Dec 312017

If you are in the US, you could hardly be unaware of the prevalence of nostalgia for the 1980’s running rampant in current popular culture. Modern TV series like “Stranger Things” and “The Americans” and “The Goldbergs”and “Halt and Catch Fire” and movies like “It” are set in the 80s, and while the forthcoming movie “Ready Player One” is set some decades into the future, it is based explicitly on people pining for the glorious pop culture of the 1980s, some half-century earlier.

For two reasons this 80’s nostalgia is entirely understandable:

  1. Gen Xer’s like myself, the children and teenagers of the 1980s, are now at the age where they are the writers and producers of TV shows and movies. And people tend to be nostalgic about their childhood and teen years, so, there ya go.
  2. The 1980s was when pop culture… well, perhaps it didn’t reach it’s peak, but it certainly figured out how to *be* popular culture. Thirty and more years later, many of the shows and movies are still popular, still watched; many of the actors, actresses and musicians are still popular, and a good chunk of the musical styles that came into their own in the 80’s still exist and dominate the airwaves. Bracketing the 80’s was disco from the 70’s and grunge from the 90’s, both monsters in their time, but largely gone now.

(And there is another, less objective reason why the 80’s is popular in concept: it was a world that was built on horrors… the oil problems of the 70’s were still there, the Soviet Union was still threatening to kill or enslave us all, the auto and steel and agricultural and other industries were tanking. The 80s began with a tin pot dictatorship in Iran making a joke of the US, under the leadership of the most ineffectual President in recent American history. And there was the horror of Disco. And yet… the 80’s wound up being one of the most exuberantly optimistic times in American history, where it became ok to be proud of America again, where the future looked brighter (damn bright, typically in neon yellows and pinks and greens), it became possible to get rich and live well again, where the President was someone that you could actually be glad to have in the White House. That was, at least in my experience, a unique time, so far not recovered.)

I’ve been around long enough to have seen this before. In the 70’s into the 80’s, it was all about the ’50’s. In the 80’s and into the 90’s, the hippies tried to make the world revere the 60’s. In the 2000’s, we freakin’ ignored the 70’s, cuz the 70’s sucked donkey balls on virtually every level. And now… the 80’s and the first hints of 90’s nostalgia.

It’s the way of things. But something I see a lot of, expressed both by Gen Xer’s in positions to control pop culture, and in comments sections by regular schmoes, is the opinion that *kids* today are nostalgic for the 80’s. Millenials who were born after the 80’s ended, perhaps after the 90’s ended, supposedly think the 80’s were just totally tubular, or neato-keen, or the bees knees, or the cat’s pajamas, or whatever the hell it is kids these days say. When I was a kid and they were cramming 50’s nostalgia like “Grease” and “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley” down my throat, I had no particular use for the 50’s. When 60’s nostalgia came along like a tied-died freight train hauling LSD, I avoided it like a smelly bum from Woodstock. Of course, my own experience counts for nothing, but I don’t recall a whole lot of my contemporaries having much more use for the 50’s and 60’s, with the exception of the causeheads who glommed onto 60’s nonsense. Hell, the pop culture of the 80’s and into the 90’swas generally a direct rejection of the 60’s.

So, my question, especially to any millenial types who might be reading this: *is* there really 80’s nostalgia among current younguns? Or is this just wishful thinking – or intentional propaganda – on the part of people pushing 8’s nostalgia for business purposes?

 Posted by at 4:18 pm
  • Adam

    I was born in 1990.

    I’m nostalgic for the ’80s because I was told and have read that it was a time when America was strong. My Dad, who’s nearly a decade older than you, fondly remembers the ’80s as a time when life was good. He liked Reagan and thought that the economy was great while the popular culture was also really awesome.

    I grew up listening to a lot of music that my parents had. This included ’80s music. Since I was only given the ’80s songs that were *popular* I only knew that the ’80s had great music. I also watched a lot of popular movies of that era (eg Terminator, Predator, Robocop, etc.) and just fell in love with the films of that decade.

