Empire of the Sun

I once was asked to think of an idea for a monument for the city of Los Angeles. The last thing I thought LA needed was a big metal something that would fall down in an earthquake. I suggested a television station that would run every episode of Chips continuously. It would be the Chips Channel. The idea was oddly rejected.

I don't know why, but I record Chips on my Tivo and watch it daily. I also watch The Donna Reed Show but that's just a weird Pleasantville thing. Yes, Chips has remarkably thin plots and everything is solved in the last 3 minutes, but there are car chases that end with explosions and cars on their side in every episode. That doesn't happen every day in real life here. To get a car on its side and blow up requires a ramp and explosives. There is something kind of great about it.

I love how horrible Los Angeles looks on Chips. If you don't live here, you probably are saying, "Doesn't it still?" But in the 1970s on Chips the smog was far worse, there were endless streets of odd stores and car washes, and really crappy cars blowing up. It looks so bleak and desolate filled with empty freeways and the blazing white sun.

The other surprising elements are the pants and hair. Everyone has pants that are way too tight. I remember having pants like that myself in high school. I was also desperate for groovy hair that parted in the middle, but mine was wavy, thick, parted on the side, and grew out like Sideshow Bob.

Shakedown 1979

When I was a teenager, the world was a simpler place. There were only four television channels and we all watched the same programs. Today, when I ask if anyone saw the episode of Psychic Kids last night, I get blank stares. This could be due to nobody watching it, or concern over my state of mind. When I was 15, and asked if someone had seen Happy Days last night, an entire room started talking about Fonzie or Richie.

In addition, we had reading material that supported this uniformity. Society was concerned about illiteracy and television, so magazines were developed that we would read. They needed to be entertaining, but not too taxing, like Omni. So they focused on television shows and popular culture. I recall thinking, at the time, that they were pretty vapid and squeaky clean. While Dynamite was promoting Mork and Mindy, the big news in the 9th grade was the story about one couple that had started having sex. As you can see, there was an incongruent reality. Looking back at these magazines now, I’m not surprised by the alarmingly blind content, but at the super groovy colors and mastheads. Dyn-o-mite!