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A Cure for the Bell-Bottom Blues on the Net

May 05, 1996|ROY RIVENBURG | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's bad enough that the 1970s actually happened.

Now, the leisure-suit decade has returned to life in cyberspace. Thanks to computer geniuses who must have ignored scientists' warnings never to stare directly into the light of a disco ball, it's once again possible to experience such cultural mishaps as "Starsky and Hutch," the AMC Pacer and David Cassidy's gallbladder surgery.

Try not to be alarmed, but the Internet is teeming with sites devoted to these and other topics.

Consider, for example, "CHiPs" Online, which not only satisfies the deep-seated human longing for computerized photos of actor Erik Estrada, but also resolves the pressing global debate over how to tell the difference between episodes from the show's second and third seasons: If the copyright date at the end is in Roman numerals, it's an earlier version.

Internet explorers can also visit 8-Track Heaven (thrill to the sound of a tape changing programs!), Exor's Brady Bunch Harmony (featuring proverbs uttered by Mike Brady), the Sea-Monkey Worship Page (never mind that the three-eyed creatures technically predate the '70s) and Speed Racer (which reveals that Button C on Speed's Mach-5 steering wheel "releases powerful rotary saws from the front end of the car to slice through any and all obstacles").

Bitchin, man!

"People who grew up in the '70s are old enough now to look back on the decade with nostalgia," says Lisa Sutton, a Culver City art director who runs a home page called Disco Biscuit ('70s slang for Quaalude), which is accessible only to Prodigy subscribers. "It's become a hot topic."

Sutton's fondness for the decade doesn't stop at the computer terminal. It also infests her home.

In her living room, for example, is an entire wall of lunch boxes depicting the likes of Bobby Sherman, "The Bionic Woman" and Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp.

Surrounding that are countless pieces of '70s kitsch: Mr. T dolls, Liddle Kiddles, Scrubbing Bubbles, Have-A-Nice-Day ceramics and a book by "Partridge Family" heartthrob Susan Dey titled "Boys, Beauty and Popularity," which dispenses advice on how to date a rock star.

It might all seem harmless if not for the disturbing electric Donny and Marie Osmond marionettes in one corner of the room.

"That's the only thing I really objected to having in the house," confides Sutton's husband, Jeff. "I think it's because I'm afraid they'll come to life someday and kill us."

Some of Sutton's collection is featured on her home page, which she dubs "the Room 222 of the Web." The "Flashback Gallery" section of the site, for instance, contains pictures of "Welcome Back, Kotter" toys and magazine ads for such products as True cigarettes and the Chevy Vega.

Elsewhere on Disco Biscuit, Sutton writes "Pop Culture Diary" entries on such subjects as the origin of the smiley face (a Seattle savings and loan), rumors about Pop Rocks (no, your stomach doesn't explode if you drink Pepsi afterward), the history of cereal box LPs (an L.A. company pioneered the idea) and memorable Christmas gifts (mood rings, toe socks and 1975's "Growing Up Skipper" doll, which developed instant cleavage with a crank of the arm).

Sutton's page also links visitors to numerous other '70s Internet sites, all of which are available to non-Prodigy subscribers.

Just about anything connected with the decade can be found, from the food phobias of "Partridge Family" idol David Cassidy ("He hates lime green jelly") to a psychoanalysis of the lyrics to Don McLean's "American Pie" (was "Satan" actually Mick Jagger?).

One of the most frightening destinations is DiscoWeb, a hub of '70s information operated by Paul Ryburn, a college math teacher who describes himself as "the only University of Memphis faculty member with a fully operational disco ball in his office."

For those unfortunate enough to own the right computer equipment, the site displays a "Virtual Disco Ball," a short film clip of the spinning satanic dance orb.

Almost as unsettling is the Neil Diamond Home Page, replete with traumatizing photos of the pop star in multicolored regalia--and trivia about former baseball star Thurman Munson's alleged request that nothing but Neil Diamond songs be played at his funeral.

Inexplicably, there are also online shrines to Abba ("the Swedish Beatles"), KISS and Wayne "Daddy Don't You Walk So Fast" Newton.

Not all 1970s sites are intrinsically evil, however. Ad Age magazine operates a nostalgic look at TV commercials from the decade ("I'd like to buy the world a Coke," "Everything you ever wanted in a beer--and less" and "Hey, Mikey").

Another locale maintains an amusing Breakfast Cereal Hall of Fame.

But after that, it's mostly downhill on the Information Superhighway: The Arctic David Cassidy FanBase. Land of the Lunchboxes. The A-Team. Bubblicious Bubble Gum. The Charlie's Angels Home Page.

Even "Star Wars" has been transformed from entertaining science fiction film to warped '70s compulsion. On the Internet, there are at least 135 sites dedicated to the movie and its characters.

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