    I am nostalgic for the ’80s because back in those days the US had amazing projects that it was working on like the ATB program that led to the B-2, the National Aerospace Plane, the space station, SDI, etc. It seemed like the US was getting back on track to being the vanguard of progress in this area.

    In the ’80s we had leaders that stood against the USSR and were sincere in their desire to see America thrive and to encourage every American to be proud of who they are and what this country stands for. We had purpose back then. We had a strong economy that boomed after the double-dip recession Reagan started with. There were jobs then. Jobs that paid. We could grow and live in prosperity.

    Now, we millennials experienced unbelievable malaise from the unending wars in the middle east, the zeitgeist forever tarnished by those disgusting pieces of $hit Osama Bin Laden and Khalid Sheikh Mohammad who were responsible for ruining the skyline of Manhattan on that day that shall forever live in infamy.

    We experienced a recession that technically was *supposed* to have ended in 2009 but the economy grew so slowly afterward that we questioned whether there was a “recovery” after all.
    College costs had ballooned out of control and wages have stagnated. We just haven’t grown richer like we did in the ’80s.

    The 21st century has been filled with nothing but malaise. I want to go back to the late 20th century again.

    • Scottlowther

      > Since I was only given the ’80s songs that were *popular* I only knew that the ’80s had great music.

      South Park recently touched on this. The boys set out on an 80-style quest through the woods, with an 80’smusic soundtrack downloaded off the web. But instead of all the best of the 80’s, it’s all terrible 80’smusic like the “Superbowl Shuffle.”

      > back in those days the US had amazing projects

      Indeed. *HOLY* *SHIT* did the future look bright to teen-me back then. We were soon going to have regular, affordable spaceflight, thousands or orbiting space weapons, ground-based lasers powerful enough to carve up the Moon. Stealth and hypersonic technologies were going to lead to regular advances in military aircraft, with tilt-rotor attack craft, VTOL fighters and transports, recon platforms that were quite possibly capable of attaining orbit, hypersonic transports carrying business men from new York to Tokyo in an hour.

      A renaissance of nuclear power, led by the need for orbital power generation systems.Along drawn-out race and competition with the Soviet Union was going to lead the US to conquering the entire friggen solar system in my lifetime.

      Then the chickenshit rat-batards had to go and quit. Bah.

      • adam

        Do you agree that the past 10 years was filled with nothing but malaise?

        • Scottlowther

          No. For lefties, they had both joy (Obama) and rage (every other damn thing in the universe). For a subset of righties, they have the joy of President GMF. For space nuts, we’ve have SpaceX. And there’s been The Orville.

          But… that said, there has been a *lot*of malaise. An economy that’s supposedly in recovery, but… meh. A war with an unseeable end against an enemy we dare not even acknowledge, never mind actually fight like we mean it. Craziness on campus and in culture, with rationality being challenged by pure nuttiness from both left and right. The optimism that followed the collapse of the USSR has been replaced with a dire future due to demographics and the rise of Bond-villain small nuclear nations and a Blofeldish Putin and a piratical China. The success of environmental issues from the seventies such as pollution and ozone has been replaced with a constant drumbeat of DOOOOOOOM due to global warming. Previous technological advances in the physical world have been replaced with apps and Facebook. We’re now Balkanized to a virtually unbelievable degree, with a good fraction of the public being constantly told to feel nothing but shame.

          So… not *nothing* but malaise, but, damn, there’s sure a hell of a lot of it.

          • publiusr

            I’m going to play devil’s advocate here. I know you aren’t keen on Putin and the lefties–but here is a scenario where the downfall of American force projection might actually wind up being for the better.

            Imagine we get someone actually much farther to the left than Obama, and he gashes the military. Putin makes a move on Europe. Without the US to hold him in check–he might wind up a new Vllab the impaler, and wage a war against Islam that we in this country don’t really have the stomach to fight.

