Happy Halloween, readers!
First off, let’s make something perfectly clear: I don’t know everything about everything. 2018 alone ought to prove just that, too, what with me having posted three of the most ineffective poems I’d ever posted on this blog with the last one being as recent as August 25. To be honest, they seemed good at the time I was writing them, but in my haste to provide this blog with the content that draws eyeballs to it, I neglected to discover for myself just how much I’d forced their messages into certain formats and how unthorough I was in fleshing out the points I’d intended to make about the following topics:
A) Political agendas being inserted into storytelling media
B) The oversensitivity of certain individuals and special interest groups to certain aspects of modern media over others
C) How media creators these days keep milking the past by reviving beloved franchises from a given era with a “modern” (i.e., jaded, immature, self-indulgent, tone-deaf, etc.) spirit as opposed to the kind of spirit that had made such licenses beloved in the first place
Hopefully, I will be able to revisit these topics in the future and approach them with a clearer mind, although I can’t promise anything. At any rate, though, I apologize for having posted such poorly executed pieces of prose in the first place and promise to be more thoughtful the next time I add a poem to this blog—especially considering that my poetry generally seems to receive a positive response from my readers. That said, however, I have a question for you all that’s at least somewhat relevant to the third topic I’d just listed above:
Were the 1980s really that bad?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that the ‘80s were necessarily a golden age of any kind. As far as I’m concerned, from a historical standpoint, the decade had its fair share of turmoil: Mount St. Helens erupting on March 20, 1980; the growing violence and civil discontent in the Middle East and the consequent rise of Islamism (including the Iran-Contra affair, otherwise known as Irangate); the continuation of the Cold War until 1989 or 1991, depending upon which historians one wants to believe; the Pan Am Flight 103 bombing of 1988; the Challenger explosion of 1986; the AIDS epidemic; homophobia; racism against black people (including the four-on-one act of police brutality that led to the 1980 Miami riots); the growing scientific and political awareness of global warming (at least to those who believe in it); the 1986 post office shooting in Edmond, Oklahoma; rampant drug addiction and abuse; the growth of the “adult film” industry; the rise of tabloid/“yellow” journalism; the whole “Satanic panic” surrounding Dungeons and Dragons; the video game crash of 1983…and those are just the events I can name at the top of my head.
Likewise, pop culture was quite the mixed bag in terms of quality. Take the music scene, for instance, where for every classic song like Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean” and Bon Jovi’s “Living On A Prayer,” we had the likes of Toni Basil’s “Mickey” or Corey Hart’s “Sunglasses At Night”—songs that simply haven’t aged all that well, according to some people’s tastes. Likewise, for every well-written and memorable sitcom such as Golden Girls, Night Court, Newhart, and Cheers, we’ve had such oftentimes kitsch-riddled punching bags as Small Wonder, Mama’s Family, She’s the Sheriff, and Joanie Loves Chachi. Finally, for every cinematic masterpiece like Back to the Future, The Breakfast Club, the original Karate Kid and RoboCop films, Heathers, and The Princess Bride, there was a silver screen atrocity like Jaws: The Revenge, The Being, Ishtar, The Garbage Pail Kids, Cocktail, and Bolero. I could go on with teledramas, video games, cartoons, and other forms of entertainment, but you get my point. I’m not even going into all the jabs the 80s have taken in terms of the clothing, hairstyles, and cars for which the decade has long been known, either…not that the decade is alone in having more than its fair share of crummy things in such categories, of course (Remember bowl cuts, tube tops, and oversized jeans, ‘90s kids?).
In short, anyone who wishes to bash the dickens out of the 1980s certainly has plenty of ammunition for such a campaign. Then again, if the music of the 80s was really nothing more than glorified noise pollution, why is it still so widely honored today to the point where many twenty-first-century bands and music artists make a point of performing covers of certain 80s tunes? If 80s cartoons were (at least largely) little more than glorified toy commercials, then why have so many 1980s cartoon franchises been revived for the twenty-first century thus far for both the big and small screens in one form or another—usually with results that fail to live up to people’s memory of the original product? If television and cinema really were as unwatchable as some critics have made them out to be, then why do so many 80s flicks and shows receive reboots, spinoffs, and belated sequels oh so many years later, and why are so many characters from these shows as well-remembered as they are? Well, if it were up to me to answer this question, I would suggest that the 1980s had something that I, at least, haven’t seen as much of in the 2010s as I would have otherwise liked:
A sense of imagination, wonder, and hope.
Let me put it to you this way: The 1980s were a decade in which the world embraced many technological advances and moved away from planned economies in favor of accepting laissez-faire capitalism, both of which promoted a great economic change around the globe. Many aspects of pop culture began to change as well during this time, whether coincidentally or because of these sociopolitical changes, thus resulting in a lot of the forms of entertainment that many people—specifically those of us who grew up during this time—still embrace today. It was time for the world to grow bolder, brighter, and start trying out new things and sharing new ideas with one another as we stepped away from what we once knew from previous decades. Henceforth, while disco died, other styles of music like new wave, glam metal, and progressive rock stepped into the musical limelight, and music acts showed their willingness to incorporate such “toys” as synthesizers and drum machines into their work to produce the sounds that gave the decade its melodic identity. Alternative comedy rose to stand side-by-side with the usual family-friendly affair to make the masses more socially and politically aware than we had been back in the 70s, 60s, and so forth. New action heroes rose to the forefront to join the comic book superheroes we’d long known and come to love on the small and big screens, engage in new adventures of their own, and encourage kids to buy their action figures so that they, too, can invent further quests for them to embark on. Science fiction, fantasy, and even horror films began utilizing more advanced practical effects during this decade (e.g., chromakey, animatronics, and thermal imagery) to tell stories that filmmakers were only beginning to present towards the end of the 1970s. Even fashion took on a new life of its own during the 80s as people traded in their corduroy for denim, their checks and pinstripes in for neon, and their sideburns and afros in for mullets and hairspray-enhanced spikes. All these changes and more, for better or for worse, reflected our willingness to adapt to a new way of life and an attitude to go along with it.
