I Know This Much Is True

1975.  That’s the year I was born.  I was ten in 1985.  So yes, I was a child of the 80’s.  Except, no, I was not a child of the 80’s, because I’m a decent human being and the 80’s were awful.  Hideously, grotesquely, irredeemably awful.  I could never be a child of that.  It’s one of the more difficult things to accept in life that there are people who disagree with me on that point.  In fact, even though the huge 80’s retro craze has is over, it seems like no era makes people smile and laugh and go into nostalgia mode more than the 80’s.  People mock the 70’s, feel dutifully conflicted about the 60’s, don’t really know what to make of the 90’s.  But the 80’s is just a way to get everyone smiling and having a good time, and it has to stop.

Obviously, the 80’s love has something to do with the kind of nostalgia people feel for any intense experience they’ve lived through, even if it was actually a miserable experience at the time.  If that’s what 80’s love is really about, I forgive people for feeling that way.  But something tells me it’s about more than that.  You want to know what I think it is?  It’s that people secretly want to be outrageous and extreme, and these days, there aren’t any easy ways to do it.  Guys want to be sexy scowling jocks or rich preppy dudes with an eye for the poor chick that would be beautiful if she’d just change her hair up a little.  Girls want to do their hair in ridiculous, attention-grabbing ways and wear neon and listen to synthesizers.  And everyone wants to be a really glam rock star in a skin tight unitard.  In our current age of restraint and decent taste, people long for a time when you could show a bit of a wild side just by wearing a hot pink b.u.m. sweatshirt or spiking that hair just a little higher.  So I’m here to ask- what’s so bad about restraint and decent taste?

sjp 80's

You, growing up right in the heart of the 80’s.  Well done.

As has been well-documented, one’s early adolescent years in the Bell family were characterized by isolation and protection from outside pop influences.  While the world outside was watching Night Court and Who’s the Boss, we were following the exploits of Hercule Poirot on PBS’s Mystery! and watching re-runs of Sullivan Ballou writing his love letters home from the battlefield to his wife Sarah.  And yes, we had music, too.  No, it wasn’t Cheap Trick or Culture Club or Devo, or anyone off the street with some hair gel and an English accent.  But Kenny G and Lionel Richie, and endless re-plays of Kokomo served our needs just fine.

Here’s the twist ending.  You read that last paragraph thinking the joke was on those poor little Bell kids, raised on cultural Ambien, before Ambien was even invented.  On the contrary.  The joke, my dear patronizing reader, is on you.   My parents gave me the priceless gift of letting me sit out some of the most horrendous crimes against culture our race has ever committed, crimes in which you, feckless reader, are complicit.   Of course, the price was that I was a complete loser in junior high.  But if given the choice again, to opt for loneliness and geekdom in exchange for remaining innocent of Alf and Poison and Cujo and Dirty Dancing, would I do it all again?  Of course not.  I hated being a loser.  But since that’s what happened, I feel very superior about it now.  No matter what you say about me, it’s you that still likes Culture Club, not me.

DirtyDancing460

My wife watches this movie whenever it comes on.  Her favorite part is when I start to sob audibly.

Anyway, because my peculiar home/bubble upbringing allowed me to miss the 80’s, I have always felt like it was my job to warn people who were there, to help them understand the loathesomeness of those things they look back on so fondly.  I first felt this calling when one of my very best friends, one of the people whose judgment and taste I held in highest esteem, told me during college that I could not become a true American adult without going back and watching Goonies, the best movie of his childhood.  My other friends heartily agreed.  So I did it one afternoon there in my dorm.  I laughed and cried along with Mikey and Chunk and Data and Sloth.  But I was laughing at all the crying parts and crying at all the laughing parts, and generally enraged and insulted and nauseated too.  One of the worst movie-viewing experiences of my life.  And for every one of you that is now shaking your head in sadness in defense of that beloved movie, I challenge you to go back and watch it.  I know you can’t know this now, and I understand.  But honestly, that is just a freaking horrible movie.  You need to open yourself up to that.  Only after you’ve done that can we have some crucial conversations about Madonna and Molly Ringwald.

