On Monday, I wrote about my niece, Kyrie, expressing regret that she didn’t get to be a teen or young adult in the 80s. As someone who was exactly that, it got me thinking about the relative merits of the era. I decided to make a list of pros and cons, starting with Reasons Why the 80s Sucked. So now, it’s time for:
REASONS WHY THE 80s WERE AWESOME!
Cheap cable. Granted, you only got 60 stations, (10 of which you watched), but at least it was cheap! My cable bill was around $30-$40 a month.
Print. In the 80s, newspapers still mattered. Newspapers are still around, but are shrinking both in size and quality. Any more, newspapers exist for senior citizens and crossword puzzle addicts (like me). Books mattered too, and bookstores thrived. New book releases were a big deal. Stephen King and Dean Koontz (two of my favorites) were in their primes.
News. Aside from newspapers, people got their daily rundown of information from the network news. There were only three of them (plus PBS), and they mostly just reported on whatever happened that day. If there was an editorial slant, it was far more subtle than you find today. In my opinion, the disintegration of the news media into 24-hour partisan hyperbole is the number one cause for today’s hyper-partisan political scene, and resulting do-nothing Congress.
Partisan networks throw journalistic standards out the window and fire up the populace with perceived slights and offenses, which forces politicians pander to their intractable and hysterical base, which leads to a governing body clinging to the nonsensical platitudes that got them elected. Then it’s no surprise when the two sides can’t work together for the common good. All because the news media wants ratings.
I long for the day when news teams just told you what happened during the day while you were at work.
TV. There was no reality TV. MTV still played music videos, which themselves, were often imaginative and highly entertaining. Married With Children came out, which while crass, provided a viable alternative to the traditional, squeaky-clean family sitcom. Dramas like Hill Street Blues and LA Law came out, featuring riveting, thought-provoking storylines and razor-sharp dialog.
Music. The new wave/gloomy music aside, the 80s contained a tidal wave of great rock and roll. Just look at some of the groups who were in their prime in the 80s: Guns and Roses, Bon Jovi, AC/DC, ZZ Top, The Scorpions, George Thorogood, Joan Jett, The Georgia Satellites, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, and Heart, who had a whole “second act” to their career. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s entire career was in the 80s, and it led to a resurgence of artists playing the blues guitar.
The music had hooks and was played by real people, with real instruments and no auto-tune! To be a singer, you actually had to be able to sing.
It was almost enough to make me forgive the 80s for also popularizing rap.
Movies. CGI wasn’t around yet, so special effects in movies were mostly practical.
Think of the big movie stars who were in their prime: Bill Murray, Bruce Willis, Sylvester Stallone, Sigourney Weaver, Eddie Murphy, Michael Keaton, and directors Tim Burton, John Landis and Steven Spielberg. James Cameron was well on his way to becoming a legend.
The 80s gave us the Airplane/Naked Gun movies, Indiana Jones movies, two of the three Star Wars trilogy, the first three Rambo movies, Gremlins, Beetlejuice, Bachelor Party and Splash, Porky’s, the first two Terminator movies, Aliens, the Back to the Future trilogy, Bill and Ted, Caddyshack, Stripes, Groundhog Day, Revenge of the Nerds, Beverly Hills Cop, Top Gun, American Werewolf in London, and all the John Hughes movies. Mel Brooks’ History of the World and Spaceballs came out in the 80s. Karate Kid. Johnny Dangerously. Lethal Weapon 1 and 2. Poltergeist, for cryin’ out loud! Although I wouldn’t mind if they took back the clown.
Sports. There were fewer expansion teams diluting the talent pool in the major leagues. And NASCAR was still an afterthought.
Vices. You could drink and drive without ruining your life, assuming you didn’t plow into the high school glee club. It was just the way you got your car home. Underage drinking barely raised an eyebrow. I can’t even count how many minors my dad got into hotel bars in Cleveland, when we were there for the annual Steelers/Browns game. Or how many had drinks at our house, at Barn Parties.
(Like I said earlier, some pros could be cons and cons could be pros, depending on your point of view. From the point of view of my 20-year old self, it was pretty sweet.)
I’ve heard that the 80s were famous for cocaine use, but I’ve never even seen it before in my entire life. I guess rural NW Ohio is a long way from Studio 54.
Strip clubs were still fairly innocent. And cheap. You didn’t have to take out a second mortgage just to kill a few hours there.
Speed cams and red-light cams didn’t exist. To get a ticket, a cop had to see you do it. And as George Carlin once said, “You know my motto in traffic? If a cop didn’t see it, I didn’t do it!”
Shopping. Malls were still a thing. Granted, once I worked in one, I didn’t care to go back, but you know what? Malls provided jobs! No wonder it’s so tough for teens and young adults to get work. There’s a whole segment of the economy that’s missing.
Fashion. Granted, I’m totally unqualified to speak on fashion, but I have two observations that made the 80s awesome: Track suits were cool and men’s shorts were still short. At least they didn’t come all the way down to your calf, which defeats the purpose of wearing shorts, if you ask me.
Politics. OK, Reagan was in office, but he was not nearly the deity that conservatives make him out to be. Any current politician claiming to want to do the things Reagan actually did would be ridiculed by the right and driven out of the country club.
But it was a different time. Despite major differences, shit still got done. There wasn’t a hyper-partisan media, creating hyper-partisan politicians who use filibusters as a primary weapon rather than a last resort. Opposing sides worked together for the good of The People. They weren’t excommunicated for daring to compromise with the enemy. ("Compromise;" meaning each side got some of what it wanted and no one got it all.)
Reproductive Rights. They were pretty much settled. You could go into a Planned Parenthood office without having to fight your way through a screaming mob. Would have been better if Plan B had been invented, but you can’t have everything.
Going back to what Kyrie said, the 80s seemed to be a time where people talked to each other more, and established more personal relationships. I don’t think she’s wrong.
We had so many fewer distractions back then... Fewer TV channels, no internet, video games were still pretty primitive, phones had cords. Early cell phones were the size of bricks.
Today’s tech pulls people further into their own heads, which are usually pointed towards their smart phones or video games. Without so many compelling distractions, maybe we reached out more to each other.
Or, maybe we were just trying to find out who had all the cocaine.