Some possibly useful notes on The Eighties, by tropers who remember them and others who don't.
Society was ambivalent about yuppies even at the time. It's true that the "self-made man" (read: greedy, rapacious bastard) was idolized, but yuppies were viewed in roughly the same way that the dot com millionaires of the '90s were: a class of smart, driven young men who made vast fortunes nearly instantly by trading on mumbo-jumbo that nobody else understood. They came in for plenty of ribbing as self-interested, too, much as hipsters are today.
The screws really got turned on smoking as the threat of second-hand smoke became fully accepted and gave the tobacco companies the ultimate PR nightmare: It's one thing to manipulate their addicts to rationalize what they are doing to their own bodies, but it's quite another to deal with non-smokers who are being threatened by smoking as innocent bystanders. While cigarette vending machines were still a common sight in the U.S. at the beginning of the decade, they were long gone before its end.
For the most part, the middle class still existed during The Eighties.
The PG-13 rating was introduced in 1984 as a response to the controversy over violent content in Gremlins and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, which had gone out with PG ratings.
Television was going through a rough patch. While many shows were holdovers from The Seventies, the networks had a very hard time keeping new shows on. What shows did survive were massive hits: The Cosby Show, Cheers, Miami Vice, etc.
Series also started experimenting with settings — no longer were the standard dramas and comedies confined to the three biggest cities. Eight Is Enough was set in Sacramento, for example, while Dueling ShowFamily was set in Pasadena. Later on, Washington DC and San Francisco became very popular in this respect.
This is the decade where Telenovelas began to be known beyond their secluded local markets, with several countries actually knowing for the fisrt time what soaps where being done in other countries of the region (Mexico, the biggest producer of the region, being the exception). Also, productions from Mexico and Venezuela were imported heavily to Spain and other European countries. Spain got such a fever with Crystal, a Venezuelan soap, that their protagonist actors eventually moved and had a quite long career across the pond. Brazilians soaps algo got an small boom, and began to experiment with newer themes and more socially relevant plots, albeit most of these productions began to be more known on other countries on the next decade.
In live theater, the 1980s was the decade of the "megamusical" — lavish productions with premises ranging from whimsical (Cats, Starlight Express) to highly dramatic (Les MisÚrables), but all marked by scores that mixed pop sounds with "traditional" and operatic styles and a tendency towards BIG emotions and BIG showstoppers. The theatrical equivalents of the Summer Blockbuster, and often regarded with just as much disdain by professional critics, Scenery Porn and Costume Porn were the order of the day in these shows. Many were the musical work of British composer Andrew Lloyd Webber, and most premiered in London's West End before launching sister productions in New York City and elsewhere. Lloyd Webber's career and the megamusical as a whole reached a peak with 1986's The Phantom of the Opera, with the media hype surrounding the show's Broadway debut in 1988 comparable to that of any Hollywood blockbuster of the era.
'80s Hair tended towards the big and foofy. This was true for men, too — though never as big as women's hair, men's hair was longish by today's standards, and buzz cuts were extremely rare. Especially in the early '80s, 'fros (afros) hung on from the '70s. Side ponytails and big neon scrunchies were popular among little girls and teenagers. Crimping irons with swappable plates were a must-have, including some◊ that did not work at all as intended, unless you turned your hair into a sheet of hairspray and then didn't move.
Jeans weren't baggy — they were worn as tight as possible.
"Preppie style" was big in the early '80s. Mostly this manifested itself as polo shirts, often striped, ideally of the "Izod" brand, whose logo was a little embroidered crocodile (They are NOT "gator shirts"; Izod Lacoste shirts got their name from French tennis player RenÚ Lacoste, whose nose gave him the nickname "Le Crocodile". He put a crocodile on his shirts, and it took off from there).
Women often wore multiple pairs of socks, one over the other, of contrasting colors. You'd buy your shoes a size or so large for this purpose.
Tights could be worn as casual wear instead of trousers. You pulled up your (multiple pairs of) socks right over the bottom of the tights. Legwarmers were optional but popular. They would often be paired with an oversized T-shirt or sweatshirt. T-shirt clips◊ were big in the latter half of the decade through the early 1990's, particularly in neon.
Flashdance in 1983 popularized off-the-shoulder sweatshirts◊, usually with the collar ripped off.
For a brief period of time, women, mostly teenage girls, could be seen wearing cut-off denim shorts over sheer tights with sneakers. Unsurprisingly, this look didn't last long, being considered completely terrible even by '80s standards.
Given that skintight jeans could be very hard to get on or off over one's feet, some styles had zippers at the back of the ankle. While not terribly widespread, this hung on into the early nineties, until such tight jeans fell out of style.