Pop culture especially stands out to me when I think about the 1980s, and being a writer myself, I can’t help but think back to all the cartoons that appeared on television back then, both the Saturday morning fare and the stuff that appeared on syndicated television. Honestly, the assortment was astounding back then, and while many of these shows clearly show their age through their animation and a good brunt of them were essentially created to sell one product or another to kids (specifically toys), I could nonetheless appreciate the diversity of cartoons I saw at the time. Observe this short list of the genres of animated programs, and you’ll see what I mean.
Cartoons aimed towards younger audiences (Care Bears, Glo Friends, Snorks, The Smurfs)
Adventure cartoons (DuckTales, The Mysterious Cities of Gold)
Music-based cartoons (Jem and the Holograms, Kidd Video, Alvin and the Chipmunks)
Teen-based “slice of life” cartoons (Galaxy High, Beverly Hills Teens)
Movie-based cartoons (RoboCop: The Animated Series, The Real Ghostbusters, Rambo: The Force of Freedom)
Cartoons specifically aimed towards girls (Rainbow Brite, Strawberry Shortcake)
Comedic cartoons (Inspector Gadget, Heathcliff & the Catillac Cats, Dennis the Menace)
Action cartoons about crimefighting (M.A.S.K., The Mr. T Show, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles)
Soldier-versus-soldier action cartoons (GI Joe: A Real American Hero, Centurions, Spiral Zone)
Science fiction action cartoons (Ulysses 31, Transformers, Bionic Six, Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors)
Fantasy action cartoons (Galtar and the Golden Lance, Thundarr the Barbarian, the Dungeons & Dragons animated series)
High-tech/fantasy hybrid action cartoons (He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, She-Ra: Princess of Power, ThunderCats)
“Wild West in Outer Space” action cartoons (Bravestarr, The Adventures of the Galaxy Rangers, Saber Rider and the Star Sheriffs)
To think, too, that I’m not even scratching the surface with the genres and titles I’ve listed here! Indeed, the variety alone is enough to prove how hard it can be for one to not be at least mildly nostalgic for the 1980s when one grew up with such a wide variety of cartoons within which to invest oneself. Granted, not all these cartoons hold up all that well today, what with the strict work schedules to which animation studios were held until 1996 or so, and with as large a pool of any type of media, there are surely some stinkers tucked within this subgenre of programming. The reputation that this era of animation gets for toy-peddling certainly doesn’t help, either, especially when it comes to those cartoons that have historically been cancelled simply because the toy lines that they represented failed to sell well (e.g., Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors). Even so, one would think that even if a cartoon was meant to sell toys, it’d at least be somewhat well-written with likable, relatable protagonists venturing forth on exciting adventures and oftentimes confronting despicable villains who, despite their malicious nature, are also identifiable in their own way. After all, if a cartoon is meant to sell something, the very least it could do is do its best to entice its audience in investing its money into that very thing.
Well, if nothing else, at least these cartoons made some sort of effort to give their young viewers some positive (albeit fictional) role models whose examples they could learn from. He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, for instance, gave us its titular protagonist: a brave and noble warrior who put both his might and his mind to the test when it came to foiling his monstrous nemeses’ schemes to conquer his homeworld of Eternia. In fact, due to the broadcast standards of 1983 to ’85, when He-Man aired, He-Man was forbidden to punch or kick his adversaries, lest they were robots, or even fell them with his trusty, nigh-indestructible Power Sword, the latter of which he used more as a means to transforming from the humble and presumably lazy and carefree Prince Adam into He-Man in the first place and back again. As such, there were more times than people realize in which he used his wits to outsmart his allegedly craftier arch enemy Skeletor, thus proving that he was much more than the meat-headed barbarian he appeared to be. On a similar note, He-Man’s twin sister She-Ra was also written in such a way to promote strong values in children, using cunning just as often (if not, in fact, more so) than her great strength and acrobatic skill to thwart the tyrannical Hordak and his Evil Horde. She was also known to possess various super powers that many consider to be of a passive, softer, “feminine” nature such as healing, empathic understanding, and mental communication with animals. Her story was also one of redemption, considering that in She-Ra: Princess of Power, she was kidnapped from her and Prince Adam’s parents to serve as Hordak’s foster daughter and a Force Captain in his Horde. That was, of course, until Adam as He-Man delivered unto her the Sword of Protection through which his mentor, the Sorceress, telepathically revealed to Adora her true origin, thus encouraging her to defect to lead the rebel forces of Etheria against her foster father. Having uncovered that, She-Ra was not only a solid role model for girls and young women who grew up during the era when she was arguably relevant the most, but also more than just the overhyped female clone of her brother that her detractors often call her out as being.
Of course, He-Man and She-Ra were only two 1980s cartoon icons who served as good role models for their viewers. I could go on with other action heroes such as Lion-O from ThunderCats, who grows up from adolescence into adulthood as the show takes its course to become the ideal leader for his fellow Thundera refugees within their new home of Third Earth, or the operatives of G.I. Joe, whose values of national pride and courage in the face of potential global disaster are still values that many Americans (and many First World people in general) still hold in their hearts today. Non-action cartoons had their fair share of well-remembered characters, too, such as the greedy and hot-tempered yet adventurous and family-centric millionaire Scrooge McDuck from DuckTales and the well-meaning yet nevertheless mischievous Dennis Mitchel from Dennis the Menace. Even many of the villains from these programs had understandable motives behind their evil schemes, which thus made the plots not only simple to follow, but also sensible within the context of each show and thus all the easier for kids to invest themselves in. Doctor Scarab from Bionic Six, for example, was on a power-mad quest to discover the secrets behind the superior knowledge in bionics as possessed by his brother Dr. Amadeus Sharp, PhD., who also happened to be the mentor of the Bionic Six’s patriarch, Jack “Bionic-1” Bennett. Murky Dismal from Rainbow Brite, meanwhile, desires to rid the world of all color—a life mission that stems from a childhood memory of his in which his mother scolded him for drawing upon and painting the walls of his home. Such are the kinds of characters that all good cartoons—heck, all good narrative television programs, period—should have as opposed to the deconstructed and thus morally unrecognizable heroes of old that many animated programs of the 21st century have been accused of having (e.g., Teen Titans Go!, ThunderCats Roar, the 2016 relaunch of Powerpuff Girls, and much of post-2004 movie SpongeBob SquarePants). Additionally, though many 1980s animated programs primarily ran on self-contained, single-episode stories, there have been shows that have more mindfully developed their overall plot so that certain story arcs expand over several episodes which in turn made the obstacles that the heroes sought to overcome just that more challenging, be said challenges the results of the villains’ actions or simple matters of circumstance. Transformers, G.I. Joe, and the first five episodes of Inhumanoids are three such examples of such a practice, which ultimately proved that the whole “villain/adventure of the week” formula wasn’t as all-encompassing a tactic as critics of 1980s animation would otherwise like to believe. The Dungeons & Dragons animated series took this premise a step further by giving the six young protagonists the goal of ultimately escaping the mysterious, magical realm they’d stumbled into and returning to their own reality. Finally, what about the lessons that popped up at the end of each episode of certain shows? Sure, the idea may seem a bit hokey and silly by today’s standards and even come off as though the programs in question were talking down to their young viewers by repeating whatever moral the story they’d just watched tried to illustrate. On the other hand, one must give the writers at least some credit for finding a way to prove to viewers and critics alike that their work was about more than just peddling merchandise to youngsters and flashing pretty pictures or acts of tamed, fictional violence before their eyes. Even G.I. Joe and C.O.P.S. provided their audiences with thirty-second-long PSAs after each of their respective episodes, and even if/when said tips didn’t exactly play into the moral of the episode in question, who’s to say that they didn’t play at least some small part in inspiring one young person or another to grow up and become a medic, firefighter, or any other kind of professional with the life mission of saving lives or protecting the common citizen? In such a case, this extra measure only further promotes the theme of the show in some respects and gives onlookers reason to see more value in it as opposed to just see it as a loud, obnoxious, glorified toy commercial.