Because seriously, you need to know this.  It’s time to stop celebrating this horrible era.  The 80’s was a time when it was cool to be selfish, brazen, greedy, mean, and totally unfiltered.  It was also a time of tons of special effects when special effects were horrible (I’m talking about pop music– let’s not even think about what was in the movies), of wearing the loudest clothes possible at all times, and of generally celebrating human awfulness.  People look back on that and feel fondly toward it, because it was part of their formative years.  But you wouldn’t feel affection toward a car accident that happened to you as a teenager.  This is so much worse than a car accident.  So, if you trust me at all, if you’ve ever wondered why you love the 80’s so much now, but were so completely miserable during that same period, if you’ve ever felt the tiniest pinprick of guilt about liking a cute preppy boy, maybe you can join my crusade.   Say goodbye to the harsh, misanthropic high school movies, the music that focuses so much more on style than on substance, and the weird exhibitionism that comes off of anyone who still dresses up in 80’s clothes trying to be funny.

There is a better way.  You’re seriously going to love Hercule Poirot.

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26 Responses to I Know This Much Is True

  1. InkMom says:

    I am conflicted, Ryan, simultaneously drawn in by the similarities of our apparently Ambien-esque childhoods but repulsed by your rejection of even the campiest parts of the ’80s. I mean, “Ashokan Farewell” was the first fiddle tune I ever learned well, and since I’d been reading Agatha Christie since age 8, old Poirot was a given. (Did you SEE this season’s “Murder on the Orient Express”? I have never seen David Suchet in better form. It was outstanding.) But not even a little love for the hair bands? My husband’s “Monster Ballads” album contains some of the greatest large scale power trip rock songs ever written, and you have to at least admire their chutzpah.

    However. I am compelled to stop and watch EVERY SINGLE TIME I see “Dirty Dancing” on the DirecTV guide. I think I might be able to quote it. And this from a girl who was not allowed to actually watch it. See, the movie was filmed in (or at least very near) my hometown, and the dance studio at which I took lessons provided all the extras for the big dance scenes. All those girls in there, dancing suggestively with strange men? They were my role models. I wanted to see that movie. I NEEDED to see that movie. But I was forbidden from seeing that movie. So I suggested we watch that movie at every slumber party or sleepover I attended for my entire late-elementary and junior high school career. And thus, I have seen it a gazillion times. Nobody puts Baby in a corner, after all.

    But I still know all the words to “Kokomo”.

  2. Davis says:

    As one who attended an 80’s-themed dance party this weekend, I heartily agree.

  3. Ryan says:

    That’s interesting, InkMom, because Utah locals have the same dynamic going with Footloose, another pretty awful movie. My debate teacher used to brag about being one of the extras, and we were sort of impressed until finally we watched it in class and she pointed out to us where she was on camera. Turns out it was just her feet.

    Either way, Dirty Dancing is a horrible, horrible movie. I am not judging you, I’m trying to help you. I’m trying to help my wife too, but she really is an advanced case. It’s sad to see how these things take over someone you love.

  4. Too too funny. I am reminded of the DDDT laser photograph post so long ago that was formative of my addiction to this blog. Incredibly awful. But come one…sort of fun to talk about now? Ok fine, just awful.

  5. Layne says:

    I’m going to offer a dissenting opinion on this one.

    Hard to be so dismissive of the entire decade. I mean, I was on pins and needles waiting for the sequel after seeing the “To Be Continued…” at the end of the first “Back to the Future” movie. The year? 1985. Right smack in the middle of the 1980s. If you tell me that you also weren’t waiting for the sequel with the same fervor, you’re most likely lying. I mean, who didn’t love Michael J. Fox back then?

    Also, what about “Better Off Dead?” I still get the Lane Meyer jokes because we share the same first name. Really a timeless classic in my mind. The year? Again, 1985.

    And, for the record, I enjoy poor special effects purely for the unintentional comedic factor involved.

  6. Mike says:

    Somehow, I was also almost completely insulated from the 80’s. I take it as a matter of doctrine that the only good things to come out of the 80’s in terms of culture are Crocodile Dundee II (not part 1) and U2’s the Joshua Tree. And maybe The Princess Bride. That’s it. With those exceptions,every other movie or song from the 80s, is, to me completely, and utterly a waste of time. Thankfully, I have invested relatively little time coming to this conclusion. I’m pretty sure most people my age have at some point watched Footloose or Ferris Bueller more times in a single week than the total number of “classic” 80s movies I have ever subjected myself to. From this vantage point, I can wholeheartedly share your point of view. I have to admit that I feel some sense of pride every time somebody quotes a stupid line from some 80s movie or lyric from a hair band and all I can say is “I’ve never seen/heard that movie/song”. Lucky me.

