I turned on the TV this morning and stumbled across a movie from the 1970’s. I’ve never heard of it (Contract on Cherry Street from 1977, a TV movie) and it isn’t particularly good but still evokes a feeling of nostalgia. It takes place in New York City but I was never in NYC in the 70’s. So it is not the place. I was a kid in the 70’s (born in ’66) but this is not a kids movie nor is there anything relatable to children in it. It’s kinda boring for adults too. So why the nostalgia? And I respond this way to a lot of 1970’s movies.

I think it is because sometime in the 1970’s the world started to look like the world looks today. Movies from the 40’s through the 50’s generally look like they take place in the same world. An old time world, to me, filled with men in full brimmed hats, women in skirts and dresses, and telephone booths for making calls. Movies from the 60’s still have a lot of leftover stuff from the 50’s but add plenty of “Swinging 60’s” goofball elements. It’s in the 70’s things begin to become as I know them. Except for one thing. Everything hasn’t become branded yet. New York City in particular.

Advertising is everywhere now. In NYC (where I have worked and played on and off for 16 years) it is everywhere. It’s on billboards, on busses, on bus shelters, on taxis, on the floor of the Port Authority bus station, on bags, on coffee cups and on everything people wear. I am not a fan of being bombarded with advertising so I generally try to ignore it. This means I’m ignoring a lot of what I see when I’m in NYC. I don’t even know that I’m doing it.

In the 70’s the clothes people wore were just clothes. Today people wear clothes that are branded. Instead of a plain old shirt it’s a shirt with the company name writ large across it. I know people who wear t-shirts with advertising on them and they don’t even know who the company or what the product is. It is just a free T-shirt that gets worn regardless of what’s on it. Then there are sports team shirts and rock band T’s. To see someone in a shirt that is not branded is unusual.

Now I’ve got to mention hats. Everyone who sees old movies where men are wearing old time full brim hats always comment on it, “Wow, everyone is wearing a hat. How odd.” I’ve just got to point out that men are still wearing hats all the time. They are just baseball caps now. They are so ubiquitous they we don’t even consider them. No one counts baseball caps as hats. But they are. And they are all branded by a sports team or a company logo. Count how many people you see with a blank baseball cap. One in a thousand I bet.

In the 70’s movies all that is missing. The same recognizable world without the branding. I find myself staring at all the different streets, buildings and people in the background. They look so familiar. They look like the word I know except not covered by advertising. I actually notice a lot more because my “ignore ads” sense is turned off. I realize how much I miss in everyday life because of that sense. How much I don’t see.

I’m nostalgic watching 1970’s movies because I’m nostalgic for an unbranded world. A world where my vision has fewer blind spots.