In short, cartoons from the 1980s may not have been perfect by any stretch of the imagination, but they still had their merits. Yes, many of their stories had plot holes. Yes, many of their scripts had campy and cliché dialogue, among other writing hiccups. Yes, many of them were based off ideas at which contemporary sensibilities would scoff, and the animation of most of these shows clearly shows its age these days. Guess what, though: It’s not as if the 21st century animation scene has been flawless, either, especially with many cartoons from the past couple of decades relying on either stiff and stilted two-dimensional animation with low frame rates or poorly rendered and simply hideous CGI. There have also been cartoons that have suffered from simplistic artwork that fails to stand out from that of other programs, poor morality, blatantly disgusting or otherwise lowbrow jokes that end up appealing to nobody, and unabashedly random humor that usually appeals to short attention spans does little to nothing to move along the show’s plot. The need for more modern cartoons to follow certain trends, whether they’re established in pop culture or by said programs’ contemporaries, further shows just how the animation scene has yet to fully embrace what it can be, given that which we’ve seen before. Sure, the cartoons of the 1980s can be accused of chasing trends as well, as is true with any era of animation before or since, but one would think that at this point, we’d have learned to embrace the diversity within different forms of media and not immediately do something that someone/something else did just because it was popular. After all, who’s to say that a given trend will get old within barely any time at all while audiences move on to something else entirely?
Then again, there’s a reason why many animated programs from the 1980s still resonate with viewers today and why so many brands from that decade continue to resurface in one format or another, from My Little Pony and Jem and the Holograms to Transformers, G.I. Joe, ThunderCats, and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to even Strawberry Shortcake and Rainbow Brite. That reason is quite simple, too: The creators of these properties focused first and foremost on telling a solid story—no pandering to the lowest common denominator or any given social or political agenda…just good old fashioned plot and character development. Yes, there were guidelines that they had to follow when they pieced their narratives together for their viewers’ enjoyment, but they were nevertheless mindful and clever enough to do so within the confines of such guidelines and, as the result of that, ended up creating characters and franchises that many still remember fondly today. That’s why I can look back on many an 80s cartoon and see the potential for greatness that lied within it, regardless of how well it had aged or whether it was ultimately crafted with the intent of hawking merchandise. Granted, there were a few stinkers that managed to seep through the cracks, as has been true with any era, but to paint all animated shows of the era the same shade of fecal matter brown simply doesn’t seem right. That in mind, my advice to any fan of animation who doesn’t have that much of a soft spot for 1980s cartoons is to go back and watch a few episodes of these shows again and pay attention to the stories they tell. Who knows? They just might be better than you’d previously thought, even with whatever flaws they do have.
Another aspect of the 1980s that receives plenty of derision is the music—not always as raw a form of storytelling media as novels, television, or cinema, but still a reflective one when it comes to understanding the nature of any given time. This is especially true for 80s music in that the decade was one in which the masses celebrated the art’s evolution, most notably in Europe and the United States with the likes of MTV and VH1 rising to prominence and broadcasting music videos that featured the latest hits of the era’s hottest music acts and Solid Gold joining American Band Stand, Soul Train, Top of the Pops, et cetera to further showcase the music of the period for eight straight seasons. Now, to be fair, I grew up listening to plenty of 80s tunes and learned to appreciate most of those that I’d heard for one reason or another, so I’d be lying if I was to claim a complete lack of bias towards this specific time in music history. Then again, I’m not so attached to 80s music that I’ve brainwashed myself into thinking that every 80s song was a masterpiece and thus am in any need of some snarky, self-important know-it-all music blowhard to come along and tell me why a given song is poison for my ears or mind. If anything, I’m more likely to vomit upon listening to Robin Hilton of National Public Radio’s All Songs Considered snicker with condescension upon claiming that the 1980s “really were that bad” for pop music and go on to belittle the decade like any other self-gratifying music hipster than I am upon listening to Starship’s “We Built This City,” which many music critics have called the worst song of all time on account of its apparently mixed message concerning corporate-rock commercialism. Honestly, as far as I’m concerned, the otherwise talented performers who made up Starship at the time surely meant well in the effort they put into this song and the message they wanted to pass on through it, even if said effort fundamentally backfired on them after all was sung and done. Hilton, on the other hand, can completely fade away from public attention altogether, and I doubt that anyone outside of a handful of people would even bat an eye at his disappearance. On a similar note, I’m more likely to groan dismissively at ASC guest Carrie Brownstein of the Monitor Mix blog accuse Lita Ford and Ozzy Osbourne of “embarrassing themselves” during their duet in “Close My Eyes Forever” than I am at the very song she happened to trash during that very episode of the ASC podcast. Honestly, just because the 80s received the lowest votes for “favorite decade of music” among one internet program’s listener base doesn’t automatically and ultimately dictate the true quality and subsequent value of the era’s music, nor does the collective opinion of said broadcast’s hosts and guests. Sure, I know how cliché it is of me to counter such an argument with the whole “Music is subjective” mentality, but I seriously can’t help but wonder just how much music from the 1980s these people specifically have listened to prior to the ASC episode of which I speak. I mean, sure, one might miss or even dismiss the whole post-Vietnam anti-war message of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in the USA” on account of the song’s striking and seemingly patriotic instrumentals, and hearing the following lyrics from “De Do Do Do De Dad Da Da” by The Police…
And when their eloquence escapes me