  7. craftyashley says:

    The 80’s are trying to creep back into our lives. I went shopping for a swim suit the other day, to find a rack of black with rainbow stars suits- and nothing more. Pfft. I had all these when I was 10- I’d like a grown up suit now, thanks.

  8. Gina says:

    I will admit to being a little bit younger, I was born in 82 and was insulated from a bulk of the 80s simply because I was too young (Dirty Dancing is SO not appropriate for a 5 year old to watch). So, most of my 80s experience has been done since 1995 or so.

    And honestly, I love a lot of it. I think 80s arena rock and hair metal make up the bulk of my music listening; Def Leppard, Journey, Bryan Adams, Bon Jovi (only pre 1994 Bon Jovi, of course). The Cosby show is still one of the greatest shows on TV ever.

    And I am going to agree with Layne and remind everyone of John Cusack in the 80s. Better of Dead? Say Anything? One Crazy Summer? Come on, that’s awesomeness at it’s highest form. And, now, I will sit and watch Dirty Dancing back to back if it airs that way.

    I do agree with: “The 80’s was a time when it was cool to be selfish, brazen, greedy, mean, and totally unfiltered” and THAT is responsible for a huge chunk of what you hate about the 80s, But, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water!

  9. Azucar says:

    Other people who watched Poirot instead of Alf? Well, watched it after we got a TV, I mean.

    I’ll do you one better: it was classical music all up in our joint. Mozart, Mahler, Strauss, Verdi, Puccini, and Beethoven. Who wants to be the coolest 7th grader ever? Not me! Obviously!

  10. Azucar says:

    p.s. I hated Dirty Dancing for years. Could have had something to do with my boring college roommates who would stay at home every Saturday night and watch Dirty Dancing, all of them in tears hoping she wouldn’t get an abortion.

    They missed some of the best strumming Mama’s Cafe ever dished out.

    These days Dirty Dancing just pisses me off with all the anachronisms. Sure, everyone else is period, but not Swayze and Grey’s hair, OH NO.

  11. Ben Pratt says:

    I was raised on Lionel Richie, Captain & Tennille, Mannheim Steamroller, James Taylor, the King’s Singers, a gaggle of Romantic and early 20th-century composers, and MoTab. As the oldest, I had no older siblings to feed me their 80s pop culture crumbs when Mom and Dad weren’t around, for which I’m eternally grateful. Truth be told, for a while I was into rediscovering some of the stuff I missed by watching 80s movies on TV or Hulu, trying to understand the context of Weird Al’s early parodies, etc. But that time is over. With a few comfortable exceptions, I eschew pop culture generally for its utter transience.

  12. Azucar says:

    This very afternoon a conversation in the office referenced a type of sunglasses on Miami Vice.

    Nope, still don’t know.

    I can, however, sing the Mystery! theme song, right Kook?

    Sigh.

  13. Chelsea says:

    Favorite part: “But if given the choice again, to opt for loneliness and geekdom in exchange for remaining innocent of Alf and Poison and Cujo and Dirty Dancing, would I do it all again? Of course not. I hated being a loser. But since that’s what happened, I feel very superior about it now. ”

    LOL! So many things fall into this category in life.

  14. Braden says:

    You seriously misjudge the 80s my friend. It was the last great gasp of Western Civilization, which died soon after. The 80s were glorious, wonderful, marvelous times. Period. And I say that as someone who voluntarily read Agatha Christie at 14 and still loves Poirot, but will admit to finding Kokomo a little to reckless and wild when I was in jr. high.

  15. Tanner Bell says:

    I whole-heartedly agree with you concerning the 80, with one glaring exception, cartoons.

    G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero
    He-Man and the Masters of the Universe
    Pound Puppies
    The Smurfs
    Thundercats
    Transformers
    Voltron: Defender of the Universe
    Inspector Gadget
    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

    Need I say more?

