The '80s
aka: The Decade Of Excess

http://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/the_eighties_3159.jpg
'Twas a good decade for pop culture. Not so much for everything else.note 

"Legend has it that man once washed his jeans in pure acid!"

The Excessive Eighties: a time where you wake up before you go-go when you want to kick up your Sunday shoes as you walk the dinosaur like an Egyptian for 500 miles, hear doves cry or feel the Punky power like a virgin while you moonwalk the Thriller.

All the men were preppies who wore pastel suits with narrow ties, drove sports cars that Lee Iacocca personally stood behind and traded stocks on Wall Street - after all, as Oscar Wilde said, nothing says success like excess. (Unless they happened to be teenagers, in which case they were Totally Radical or studied karate and learnt the meaning of "Wax On, Wax Off".) Everyone had huge hairdos, enough make-up to sink a ship and power suits with shoulderpads big enough to knock the giant mirrored sunglasses off anyone who walked within a three foot radius of them. And those without them had flat-tops and wore gym clothes and break-danced on top of cardboard. Millenials (then known as "Echo Boomers" and later "Generation Y") started being born, one day to become the young adults of The Turn of the Millennium.

Computing technology first became a true cultural force in this decade, starting a trend that would keep on snowballing to this very day. The Eighties was the decade of cell phones literally sized and shaped like bricks, jokes about being unable to program VCRs, the death of Betamax, and the beginnings of personal computers and gaming consoles beginning to proliferate inside homes, perhaps one of the trends from this decade with the largest of cultural implications. Cable television also took off big time, with MTV, TBS, HBO, and CNN becoming household acronyms, though the video itself was all grainy, low-definition analog.

Conversly, the eighties were also the high water mark of analog culture. CD players were a new and exotic technology. Heck, digital watches were still a (relatively) new and exotic technology. Most people still got their music on LP or cassettes (though the CD format would begin to overtake both late into the decade) and their news from newspapers delivered in the predawn darkness by Free-Range Children. The Commodore 64 was the most common personal computer and an actual PC cost as much as a used car, especially if it was equipped with one of those new and exotic five or ten megabyte hard drives. The internet was still confined to academia, the World Wide Web was still just a pipe dream, and what little connectivity existed was through Electronic bulletin board services (BBS) accessed over analog phone lines using screeching 1200 or 2400 baud modems.

In the US, it was also the secondnote  wave of The Japanese Invasion, the inklings of which started in '78 with the dub of Battle of the Planets, continuing on with Space Battleship Yamato ('79), Voltron ('84), getting even more hardcore with Robotech in '85, and hitting its apex by cranking the quality Up to Eleven with the nationwide release of AKIRA ('88).

On the homefront, the 1980s produced a rash of pop-cultural icons that today are looked upon, at worst, with Affectionate Parody, and at best, as the national ideal. The conservative political culture of the era meant two rather contradictory things for the production of pop-culture; on the one hand, the surge of private enterprise together with new media technologies allowed corporations such as Hasbro an unprecedented ability to build massive franchises around their products, typically with a TV show and accompanying toys, but on the other Moral Guardian complaints would challenge the ethics of making a show that was "essentially one large commercial." The result was the rather spoof-worthy And Knowing Is Half the Battle segment common to many mass franchise shows, shoving an Anvilicious moral into the action. Fortunately, these were conveniently located after the actual plot, so kids could just turn it off at that point and run down to buy the toys. Besides, the segments make great joke fodder.

Politically, the first part of the decade, Cold War tensions continued to escalate such as the US doing things like invading Grenada and the Strategic Defense Initiative. Some accuse this of being an intentional move by the West to render the economically inept Soviet Union infeasible by drawing its resources away from things like infrastructure and feeding its people, which market economies could accomplish easily. While this is, essentially, what ended up happening (though more complicated than that in real life; in Eastern Europe the decade's real deathblow to communism was considered to have been all the new media technology), the fact that the other possible outcome of such a strategy was global thermonuclear annihilation had a profound impact on Western media tropes. Most obviously, dystopian Speculative Fiction, particularly set After the End 20 Minutes into the Future, enjoyed a surge. On the other hand, Star Trek became a defiantly optimistic mainstream Sci-Fi mainstay with the feature film series and its return to live action TV with Star Trek: The Next Generation.