Their logic ties me up and rapes me
…kind of makes me rear my head back in consternation a bit. I can similarly understand why people might find such tunes as Chicago’s “You’re the Inspiration” and Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry be Happy” to be insipid, despite both songs striking me as being little more than harmless background music, and prude though I might be, I don’t care much at all for the tones or themes of “Cherry Pie” by Warrant, “Seventeen” by Winger, or “Girl School” by Britny Fox. Nonetheless, I can listen beyond the bass-devoid bubblegum pop of Deniece Williams’s “Let’s Hear It for the Boy” and find a great moral within the song’s words about loving someone despite his or her flaws. I can also listen to Duran Duran’s “Wild Boys” and accept that it doesn’t share the same definition of “wild” as, say, “Wild Side” by Mötley Crüe (or any other heavy metal song ever recorded) while appreciating the energy and imagery it offers in lieu of that—even without the aid of the highly ambitious music video that Russell Mulcahy had directed for it prior to his days directing the 1986 cult classic film Highlander. I can even tune in to Queen’s “We Are the Champions” and think to myself, “Eh…maybe if [the late Freddie Mercury] sung ‘no time for losing’ instead of ‘no time for losers’” without taking the slightest bit of offense from such a minor lyrical mistake while later on checking out Corey Hart’s “Never Surrender” and think, “Yeah…I suppose this song could be a little more steadfast in its delivery,” yet still connect with its inspiring lyrics and the meaning behind them. I can’t say the same, on the other hand, for the likes of Baha Men’s “Who Let the Dogs Out,” Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” Katy Perry’s “Peacock,” LMFAO’s “Sexy and I Know It,” or Nicki Minaj’s “Stupid ***”…and no, it has nothing to do with the fact that those four songs are products of the 2000s or 2010s. Rather, it’s a simple matter of me not connecting with either the message or the music of any of these latter five songs or any such song like them. If anything, they all simply come off to me as being very loud, obnoxious, shallow, self-indulgent, and just plain oblivious—almost as if the artists created and performed them simply because they could rather than in the name of having something meaningful or worthwhile to say. The previously mentioned four songs from the 80s, on the other hand, all had a purpose and a message to them that rang true with me that worked well together on one level or another with the instrumentals that accompanied them, and it’s because of that that I never find myself bolting out of the room, shutting off my radio, or the like, should any of these songs be playing at any giving moment. I can say the same for plenty of songs as performed by more modern acts, too, such as Masterplan (“Spirit Never Die”), Charlie Puth (“One Call Away”), Michael Bublé (“Haven’t Met You Yet”), Delain (“Virtue and Vice”), Rachel Platton (“Fight Song”), Kelly Clarkson (“Dark Side”), and American Authors (“Best Day of My Life”). Heck, even Chubby Checker—a man best known for his 1960 hit, “The Twist”—came out with a surprisingly poignant single called “Knock Down the Walls” in 2008 that was not only fan-friendly, but also carried a message within it to which anyone could relate, which I could also say about his 2013 gospel song “Changes,” which he released on iTunes on February 25 of that year at the ripe old age of seventy-one. To put things simply, then, it’s not the era from which a song comes that makes it awesome for me, but rather what it communicates and how well it does in doing so.
Furthermore, let me ask again a question I’d asked at the beginning of this editorial: If the music of the 1980s was honestly as terrible as some music elitists say it was, why have many 21st century music acts made cover songs of popular 80s tunes? Is it really because they feel they can do better than the original performers had, or are their covers simply an act of paying homage to said artists and bands? Because whichever the case is, there have been some impressive covers of 80s songs in recent years, from what I’ve heard. Take, for example, “Heaven Is a Place on Earth.” Didn’t like the original as sung by former Go-Go’s lead singer Belinda Carlisle because it was too “poppy” for your tastes? No problem. Italian folk/power metal band Elvenking released a cover of it on their 2008 album Two Tragedy Poets (…and a Caravan of Weird Figures), as did EightyHate on their 2014 EP Step By Step. Looking for a more intense, “rocking” version of “Rock Me Amadeus” by the late Austrian pop singer Falco? German industrial metal band Megaherz more likely than not has what you’re listening for with their 1998 cover of the song, as does German power metal band Edguy on their 2014 album Space Police–Defenders of the Crown. Even Robert Tepper’s “No Easy Way Out” has received a couple of covers from the likes of Bullet for my Valentine and Gloomball, and people still debate with one another as to who covered Billy Idol’s “Rebel Yell” better between Dope, Drowning Pool, and Adrenaline Pool among several other bands. Heck, I’ll even give credit to American industrial rock band Orgy for their hard-hitting take on English rock band New Order’s 1988 dance hit “Blue Monday.” Now, to be fair, cover songs can be pretty hit or miss when it comes to capturing the very essence of the initial composition and adding just the right personal twist to it to bring out something new within the tune that it hadn’t previously demonstrated. Sadly, many is the cover song that flops in either of these two categories, thus proving the original song superior by and far in the long run—not unlike movie remakes in the 21st century, according to most cinema buffs these days. The specific covers I’d listed just now, however, not only manage to do their original counterparts justice on both fronts, but according to some individuals, they even surpass them. Truth be told, saying such a thing might sound like a putdown of the original tune. On the other hand, one can also take such a statement as a compliment to the initial song in that even if its maiden performance proves to be more hype than anything else, a strong cover can present it in such a way that proves its ultimate value in the end, usually by bringing out another side to the tune that it hadn’t expressed in the first place. In other words, if you’ve ever listened to the original versions of any of the songs I’ve listed in the paragraph and didn’t quite like them for whatever reason, yet listened to any of their covers and found yourself enjoying them, then that definitively proves that the earlier version still has value in that it served as the inspiration for its own cover and, through said cover, gets to live up to the potential it always had, regardless of whether it lived up to it or not at the time.
