Why My ’80s Childhood Was Radical, Dudes!
“Be excellent to each other.”
“Party on, dudes!”
~from Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (1989)
Seriously, I felt the ’80s nostalgia pretty bad this week. It was the 25th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy. At the time, I was a precocious seven, and pretty annoyed that my cartoon shows were pre–empted for news coverage. I know better now, of course, and my heart is with those who lost loved ones on that terrible day.
On a happier note, I never get quite so nostalgic as I do thinking about the wonderful, awesome decade that was the 1980s. (Who gets all misty-eyed and says, “Man, I really miss the ’90s?) Nobody. The ’90s were the hangover to the party that was the excessive ’80s. Isn’t it hard to believe a decade synonymous with excess had the NES as its pinnacle of gaming awesomeness, the LeBaron as a cool convertible car, Yuban coffee for caffeine addicts on the go? Weird, huh?
I really knew I was a child of the ’80s when, on my dad’s retirement celebration, I was asked to give him a piece of advice. The first thing that leaped to mind was “Be excellent to each other.” Honestly. No Gandhi or Marcus Aurelius or Ronald Reagan…Bill and Ted. Bodacious!
Another shocker to my readers…I did not in fact grow up watching The A-Team as a child despite my fanaticism for it now. I do, however, distinctly remember eating Mr. T cereal at some point and being friends with a kid who had a B.A. Baracus action figure. I really pity the fool who didn’t. That notwithstanding, there’s a lot that makes me all mushy-gushy warm-fuzzy about the Decade of Reagan. In no particular order:
*The neighborhood pizza parlor (remember those? Even Pizza Hut, when it still had the eat-in locations?) with the totally awesome arcade and the ride-on horse for a penny. I used to save up coins or beg my parents just so I could indulge in some Asteroids or Ms. Pac-Man every Friday night. And the pizza was really good, too.
*Pop culture was at just the right levels of ubiquity. You could play Indiana Jones or Star Wars with your friends, but you had to use your imagination, too. There was no such thing as online shopping or super-deluxe replica lightsabers back then. Just a stick would do nicely for your pretend adventures in a galaxy far, far away.
*Kids’ cartoons were more than just talking heads or shameless toy commercials…at least some of them. (People forget that the Care Bears and Strawberry Shortcake, among others, were once properties of the American Greetings company.) I still try to catch reruns of Chip ‘N Dale Rescue Rangers whenever I can.
*There were less media outlets…and more civility. People always talk about how “back in their day,” things were more civil. While I can’t say that I know whether this is true, it just seems that way. Reality shows, the blogosphere, and webcams have allowed anyone and everyone to express their opinions to a live audience. I’m not advocating a return to the Big Three networks alone, but it would be nice to sit back and listen to the voices sometimes instead of just being bombarded from all sides.
*Fewer huge cookie-cutter subdivisions meant a greater sense of community, along with a stronger sense of identity. I fondly remember trick-or-treating when I was growing up, and although every one of those houses was different, just about all of them had a family I knew. I could also walk on the sidewalk or on the street without fear of getting run over or attacked by a dog. This wasn’t some idealized, Truman Show utopia. It was my hometown, and I’m willing to bet it’s changed beyond recognition in the 20-plus years since I left.
*The TV shows, because of greater competition, were just cooler. The A-Team. The Cosby Show. Dallas. The Wide World of Sports. Icons, not just filler. Think of how the level of talent goes down in professional sports leagues when more franchises are added. Who wants to watch half the garbage that passes for network programming today? Not me. Back then, it really was must-see TV.
*Speaking of sports: during the Olympics, you actually had somebody you rooted for, and somebody you rooted against. Because of the collapse of the Iron Curtain, this is no longer so. Can you imagine Rocky IV being made today, with Ivan Drago being…Chinese? Venezuelan? Iranian? Neither can I.
*Less of the nutty political correctness meant happier, better-adjusted people. My late grandfather told all sorts of un-PC jokes in my presence when I was little. Did this make me grow up to be an Archie Bunker-style bigot? No. The main difference was that my parents took it upon themselves to teach me what was acceptable and unacceptable to say or do…NOT the government or some well-meaning but clueless entity.
*On that same thread, it was OK for kids to express a little bit of healthy anger. I call this the Wile E. Coyote conundrum. Back in the day, when most of the cartoons were of the Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes “ultra-violent” variety, did we hear about as many school shootings, violent rampages, or random assaults? I’m sure they took place, but I doubt in the numbers that we tragically see today. Kids have aggression. Let them duke it out on the playground once in a while. It’s healthy and natural.
*There were a lot more heroes. Again, this might just be a generational phenomenon, but when I look at the comparisons, they’re just not there. Sarah Palin is no Lady Margaret Thatcher, and Barack Obama is no Ronald Reagan. I distinctly remember having heroes back them, whether in the world of politics, sports (Tony Gwynn, John Stockton), or television (Bob Barker, Harry Caray). They just don’t seem to make ’em like that anymore.
I could probably think of a thousand reasons why I really miss the ’80s. Is my life better, safer, more convenient now than it was back then? Probably. But I wouldn’t take a thousand iPads for one warm, happy memory of Pizza Hut collectible glasses, Asteroids, and Ronald Reagan in the White House. Those truly were the days…my salad days.
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