and dance. lame. i dont want kids these days to get off my lawn, i want them to learn how to rock.

  • I'm afraid we may be witnessing the last generation of Hollywood actresses to age gracefully. With all that surgery, these new gals are going to look like David Lynch characters.

  • digby's essay today on Body Parts fits right in here.

    So men don't like being reduced to a set of abs, eh? Oh, the irony.

    I think I'm going back to bed and pull the covers over my head.

  • @johnsmith1882: "nowadays, the kids stand there and look at it, oh so cool and detached, maybe do a little head bob."

    Oh heck, that was de rigueur in the 80s at Sonic Youth or Swans shows, at least in New York. The more bored you looked, the more cool you were. Although the crowds at Cramps shows were a lot more fun.

  • I've long held a theory that back in 90's a lot of people in marketing and commercial image making in general read Naomi Wolf's The Beauty Myth and though to themselves wait a sec, we're creating and exacerbating the body image neuroses of half the population? Why only half?

  • Ed, it may be my interneptitude at fault here, but that little "sociable" side bar runs right through the middle of the text on my browser (explorer – I know, I know…) and I can't get the thing to disappear (although I can shrink it a little – thanks sociable!).

    It's really fucking annoying.

  • Fashion trends come, fashion trends go, and the vast majority of the populations emulates them the best they can. Tattoos and big hair, fat and skinny, each have been cycled in and out for millenia, and will again. The trends of this age: tats, piercings, extreme hard bodies, bodily hairlessness, and the desire to remain youthful all have their roots in ancient history. The cultural pressure to conform to them has always been present as well.
    Royalty and the elite have always set the standard, and Hollywood is just the modern day self-marketed representation of that. But aside from appearing "cool", and a display of affluence to attract the opposite sex, even if only briefly, it also conveys the "I'm worth it" mentality, the self-esteem to value oneself enough to make the effort and pay the price, whether it be to the surgeon or the personal trainer. And I'm not so sure that's a negative mindset.
    The only thing I see different nowadays, and why there's so much attention on the detrimental effects of the standard of aspiration (and to be sure there are plenty) is that most of the population is now outside the current "ideal". But the obesity epidemic and the Walmart wardrobe that is the standard of the masses are not things we should be portraying as "normal", or even acceptable.
    Want the young to avoid either extreme and the ridiculous pressures they both entail? Talk to your kids. Teach the middle ground. And walk the talk yourself.
    Well, I'd love to proselytize further, but this Granny's got to get to kickboxing class before she dons the sequined spandex mini-dress and hits the dance club.
    Oh, and what eau said.

  • Funny thing is, lots of fashion these days seems to send the signal "I'm trying to be beautiful and ugly *at the same time*, because I wanna be Real, Maaan and still arouse people". There's not that much attempt to be simply good-looking–there's gotta be quote marks somewhere. And then there's the "gender politics" angle combining with the long, one-note joke of hip-consensus "postmodernism"; the standard approved look for Hip, Alternative guys these days, for example, would've been laughed off as impossibly retro even by the people in that *Soul Train* clip. So guys wear buzzcuts and plaid shirts and khaki pants from 1962 ("It's all in the way you *wear* it!"), and then they get their teeth bleached. The various wings of popular culture–at least the parts that get any real attention—collude with each other more than they like to admit.

  • Forgive me if I'm missing something, but the whole clip I saw two women and zero men that were anything but tall and thin. Sure, the women didn't all have boob jobs and the men weren't all hugely buff, but frankly, there isn't just one standard these days. These women don't look like typical porn stars but they do look like typical Paris/New York models or dancers. So, I guess we could congratulate them for not having a bunch of buff, shirtless men on there, but is that really something that deserves so much applause?

  • (Apparently WordPress chokes on its own "helpful" Unicode em-dashes. Hilarity.)

    J. Dryden: Porn, on the other hand, tells 'em they can have it all–yowza breasts *and* 0% body fat! And since porn was now readily available in every home thanks to the home video revolution, the images and expectations crept into the national consciousness.

    Which is weirdly galling, because very low body fat in women gives a very particular look to breasts, and it is not pornish.

    I suppose it's another example of a beauty standard achievable only through photoshop.

  • Wait, you showed a clip of Soul Train and didn't dig up the clip of Walter Payton doing the line dance when he was still in college? Shame on you

  • Processed food and processed people are the new norm. I've tried to explain to my adult children how things were different in the 70s but it is completely outside of their frame of reference to conceive of a world where it was actually okay to not be entirely cosmetically perfect and auto-tuned. Of course, fortune has always favored the genetically blessed, but it used to at least be okay to not be one of them since that put you in good company with 98% of the rest of the population. And it provided some freedom to idolize the less attractive. I used to think the world of Janis Joplin and Carol King, both incredible talents, but no lookers. Today's heroines for teen girls? Kim Kardashian and Paris Hilton who personify the notion of knowing the price of everything, but the value of nothing. Seems almost impossible for us to get any more shallow or idiotic, but I'm sure we'll find a way and 30 years from now the current younger generation will bemoan the 'good old days' when people understood what was really important.

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