The 1980s are back. With the advent and popularity of television shows like “Stranger Things,” planned remakes of ‘80s films like “A Nightmare on Elm Street” and a massive revival of new ‘80s-style music (Synthwave and Retrowave as they’re often called), it seems like the decadent decade is taking over once again. Is this just a fun style or fad, or is it indicative of a bigger problem? I’m inclined to think it is the latter.
Much of the pop culture and media today which celebrates the 1980s are made by people who were alive at that time, and have some memory of it, whether they were adolescents or young adults. That much is not surprising.
However, where it gets interesting is when one looks to the people who are consuming this media. It’s largely young people and young adults – millennials. This, too, isn’t too confusing when one takes into account the fact that millennials make up a very fair share of consumers when it comes to pop culture, and have been sought, time and time again, as trend-setters whose tastes can determine the next big thing.
So, again, why is this a problem? Everywhere I look, I see people my age or younger not just consuming this media, but romanticizing it. The present day is so grim and unfulfilling for young people that they feel as if an escape to the past is better, particularly when it is a past that is glamorized inaccurately through shimmery media spectacles.
Looking at movies like “Pretty in Pink” or going to an ‘80s-themed party, however, does not give someone the full picture of what the decade was actually like; far from it, in fact. When I see interviews with the young cast of “Stranger Things” and see that at least a few of them, the older members of the cast included, would prefer to live in the 1980s, it disturbs me.
It shows a real dissatisfaction with the current time, which is perfectly reasonable, but to look to the past when things were, in many ways, far worse than they are now, is deeply troubling. In looking to the past as something glamorous, we erase the struggles that many people suffered in these times. The ‘80s were not as colorful and fun as it looks in the emotionally stunted films of John Hughes, in which the biggest problem is teen angst and high school romance.
The ‘80s was home to the AIDS epidemic, which has killed countless people and was used to politically target gay people at this time. It marked a real downturn in our nation’s healthcare and education systems. The hard drugs which our government had purposefully introduced to black communities, per the admission of a top Nixon aide, was wreaking havoc on said communities, and further sowing chaos and division within our borders.
If some parts of the ‘80s were fun, colorful, carefree and decadent, there were more that were cold, calculated, corporate and pitiless. This was the age of the major U.S. corporation, the faceless company and the ruthless CEOs. In many ways, “American Psycho” is more a true representation of this time than something like “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.”
When young people then take in this media, and create new media, which feeds into this gilded image of the past, it’s done to their own detriment, for if they seek to find solace in different time periods, they miss the chance to improve their own lives by looking forward.
Surely, the problems of this time often seem insurmountable and impossible to improve, but this feeling is only augmented by media which paints a pretty picture of the past for us to escape into. I love Billy Ocean as much as the next person – maybe even more, now that I think about it – but as much as I love the music, I cannot romanticize the era.
To say that the majority of people romanticizing the 1980s are mostly white and straight, while probably true in many cases, would be oversimplifying things. Even in my own personal experience, I’ve found that all kinds of people are prone to this glamorization. The media doesn’t show us what really happened in the ‘80s. Molly Ringwald did not speak about the AIDS crisis in her many rose-colored film works. Even people who would have been most affected, had they been around in that time, are victims of a glittery media manipulation.
It is for these reasons that I suggest we all examine this revival a little more closely. Is this kind of blind escapism really helping us? A need for distraction is understandable, but to ignore the problems of the past will only bring about regression. Nothing is ever as nice as it looks on television.