The second part of the decade, however, couldn't be more different. Mikhail Gorbachev, spry for a CPSU leader at age 54 (this was the only time in the Cold War that the Soviet leader was substantially younger than the American), shook up the by-then sclerotic Soviet leadership upon taking power in 1985. Gorbachev restructured the economy (perestroika) for "accelerated" development (uskoreniye), encouraged openness (glasnost), made tentative moves towards democracy (demokratizatsiya), and went Karting with Reagan. For a hot second in 1988-89, it seemed like the USSR had reached a final rapprochement with the West. And then came The Great Politics Mess-Up.

Throughout this era, there came new problems like the spread of AIDS which created a public health panic that dealt first a body blow to the gay community with anti-gay people treating them as modern lepers (even though that community took the danger seriously far sooner than others). However, the epidemic paradoxically later proved a partial blessing in disguise for gay rights as stricken people like Rock Hudson were shoved out of the closet, forcing the public to realize that LGBTI people were all around them, much like themselves. The Eighties also had the highest murder rate in U.S. history, almost twice what it is today.

Politically speaking, the decade lasted roughly from the election of Ronald Reagan on November 4, 1980 to the collapse of the Soviet Union on December 25, 1991, so almost 11 years. (Sometimes Margaret Thatcher becoming Prime Minister in 1979 is considered the start, especially in the UK.) Culturally, the decade lasted roughly from Disco Demolition Night on July 12, 1979 to the release of Nirvana's album Nevermind on September 24, 1991.

Thanks to a common twenty- or thirty-year lag, it's still The Eighties in much of Fictionland. Although The '70s and The '90s are gradually returning.

See Also: The Roaring '20s, The Great Depression, The '40s, The '50s, The '60s, The '70s, The '90s, Turn of the Millennium and The New '10s.

Popular tropes from this time period include:

