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?
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.
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.