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March 13, 2010


Terrill Lankford

Sarah, I think you're not working on firm ground here. You're a little too young to pass judgement on the 70s. Especially based on news reports and YouTube clips. Having been there I can tell you that the 70s were an incredibly fun time. It wasn't just about serial killers and disco.

Any one year in the 70s was actually much, much more fun than all the years post 9/11 rolled together.

I had a great time and I know I wasn't alone in that. Yes, they were far simpler times. Pre-aids, pre-Bush and Bush Jr., Pre even Bad Ronnie. Gas was a buck a gallon. The Free Love of the 60s had gone pro. It was now just a lifestyle. People were no longer uptight about sex. They were even less uptight about it than they are now. Music was better. Movies were FAR better. And everything wasn't about money, politics, and religious hatred. Not that those weren't issues, but it just didn't seem as in your face as it is now with 24 hour news blaring the blah blah blah of the talking heads and this wonderful new toy called the internet that lets us know what every single person out there is thinking - even if we don't want to know it.

I doubt there are less serial killers out there now than there were then. It probably takes a while for most of these characters to get caught and identified as serials. But having just finished a project with the L.A. Homicide squad, I can tell you that there has been no slowing down murder. It's still happening at an alarming rate and there are still plenty of missing and unsolveds out there waiting to be labeled as the victims of someone. Maybe someone who is a serial killer.

People weren't any worse in the 70s than they are today. I could easily argue that they were, in general, more interesting, more pleasant, and far less tense than most of the people I encounter nowadays. But that would be a biased argument from someone who came of age in the 70s, so I could be easily dismissed.

But don't write off that whole decade based on a couple dozen mental cases who liked to murder. It's just too easy. That stuff has been going on for a long time and I doubt it will stop anytime soon. Trust me, for a lot of us, the 70s were a blast. I'd give up a lot of tomorrows just to go back there for a little while.

I'm going to go roll a joint (medical, of course), put on the headphones, and listen to DARK SIDE OF THE MOON now to get my groove back on.


While I would agree we can't write off a decade as "not fun," it's not because the"70s were a blast". I was born in 1969. For me, the 70s weren't all that much fun - no, I didn't have to go to Viet Nam. But I lived in the South Bronx with a shooting gallery directly across the street (I sometimes have to remind myself that "shooting gallery" doesn't bring "heroin addicts coming and going at all hours along with the muggings and prostitution and vomit that comes with them" to everyone's mind). My parents were scared. My aunt and uncle spent a day tied up in their apartment, their hands and feet numb after thieves left them. Luckily their elementary school aged children came home and found them this way... They moved out of NYC soon after that. My parents disliked the 1970s in the South Bronx so much that in 1980, we moved to Puerto Rico.

So, I don't think it was the times that were bad - some had a blast, some were miserable.

Don't forget that the 1960s gave us Charles Manson and the Tet Offensive as well as the assassinations of Kennedy, King, and X. Not really great times when looked at from that point of view.

Of course, on the other hand, the 70s gave us bell bottoms, and that's pretty hard to forgive.


Yeah, the Viet Nam decade was a laugh riot, and the resulting riff between the generations. And then Watergate. At least cocaine was OK, at least that's what the docs thought them.

Dave Zeltserman

Very creepy video, Sarah.

70s were definitely an interesting time. Funner than now? I guess that's a matter of perspective. Early 70s you had Vietnam and Watergate, late 70s you had Jimmy Carter and the Iran hostage crises. And in Boston we had racial divide and all the violence that that brought. Some of the east coast cities, like Boston, New York and Philadelphia were a lot different then, higher crime rates, more dangerous and seedier to walk around, and generally more rundown. I can't speak too much about the west coast, but I did spend a few weeks in downtown San Diego in '78, and that was pretty much a pit--a dangerous area then, and I'm sure it has long since been revitalized. Were movies better in the 70s? I don't think so. There were some great movies then, but also a lot of stinkers, and I think you can look at any year and find great movies. Music, yeah, for me 70s were the best decade. TV, thanks to HBO and Showtime, is a lot better today than it was in the 70s, even with Rockford. Food is a lot better now. The job market, at least for engineers, pretty much sucked in the 70s, but it also sucks right now. In the 70s you had to worry about herpes, now you have to worry about HIV and host of other STDs, so that aspect was better in the 70s. Again, it's all a matter of perspective.