  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: Crack cocaine and heroin caught on big during this decade, along with their pushers, hence the establishment of this trope as part of the larger "Just Say No" movement.
  • The Ahnold: After Arnold Schwarzenegger became an icon with his roles in Conan the Barbarian and The Terminator, imitating Arnie became a Stock Parody.
  • Amazonian Beauty: The beauty standard of the decade, owing to the consciousness of health and fitness during that era, with actors like Brooke Shields and models like Cindy Crawford showing their athletic, healthy tone.
  • And Knowing Is Half the Battle: G. I. Joe, et. al., in order to counteract accusations of being no more than "30-minute toy commercials".
  • Animated Adaptation: Of practically everything, including films, TV shows, comic books, video games, action figures, dolls, plush toys, music videos, and real-life celebrities!
  • Anime: Called "Japanimation" at the time, the medium started becoming somewhat popular in the US in the '80s (although it would take until the second half of the '90s until it truly exploded in mainstream popularity).
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: What could make a character be more badass than the concept of powerdressing emerging from this decade?
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: Thanks to Brooke Shields, bushy, natural eyebrows were stylish for women. This would be followed by extreme plucking and tweezing and penciling to the skinniest brows in The '90s. Then in The New '10s, glamorous thick eyebrows came back with a vengeance, though the ideal is smoothed and angular.
  • The Blockbuster Age of Hollywood: Heralded by the success of Jaws (1975) and Star Wars (1977) and the box office disaster of Heaven's Gate (1980), the New Hollywood was put aside in 1980 and the rest of the decade were dominated by family friendly or juvenile popcorn blockbuster movies, with E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial as the biggest box office success of all time, until Jurassic Park (1993) dethroned it.
  • Boyish Short Hair: Even though massive manes were definitely the mainstream, a lot more women and girls were sporting short (though still just as poofy and ridiculous) haircuts, especially compared to the early '70s and its love of Rapunzel Hair. Businesswomen wore Power Hair to match their power suits, and female New Wave and punk musicians often had the same spiky, dramatic haircuts as the men.
  • Canada Does Not Exist: A wave of low-budget cop and action-adventure dramas start being produced in Canada, but primarily for U.S. consumption. This leads to the weird phenomenon of shows which take place in a "nowhereland" that is neither fully the US nor completely Canada.
  • Cold War: Along with the Red Scare, this was a big feature of this period, particularly in the early 1980s with the European Missiles Crisis, the Nicaraguan civil war and Libya. Especially Libya. The Cold War plots here can be divided squarely between before and after 8 December 1987, the signing of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty between the U.S. and USSR. It's generally straight Red Scare before that. After, it's Renegade Russian or Make the Bear Angry Again.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Thanks to the movie Wall Street, an enduring image of this time. Part of the economic climate of the time were Ronald Reagan's reforms and the Black Monday crash of 1987.
  • Cyberpunk: Kicked off by Blade Runner and Neuromancer.
  • Dance Sensation: Michael Jackson, anyone? Or Flash Dance? And Foot Loose? Dirty Dancing? Jazzcercise? Aerobics? Hip-Hop?
  • Dangerously Short Skirt: Mini skirts returned with a vengeance, and it led to many variations from the cheerleader rah-rahs, to the 60s-inspired pop art prints, to the fluffy mini-crinoline, to the romantic bubble, and to the tight pencil.
  • The Dark Age of Comic Books: Began with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns in 1985.
  • Darker and Edgier: Even though this was a fun decade for many people, it also had many negative sides:
    • Crack cocaine was created and many people became destructively addicted to it; to make matters worse, the turf wars between dealers and gangs decimated many black neighborhoods in big cities.
    • The sexually transmitted disease AIDS became an epidemic. The first two cases of patients dying from AIDS had taken place in 1959, but there are only a handful of known cases dating to the 1960s and 1970s. At least 121 AIDS-related deaths took place between 1980 and 1981. By the end of the 1980s, the disease had spread worldwide and there were over a million known patients. And in the U.S., the initial stigma of AIDS as a "gay disease" contributed to unfair ostracization of its victims and LGBT people in general.
    • The beginning of the (currently ongoing) "war on drugs" resulted in skyrocketing incarceration rates, hundreds of thousands of people ending up behind bars for nonviolent offenses.
      • By contrast, everyone could get behind the big crackdown on the deadly Drunk Driver traffic menace, which finally got taken seriously in a Dude, Not Funny! way.
      • Likewise, smoking found itself marginalized still more with the health menace of second-hand smoke becoming common knowledge, causing a groundswell of efforts to discourage the habit and isolate smokers.
    • An enormous crime wave hit America at this time: this is where NYC got its image as a crime-ridden Hellhole of apathy and darkness, and why so many action movies starring Cowboy Cops were popular.
    • More generally, the 1980s were the time when the American middle class began losing ground in terms of GDP share as more people became part of the upper class. Socio-economic inequalities more or less kept in check for a half-century started growing again, creating an increasing polarization between economic classes.
    • The arrival of MTV had a downside as well. Music videos became so dominant that any artists who played instruments were now expected to create a music video for every hit single they released, because otherwise it would not receive airplay. For some serious artists this was a huge setback, because they were now expected to "act" and "look good" on camera to appeal to the record buying public. By the end of the 1980s many music fans couldn't imagine a music record existing without some kind of video attached to it. Thus several pop stars who looked attractive but couldn't sing or play a note on their instrument were launched to make quick bucks.
    • In the first half of the 1980s, many people across the world felt frightened because President Reagan ordered more nuclear missiles to be placed in Europe to defend the US against the Soviet Union. He also endorsed a daft plan, "Star Wars", to protect the USA in space against a possible Soviet attack. Fear for a Third World War and nuclear testing lead to numerous protests and protest singles. Only when Mikhail Gorbachev became Soviet leader in 1985 tensions between the USA and USSR started to diminish.
    • The Chernobyl disaster (1986) also lead to a universal fear for nuclear power disasters, especially when a huge radioactive cloud flew over Europe, having disastrous effects on the local farming industry. Since then the place has become a Ghost Town and a place where plants and animals have won back ground on humans.
  • "Die Hard" on an X: This now standard action movie plot got its start by the eponymous Die Hard.
  • Double Standard: Rape, Female on Male: A common way of introducing romance subplots in '80s movies.
  • Drugs Are Bad: A growing awareness of the dangers of recreational drugs (especially the above-mentioned crack cocaine) led to government-sponsored programs designed to teach kids to "Just Say No", which led to this message becoming near-ubiquitous via the Very Special Episode and Public Service Announcement.
  • Dystopia: Dark, crime-ridden 20 Minutes into the Future or oppressive alternate universes were big in '80s films/TV shows.
  • Ear Worm: The pop songs from this decade (Synth-Pop in particular) were very catchy in general.
  • '80s Hair: If you were in a (popular) metal band or were a female country singer you wore it one way and only one way, BIG! This was also the decade in which the mullet really went mainstream. (Though the actual name "mullet" was only coined and applied retrospectively in The '90s).