All this in mind, if the music of the 1980s was truly as awful as the Robin Hiltons, Carrie Brownsteins, and various other music snobs of the world claim it was, then why do so many people around the globe still cherish these songs today? I only ask because from where I’m sitting, it was just like any other ten-year stretch of time as far as the music scene was concerned with its fair share of misfires, hits that have only grown to show their flaws over the years, and numerous classics that have managed to be every bit as good nowadays as they did when they first hit the airwaves. Note, too, that I haven’t even begun to discuss how the music business in the 80s influenced the contemporary music scene in general in more ways than some people remember, including the advent of music videos and how they provided viewers visuals to accompany the songs they featured, thus making the latter even more memorable in the long run than they would’ve been by themselves. Not only that, but I could go on for a good couple paragraphs more discussing the stars who’d staked their claim during this era, whether they were breakthrough artists or bands who were just starting to make a name for themselves (e.g., Madonna, Whitney Houston, Cyndi Lauper, and Bon Jovi) or long-standing acts who were continuing the success they’d garnered in decades prior (e.g., Styx, Fleetwood Mac, Diana Ross, and Michael Jackson). Indeed, the 80s had a huge effect—nay…impact—upon the music world that still rings true nowadays in the 2010s, and anyone who dares to cry out that the decade was the “beginning of the end” is, at least according to me, in serious need of a timeout. Sure, they’re allowed to think what they want, and having preferences is a natural way of life. It’s the way in which these individuals express their opinion, though, that makes them sound juvenile and self-entitled in the end, and truth be told, we have more than enough of such behavior in this world today, both on and outside of the Internet.
Last of all, the 1980s was quite a time for the cinema with a broad span of genres staking their claim in theaters worldwide from action and horror to sci-fi and fantasy to even romance and adventure. Many were the original properties that came to be during this time to catch audiences’ attention that people still remember fondly today to the point where a good portion of them have received remakes in the 21st century. Many was there a film remake in the 80s, too (e.g., Scarface 1983, The Fly 1986, and John Carpenter’s The Thing) that took a film that had originally hit the big screen decades prior, retooled it to focus on an aspect of the flick that it hadn’t fully expressed in its initial form, and retold the story in a different light, much to the enjoyment of cinema attendees at the time. Even certain 80s flicks that did poorly in the theaters (e.g., Big Trouble in Little China) and/or received mixed reviews at best (e.g., Highlander) managed to win over enough fans to become cult classics, thanks to specific scenes, characters, quotes, and so forth. This was also the time where the industry placed brand recognition upon the actors and actresses who partook in the films that made them prosperous rather than upon the films themselves, thus turning many of said players into A-list celebrities and among the most well-remembered public figures of the late 20th century. Sure, not everything proved to be sunshine and rainbows in the world of cinema, as many a movie had surfaced during this period that the masses have blissfully forgotten for various reasons until certain “Digital Age” movie buffs brought it upon themselves to bring them back to the public’s attention decades later. Even so, there was a sense of excitement and even wonder back then concerning the movie world, more likely than not resulting from the industry’s focus at this time on original properties as opposed to the previously established licenses and other easy, blatant cash grabs (e.g., sequels and spinoffs) that the business all too often leans upon today. Films were also simple and straightforward, even at their most complex, and channeled more of their energy into sensible and fun storytelling than into the things that annoy today’s movie goers like blatant trend-following, obtrusive storyline swerves with no buildup, and political messaging. That’s not to say that the 21st century movie scene is utter garbage, of course, as there have been quite a few box office successes in recent years. Rather, it’s that many of these great films—most of which industry insiders refer to as “surprise” or “sleeper” hits—all too often don’t receive the attention they deserve in the wake of film studios continuously aiming for the almighty dollar with the same tired characters over and over in hopes of securing a safe bet with modern audiences. Little have today’s movie executives learned yet, however, that it takes more than recognizable set pieces to make a good film—particularly when industry suits deliberately steer present films in a direction in hopes of support their pocketbooks rather than their directors’ artistic visions.
I especially miss the action films of the 1980s. Sure, some people nowadays might turn their noses up at them and dismiss the brunt of them as being dumb, loud, obnoxious, cheesy, and ripe with the kind of machismo that only a stereotypical, testosterone-driven male would love, but let’s face it: There’s just something that speaks to the human soul to see an individual—man or woman—triumph in the face of seemingly unconquerable odds and save the day, oftentimes in the name of a greater cause. Such was the fundamental theme that served as the foundation of many a beloved 80s film, be it a science fiction tour de force like Predator or Terminator or something linked more to a semi-realistic setting such as Rambo or Die Hard or even something of a more fantastic persuasion such as Highlander or Conan the Barbarian. Even sports/martial arts drama films such as Rocky III (itself the third installment of the time-honored Rocky film series) and the original Karate Kid provided audiences with protagonists who literally fought to prove themselves to be the best contenders in a given sports league or tournament whose struggles teach the importance of perseverance, hard work, and determination through the use of compelling dialogue, hard-hitting fight scenes, and plot progression that encourages viewers to empathize with the heroes and root for their success. Furthermore were the protagonists of these movies themselves, many of whom still live on in the memories of movie watchers today because of the courage and steadfastness that they expressed throughout the course of the stories within which they took part. Honestly, who can forget the likes of Indiana Jones and the many treacherous traps and adversaries (Nazi and non-Nazi alike) he’s had to overcome or the various occult or otherwise mystical treasures he’s reclaimed on his perilous, globe-spanning expeditions? What about “Mad” Max Rockatansky, the hardened Main Force Patrol officer from dystopic Victoria, Australia, who ends up losing his career, partner, family, and worldly possessions in a series of nasty and violent events that transform him into a drifting loner who helps out whichever small pockets of civilization he comes across along his near-aimless journey in an effort to prevent himself from fully falling into utter savagery? How about plainclothes police officer Axel Foley of the Beverly Hills Cop franchise, who won fans over with his smart mouth and reckless, rule-breaking method of crimefighting, both of which helped to set him apart from the commonplace stoic, squarer-jawed, powerfully built soldiers and warriors for which critics typically know the 80s for hosting? If nobody else, at least he reminds us all that 1980s action heroes weren’t always about overpowering their antagonists with superpowers, fisticuffs, or the biggest gun and that it oftentimes requires brainpower and attitude to help see one through a harrowing situation and put evil in its place. Such is the kind of variety that I miss when it comes to action movies, and I hope that we can return to having such a mix of action heroes in film one day without having to rely chiefly on those from movies past or from comic books or other licensed products. After all, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson can’t be the only actor in Hollywood who can portray a convincing heroic lead in an action film…right?
