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Monday, December 26, 2011

The Suburban American Samizdat...

Samizdat (Russian: самиздат; Russian pronunciation: [səmᵻˈzdat]) was a key form of dissident activity across the Soviet bloc in which individuals reproduced censored publications by hand and passed the documents from reader to reader. This grassroots practice to evade officially imposed censorship was fraught with danger as harsh punishments were meted out to people caught possessing or copying censored materials.
 During the 1970s, it seemed that almost every suburban home, in every tract development, had one common feature: the basement finished room. Often used as a 'rec room', this room had tile over the cement floors, sometimes covered with wall to wall carpets. The walls were often vinyl covered paneling. The Armstrong ceiling tiles were mounted on metal straps hung from the joists and beams, and fluorescent lighting illuminated the whole thing...
Occasionally, cabinetry was installed, or shelving. There might have been private bars for the adults to entertain with, a small couch, large stuffed chairs. A coffee table, maybe a stationary exercise bike. Mom's sewing table. Possibly a pool table (if there was sufficient room). Most importantly, TVs and stereos..
These rooms were cool in the summer, but hard to heat in the winter. A central heating register might be mounted on the ceiling, instead of close to the floor where it'd be more efficient. This necessitated the use of electric space heaters.
Rec rooms were often delegated as the room children should play in, away from  parents who were engaged in adult things. Though adults might requisition the room for poker games, watching sporting events with friends, tupperware parties, it was mostly the domain of the children. As these children grew, the nature of their recreation began to reflect their age.
As children reached puberty, their interests left dolls and Hot Wheels cars behind, and focused more on shared experiences. They'd invite friends over, spending time away from adult supervision. They'd throw parties for various occasions. And share LPs.
Back in the seventies, there was quite a network of shared LPs that teens did not want their parents to know about.. Comedy records, for the most part. George Carlin's Class Clown, Redd Foxx's albums, Steve Martin's Wild and Crazy Guy... Most importantly, Cheech & Chong's Big Bambu, Monty Python's Matching Tie and Handkerchief Set (with the dual grooves on each side, so that you'd have to play each side twice to hear the entire record), and National Lampoon's Official National Lampoon Stereo Test and Demonstration Record. These composed a secret cultural commons that teens shared in High School, often becoming part of their language. A teen could drop a reference for a joke merely by repeating the punch lines to most absurd skits. Indeed, scholarship in this shared culture often mattered more to teens than expected school performance. If you misquoted, you were instantly corrected, and heated discussions about applicability of remarks might ensue and engross...
Other illicit and disreputable behaviors were indulged in, in basement rec rooms. The scent of sandalwood permeated the paneling, to disguise the smell of Marijuana. The occasional tipple from the parent's bar. The necking sessions.
And books. The cult of the Lord of the Rings series, and Frank Herbert's Dune had trickled down, passed from college students to their younger siblings. Playboy magazines, either borrowed or shoplifted, made their way between hormonally charged young men..
The life of the typical suburban American teen of that time, was one of discretion and subversive information dissemination...

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