This week on the podcast, the guys and Jenny discussed the 80s.
Now, if I have a reputation around here, and I might, it may include how I am not much into nostalgia. That was, like, my biggest barrier to really enjoying Ready Player One. The big problem with nostalgia, I feel, is that it elevates stuff that maybe doesn’t deserve it. I have no problem loving things from my childhood that hold up, but these things should be good in their own right, not good because I thought they were awesome when I was 8.
To clarify, just because it was something I enjoyed as a kid (like, say, Masters of the Universe), does not mean it was, you know, good. Look at the sort of stuff you liked as a kid today, and many times it doesn’t hold up well (like, say, Masters of the Universe). Likewise, if you have children, look at the stuff they enjoy and see how much of it you can really stomach. If you’re lucky, your kid is into stuff that holds adult appeal, which is the real challenge to children’s entertainment: the creators slipped in enough stuff for the poor parents stuck watching it to also enjoy, which is one of the keys to both Sesame Street and various Pixar movies that don’t feature talking cars.
I may also feel a bit weirded out that anything from my lifetime might be considered a “classic”. In my mind, a classic movie or TV show is something that has been around for a very long time and has managed to grow a fan base of some kind that does not include the original target audience. That’s a mighty tall order.
I mean, looking over my output here at Gabbing Geek, it should be clear I have no problem revisiting stuff from the past. I just want it to be something that is good and worth seeing, not just something that I loved when I was a kid and had different (read: bad) taste.
Obviously, then, there are many 80s products I do enjoy, though. Ghostbusters is a great comedy that stands up well. The 80s produced some fine action movies, perhaps in the same sense that today we get superhero movies. Die Hard is perhaps the perfect example of the 80s action movie, both in the way it uses and in some case breaks the tropes of the convention. Arnold and Sly may take injuries over the course of the movie, but John McClane the first time around is visibly limping and barely able to stand by the time that movie ends (he gets more indestructible in various sequels). Robocop is both action and satire, which puts it in a rare field of quality. The end of the 80s brought us Michael Keaton as Batman, one of the first successful attempts to make a superhero film since Christopher Reeve made us believe a man could fly.
The 80s also had genres we just don’t see anymore. R-rated action and horror films still existed. The kid-friendly adventure film, epitomized best perhaps in The Goonies and various films with Steven Spielberg’s name in the producer credit, was still a thing. When was the last time an adventure movie came out with a kid hero aside from a certain boy wizard?
E.T. is a classic no matter what. Stop quacking, Jenny.
And Watson was right…aside from whatever Judd Apatow is doing these days, just plain goofy comedies don’t seem to exist anymore, and Apatow’s comedies often deal with overgrown man-children growing up fast.
Now, that said, I should point out some things about the 80s I’d rather not return to.
I don’t much care for John Hughes movies of that era. Most just don’t work for me, and I want to pop Ferris Bueller in the nose since he’s incredibly smug and nowhere near as clever as he thinks he is. Both the Blues Brothers and the guys from Animal House would chew him up and spit him out.
80s music isn’t bad, but I have a constant ringing in one ear, so enjoying music has always been tricky for me. My favorite band that still exists is U2, so draw your own conclusions.
80s fashion is laughable, but so is any fashion twenty years later. The 90s, the era of my 20s, had some really weird hair for men and an overabundance of flannel. I didn’t notice at the time, but I can honestly say I’ve never been much of a fan of pastels and such that were prime 80s colors.
See, I’m the killjoy who likes to point out the flaws in time periods. My wife had some friends over a few months ago and they were discussing what decades each one of them would fit best in. One early guess was one of the gals would fit best in the 50s, which I interrupted by pointing out that this time period had Jim Crow, polio, nuclear paranoia, and McCarthyism. Those were not cool. Nostalgia forgets much of the bad and elevates stuff of questionable quality.
So, I’ll take the good stuff of the 80s, but the fact it came from the 80s is generally immaterial. Exceptions exist because nothing is created in a vacuum, but for the most part, the whole “80s is cool!” doesn’t work for me. If it’s good, I’ll enjoy it. If it’s bad, I won’t.