Riyadh- a “Land of the Lost” rerun

You might not remember much about 1975. If you happen to be a Millennial, Gen-Y’er, hipster, or other person who looks longingly back at the idea of the 1980’s as the pinnacle of American pop culture, there is a unique opportunity to go back in time and experience the gold-dusted decade that kept us all waiting for Prince, Ronald Reagan, E.T., and all that 1980’s awesomeness. It might even be the most under-appreciated decade; where would society be today without the contributions made by Battlestar Galactica, Watergate, the fall of Saigon, and Farrah Fawcett’s hair? To take a tour of America in the 1970’s, buy a ticket to Saudi Arabia today. You might see why the 80’s looked so good in comparison.

Your tour begins with going for a drive. Don’t worry about a fuel-efficient car; full-service gas is still less than $1 a gallon, so hop into that V8 Suburban and hit the road. If you’ve never heard of full-service gas, it was this quaint experience wherein you paid a little more money for someone from a lower socioeconomic class to pump your gas. Very Victorian if you think about it.

Back on the road, but don’t turn the radio on; it might not be disco, but it’s just as bad. Don’t bother buckling your seatbelt either, no one else does. Your kids will enjoy roaming around the interior of the car like those adorable hamsters your parents never let you have. So where should you drive? To the mall. Huge malls, because that’s where everyone wants to be. However, GPS maps don’t work particularly well here, so unfold that origami from the gas station and make like Lewis and Clark.

Popular culture hasn’t recognized that just because you can afford 4000 calories per day of fried food doesn’t mean you should. Start with a coffee and donuts at Dunkin Donuts (remember the commercial with the guy who always got up so early? You can’t let his perseverance go to waste, can you?).  For lunch, drive through McDonald’s, saving room for some KFC and all the Pepsi your pancreas can handle. Don’t order anything organic, vegetarian, locally-sourced or even slightly untoxic. Remember when bottled water was for foreigners with questionable masculinity?

Reading a newspaper, you might find an occasional patronizing mention of women’s changing place in society, but it will be written by a guy who looks like every other guy writing for every other newspaper. Immigrants are a population to be kept under control, even feared a little, but they are better than the alternative of doing the work yourself. After reading Peanuts, throw that paper in the trash. Do not recycle, as that might accidentally reduce consumption and therefore the need to produce more oil. Since in the 1970’s Bob Barker hadn’t yet gone on his personal campaign to spay and neuter your pets (and I don’t think The Price is Right is all that popular here anyway), stray cats roam the neighborhoods, each one trying to look more mangy and hungry than the last.

As your tour of the 1970’s ends somewhere around the Jordanian border, you find yourself thinking that in a garage somewhere in Riyadh there’s a Bruce Springsteen honing his sound, a whole generation of corporate raiders getting ready to skim other people’s money, and a burgeoning media industry making a determined effort to mass-produce mediocrity for the lowest common denominator. Put on your MTV T-shirt, put away the bell bottom jeans, and wave goodbye to the decade that wasn’t as revolutionary as the 60’s, wasn’t as corporate as the 80’s, and maybe deserves its reputation after all.

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