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On The 80’s

The truth is a bully we all pretend to like.’ – Shantaram

In this episode I’ll be making broad and questionable generalizations, because otherwise I’d have nothing interesting to say about the 80’s, other than the fact that I was there.

I was 3 when the 80’s started and 13 when they ended. There are some aspects that made the 80’s unique, though I rarely see them described in the ways that made them stand out for me.

If there’s one theme that unites 80’s pop culture, it’s sincerity. 80’s movies and artists (in the popular sense) were painfully, almost naively sincere. Take a couple songs from that era – My Name is Luca, about the beat-up boy who lives on the second floor, or that charity song about Africa that causes everyone’s eyes to roll. They wore their hearts on their sleeves so much you couldn’t even see the garment anymore.

madonna

You can see that as a thread in the career of that 80’s icon, Madonna. At one time – hard as it is to imagine now – she seemed to be sincerely working through her Catholic beliefs, her progressive stances, and a kind of artistic appropriation that could express them all.

That made Madonna captivating, this mix of honesty, pop culture, and vulnerability, in a way that really demanded that she be as honest an exposed as possible, before transmuting all that experience into something richer and deeper.

Then time went on; her intensity cooled. She become a parody of herself. People lost interest; the qualities that made her interesting (hard as they are to pin down) cooled down, and she settled into being a pop star.

And life went on.

We got more skeptical. The 80’s, in some ways, were like a neo-50’s, with similar ills. The dark side of sincerity is gullibility, and we were very gullible.

There was a dumb trust in McDonald’s, absolutely terrible Saturday morning cartoon shows, bad American companies (Phillip Morris was a trusted name, as were the record labels), political shenanigans. You can see the shift in our thinking about cigarettes – no longer the cool rebellious kids we once thought they were.

marlboro_man_II

He died of cancer.

We also got more ironic, which was an obvious corrective to mistakes like this. At the same time, we also became less honest. I do think the 80’s had a kind of emotional openness that went out of style, that is worth celebrating. It wasn’t all bad hairstyles, neon colors, and shoulder pads; there was also a sense of people trying to reconcile their desire for prosperity with a hard-edged information-based society that kept skating towards exploitation. They tried, and in some ways, succeeded in speaking a common language, with an unashamed intensity that lasted for a few shining moments before being mocked into oblivion.

That part of the 80’s was great.

Now I’ll listen to free music on YouTube.

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