The aftermath of the '70s and '80s coming home to roost

Senator Al Franken (D-Minn.) and one-time cinematic "action hero" actor Sylvester Stallone are today's latest targets of sexual harassment charges.  They won't be the last.

Political and Hollywood celebrities are discovering that a different set of standards, many stemming from a different time in America, is now coming back to haunt (mostly) men, conservative and liberal alike.  These men lived what was, a generation ago, "business as usual" behavior in America.  That these actions were once socially acceptable does not mean they were either legal or moral even then, nor does "everybody was doing it" exonerate those who used anything from positions of power to the power of inebriation to facilitate and justify what is now clearly and appropriately seen as sexual harassment.

The big challenge will be to find anyone who was an adult in the '60s, '70s or '80s who didn't, at least once, make what would now be seen (charitably) as a big mistake or (morally) as a sin or (legally) as a criminal action.  While we can't go back and retroactively criminalize behavior that was not then considered criminal, we can use basic standards of morality and judgment.  It is interesting that just seven years ago, Senator Robert Byrd (D-W.Va.) was honored by his peers even while having been a member and official of the Ku Klux Klan, a group that specialized in terrorizing and (sometimes) killing black Americans, and just nine years ago, Senator Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) was revered (including by feminists) even though he'd been responsible for the death of a young woman he was making moves on, despite her relatively young age and his own marital status.  Things have changed, dramatically and swiftly.

This kind of behavior, which is now dogging Roy Moore, Al Franken, Kevin Spacey, Sylvester Stallone (who, by the way, made X-rated movies early in his career), and Harvey Weinstein, can be blamed on, but not excused by, the dramatic Sexual Revolution, which swept aside traditional morality in the '60s, '70s and '80s.

The sixties are perhaps best known for the Beatles and the Sexual Revolution; however, the '70s and the pre-AIDS '80s are remembered (by those who were sufficiently sober then to remember them now) as the non-stop party America celebrated after that revolution.  The party began when people realized that, in the Sexual Revolution, "sex won!"  For those who came of age in the '60s or '70s, and who lived as adults through the '70s and '80s, it was a time different from any America had lived through before and unlike any we've seen since then.  Those who didn't live through this tumultuous twenty years, from the mid-'60s to the mid-'80s may never understand how shockingly, dramatically, everything about sexual morality changed.

This was the generation who'd survived either Vietnam or the anti-war movement (for some, both), who wished (and often claimed) they'd been at Woodstock, who then went on to live in a society that first put the "recreational" in "recreational drugs."  This was a society that endured disco and hyper-inflation (we remember cost-of-living – COLA – adjustments), gas lines, and hostage crises, before finally moving on to the economically explosive Reagan era.

But most of what those of us who lived through those times remember was the non-stop party that celebrated America's "victory" in the Sexual Revolution.  This was a time when a staid Chamber of Commerce new-member recruiting event – this was in rural South Carolina – came complete with strippers.  This was a time when drinking at lunch was socially acceptable, even in the conservative Deep South.  This was a time when the Singles Again group at the First Methodist ended up at the bar in the Holiday Inn for drinking and dancing, followed by hooking up in a more personal sense.  In short, drinking, the casual use of marijuana and cocaine and other "lifestyle" drugs, and no-strings hook-up sex was standard operating procedure for what certainly seems to have been an entire generation of Americans. 

This is the same generation of men and women who are now elected or want-to-be-elected political officials, and mostly men who are having to come to terms with the stupid, ill advised, self-destructive, and hurtful-to-others actions they took, because "everybody's doing it" or "who'll believe her" or "it was the drugs or booze that made me do it" (somehow making it OK).  Franken and Moore are the first to fall, but they are also the first swallows in Capistrano. Among the temptations of real power, inebriation and the fact that men and women both knew that "everybody is doing it," more are about to fall.  Hard.

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