There’s been a growing trend recently, and that’s this sudden, (or maybe not so sudden) re-emergence of 80’s pop culture. Even looking around campus I can’t help but notice those who are wearing 80’s inspired fashion. (Not me- 90’s bell bottoms for life, man). All of this seems to have started a few years ago but is only now really picking up steam. A Modern take on the 80’s theme can be seen in TV shows like Young Sheldon and The Goldbergs, which focus on family life in the 80’s through the humorous narration of Sheldon Cooper and Adam Goldberg, respectively. Then there’s the hit Netflix series, Stranger Things, a show about a group of kids in the 80’s who have to deal with a whole slew of terrifying sci-fi monsters (both literal and human). And one can’t forget about the highly acclaimed 80’s-esque Black Mirror episodes, ‘San Junipero,’ and ‘Bandersnatch.’
I’m not sure why the 80’s are back; maybe it’s because humans are nostalgic creatures and many of those who grew up in the 80’s are now at an age where they yearn to bring back scrunchies and basic television, maybe it’s because the turbulent political climate makes people want to return to simpler times (spoiler alert, the Reagan years weren’t idyllic), or maybe it’s because we can now view the 80’s within the means of our current technology, and that’s like, totally rad. But whatever the reason, I’m pretty happy with the things that have emerged because of this resurgence. I’ll admit that I wasn’t initially a fan of the 80’s- I didn’t understand why anyone would want to bring back anything from a decade that on a surface level can only be described as “gaudy.” Boy was I wrong.
And it’s not just TV shows that have taken on the 80’s, but everything from pop songs with an 80’s style sound and music video style (Somebody That I used To Know) to video games with surreal 80’s storytelling (Hotline Miami) to trends in Web Design. Yes, the 80’s are now a hot UX/UI design trend (or at least they were last year). Geographic shapes and neon colors are back, but in a new way (in a much less gaudy way thank goodness).
So the 80’s are back. Cool. But what do the 80’s really mean? I realized that I didn’t know nearly enough about this decade, so I headed on over to Netflix to get a better idea.
I watched CNN’s documentary series, The Eighties on Netflix (although going to the CNN website produced a whole treasure trove of all things 80’s, so I would recommend not just watching the series, but also going to their website at https://www.cnn.com/shows/the-eighties). I was amazed by the emerging technology, pop culture, and societal and political issues of the time. It was an excellent watch and told the story of the 80’s in a much deeper way than I think most of us who didn’t grow up in the 80’s really know.
Although I was born in the 80’s, I was very young and only had a surface understanding and appreciation for the 80’s. Growing up with older siblings, the 80’s could still be seen in the recesses of my childhood home. Pink and green walls, MTV playing on the tube TV, childhood toys strewn about the floor like Teddy Ruxpin, View Master, and Lite Brite. It wasn’t even until the 90’s that we got our first personal computer (Back in the late 80’s/early 90’s, not everyone had a computer, and if you did, it belonged to the whole family to share).
(*EDIT: I’ve just been informed that we had a little 80’s box computer before my time)
So although I was familiar with much of 80’s pop culture, I more surprised by the issues that were going on the 80’s. I knew AIDS was a major issue, but I hadn’t fully grasped how big it was as an epidemic and how it changed the way we handle drugs and clinical trials. I knew a little bit about the Reagan years, but I didn’t know how major the Contras fiasco was, how tense the Cold War years were, or how consumerism, greed, and debt skyrocketed. I was especially shocked to learn about Reagan’s presidential blunders and how he was criticized for saying things that at the time was viewed as being inappropriate for a president to say. Yet it didn’t matter, because voters loved him. (Remind you of anyone? Someone in the White House with a bad orange comb-over perhaps?)
As a Computer Science Major, I was especially interested in the episodes highlighting the emergence of Apple and IBM. The booming interest in computers and gaming from both technical geeks and the average Joe Shmoe drove the innovation of computer hardware/software. As an artist though, my favorite segment was about music videos. Music artists had to be creative in order to be successful, and it was during the 80’s and 90’s that music videos were a true art form. They were these masterpieces of visual art that mixed music with technology with fashion, and it all came out as this avant garde art piece that people talked about. It’s a shame that this tradition fell by the wayside. Many song artists still make music videos, but music videos are not nearly as celebrated as they once were. As a group, I would love to explore this theme of looking at 80’s or 80’s inspired art videos.
What do the 80’s mean today? Quite a bit. The 80’s are everywhere if you look around.