TL - let's put it this way, I fully expect someone to come along around 2025 to make a similar claim about these post 9/11 years, which would have to be refuted for similar reasons. No, you can't generalize about a decade, but the passage of time does bring forward some things more than others - perhaps disproportionately. And I think, keeping history's sometimes cavalier judgments about what should stick and what doesn't, that's why Alcala strikes a more discordant note with me.

So yes, as Dave puts it, this is all a matter of perspective. And a lot of different ones get pushed up or moved back as time pushes on, but human behavior doesn't change all that much. That's probably the scariest and best thing.

John McFetridge

I was 11 in 1970. My son turned 11 last year. I think he looks at the world a lot differently than I did. I don't know if his different perspective will result in much different behaviour - people usually fill the roles they're born into and rebels are rare, but maybe those roles have changed a little. My son finds it perfectly natural that all the kids in his class - boys and girls, all the races (and there are many more in his class than there were in mine) - have the same opportunities. What these kids do with the oportunities is anyone's guess, but it is early days yet.

Not every jurisdiction in the world has the three strikes law so I wonder if other places are seeing the same changes that the DA is seeing in California?

Terrill Lankford

I think people forget that Watergate was actually a victory for America in many ways. A political party was caught by a free press with their hand in the cookie jar and brought to justice. Something I would have love to have seen over the last decade. Countries around the world actually applauded this, they were not mocking us as they did in the wonderful Oughts.

Vietnam came to an end in the 70s. For many in this country that also seemed a victory. The people rose up in the 60s and 70s and put pressure on the government and helped to bring an end to an unjust war. Ah, those were the days....

Yes, everyone's perspective will be different on the times we've lived in, based on age, location, and experience. But I think one thing is undeniable when it comes to the difference between the 70s and now - at least in the U.S.: There was a hell of a lot less fear in the air back then. And fear seems to be the engine that has driven everything in this country since 9/11. Everything. Anyone who thinks this last decade was more fun than the 70s just didn't know where to park back then. There was a cool breeze rolling off the ocean that whispered to us: "Live. It's really going to be fun."

Charlie Stella

It’s definitely a matter of perspective. I was a teenager during the 70’s and had teenage worries (nothing compared to whether I’d still have a job at the end of the week to pay my mortgage, etc.). I had no idea what health insurance was about (thanks to Mom’s plan at work). I went to college in North Dakota to play football and worried about whether or not I’d make the grade. Meanwhile, back in my home town, Roy DeMeo’s crew was out stealing cars and shipping them to Saudi Arabia when they weren’t killing a lot of people, including some friends I’d gone to high school with. They got away with that into the early 80’s. I hated my high school years (early 70’s) for personal reasons (our family broke up). I loved the 2nd half of the 70’s (college). That was a blast, but again, I didn’t have much to worry about. There was always a construction job (or something) at home during the summers and I had a steady girlfriend. I was a jock avoiding the drug scene--that was as tough as I had it. It’s always perspective.

As regards people rising up ... if what’s happened the last two (going on three) years (Bush into Obama) wasn’t enough for revolution, you can pretty much count that concept as an anachronism.

Hey, John, I’m reading Dirty Sweet since last night. Terrific chops. Comparisons to Mr. Leonard are very appropriate ... and I love the musical references. Brings me back, dare I say it ... to the 70's-80's.

Richard S. Wheeler

I wish to suggest from the perspective of age that each social shift brings with it a host of new positives and negatives. The happiness and safety quotient shifts, but a good life still depends on what individuals do and how wisely they do it.

Steve Faul

It seems with each generation there is a feeling of technological superiority over the previous one, and yet there is a gap, a loophole, where all feeling of superiority is swept away by embarrassment. In the 1970's we sent men to the moon, but a killer could appear right before us on The Dating Game. How backward. Such children we were. Go back to your Abba eight-tracks and hide.

Today, we have more advanced technology. Instantaneous communication is in the hands of anyone who can pay for it. Olympic athletes can snap digital photos of the crowd as they walk down the parade of nations, and the gang back home can download it in seconds. We have DNA, face recognition software, and my car knows when to unlock its doors for me and me alone.

And yet, in this decade, the greatest mass murderer of them all, a man responsible for the deaths of thousands in a single day, Osama bin Laden remains at large, tucked away apparently out of sight from our satellites, out of range of our weapons, able to send videos. He stands right before us, and yet he is unreachable.

Mysteries still surround us, but without the distance of time and and the blanket of nostalgia, they are, shall we say, less palatable than we'd like.

I think I'll just listen to my i-pod for a while.


I could only watch half that video. That woman was bringing out MY murderous impulses.

