The lingering decade
Decade nostalgia comes and goes, but the fondness for the '80s hasn't diminished.
By DAVID STONE, Our Town Temple
MTV. The Cold War. AIDS. Star Wars. Blondie. The Breakfast Club. Mötley Crüe.
For some, the ‘80s was a decade of decadence and greed. For others, it was a time of great uncertainty and fear of the unknown. For many — like Bill & Ted — it was a “most triumphant era.”
There were issues of grave concern: Usage of a new form of cocaine reached epidemic levels, a baffling new disease was claiming lives and relations with Russia remained chilly.
But the doom-and-gloom was countered with New Wave, hip-hop and hair metal, and iconic movies such as Top Gun, The Empire Strikes Back and Die Hard.
“I think a lot of people look back on the ‘80s as a time of less complication and greater prosperity, but I don’t necessarily agree with that,” said Dr. Jacky Dumas, associate dean of the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor’s School of Humanities.
“There were those who were prosperous, but there were many who weren’t. There was a great deal of uncertainty in the world.”
“But today, we are still here — we survived — and we realize a lot of what we feared didn’t happen,” Dumas said. “Now we are looking back at the good things that occurred in the ‘80s.”
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Decade nostalgia is nothing new.
Back in the 1970s, America fell in love with the ‘50s and celebrated that era with shows such as American Graffiti, Happy Days and Grease, and “Oldies” radio stations popped up around the dial.
In the 1980s, the ‘60s became very cool. Our favorite shows were Dirty Dancing, The Big Chill and The Wonder Years. When the 1990s arrived, so did throwbacks to the 1970s such as Dazed and Confused and That ‘70s Show.
When the 2000s rolled around — and we were spared the disasters associated with Y2K — the ‘80s were back right on cue. But then a strange thing happened: This nostalgia didn’t dissipate. Call it the Decade That Won’t Go Away, and many people don’t want it to.
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Temple entered the 1980s as football champions. Skate Haven, Polar Bear-Ashburn’s, Action World and the mall were popular hangouts, and all the cool kids were cruising 57th Street at night in hot-rods, mom cars and pickups. Temple was growing, but it very much retained that small-town feel.
Girls wore leg warmers and had big hair, guys were cutting their hair except in the back and wearing shirts with little alligator emblems embroidered on the front. Concert Tees were huge, and the word “dude” had like a thousand meanings depending on how it was enunciated
Temple ate egg rolls at Golden Dragon, burgers at Charcoal Inn, steaks at Doyle Phillips, catfish at Frank’s, pizza at Padington’s and cheese sticks at Smitty’s.
If you had your windows down when driving through the Safeway parking lot at night, the latest from The Cars, Joan Jett, Whitney Houston, George Strait, Van Halen, Ozzy, The Judd’s, ZZ Top and Michael Jackson drifted in — maybe even a little Devo. “Whip it, whip it good!”
Temple was glued to the Cowboys and Oilers and Southwest Conference football, and we chanted “U-S-A” during a hockey game we now call Miracle on Ice. The Wildcats, of course, were royalty.
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“I was born in 1970 and grew up in the ‘80s,” said Dumas. “The 1980s brought a resurgence and rediscovery of ‘60s bands like the Beatles and Creedence Clearwater Revival. But MTV came along, and music changed.”
Outlaw punk bands from the late ‘70s — Iggy and the Stooges, The Ramones, Television, Blondie, the Talking Heads — became mainstream, and we began watching music as well as listening. The era of video bolstered careers of bands such as Ratt, Twisted Sister, the Eurythmics and The Police, and redirected ‘70s holdovers ZZ Top, Pink Floyd, Queen, The Eagles and Billy Joel.
As The Buggles forewarned: Video did, indeed, kill the radio star.
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So why do the ‘80s remain popular? An Our Town Temple poll revealed that just under half of those responding — a staggering 48 percent — thinks of the 1980s as the greatest decade ever.
“My daughter is 20 now, and if you play ‘Name That Tune’ with her, she knows the classics,” Dumas said. “She grew up listening to our music and watching our movies, and she started turning her friends on to it as well.”
“Today, kids are looking at movies such as Star Wars with the same sense of awe that we did in the 1980s,” he said. “If our daughter likes a song or a movie, we say: ‘You like that? Well, check this out.’”
“The younger generation has grown attached to the ‘80s culture, and that helps keep it alive,” Dumas explained. “That’s why they are still expanding Star Wars and other media from that decade. There’s even a new Top Gun movie coming out.”
Don’t forget about the new Bill and Ted film released a couple years back — it was surprisingly not horrible.
Dumas said many movie and television writers are products of the 1980s, and that helps keep the culture in the forefront. Popular shows like Stranger Things, This is Us, Snowfall and Halt and Catch Fire are all set in the 1980s.
The same is true in music — many of the bands that were popular in 1984 are still touring today. Some of the musicians have changed — some have died — but the bands live on.
“The ‘80s was a time of change, and that music was fun,” Dumas said. “A lot of the groups from back then are still around today — Journey, Toto, Men at Work, Rick Springfield — Foreigner is coming to Belton (April 22). They just won’t go away.”
“My daughter has created her own 80s playlist on Spotify,” Dumas said. “She didn’t ask her mother or me what she should put on it. She knows the songs, and she picked what she likes.”
“I think it’s a form of escapism. Our kids and the younger generation are curious about what makes us so happy, and they are keeping it alive.”
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So what else did Temple like about the 1980s? Almost 100 percent of those responding to the survey said: “The music.”
Yeah, it was — and is — pretty great. Some bands such as Firehouse, the Violent Femmes and Faster Pussycat are actually more popular today than they were back then.
Temple also mentioned many other ‘80s icons: Gremlins, Strawberry Shortcake, Bob McQueen, Ronald Reagan, emerging technology, We are the World, Farm Aid, preppy clothing, the Hofbrau, Where It’s At hamburgers, The Peppermint Lounge, Willie Nelson picnics, David Zychek and his Rockin’ Christmas shows, the Groovy Grill and Showtime Drive-In.
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