New Year’s Eve 1979 carried the promise of a break with a de-
cade marked by defeat in Vietnam, the Watergate scandal, the first recession
of the postwar era, an ongoing hostage crisis in Iran, and the culture most
heavi ly associated with the 1970s disco. Polls conducted during the year in-
dicated that only 19  percent of U.S. citizens were satisfied with the country’s
direction while trust in government hit a rec ord low of 29  percent, crashing
from a 1967 peak of 76  percent.1 Public confidence suffered some more in Oc-
tober when the Federal Reserve tightened monetary supply in order to curb
the spiraling inflation that accompanied weakening economic growth, which
fell from more than percent to under percent during the year. Then, on
31 December, the New York Times reported that “the much heralded recession is
starting fitfully.”2 Sages read the national mood and announced that it called
for belt-tightening, hard work, and a reassertion of traditional values. It had
become, in short, a bad time to discuss the pleasures of the dance floor with
one’s bank man ag er.
New York Magazine captured the zeitgeist in its 31 December issue. “The
media have already been at work defining it all,” ran the introductory piece.
“The key words seem to be ‘Me,’ ‘Self,’ ‘Disco,’ ‘Woody Allen,’ ‘Third World,’
‘Liberation (usually women’s possibly anybody’s),’ ‘Cocaine,’ ‘Style,’ and, above
all, ‘Energy.’ ”3 The publication noted that the words could be joined together,
so a “shortage of energy” could be “relieved by cocaine,” which could provide
“the strength to dance the night away,” with disco movie star John Travolta
“dancing with a degree of self- absorption that would glaze over the eyes of
Narcissus” in Saturday Night Fever.4 The magazine positioned the 1970s as
“the de cade of the last free ride” and forecast that the 1980s would “find us
paying our dues for the debts and obligations we took on during the 1970s.”5 It
also suggested that the anonymous Studio 54 dancer who said “this is as near
to heaven as I’ll ever get” might have been right, because the 1980s didn’t look
INTRODUCTION
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