            Once, while daydreaming, I tried to come up with a scenario where gun rights supporters and gun manufacturers would not see eye to eye–and I don’t mean smart guns.

            Mass shootings would decrease if we had ED-209s in the street that simply shot anyone with an actual firearm.

            I wonder what the fall-out would be. Could a gunpowder eating microbe be made…etc. My mind wanders.

  • Unspoken Yellow

    Over the past two decades I’ve observed a nostalgia in the video game community for games from the past, particularly from the 8-bit and 16-bit consoles as well as DOS computers. Currently, independent developers seem to be catering to more to this sentiment than the major video game publishers.

    Of course not everything was great back then as exemplified by the Angry Video Game Nerd. Controls could be bad. Puzzle answers could be nonsensical. Game mechanics could be poorly designed. Arcade games would munch your quarters. Nothing that current games don’t also have problems with.

    Personally, I was born in 1991 and yet I strangely feel nostalgic for (or is it in wonder of) some of the tv programs, movies, games, and books that I missed out on in the 80s and 90s. However despite that, I don’t think I will ever fully understand the zeitgeist of the past. It seems as alien to me as the current culture is today.

    • Doug Pirahna

      As someone who’s played video games since the 70’s, I think a lot of the nostalgia is for a fun game that every time, doesn’t need constant patching or DLC, or an always on internet connection or anything that modern games seem to need.

      I can dig out my Atari 2600, get it all set up and a game going faster than a current gen console can do an OS update. I have games for it that are 40 years old that still work every time but yet there are games that are 10 years old that can’t be played because the servers are shut down.

      I just want a game that’s fund without all of the online “extras,” let me play it in single player mode and enjoy myself.

      • Scottlowther

        I’ve not been a big gamer, even though I had an Atari 2600 since about when it first came out (hell, I had an *Odyssey*). There was really only one game that I really got sucked into (Battlezone 2), and it hasn’t worked since Windows 7.

  • Allen Ury

    I’m a classic Boomer who lived through the 50s nostalgia while I was in — and just out — of college, and who now is enjoying the wave of 80s nostalgia as well. I was in my 30s during the 80s, so I’m not pining for my lost childhood. But I remember the 80s in two ways: First, that of pending nuclear horror not experienced since the early 1960s and given form in such films as THE DAY AFTER and RED DAWN. This was then turned to near-orgasmic relief as the Soviet empire crumbled, the Berlin Wall fell (I actually cried that night) and the world seemed to be headed into a new, heretofore unexperienced period of peace and prosperity. (Silly me.) I was also the greatest period for pop movies, with directors like Spielberg, Zemeckis, Landis and Dante at their peak, lavishing us with films like the Indiana Jones trilogy, Back to the Future, Gremlins, E.T., Poltergeist, An American Werewolf in London, etc. These films were fresh, exciting and technically groundbreaking, capable of eliciting “oohs” and “aahhs” from filmgoers who were not yet jaded to the visual overkill of CGI.

  • Tybarious

    I was born in ’85, I don’t remember much of the 80’s, but I do remember all of the 90’s. I kinda see the 80s from other people’s nostalgia. It does seem like a better time. But the thing with nostalgia is that you tend to remember the good more than the bad. Especially from a child POV. But I do think it was generally a better time all around for reasons stated by you and others in the comments.

    I enjoy the pop music of the 80’s more than I do of the 90’s and 00’s. The pop movie of the 80’s have seemed to aged better than some of the 90’s and 00’s. I image this has to do with peak of the old school physical effects before CGI started to dominate special effects. Its like if you compared the physical effects of the 80s to earlier eras (or the start of physical effects to the 30s), it would be like comparing CGI of early 90s to the now.

    Honestly, I think a lot of the problems of the present decade can be traced to the internet. Before, the weirdos and crazies would be left isolated but now you can 15 forums and untold number of blogs dedicated to whatever weird or backwards idea or thing you have. Not saying all things from the internet are bad but the thing that has been more cancerous is allowing some of these wackos to create an echo chamber for certain ideas or ideologies.