  • Erotic Film: As porn theaters started to close and moral guardians fought pornography, erotic movies went underground again. They did manage to make back their profit thanks to the success of video rentals and sales.
  • Foreign Culture Fetish:
  • Football Hooligans: For the UK at least. It became such a problem that Margaret Thatcher put together a cabinet just to tackle them. Measures put in place then led to Hillsborough. These days the problem has been virtually eradicated, although the trope appears quite often in foreign films set in the UK where football is involved, and Hooligans continue to cause problems in places not the UK (mostly South America).
  • Freeze-Frame Ending: Extremely popular during the decade, especially with sitcoms. This would go on to be parodied in later decades.
  • Fur and Loathing: The notion that it was bad to wear fur gained traction in this decade.
  • The Generation Gap: A new kind of generation gap was created, with left-wing hippie parents trying to understand their right-wing, materialistic yuppie children.
  • Hollywood Action Hero: The 1980s made iconic stars out of muscled Rated M for Manly actors like Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Chuck Norris, Dolph Lundgren, Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The Indiana Jones franchise could be counted too, though less testosterone heavy. For a black example, Mr. T comes to mind.
  • Hotter and Sexier: Madonna's very sexualized imagery set a trend for many female pop singers in her wake.
  • I'm Going to Disney World: An advertisment that was very popular from the 1980s on.
  • I Was Quite a Fashion Victim: Applying to works looking at this decade in hindsight, a survivor of the so-called "decade fashion disaster" might confess to this. The fashion statements were so overly radical, more extravagant and less flamboyant than the decade before, it had to be toned down and grunged up a lot a decade later.
  • Japan Takes Over the World: A staple of the decade, particularly in Cyberpunk works. Often seems a little silly now. By the late 1990s this became a more realistic threat to Western investors as Japan's economy overshadowed the US and Europe in its financial success.
  • Lighter and Softer: Compared to the more revolutionary and sociologically progressive 1960s and 1970s, the eighties were pretty tame. Virtually all products (film, music, toys, TV shows, etc) were heavily Merchandise-Driven and not subtle about it. As a result, most of it is very clean, safe, family friendly and didn't take many artistic risks.
  • Limited Animation: Cartoons still suffered from being shoddily animated, thinly veiled toy commercials.
  • Masculine Girl, Feminine Boy: Despite being an age of mass conservative hysteria, the decade still gave rise lots of androgyny in the fashion and entertainment industry. Many fashion trends were unisex, and it was becoming accepted for women to wear suits, leather jackets, hairstyles like mullets and undercuts and of course, shoulder pads. Model Grace Jones is a good reference. Meanwhile, among the most influential male musicians of the 80s were David Bowie (though he would end up experiencing a Dork Age for most of the decade thanks to his failed attempts at following-up Let's Dance), Prince, Boy George and Dead or Alive, all of whom put on flamboyant and effeminate clothes and acts, especially by the standards then.
  • Meganekko: Corrective eyeglasses tended to look the size of dinner plates, showing off the eyes, looking like this. Sizes shrunk in the '90s and '00s.
  • Merchandise-Driven: Virtually every original cartoon made in the eighties seems to be this way — Thunder Cats, M.A.S.K., Centurions, Strawberry Shortcake, Rainbow Brite, The Real Ghostbusters, G.I. Joe: A Real American Hero, The Transformers, Care Bears, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe (1983), Jem and the Holograms, My Little Pony...
  • Michael Jackson's "Thriller" Parody: Spoofing Michael Jackson's music video for "Thriller" started in this decade.
  • Montage Ends the VHS: It's when a commercial VHS tape has trailers, intros or just a compilation montage promoting a line of tapes at the end, after a movie or episode it contains is over.
  • Mood Whiplash: See Lighter and Softer and Darker and Edgier. The perils of Conspicuous Consumption in a nutshell, for one.
  • Moon Walk Dance: Michael Jackson popularized the moonwalk in 1983.
  • Moral Guardians: The Moral Majority was very strong in the USA and backed by the Reagan government. They attacked Heavy Metal, Goth Rock, pornography, video games and gay culture as threats to the youth. In the UK, the Thatcher government also forbade a series of gory horror movies called the Video Nasties for the same reasons. By the end of the decade, many moral guardians started to lose their power, as many televangelists in the US got caught up in sex and tax fraud scandals.
  • Music of the 1980s: With the introduction of electronic instruments, the death of Disco, and with the rise of MTV, music got more expressive, and more excessive, in this decade, especially with Hip-Hop coming to the scene. Genres include:
  • Narm Charm: The decade ran on this. From excessive fashions, ridiculously catchy songs (Synth-Pop in particular) and much more.
  • Nostalgia Filter:
  • Pac-Man Fever: "Pac-Man" became a global phenomenon.
  • Parodies of Fire: A Stock Parody popularized by Chariots of Fire.
  • Pimped-Out Dress: As suits and powerdressing were standard by day, glamour and expression was reserved for evening wear. It was the decade where high-contrast satin, lycra, and a generous helping of sequins and glitter came to prominence with world-renowned Fashion Designers like Karl Lagerfeld, Yves Saint Laurent, Vivienne Westwood, Christian Lacroix, Oscar De La Renta, Gianni Versace, Prada, and Issey Miyake playing their part in the catwalk.
  • Pretty in Mink: Works that weren't afraid to show fur tended to show even more than they would in The '70s.
  • Raiders of the Lost Parody: A Stock Parody popularized by Raiders of the Lost Ark.
  • "Risky Business" Dance: A Stock Parody popularized by Risky Business.
  • Rich Bitch: Featured in all sorts of soap operas like Dynasty, Falcon Crest, et. al.
  • Roger Rabbit Effect: This was done in works like A Ha's "Take on Me" and, of course, Who Framed Roger Rabbit.
  • Shoulders of Doom: The huge shoulder pads, bigger than the ones forty years earlier. For women wearing them, it was a status that they had broke down the metaphorical glass ceiling, as more women entered the corporate ladder, and not as secretaries or clerks, but as full-fledged businesspeople.
  • Slasher Movie: Very popular during this decade, with Halloween, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street as the front runners.
  • Sleeves Are for Wimps: Ripped off sleeves (with a mandatory matching mullet) was your standard rockstar or tough guy look.
  • Sweater Girl: With or without shoulder pads. With or without a bra underneath.
  • Training Montage: Many 1980s martial arts or sports film had one of these, with inspirational music from Survivor, John Farnham or some other classic rocker.
  • Uncanny Valley Makeup: That bronzed, au naturale glow of the '70s was out. Heavy pale foundation, rainbow eyeshadow up to the brows, rims and rims of eyeliner, severe blush on the hollows of the cheeks up to the ears, and glossy red lipstick was in. Like in the '20s, mass consumerism encouraged women to pack it on.
  • Valley Girl: Like, totally!
  • Vapor Wear: Common in the first part of the decade (before Madonna); off-the-shoulder tops and tops with bare backs were common.
  • Very Special Episode: Just about every show had one or more of these, often due to Executive Meddling but sometimes just plain Author Tracts. Drugs Are Bad and Too Smart for Strangers were especially popular.
  • Video Games of the 1980s: Despite the the technological limitations and a great fiasco early on in the decade, video games as a whole was a promising media platform. And it all started in 1985. In this decade it made, named and codified:
  • Video Nasties: In 1984, certain gory horror movies were blacklisted by the British government and forbidden to be imported. Many of them were very forgettable, some not even that bloody violent, but they remained in the public consciousness just by the fact that they were put on that list.
  • We Didn't Start the Billy Joel Parodies: Created by the success of Billy Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire".