Laura Lippman

I don't think I'll weigh in on the 70s thread. It requires more thinking than I am willing to do on this gorgeous day. I didn't think Sarah meant to suggest the decade was worse, just different. I'm also really skeptical of the claim that there are fewer serial killers out there, but it was made by a source cited in the LA Weekly article. People think the Internet/Google has eliminated fabricators and plagiarists; my hunch is that some people are simply getting better at getting away with these things.

As someone who just finished a book in which [imagine all sorts of self-referential blather here], I was really fascinated by the video. But, as Sarah said, I watched it in full knowledge. So I took the computer upstairs and asked my SO to watch it and guess if he could identify the killer/rapist among the three men. Alas, I should have screened it with the sound off because "photographer" was too big a hint for my savvy SO. ("It would be in line with someone who likes to keep souvenirs," he said, knowing nothing of the Alcala's history.)

And while I assume dix's comment is meant in good fun, it gives me chills. Here's a woman on game show. She's demure by the standards of today's reality television, her only crime is that she's annoying and she's chosen to participate in a game show that's easy to ridicule. To joke that she brings out murderous impulses ends up implying a causality -- unintentionally, I realize, and, again, in the spirit of black humor.

Plus, I'll give her this: She had an intuitive dislike of the guy and decided to pass on the date. In 1978, the year I turned 19, I'm not sure this guy would have pinged my radar.


To tell the truth, everybody on that video brought out my murderous impulses. Fortunately, my murderous impulses are all bark and no bite.

David J. Montgomery

Given that the population in the U.S. today is almost 100 million more than it was in 1975, it seems a stretch to speculate that there are fewer serial killers extant.

Edward Champion

Why is it so difficult to comprehend that, just as there are industrialists who think nothing performing harmful acts (but who can charm you with a smile: think of a tobacco magnate or Neutron Jack Welch, the charming patriarchal figure who made 100,000 lives miserable by ruthless and avaricious downsizing), there are likewise homicidal maniacs who possess positive qualities? Indeed, only narrow-minded sophists cannot comprehend this more complete latitude of the human spectrum.

Based on the clip, Alcala looks like the kind of guy that any of us would have probably bought a drink. And I see nothing "skin-crawling" at all about being truthful about this reality (even if it does represent a perceived reality). We must come to grips with the totality of a person. A murderous individual can be both charming AND brutal. He may indeed feel some remorse for their monstrous actions. He may have people wish to friend him on Facebook, just as the social network junkie would friend some random stranger with a closetful of skeletons in his closet.

How can we really "know" the person who is charming us with such a snapshot? For that matter, how can we really "know" what it's like to be a family or friend of one of the victims? Is it really our place to judge Alcala from the pre-investigation sidelines? To use a fucking game show clip -- a highly artificial environment, of all things -- with which to wrestle with these deep moral questions? Human beings, even the most monstrous, aren't your playthings. I fundamentally reject Matt Murphy's knee-jerk statement, which doesn't account for the numerous victims of the Three Strikes law. (Indeed, what of the increased attacks on police after the third crime? Is there specific scientific data related to decrease in serial killers? Causation does not imply correlation.)

Because of this, I refuse to perceive Alcala as either good or evil until I have read every known fact about him. Yes, his slayings were undoubtedly evil. But his game show appearance here seems good. Sarah, you have offered no knowledge here of the more important questions with which to make a more equitable moral judgment: (1) To what degree did families and friends of the victim suffer? (2) To what degree has Alcala suffered? (3) Do we, in demanding the death penalty for Alcala, stoop to his same base level?

Start providing data on those points and then we can have an adult discussion. This Dating Game dredge-up is kid's stuff.

It is likewise an exceptionally myopic declaration to see either Bundy or Alcala as a "symbol" with which to project one's inherent prejudices and/or myopic generalizations about a decade. (No decade is either good or bad. It's more often a combination of these needlessly Manichean modifiers. And even then, there isn't a single uniform way to perceive a decade. It all depends upon your vantage point. And, as you've just confessed, you can't remember one detail of living from that decade.)

Graham Powell

From my perspective (i.e. born 1968) the 70s were a time when everything was sort of in flux. The 60s had taken a hammer to what everyone thought was "normal", and people, young people especially, realized they didn't have to get a job, buy a house, settle down, etc. People explored. It was a time of dislocation, when people had a chance to more fully express themselves,

Unfortunately, some of those who found the 70s liberating were people like Rodney Alcala.

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Start providing data on those points and then we can have an adult discussion. This Dating Game dredge-up is kid's stuff.

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