There were also plenty of films from the 1980s that I’ve enjoyed that were made with kids or families in mind, many of which I still enjoy to this very day. Whether these films were live action or animated made no difference, nor did the genre they happened to belong to, be that genre adventure, sci-fi, comedy, any combination of the three, or something else altogether. All that really mattered to me was whether they told a good story, and in many cases, they did. The NeverEnding Story, for example, was a sadly underperforming cult classic that taught me the importance of always having hope during the darkest of times, just as ten-year-old Bastian Balthazar Bux and his Fantasian counterpart Atreyu learned to do during their respective adventures that eventually intertwined with one another and led to the preservation of Fantasia in the face of the mundane world’s apathy and cynicism. This movie also taught me to never let go of my imagination, for should I make the most of it in the wake of whatever circumstances may come my way, I can overcome obstacles and open up a whole new world for myself filled with numerous opportunities to further grow and develop, which…let’s face it…is an important lesson for any novelist to have. Jim Henson and George Lucas’s 1986 joint venture Labyrinth, another movie that was woefully unsuccessful at the box office, teaches the same moral to some degree, but adds in the importance of one’s imagination even as one grows up, as per the case of fifteen-year-old protagonist Sarah Williams, and the importance of family and friends in the wake of uncertainty (i.e., Sarah’s infant half-brother Toby and newfound friends Hoggle, Sir Didymus and his steed Ambrosius, and Ludo). However, if I could name any “kids’ movie” of the 80s that captures the decade’s heart and spirit better than any other, my choice would be The Goonies. This gem from Amblin Entertainment circa 1985 tells the tale of Michael “Mikey” Walsh, a young boy whose family faces foreclosure on their home in the Goon Docks area of Astoria, Oregon and—upon coming across a doubloon from 1632 and an old treasure map in his family’s attic—sets off with his three oddball friends on an adventure to reclaim the treasure of “the original Goonie,” the famed pirate “One-Eyed” Willy with his older brother Brandon and his two female classmates, Andy and Stef, soon joining them. What ensues afterwards is a rollicking adventure as the kids face off against a family of local mobsters in their efforts to gather just enough of Willy’s fortune to pay off the neighborhood’s collective mortgage and save the residents’ homes, during which every member of the four Goonies gets a chance to shine, from Clarke “Mouth” Devereaux’s fluency in Spanish (which he uses to translate One-Eyed Willy’s map) to Richard “Data” Wang’s inventions. Even the klutzy Lawrence “Chunk” Cohen gets his moment when he and Sloth—the mentally handicapped and sympathetic deformed son of Ma/Mama Fratelli—intervene at the very end to rescue the others from Ma and her sons Jake and Francis. It was a frank, honest, uncomplicated escapade that had just the right amount of action in it to keep us viewers on the edge of our seats as well as compelling characters with whom we could identify.
The Goonies likewise had a hearty dash of comedy in it to make us chuckle, which was especially welcome not only because of how well it meshed with the movie’s other elements, but also because comedies on the big screen weren’t quite as plentiful as films from other genres during the 80s. Moreover, in an interesting twist of fate, the humor itself wasn’t always as clean as one would think it would be, given the picture’s PG rating and the age of its protagonists. I specifically remember the scene where Chunk accidentally knocks over a nude male statuette belonging to Mikey and Brandon’s mother, breaking off its lower extremities as a result and forcing Mikey to try to put the figurine back together, only to put the severed privates back on upside down, which in turn coaxes Brandon to make a wisecrack about the figurine “****ing” in people’s faces. Dirty and immature? Yes! Even so, the joke was organic enough to not drive us away from the movie. On a similarly note, neither did the deliberately mistranslated instructions that Mouth relayed to housekeeper Rosalita on Mrs. Walsh’s behalf that described the Walsh family’s allegedly unscrupulous activities, including drug addiction and torture. Luckily, the film doesn’t go overboard with the tackiness, and a lot of the laughs come more from the kids’ reactions to the bizarre occurrences that happen to them throughout the course of their wild adventure, whether those occurrences be their survival of a particularly nasty pitfall, the discovery of something decidedly macabre (i.e., a decayed human corpse), or Chunk first meeting Sloth during his imprisonment by the Fratellis. It was a natural style of comedy that fit in seamlessly with the young heroes’ adventure rather than try to overtake it and served as a form of levity to (and therefore break from) the suspense and drama that made up the film’s main goings-on. This was exactly how the humor worked in the original Ghostbusters movie from 1984, which continues to play into that picture’s timelessness even today and, in some ways, could explain why many comedic theatrical releases over the years have fallen as hard as they have. Too often have I noticed in 21st century films the apparent need for the comedy to dominate the story and get in the way of what could easily pass as heart-pounding action or suspense or, worse yet, a particularly poignant moment just for a cheap laugh from the audience. I can understand, for example, why many a Ninja Turtle fan would get irked from listening to Raphael’s speech from the 2014 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film during the scene where he, the rest of the turtles, and April O’Neil were falling from the remains of that collapsing skyscraper. Sure, the speech was heartfelt and showed just how capable of emotion Raph was as he proclaimed his love for his three brothers in face of what seemed to be certain death for them all, but that record skip at the very end ruined it all by taking away all that tear-jerking sentimentality and making Raph’s words seem like little more than a sappy joke. It didn’t help, either, that the beam upon which the gang was all riding down towards the ground came to an immediate stop in its descent right then and there and hit the ground with a thud, leaving everyone intact and safe upon impact. Then again, it equally annoys me—if not, in fact, irritates me even more so—when the humor involved in a film is little more than nonstop schlock like in the Netflix exclusive from 2018 Game Over, Man! and essentially goes out of its way to be tasteless and “edgy” to please its viewers. I’m sorry, but I’ve never found deliberately R- or X-rated humor to be “mature” in any way or even for “mature” audiences. If anything, I’ve always rolled my eyes and shook my head at just how immature and disgusting it all is, what with all its blatant and unrestrained volume, profanity, nudity, substance abuse, toilet and sexual humor, and utterly thoughtless obnoxiousness. Sure, Troma Entertainment has produced plenty of films back in the 1980s that involve such elements that have gone on to become classics among certain movie buffs, and even today, it prides itself on including as much of such material as it can in its pictures. Guess what, though: I’m not a fan of any of those movies or any movie made by any other film company that includes such content, regardless of the era from which said picture came. That said, as crude as The Goonies can be at times, at least it has enough heart and brains to know when and how to be funny in other ways and not use its crudeness as a crutch. In short, give me The Goonies over The Toxic Avenger any day of the week…or, for that matter, any movies with similarly crass humor such as Game Over, Man!, Kick Ass 2, Rough Night, and Tammy.