Shoulder pads among women's business suits were also an Acceptable Target with their ridiculously masculine style.
Neckties got skinny again around 1979 thanks to Punk Rock. Not everybody wore them, but by '83 or so most people did. They went back out of style later in the decade, but people on the west coast were still wearing them in 1989.
Personal computers (particularly the Apple II) made their grand entrance into education during this decade, especially around the midpoint and after. Schools built dedicated computer labs to teach students typing, a skill that they (correctly) guessed would become very important in the coming years for more than just secretaries. These school computers also had games like Oregon Trail, loved by teachers for its ability to teach students history, and loved by students for granting them the opportunity to shoot everything between the Mississippi River and the Willamette Valley.
Food and Drink:
Coca-Cola and Pepsi were at each other's throats during the "Cola Wars", pulling out all the stops with their advertising. In 1985, Coke garnered quite a bit of controversy by reformulating their classic recipe, causing sales to plummet. They had quickly switched back to the old, marketing it as "Coca-Cola Classic", thus saving sales.
Similarly, McDonald's and Burger King were undergoing a "Fast Food War" similar to this.
A dog by the name of Spuds Mckenzie was the mascot for Budweiser Beer.
There was, frankly, a lot to fear in the '80s. The US was still at war, and getting nuked was a frighteningly plausible possibility. A string of post-apocalyptic movies, like The Day After, Testament and Threads, helped keep the fear bubbling. The Chernobyl meltdown made people queasy about even peaceful applications of nuclear technology.
The corollary to all the Cold War fear was that, when the Soviet Union collapsed like a pricked soap bubble at the end of the decade, there was a huge sense of relief and hope for the future.
A man by the name of John Hinckley Jr., in an attempt to impress his loveJodie Foster, tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan in 1981 after addressing an AFL-CIO conference. All of the shooting victims survived, though White House Press Secretary James Brady was permanently disabled, with speech and movement difficulties.
New Wave became one of the signature sounds of the '80s, starting in the Britain in the '70s but really garnering popularity in the United States around this decade. Artists such as A Flock of Seagulls, Duran Duran, Talking Heads, The Buggles, and Depeche Mode garnered big hits.
MTV was born August 1, 1981, playing music videos all day, everyday.
Michael Jackson immortalized himself as the King of Pop during this time, scoring hits such as "Billie Jean", "Thriller", and "Beat It".
Those bored with pop radio tuned their radios to the left side of the dial and listened to College Radio. The artists who played on these stations were Post Punk guitar bands who performed what would later be called "Alternative Rock", were often signed to small labels and usually toured the United States in a beat-up van. The "modern rock" radio format sprung up near the end of the decade just as college favorites like R.E.M. and Midnight Oil began receiving mainstream attention and these early pop successes paved the way for alternative rock becoming a major music genre in the 1990's.
Metal was in, especially towards the end of the decade. As well as the mainstream scene which was focused on Glam Metal, there was a massive underground, especially in the United States and Germany. There were no MySpace, YouTube, or Metal-Archives at the time. Underground music circulated through fanzines (Kerrang! started in 1981 as an underground fanzine), compilation albums issued by record labels, and tape trading (how Metallica first got big). Tape trading was surrounded by a lot of rules and rituals that would seem completely alien to someone used to peer-to-peer downloading. Part of this was due to the limits of tapes—every copy ("generation") of a bootleg was inferior to the source it was copied from. Although subgenres started to coalesce towards the late 1980s, the sort of obsessive subgenre hair-splitting common among today's metal fans did not exist. Most of the underground bands made fun of glam (Dave Mustaine called it "Gay L.A. Metal") but that was about it.
In Japan, meanwhile, the main music industry was dominated by pop, Idol Singers, and similar. Hard Rock and Heavy Metal were pretty much limited to one band, Loudness, at the beginning of the 80s, with other Hard Rock and Heavy Metal acts being pretty much strictly underground or at the local club scene level. This changed around 1986 in pretty much the biggest way possible - Visual Kei roared from the the underground into the public consciousness, starting with bands such as X, SEIKIMA-II, and COLOR, with a loud, aggressive, in-your-face combination of Punk Rock, Hard Rock, and Heavy Metal fused with purposeful attention whoring and troublemaking to force themselves not to be ignored. The first Visual Kei labels, Extasy Records and Free Will Records, were founded, and X would become the first Visual band and first metal band to ever top the Japanese charts, repeatedly starting in 1989. At the time, Visual Kei had become something new and interesting, yet was still "underground and dangerous" enough it didn't generally have mass appeal until the very end of the decade - it took until 1989 for X to top the charts and go major with "Blue Blood."
