I sat inside the Board and Brew on Route One sipping on an iced café cortado. It was one of those Sunday mornings the Velvet Underground sang about. Bloc photo editor Julia Lerner was sitting next to me, discussing the sort of trivialities you might expect.
I don’t know how we arrived at this point, which is what happens when you talk about nothing, but I remember offhandedly expressing admiration for 1980’s culture. This remark prompted my colleague to interject—
“Nothing good happened in the ‘80s!”
“Are you still drunk?” I asked while arching my left eyebrow and taking a swig of coffee.
“I’m hungover. There’s a difference. Anyway, name one good thing that happened in the 1980’s.”
A vast multiplicity of things came to mind all at once. Where could I possibly begin to enumerate all the cool and consequential things this decade left us, and from whence did my colleague derive the audacity to stake this vexatious claim?
“Scarface came out.”
“I’ve never seen Scarface.”
“Mon dieu! Get out of my presence! Don’t speak to me anymore!”
With my requests unfulfilled, I proceeded to throw out more things that generally made the ‘80s a culturally commendable decade.
“The Violent Femmes recorded ‘Blister in the Sun.’ The Pixies put out ‘Where is my Mind?’ The Soviet Union continued its gradual decline, and the world moved closer to the end of the Cold War.”
My interlocutor would not be swayed, and instead proceeded to claim that according to her history professor father, the Cold War never really ended.
But, you know. That’s her—not you, the reader. I suspect you might actually be sensible.
The 1980’s were in many ways an age of excess, I’ll admit it. It’s easy to point the finger at some of the questionable things people wore and then condemn the whole decade as an orgy of ill-wrought kitsch.
But that would miss the point of the cultural chronology I’d like to stage here. In general, there have been no shortages of both good and bad things that have happened in each decade from my recent memory. To completely disregard either category is to look at our cultural evolution with a myopic perspective.
Let it be safe to assume few of those who ever read this article will have any recollection of the 1980’s. As a matter of substance, that makes no difference to me because I don’t, either. And though I certainly didn’t exist in 1976, that didn’t stop me from duly enjoying Taxi Driver as a masterwork of cinema.
The age I’ll describe in brief was one of both tension and prosperity. From a political standpoint, it began with the resolution of the Iran Hostage Crisis and ended with successful exhortations for Mr. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall!”
In terms of culture, if the ‘70s bring to mind leisure suits, shag carpets, cocaine, porn theaters and vapid excess, the ‘80s could well be thought of as streamlining and concentrating all those things.
The ‘80s introduced power suits, compact cars, a crack epidemic, VHS tapes that allowed porn to transition from theaters to homes and even more uninhibited vapid excess—but what decade hasn’t escalated vapid excess?
It sounds like a mixed bag thus far, absolutely. But to zero in on just one element of this equation, the advent of the VCR and VHS initiated a total shift in the way we consume visual media. Once people were able to watch movies and record TV shows at home, there began an ever-greater demand for media that could be accessed from living room couches. Our present-day obsession with streaming is a direct progression of visual home media that took root in the ‘80s.
The tremendous music-playing capabilities of our smartphones can also be looked upon as a continuation of another ‘80s technological gem, the Walkman. Though listeners at the time were limited in terms of how many cassettes they could carry, the ‘80s were the first time in history where people could take their music with them beyond the parameters of a home or car.
In terms of music, the ‘80s tend to get a bad rap due to the excesses of hair metal and synthpop. These are probably the musical styles that most immediately come to mind from the decade, but there were plenty of outstanding bands and musicians pushing sonic boundaries: The Smiths, Eric B. & Rakim, Sonic Youth, Run-D.M.C., Michael Jackson, The Cure and Madonna, just to name a few.
And finally, to name a niche yet much-beloved institution whose prominence has not waned since the final years of the 20th century, the 1980’s gave us home console gaming. The release of the Nintendo Entertainment System in 1983 breathed new life into a struggling industry and was followed by iconic software including Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Duck Hunt and Punch-Out!!™ Featuring Mr. Dream.
It was the age of MTV, Miami Vice and Back to the Future.
We often look back on the 1980’s with broad strokes of dismissive kitsch for its leg warmers, Patrick Swayze and obnoxious hair.
But the ‘80s were all that and then some. While we need no reminders of the former, I’d like to make sure that the latter isn’t entirely overlooked. Now excuse me while I wallow in my unremembered nostalgia.
Featured Photo Credit: Featured photo courtesy of Wikipedia.
Horus Alas is a senior philosophy major and can be reached at email@example.com.
Leave a Reply