All in all, were the 1980s perfect? No. There was plenty of crap going on at the time that people who are nostalgic about the era all too readily forget. Then again, they weren’t so bad that they deserve every ounce of ridicule their naysayers shower upon them, as there was still plenty of good about the era that makes it a memorable one for plenty of people for just as many right reasons as wrong and, quite possibly, even more so. Yes, things got tough plenty of times back then, but at least there were enough good things going on in pop culture that folks could turn to as a means of escaping the real world for but a moment and, in the process, witness a good story in the process that would come to last for decades afterwards and could very well last decades more, should the memory of such media remain intact. Not only that, but fewer 80s films, shows, songs, and so forth wreaked of “80s cheese” than detractors remember, and as such, these specific media have aged more gracefully than their critics give them credit for. Granted, these are the opinions of someone who grew up during such a polarizing decade and was blessed enough to experience it during a time in his life when he could gaze upon the world around him in awe and wonder. Nonetheless, I’ve become a pretty hardened—almost jaded—adult these days whose learned time and again just what kind of crap this world can be full of, whether it’s the trash I’ve taken from the rude, selfish, oblivious, and even infantile creeps whom I’ve had the displeasure of meeting firsthand or the rubbish I hear and read about and from equally scummy jacks and jills who’ve caused trouble elsewhere around the globe. It’s thus hard for me just as much as it is for a lot of other people to appreciate the good in things today when I find myself listening to and seeing so much negativity rearing its ugly head here and there, from Mother Nature’s wrath and large-scale acts of humanity-crafted death and destruction to the human race dividing itself along various politically charged lines in the sand to people simply being petty, shallow, childish scumbags in general. Honestly, all the natural disasters, mass shootings, acts of terrorism, et cetera that have happened during this century so far have been bad enough with which to deal. Add to them, however, all the angry, bitter individuals whose messages have made waves over the past couple of decades, and if I didn’t know any better, I’d say that the 2010s in particular have so far been the biggest powder keg of a time period America (and perhaps even the rest of the world) has ever known, even with technology bringing humanity so much closer together than ever before…perhaps a little too close, dare I say. I’m not even talking the ideological feud between liberals and conservatives, either. Just name any debate between two or more opposing groups—Christians versus atheists, for instance, or even Baby Boomers versus anti-Boomer, anti-“Millennial” Gen-Xers versus Generation Y—and you’ve got a scene simply oozing with venom between the bickering parties. One view of such a scene, whether it be on the Internet or out in the world, and surely, you’ll surely understand why people continuously pine for the “good ol’ days” when things were simpler…or at least seemed so.
Such is exactly why I’m as adamant as I am about there being great pop culture in society, no matter the year within which we might be living or the drama that takes place within it. This world can be a nasty place within which to live, after all, and while high-quality entertainment can never be enough by itself to change that, media can at the very least—as I’ve mentioned earlier in this article—offer people something they can lend an eye or ear to upon stepping away from the chaos of the real world for a bit and learn to appreciate, should the entertainment in question present itself within the proper context. Furthermore, there have been times in which television, motion picture, music, novels and other books, and even video games have encouraged their audiences to think as well as feel by showing us the state of things as they could be, should humanity as a collective whole or as select individuals either travel down the wrong moral path or take the correct steps towards a given goal. Let’s not forget, either, that good media not only reflects the times within which its creators have made it, as all media does, but also that it can show and tell stories so compelling, memorable, and rich in quality that they transcend time and last for generations after their creation. Such is why I have as much respect for 80s pop culture as I do, for even at its worst, it was a necessary evil that dared to experiment and step away from the tired old styles, tropes, and formulas that media from previous decades had relied upon to carry out its objective. Outside of that, I can regard 80s pop culture and find myself enjoying it to some extent on many an occasion, even when it comes to those programs and films I’d never chanced to watch back in the day or those songs I’d never heard when they’d first hit the airwaves. It’s that “it” factor that catches my attention and encourages me to keep watching and/or listening, and by “it,” I usually mean at least one of several things: simplicity, straightforwardness, an undeniable sense of fun, or just plain good writing with plenty of tender loving care and attention to detail in how each character plays out and evolves over the course of the film, show, or even song as it progresses. Many are the people out there who go on to prove the staying power of these media brands, too, with the likes of MacGyver and Magnum PI getting relaunches in the 2010s while motion pictures like Lethal Weapon and Heathers have gotten television adaptations around the same time. Plenty of cartoons, too, have either gotten revivals of their own or have been scheduled/rumored to receive relaunches either on television or in movie theaters, from He-Man, She-Ra, My Little Pony, and ThunderCats to G.I. Joe, Transformers, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even Jem and the Holograms. I’ve also mentioned how Hollywood has remade so many 80s pictures with varying degrees of success, and while film buffs may take umbrage with the whole notion, the Hollywood machine will no doubt continue to pump out such works, actual quality be damned. Sadly, this is the double-edged sword that comes into play when it comes to these properties, as their revivals may have the name of the original product they’re trying to emulate, but only a handful of them have that “it” factor that made the original so beloved in the first place. Often enough, the people behind the revival take their projects so far away from the beloved source material off which they’ve based their projects and turn out something that fans of the initial franchise can only barely recognize and hence have a hard time appreciating, albeit understandably so. Whether it’s incorporating themes into the story that clash with those of the original, presenting a side of the tale from an already present direction that falls flat and makes the storytelling come across as awkward, or—worst of all—completely abandoning that which made the original narration so captivating in the first place, these new iterations more often than not flop, flounder, and fail to live up to the story that fans had come to know and love from years prior. This thus begs the question of why the party responsible bothered to reboot the original property in the first place. To play off fans’ nostalgia and make a quick buck, perhaps? To outright spit in the face of the brand and those who’d created it? To attempt to honor the licenses that many have come to grow up knowing, only to have their blind insight and gauche approach to the source material lead them into forging the exact opposite of what they sought to make in the first place?