    • Scottlowther

      It’s easy and popular to blame the internet for the downfall of culture… but I suspect there’s a lot of truth to it. When I was in school, there was usually one kid known as “the fat kid.” Now … Lots of places its more likely there’ll be “the skinny kid.” I’ve posted before links to photos people took in shopping malls in the 80s, and the people look fundamentally different. In just the last generation or so we’ve become… unwell.

      And it’s amazing how many amazing movies the 80s produced that are still amazing. Some due to pre-cgi effects awesomeness, but also there’s just a hard to define something that the filmmakers caught that they then lost.

      I wonder how much of it might’ve been due to the looming sense of doom we all had back then. The soviets were going to nuke us into oblivion. The rampant unchecked hedonism of the 60s and 70s had given us a new universally fatal plague, and the impression was given that you even *looked* at a girl, who knew, maybe AIDS would get you too. That sort of thing will have an effect on outlooks and resulting cultural output. So, who knows… Maybe Russia going back to villain status will lead to a pop culture renaissance.

      • publiusr

        Another thing. 2001 was a goal to shoot for, it seemed. Sci-fi fandon was at its height. FASA/SFB, realistic gun toys, more spaceship toys. The future was cooler in our heads than what we actually got.

        I like the internet because I crave new stories about science and technology. But that’s just us on this board and a few other places.

        But you are right–maybe it is too easy. I also miss the three month summer vacations, when you could let your mind wander.

  • Thucydides_of_Athens

    I will hazard a guess that the 80’s represent the last time there was a “mass” culture in America and the West. Information was still filtered through a limited number of gateways, as was popular culture, like movies, TV and games, so virtually everyone was exposed to the same influences.

    True, if you were some sort of culture nerd or explorer, you could spend endless hours haunting used book stores, out of the way record shops or repertory movie theatres to discover exotic items, and if you were lucky then you might even have a few close friends who shared your interests and were willing to go see the latest movie by Jean-Jacques Beineix, or a listen to a new release by Factory Records or 4AD, or read Thomas Pynchon, but finding people who were both interested in these sorts of things was almost as difficult as finding these gems in the first place.

    Today, finding niche items is as difficult as learning the proper search terms on Google or, and finding fellow enthusiasts is not much more difficult (although managing time zones is sometimes a bit of a stretch).

    If there is any sort of “nostalgia” movements in the future, they may be defined more by the content rather than the era.

  • Knigh26

    Since my stepsons are up visiting (from my now Ex-wife’s earlier marriage) we have been rewatching a bunch of 80s classics. They are digging watching, Alien, Aliens, Predator, Terminator, etc… Talking to them, I think the reason why we look back with such great nostalgia on the 80s is because so much was done in the movies with practical effects. Even the animation of the day was more grounded, with weapons and vehicles based on real life hardware (GI Joe, Transformers, Macross, etc…) or were designed and animated in a consistent style that gave them a sense of realism. 70s sci-fi/fantasy/animation (pre-star wars) feels hokey by comparison, and 90s stuff (with the advent of affordable CGI) just felt fake. It wasn’t until the late 2000s and into 2010s that special effects really began to feel real again, with filmmakers largely shying away from overused CGI and going back to practical effects where, well practical, affordable, and relatively safe.

    Watching Aliens last night, the boys commented just how real it all felt, actors were wet, and sweaty, the guns looked real (’cause they were), the Aliens had a real menacing presence, and the kid character was not some stupid cliche’ (for the most part).

    • Doug Pirahna

      Don’t forget the chestburster scene in Alien, Veronica Cartwright’s reaction is a real one of fear when she gets sprayed, she wasn’t told what would happen.

  • Ulrich Brasche III

    also, “80’s Kids” are at the premiere point where they have money and either had no kids or the kids moved out.