Since its inception virtually all of Retrobacktive’s feature posts have focused on some tangible relic indelibly interwoven into the fabric of Generation X. Movies, albums, celebrities, even fruit juice have shined front and center as the perdurable stars of the show. Suspiciously there has been little attention to those esoteric components of the decade. The soul of the 80s, if you will.
It’s not a coincidence. Retrobacktive was cultivated in the catacombs of classic journalism where the word “I” is shunned and only hints of advocacy are allowed to permeate the context of the story. It’s a terse, matter-of-fact style; some might even call it boring.
But then there’s that voice. The inner firebrand, hand at the holster, ready to say, “you know what, this is how it really is, and you’d better believe it.” Might not fly on the front page of the New York Times, but this ain’t the Times. Are you here for the Times? You made a wrong turn on the Internet.
So here’s a thought: what’s changed since 1989? A lot, undoubtedly; we’ve covered this. But is it better or worse? Modern conveniences hold a powerful sway over society, but there’s a virulence to nostalgia with a way of luring people from their Apple-Ikea bliss. The past, after all, lives in a vacuum where only the good survives. Oh, there’s more than enough room for an “Everything Awful About the 80s” article. But for now let’s focus on the good old times, and what truly made yesteryear so bitchin.’
— Things That Were Awesome in the 80s —
1.) Phone calls
So first off, this list is only going to make sense to people who have souls. The modern world has morphed us into timid, ineffectual communication wimps. And most people are content to ideally stand by and accept Facebook as their artificial intelligence life planner. Here’s an idea: take a virtual trip back through time, pick up the phone and call someone. Thanks to all the passive forms of communication that exist today, no one has to actually own any social responsibility anymore. There was a time when that kind of flakiness was restricted to L.A. But now thanks to Facebook, email, and instant messaging, people have all the time in the world to come up with lame excuses as to why they can’t interact with you – or more commonly they can just leave any personal engagement into the infinite void of cyberspace. At least in the 80s if you were an asshole you had to be smart enough to come up with a quick lie over the phone. The world has always been full of assholes; okay, but can we at least have smart assholes?
2.) R-rated Movies
Movies come up a lot in Retrobacktive. It’s because they used to be good. Sure, there are some good movies today, those gems that poke their way out of the woodwork come Oscar season. Good movies were perennial in the 80s. Today you have to filter through the endless deluge of vapid Hollywood slop that pours off the summer movie conveyor belt. And it’s all rated PG-13. When the dollar usurped humanity as the universe’s most precious commodity (somewhere around 1999) the film industry jumped on board and said “let’s make every movie as palatable to the most amount of people as possible.” And the de rigeur MPAA rating for this new world order was PG-13. Excites kids; doesn’t offend parents. Everyone is happy… except discerning adults who would like to see Bruce Willis call someone a “motherfucker,” blow that character’s head off and actually see blood come out if it. At least we still have Quentin Tarantino.
No. Before you get excited, I’m not going to suggest music was “better” in the 1980s. Such a debate is an exercise in futility on par with arguing which fruit is the best fruit in the world. What was better, though, was how you got your music 20-plus years ago. Imagine going to a centralized location where all your friends are hanging out. You get to physically stand at the precipice of all your favorite artists’ cutting edge releases. Eyes and ears are intertwined as you scan the infinite aisles of invigorating artwork and listen to new and exciting tunes blasting over the PA while you shop.
That’s going to a record store, not slouching over your Mac while fishing through frustration over the digital pawnshop that is iTunes. Allow me to break my fourth wall to drive home a harrowing truth: until three months ago, I had not bought an album of music in seven years. Seven. Years.*
Call me antiquated but I never want to have to resort to tech savvy to listen to AC/DC. Music is elementally beautiful. Why must it’s delivery be so convoluted? I don’t like giving people money for anything I can’t hold in my hand and walk out the door with. Otherwise it leaves entirely too much trust in the hands of corporations and brands that have proven to be positively untrustworthy. But we’re modern people; we’re lazy and cheap, so Apple can perpetually spoon feed us shitty Taylor Swift songs then take them away every time they decide to update their software.
4.) Star Wars
Poster art by Tom Jung, 20th Century Fox
Arguably the greatest movie trilogy ever. A bottomless well of childhood memories steeped in the immortal archetype of good versus evil. Here George Lucas architects the engine of imaginations for generations to come.
Then those stupid prequels came out. It would be bad enough to have to merely live with the memory of Jar Jar Binks and Hayden Christensen’s emo-Anakin Skywalker, but that Lucas went and re-cut the original films to fit the narrative of the prequels sullies the whole series. This is the ultimate example of the danger in changing something for change’s sake. We get it, George; you’re a tinkerer. But even the strongest diamond can turn to dust if you chip away too long.
For the record, craft beer is great! And it’s been great for awhile; the past 10 years have brought some outstanding brews to the flavor-starved lips of beer aficionados around the world. But the crest in this wave is about to break. Look, there’s always going to be room for experimentation and those outliers who push the envelope and aim for something higher. But not everyone has to buy into it.
The biggest beer breakthrough in the 80s was Bud Light. They took flavorless beer and made it more flavorless and less caloric. But it was still pretty much beer. The common thread that bonded beer in the Eighties was it tasted like beer. No one walked into a bar and asked for something “hop-forward,” unless they wanted a pogo stick thrown at them. No citrusy, piney notes, or orange garnishes, or glasses that looked like they were blown by a bunch of epileptics on PCP. And it was filtered. All of it!
Hippie Beer Rep: “We’re independent! We don’t filter our beer; we keep it pure! Whoo, go Kombucha ale!”
Me: “Dude, if I want sand at the bottom of my beer, I’ll drink it at the beach. Stop being cheap; buy a filter.”
Not sure how anyone else feels, but is all the craft beer starting to taste the same? It’s not the breweries. It’s our taste buds’ ability to adapt. You can only guzzle so much of something before it loses it’s inherent integrity. At least 25 years ago it was easy and inexpensive. Hey, sometimes beer-flavored beer is just beer-flavored beer. Good enough.
*It was Mozart’s Requiem Mass in D Minor by the London Symphoney Orchestra. Still not sure it was worth it.