Personally, I’m not pining for the return of any 80s franchise any time soon, regardless of whether I loved or loathed it in its original form. If anything, I’d much rather media creators give consumers brand new characters, stories, and licenses within which the latter party can invest and call their own the same way kids of the 1980s like me did with the material we grew up on. My reason for saying this is simple: We as a people can only tell so many stories with the same time-honored characters over the years before the properties to which said characters belong grow old, tired, and stale and we hence lose interest in them. It’s thus only natural to build upon our social mythology by introducing new franchises onto the scene to introduce to us all new and fresh thoughts and ideas with new and fresh characters with whom to identify and as such add to our cultural identity. The plots that these characters find themselves in can be fresh, too, whether they be based upon familiar ideas that the creators breathe new life into with unique twists and reconstitution or (though admittedly less probable) wholly original ideas that have yet to be explored. If anything of a 1980s feel needs to be thrown into the mix, let it be the heart and spirit that the decade had in their media—that energy and optimism that shows that not only are the creators eager and willing to try something new to freshen up the entertainment world, but also willing to have fun doing so in the process. I’m sure I’ve already said this plenty of times on my blog, but for the record, I’m so sincerely sick and tired of the same drab, miserable, “edgy” approach to things these days, especially where comedy and drama are concerned. Blatant profanity and sexual references, bodily/gross-out humor aplenty, tone-defying stupidity over tension-easing levity, overabundant tonal darkness that tries far too hard to be what it is, many a mean-spirited jab between characters, and little to nothing to balance it all out—I’ve seen and heard so much of this garbage in twenty-first-century entertainment that it’s far from shocking anymore. Truth be told, it all annoys me more than anything else because while there are forms of media out there today that have the kind of heart and spirit I’ve long needed to see, it still seems as though the products that contain this element never receive the attention or respect they deserve and must always have the spotlight cast away from them while all the crass, vulgar, soulless, and braindead material gets all the love and praise from the masses. It’s a real shame, especially considering that even programs like Roseanne and The Simpsons—two sitcoms from the 1980s that were known (and respected) for having a lot more bite than most of their contemporaries—had more intellectual and emotional spark about them than many of the popular sitcoms that have played throughout the past nineteen or so years. Sure, televised storytelling has evolved over the years in that more programs, especially dramas, are willing to showcase story arcs that span several episodes as opposed to just one, thus involving more plot and character development over time and in turn encouraging more viewers to invest time into them. Even so, without there being any heart or soul within these tales, what point would there be for anyone to dedicate their time to keeping up with such work at all? Wouldn’t it thus make more sense to have both—you know, the one element to bring them in and the other to keep them around? That’s how I’d do it, leastways.
Long story short, though, people, it’s my personal belief that no, the 1980s weren’t as bad as a lot of people make them out to be. Sure, the era had its fair share of problems, as all decades do, but as far as pop culture is concerned, there was and still is plenty of merit for one to witness. If nothing else, 80s media has played its part in the evolution of media as we know it, and we all can look back upon the movies, music, television shows, and so forth of the time and see for ourselves what went right and wrong with them and where we can go from there in the present. I surely look forward, too, to the day when the entertainment world attains the creative energy that once flowed through it like wildfire during this period and with it churns out stories that will surely last a lifetime for those blessed enough to see and hear them for themselves. When that will be, however, I can only guess, for while I don’t think today’s media is quite as bad as it could be, it’s obvious from my perspective that the trash more often than not gets in the way of us enjoying the treasure, and twenty-first-century media as a whole could definitely—at least in my opinion—use that certain special something that will make the masses want to reexperience it all over again thirty to forty years from now the same way many people today enjoy reexperiencing 1980s entertainment. There’s no better time, either, than right now for us all to see to it that such a shift happens. After all, we only have 2019 left, for as far as the 2010s are concerned, and the sooner we all do our part to find and support media that has both earnest effort put into it and the kind of skillful execution we expect from it, the sooner those within the entertainment industry will take notice and do all they can to shift the nature of the business in a direction that will benefit us all in the long run. From there, then, there’ll be a stronger sense of hope for the 2020s to be one of the best eras of not only pop culture, but culture, period, for as small a sphere as media is in reflecting who we are as a people, it has the power to influence nevertheless and steer humanity in a direction that forges it for better, should we all take the right steps to make it happen.
To all who’ve graciously read this editorial and understood its message, thank you so much for your time. I’d been meaning to put this one out much sooner than I had, truth be told, but I’d found out while writing it that I had more to say than I’d initially realized. In fact, I haven’t even gone into everything I’d wanted to talk about, but honestly, I think I’ve made my point clear. At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this article all the same and that the next one won’t take me quite as long to publish here on my blog. That, and thank you for the five hundred subscriptions I’ve recently received. I really appreciate the support, everyone.
Speaking of support, though, feel free to drop me a “like,” leave me a comment below to tell me what you enjoyed about this read, let me know what else you’d like to read about here on my website, subscribe if you haven’t already, and visit my author pages at Smashwords.com, Amazon.com, and Amazon.co.uk to check out my current list of books. Aside from that, don’t hesitate to come on back for more editorials and poetry in the future, and until then, happy reading!
Dustin M. Weber
The visuals used within this article belong to the following sources:
20 Style Mistakes We All Made in the 90s by Sam Escobar (GoodHousekeeping.com)
Jayce and the Wheeled Warriors Theme (Extended Mix) by 910dohead (YouTube)
G.I. Joe Reggae by NoodlesHahn (YouTube)
Ark Music Factory
Biography.com & Boston Herald
All opinions expressed within the above article, however, are solely those of the author himself.