Saturday, March 23, 2013

Setting It Straight On The 80's:Just One Person's Opinion

                 For many years I've wracked my brain trying to understand how the 1980's,and somehow consequently myself along with it,has become one of the most controversial and often outright maligned decades in recent history. The use of the phrase "I love the 80's" in a laughably ironic tone goes far beyond the Vh1 set too. Basically it all boils down to a comment I saw made on a YouTube video to the effect that "the 1980's equals kitsch". For those reading not in the know kitsch is,in a nutshell,a single word adjective for anything of bad taste. On the other hand,as I've continued to scratch my head trying to figure out how the 80's was such an allegedly horrible time it's almost made me wonder if "bad taste" itself isn't a completely subjective term in and of itself.

          One part of the 80's that really helped me understand how to define generational differences...was actually a PBS documentary about another controversial decade called Making Sense Of The Sixties,which was completed in 1989. It was a brilliant presentation as it humanistically looked into each element that made that decade what it was and bought them all into focus through the lives of it's many participants and events. Due to my appreciation for this approach I am doing to take a similar approach,from my own point of view about the different elements of the 1980's as it affected the life of my family,friends and myself. And of course I'll add  to this brew what I later learned from people from my generation-the "80's generation" who experienced this time somewhat differently. So begins my little examination on this era.

          The first issue I want to set straight about the 1980's was the music. During adolescence I  heard the music of that era referred to mainly in corporate terminology. For example,it was often said to me by music lovers I talked to that a lot of artists didn't get their due because only megastar artists who were selling records in the millions such as Michael Jackson,Madonna,Prince,Bruce Springsteen,etc. In the case of Jackson and Springsteen however,both of them were continuing to deliver music with important messages that,especially with Ronald Reagan and his complete misunderstanding of "Born In The U.S.A" as a patriotic anthem,were either going unnoticed or not fully absorbed and trusted. As for the music itself? Synthesizers and electronics,a scientific toy by and large in the previous decade,were becoming more mainstream in pop music. However,this creative thread from the previous two decades was so deeply ingrained into pop culture to create a vital and artistic hybrid of those two ethics.

        The next issue about this decade is external fashion. One enormous factor this decade's detractors have used against it are the culture's seeming emphasis on money,power and general bigness. In fact those words often go hand and hand with any mention of the decade in pop culture today. During the early 90's I remember being rather violently bullied for simply wearing faded jeans and a neon colored T-shirt. A few school mates even used the would "heresy" to describe my manner of attire. One of the qualities I continue to admire about 80's fashion is it's outlook on the human body as one abstractly shaped canvas. Well all of the bright and colorful patterns,and the unique designs of both men and woman's outwear of the time it was,again a complete extension of the fashion statements of the post counterculture world. Today many still laugh at this type of fashion. Of course that also goes with a lack of appreciation of more abstract art in some quarters in recent years I would tend to gather. 

      Another major issue of the 80's,and perhaps the one where the divisions are seeded,comes with ones own personal upbringing. It's very true that most people idealize their childhood if it's lucky enough to be stable and carefree in general. But in this case,I'll start speaking for myself. During the 80's,I lived in what could be described as a suburban neighborhood.  There are good days and bad days,like any other time. But when there was a new song,a new dance or a new movie it seemed to make people want to do something unique,self expressive and make a difference. Problems,and I faced some big ones even then,were something that could be overcome'd with a better future. Sadly I later learned some people my own age,in other more urban parts of America,liked a completely opposite life-in communities torn apart by drug and violence related upheaval. Still however I can see,somewhere that there was at least the seeds of a better future even in that very decade.

       What could any of what I am saying really set straight about the 1980's? Well as one cultural critic ones said,the key to the change in culture was that the 90's were the 60's turned upside down. Even though that decade concluded with a balanced budget and general security,the popular culture completed rejected anything associated with the previous three decades-with enormous levels of insulting disrespect. I was not involved in this culture at all and feel I was one of the few,at least in my area,who saw it go down as it were as an outsider looking in. I feel it was discouragement on the part of the pop culture icons of the early 90's that set people back so far emotionally. There was a perception the baby boomer parents of most of the youth culture of the 90's had failed to create their perceived utopia. And their children,labeled Generation X,decayed into different forms of passive emotional suicide. Sadly,such as in the case of cultural icons of the day like Kurt Cobain,in physical suicide as well.

         Now we're living in a new century,a new millennium. When I look around me the honest truth I understand,with no bias and/or cynicism on my part clouding my views,is the majority of society-including the "millennial generation" following my own are still deeply entrenched in the same sarcastic pop culture and lack of hope that defined the 1990's. That ever important thread of hope,vision and the thrill of color and innovation that was a key to the 60's,70's and 80's has become by and large something to laugh at,or pity. I'd say if these four separate decades were contestants in some type of temporal Olympic games,the 90's would easily win the gold metal in terms of influence. Now true that decade wasn't in fact a total cultural wasteland. But my point is,neither was the 80's. And I think if more people started looking with clarity and objectivity at the best qualities of that era,they would need to indulge in so many silly arguments about what was so wrong with that era. And in doing so maybe,just maybe as Michael Jackson said we could make the world a better place by taking a look at ourselves,and making that change.

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