Movies and Cultural
FRANK P. TOMASULO
In its bicentennial year, the United States was wracked by disillusionment and mistrust of the government. The Watergate scandal and the evacuation of Vietnam were still fresh in everyone's mind. Forced to deal with these traumatic events, combined with a lethargic economy (8.5 percent unemployment), energy shortages and OPEC price hikes of 5 to 10 percent, high inflation (8.7 percent and rising), and the decline of the U.S. dollar on international currency exchanges, the American national psyche suffered from a climate of despair and, in the phrase made famous by new California governor Jerry Brown the previous year, “lowered expectations.” President Gerald R. Ford's WIN (Whip Inflation Now) buttons did nothing to bolster consumer/investor confidence and were widely perceived to be a public relations gimmick to paper over structural difficulties in the financial system. Intractable problems were apparent: stagflation, political paranoia, collective anxiety, widespread alienation, economic privation, inner-city decay, racism, and violence. The federal government's “misery index,” a combination of the unemployment rate and the rate of inflation, peaked at 17 percent. In short, there was a widespread perception that the foundations of the American Dream had been shattered by years of decline and frustration.
Despite these negative economic and social indicators in the material world, the nation went ahead with a major feel-good diversion, the bicentennial celebration that featured the greatest maritime spectacle in American history: “Operation Sail,” a parade of sixteen “Tall Ships,” fifty-three warships, and more than two hundred smaller sailing vessels in New York harbor. Seven million people lined the shore, along with President Ford, Vice President Nelson Rockefeller, Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, and a host of international dignitaries, including Prince Rainier and Princess Grace (née Kelly) of Monaco. The spectacular fireworks display was choreographed by Walt Disney Attractions and, as the radio simulcast of patriotic tunes noted, “was brought to you by Macy's.” Crass commercial considerations of