Latin-American countries were another thing completely. Most countries were in a "One song by local artist for one from foreign ones" model of protectionism, which created small musical ecosystems whose artists rarely crossed over frontiers. No artist really believed they could make it on the American market, so the idea of "crossover" didn't really exist, or just was limited to playing in either a neighboring country or making it on Mexico, the biggest market at the time. Most of the music done at the time were done in the style of American pop music, just blander. There were also the beginning of a trend of covers from American or European songs done by local artists in other styles, like Ballads by Celine Dion or Dolly Parton covered by Dominican band Las Chicas del Can as dominican merengue. Salsa musicians softened their sound, and an style named "Salsa Erotica", with quite risque lyrics soon emerged.
In the early 80s, this mentality was common in Canada too, by no means a Latin-American country. Though there were a few Canadian acts who made it in the US, like Bryan Adams and later the aforementioned Celine Dion, much of the material you'd hear on Canadian radio circa 1984 never made its way to the US. Artist like Corey Hart and Men Without Hats are seen as one-hit wonders now, but had many hits in Canada at the time (and in Hart's case "Sunglasses at Night" was almost the least of them); the now-forgotten Platinum Blonde were as big in their native country as Duran Duran at the time.
The Eighties were the decade of the Charity Motivation Song and All-Star Cast charity concert as topflight acts banded together to raise money for the worthy causes of the moment (Ethiopian famine relief, AIDS research and treatment, struggling American farmers, etc.). This reached a peak in 1985 with "We Are The World" for the former and Live Aid for the latter.
Local Issues:Social Concerns:
With new drugs such as heroin and crack cocaine coming into play, The War on Drugs was at its most prevalent and Anvilicious; with school programs such as D.A.R.E. and former first lady Nancy Reagan telling kids to "Just Say No", these had, well, varying degrees of success.
There was also a new and terrifying plague: AIDS, whose etiology and pathology was unknown at the time. People were basically dropping dead, and no one knew why. No one even knew how it spread. At first the public lashed back at the groups hardest hit — gay men and intravenous drug users — as causing or deserving the disease. That eventually began to fade as the disease forced many people out of the closet like Rock Hudson and suddenly the public finally had to face the fact that gay people were everywhere and were hiding because of the social bullying they were suffering from the public.
"Stranger danger" first began to appear in this decade, with parents concerned that their children could be abducted off the street by predatory pedophiles. However, the fact that more sexual abusers are known to their victims, like their own parents, was also exposed to the public's horror as well.
The "Satanic Panic" took off and reached its peak in this decade. Spurred on by alleged "true stories" like Michelle Remembers and The Satan Seller (both of which are now widely believed to be fraudulent accounts), there was widespread fear among communities, churches, and even law enforcement and social services that there existed an underground network of devil-worshippers who kidnapped, abused, and sacrificed children and other "innocents" in order to gain power from the Dark Lord. Your next-door neighbors could be conducting virgin sacrifices in their basement and you wouldn't know about it — until they came for you and your loved ones! Some of the wackier theories even alleged that the Satanists had infiltrated the government, business and the military, and were using their resources to not only cover up their evil, but facilitate it. Hundreds of people saw their lives destroyed by allegations that they were Satanists, with one of the most notable (and sensationalized) incidents being the McMartin preschool case. It got to the point where even Procter & Gamble was accused of being Satanic due to their logo, which they had to change — they later wound up suing the people who spread the rumors (which caused their stock to plummet) for $19 million.
A woman in the U.K. claimed that 1 in 4 British adults was a member of the satanist underground.
Home computing was taking its first baby steps towards becoming a fixture of daily life. Computers like the Apple II, the IBM PC and the Commodore 64 emerged, creating the first generation to know computers as something other than room-sized boxes used only for scientific purposes. Businesses started switching over from typewriters, schools started to build dedicated computer labs (see above), Apple made its famous 1984 ad, and the area around San Jose, California began to become known as "Silicon Valley". The first computer games were also developed during this era, and enjoyed great success in Europe, a market that was never as receptive to home consoles as North America was (during both the Atari and Nintendo eras).
The VCR hits the big time, albeit initially impeded by the uncertainties of the VHS/Beta format war; this would redefine the business model of the film industry and the nature of going to the movies itself.
They were also, at first, incredibly expensive: in the early part of the decade, they could cost upwards of $500.00. VHS tapes were also initially very expensive, especially early in the decade, when they sold for $70 a pop — they were expected to be rented rather than purchased, and video rental stores sprang up like weeds across the U.S. Only at the end of the decade did the industry switch to selling rather than renting, and even then $40 was the standard price for a single title.