This is telling. Lots of our preferred boldface names, most with Hotel Chelsea connections, are being used to illustrate an alleged 'moral lowpoint' in American culture. The date that is zeroed in on is 1973. And here's me thinking that 72 would be one of the more exciting years to time travel to.
One reads the book before leaping to conclusions, of course, but I see problems with this argument already. It clearly operates on the false distinction between high and low culture. It would take some convincing before I accepted that Edie Sedgwick and Richard Nixon can both be cited as moral low points without making several arbitary judgments along the way. I'm even more interested how the two are connected. Same year, same continent is only co-incidence. Connecting them would seem to be a difficult path at best.
According to Andreas Killen's new book, "1973 Nervous Breakdown: Watergate, Warhol and the Birth of Post-Sixties America," the decade has had an outsize impact on American culture. Killen, an assistant professor of history at the City College of New York, locates the unlikely year of 1973, which he refers to as a low point in American history, as a watershed year. Arguing that a number of current cultural trends had their loci in the early 1970s, and especially in 1973, Killen explores some of the bizarre and sometimes overlooked events of the era: skyjackings, POWs, conspiracy theorists, cults, the early forerunners of reality TV and Andy Warhol's obsession with celebrities. Using Nixon's paranoia and the growing Watergate scandal as a thread throughout the year, Killen writes an entertaining, if not entirely convincing, cultural study.
The book works well in its primary goal of tracking cultural trends, and ends in 1976 with the Patty Hearst affair and trial -- the ultimate amalgamation of celebrity, POWs, conspiracies, cults and reality TV. However, those expecting a full-out historical analysis of the early '70s will not find it here. Killen is heavily focused on the arts and personalities. For example, there are extended discussions on movies of the period, Warhol's superstar Edie Sedgwick and the glam rock band the New York Dolls, but the OPEC oil embargo and its devastating effect on the economy are barely mentioned.