The Great Outdoors has been on a roll for more than three decades.
Arguably the cultural turning point can be pinpointed in “Back To The Future,” released in 1985, when Michael J. Fox’s character returns from the late 1950s to a changed mid-’80s future. Among the changes that please him: he now has a nifty pickup truck, suitable for off-road adventures.
Recall that he had done his time travel in a DeLorean, a very limited edition sports car.
Not many years after the movie came out, a story in the Wall Street Journal reported a sharp fall-off in buyer demand for sports cars. The decline, the Journal noted, was accompanied by a surge in demand for pickup trucks.
Just two years before “Back To The Future,” the ensemble cast in “The Big Chill” generally was bound to the living room and the back yard, with Jeff Goldblum’s character finding an excursion to a grassy field as somewhat exotic.
In truth, baby boomers were not much for the world outside the suburbs or the city. For many of the guys, Mick Jagger or Jim Morrison were the height of cool, rock stars unlikely to pal around with Woodsy Owl. Steely Dan owned much of the 1970s with songs set in decadent interiors.
These days, television commercials more often than not are set on a rock face, or at the top of a hill vista, or in the verdant woods or at an uncrowded beach framed by rolling surf. Young women gleefully engage in the kind of sweaty outdoor pursuits that would have been anathema to their bouffanted predecessors.
The cultural default is life lived outdoors, preferably in bright sunlight. Cape Cod in the summertime is an exemplar and celebration, truly a manifestation of the Grateful Dead’s sunshine daydream.
But the days again grow shorter. A chill begins to pervade the air. The rain, once warm, turns cold. Snow shovels tucked for months inside the garage start to seem more relevant.
As twilight creeps further into the day, living rooms don’t seem such a bad place to be, especially if they’re blessed by a fireplace throwing off heat and light. Sweaters, quilts and couches take on renewed appeal. The early evening television news shows, standing oddly out of time in the long days of late June, again feel in sync with the rhythm of the day’s hours.
For what it’s worth, the outdoors is fine. There’s much to celebrate in the cool, crisp air of autumn, in the annual blaze of color that clothes the deciduous trees, in the clarity that stretches out to the horizon.
But as we once again head toward the end of the year, the indoors can start to feel positively delicious. It’s a good place to be, especially when the wind through the trees starts sounding like a train and the raindrops beat against the blackened glass of the windowpanes. The time has arrived to celebrate the Great Indoors.