Many things were created or existed in the 1980s:

    open/close all folders 


Works that are set/were made in this time period include:
(Note: many were also a part of the Nineties; usually those made in the later part of the decade, and are marked with a '*').

    Anime And Manga 

    Asian Animation 

    Comedy 

    Comic Books 

    Comic Strips 

    Eastern European Animation 

    Films — Animation 

    Films — Live-Action 

For films released in this time period, see Films of the 1980s

    Han-guk Manhwa Aenimeisyeon 

    Literature 

    Live-Action TV 

For series released in this time period, see Series of the 1980s

    Music 

    Pinballs 

    Pro Wrestling 
Wrestlers Tag Teams and Stables Promotions Events

    Radio 

    Tabletop Games 

    Theater 

    Theme Parks 
  • This was Action Park's first full decade.
  • Captain EO: Opened in 1986.
  • Cranium Command: Opened in 1989.
  • Disney Theme Parks:
    • Disneyland]]'s Tomorrowland, specifically an ideal futuristic 1986, until the revamp in 1996.
    • Disney-MGM Studios (later renamed Disney's Hollywood Studios) opened on May 1st, 1989.
    • EPCOT Center (later renamed Epcot) opened on October 1st, 1982.
    • Tokyo Disneyland opened on April 15th, 1983.
    • Typhoon Lagoon opened on June 1st, 1989.

    Video Games 

     Visual Novels 

    Other 


Alternative Title(s): The Excessive Eighties, The Decade Of Excess

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheEighties?from=Main.TheDecadeOfExcess