  16. Troy says:

    Ladies and gentlemen I AM A CHILD OF THE 80’s AND I WILL NOT APOLOGIZE FOR MY TONE TONIGHT!!! I HAVE BEEN A LOVER OF THE 80’s IN TIMES GOOD, AND I HAVE BEEN A LOVER OF THE 80’S IN TIMES BAD!!! FERRIS BUELLER ISSUED ONE OF MY FAVORITE QUOTES IN THE HISTORY OF THE SPOKEN WORD. IT IS AS FOLLOWS: “LIFE MOVES PRETTY FAST…IF YOU COULD JUst (excuse me)…IF YOU DON’T STOP AND LOOK AROUND ONCE IN A WHILE, YOU COULD MISS IT”.

    THE 80’s WERE DRASTIC TIMES AND THEY REQUIRED WHAT? DRASTIC MEASURES — YES!!! — WHO SAID THAT? THANK YOU!!

    WE LOVERS OF THE 80’s WILL NOT TOLERATE MODERN CRITICISM ANEEEE LONGERRRR!!! NOW IS THE TIME TO SNAP THE STRANGLEHOLD THE 2000’s HAVE ON BEING COOL.

    FASHION TRENDS RE NOT TOUCH FOOTBALL. TRENDY FADS ARE: WINNER. TAKE. ALL. IT ALWAYS HAS BEEN, AND IT ALWAYS WILL BE.

    I BELIEVE WHAT IS THE GREATEST STRENGTH OF THAT DECADE WILL BE RECOGNIZED, AND THAT IS: IT’S MUSIC. I BELIEVE IN THE AXIOM THAT “ALL I NEED IS A MIRACLE, ALL I NEED IS YOU”. IT IS BECAUSE OF THIS BELIEF THAT I WANT TO HARNESS THE THOUGHTS AND IDEAS OF THE 80’s MENTALITY. KNOWLEDGE IS POWER. LET’S USE THIS KNOWLEDGE NOT ONLY AS A TOOL, BUT AS A WEAPON!!!

    THE 80’S WAS THE GREATEST DECADE EVER AND I’M GOING TO SAY THAT AGAIN SO THERE’S NO MISCOMMUNICATION TONIGHT: THE 80’s WAS THE GREATEST DECADE EVEEEEERR!!! TELL YOUR FRIENDS, TELL YOUR NEIGHBORS, TELL RANDY GONZALES I’M COMING — BOTH BARRELLS, GUNS LOADED!!!

    I humbly submit that the 80’s were indeed the best years and I ask that you agree with me. Thank you.

  17. Ryan says:

    Layne gets points for honing in on one of the few true 80’s artifacts I can stomach- Back to the Future. Pretty good piece of entertainment. However, Macy and I were watching it on TV a while ago and she wondered aloud whether this might be a fun one for the kids to watch. That was right before the part where Biff caught sight of Marty’s young Mom’s cleavage and then, uh, I guess tried to, well, rape her. It’s heavier stuff than you remember it being. As for Better Off Dead, I only saw parts of it, but I never caught the magic.

    Mike, I feel much the same way. I sort of enjoy being able to say I don’t really know what people are talking about with some of this stuff. I don’t endorse trying to make oneself feel superior to others, but when one actually IS superior . . . I think that’s okay.

    Craftyashley- The male corollary is that soon we’ll see guys walking around in swim suits with really bright neon zig zag and triangle patterns. Not good.

    Gina, there’s no baby in the bathwater, except for Baby, and if its her you’re talking about, she’s so much worse than the bathwater. I’d keep the bathwater over her. She’s horrrrible. But Cosby was pretty good. You might want to spell check your comments before posting, by the way, because I’m pretty sure you accidentally endorsed Bryan Adams in that comment. Embarrassing typo, huh!

    Lol, Azucar. I love meeting fellow late-adopters. But at least you can say your family musical repertoire was based on refined good taste. We had the worst of both worlds- uncool AND middlebrow. Better Beethoven than Barry Manilow.

  18. Ryan says:

    Ben, that is soooo strange that you were raised on The King’s Singers. They were a huge staple for us. Very bizarre that you had the same experience. By the way, it’s fascinating that you eschew pop culture for its transcience, but you read this blog. Something very weighty and transcendant about this place, huh?

    I don’t know a thing about Miami Vice. Again, this is something to be proud of.

    Chelsea- Only someone who was never a loser would LOL about someone’s experience of being a loser.

    Brade, I’m not sure we’re understanding each other. I’m talking about the culture that was happening in the 80’s. Not the culture you were experiencing in the 80’s. Just so you know, I Love Lucy and Julia Child weren’t actually 80’s entertainments.

    Tanner- well-played. Those were all extremely awesome. I honestly have no idea how Pound Puppies made it onto your list. Kind of weirds me out. But the rest of that list is very solid. Pound Puppies?

    Troy- you had me rolling. Turns out that monologue is very adaptable. Well played. I would agree with anything you say after that. Wow. Made me go back and watch my buddy Phil all over. Whew.

    Pound Puppies? Really?

  19. kik~ says:

    coming out of Lurkerville to say:

    Leave Molly Ringwald alone! And the other John Hughes movies (wistful sigh).

    The 80s made The Wedding Singer possible and that is a fun flick!

  20. Ryan says:

    kik, maybe someday I’lll be able to sit down with you and find out what you love about Molly Ringwald. To my knowledge, you will be the first person I’ve ever spoken to that likes her. She is an freakish Hollywood aberration– a big star that appears to have absolutely no fans, and no one that even likes her. Except for kik.

  21. Ben Pratt says:

    Ryan, what can I say? DDDT would definitely be one of my comfortable exceptions. Either that or the timeless themes and universal truths discussed here elevate my soul. . . . right! Comfortable exception.

  22. Maweesa says:

    I have to disagree w you Ryan. And the fact that you and your bro missed out on the goonies is so sad to me. Funny enough that’s actually come up in two convos in the last week and everyone involved was shocked that Davis hadn’t seen it. AND there’s nothing better than a little oingo boingo to put me in a good mood! I think why you hate the 80’s so much is because you missed out on the best parts and you guys were too busy listening to Christopher cross 🙂 Davis told me it was a fam fav!!

  23. Andrew says:

    Come on Ryan, didn’t you ever fear the USSR and pray for Reagan, and wish you were Alex P Keaton? Didn’t you ever listen to “Electric Avenue” by Eddie Grant? or see “the God’s must be Crazy?”

    I would have thought that of all people you would have loved a decade who’s high point was the coming together of the greatest rock star of all time and the greatest pop star of all time to produce possibly the single greatest collaboration of all time: “Say, Say, Say” by Paul McCartney and Michael Jackson.

    The 60’s and 70’s were just a warm up for Paul, this is when he peaked. There are those who argued that if fate had allowed it, there would have been a chance for John Lennon and Bobby Brown to even rise higher. But that is not even a reality and is an unfair comparison.

    SNL of the 80’s has never been topped, Fletch has never been rivaled. Wow, I am almost getting choked up thinking about one of the top four decades of all time.

    I loved every movie, every song and most tv commercials. I will hold onto these forever, until that day when I am perhaps fulfilled by the rumored, certain future duo of Ringo and Usher. Until then I’ll just keep watching “the Natural” and pretending that it is about me. (except the dark scary parts.)

  24. Gina says:

    OK, so I will admit that my blood temperature flared for just an instant when you said I needed to spell check my comments. I thought “WHAT?! I did NOT misspell something! That is so NOT me!” and then I kept reading 🙂

    I stand by Bryan Adams. That was the first CD I ever owned. I saw him in concert with Def Leppard in 2008 (I think is was 2008). Not only am I proud of liking the old school Bryan Adams, (NOT the Prince of Thieves Bryan Adams :: shudder::) but my father is incredibly proud of my musical choices as well 🙂

  25. Ryan says:

    Maweesa, when was the last time you watched Goonies? I promise you it’s unwatchable now that you’re an adult. (Unless you watched it since you were an adult. In which case, uh, you know, just different tastes).

    Andrew, that was a very solid list of some pretty good 80’s high performers. I assume you didn’t know this when you posted but The Gods Must Be Crazy was a huge, multiple-viewings hit in the Bell home. But that wasn’t an 80’s movie any more than The Civil War was an 80’s documentary. Great flick though. Fletch is also fantastic (you are honestly hitting my soft spots) but also not a very 80’s show. As for Say, Say, Say, I think we both know how we feel about Mr. McCartney at that point in his career. Sad to say it, but the collaborator that would have helped his career the most around then was Mark David Chapman. (Ouch).

  26. Ryan says:

    Lol, Gina. Sorry to have provoked you. And glad to hear it’s not Prince of Thieves Bryan Adams. As long as it’s just, you know, “Summer of ’69” Bryan Adams, and “Heaven” Bryan Adams, and “All For Love” Bryan Adams, we’re totally good.

    🙂

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