80’s pop culture in general, at least when I think about it, is very big and loud and over-the-top, but upon consideration, this is a very stereotypical, 2020-type view of things.
As the gif suggests, this portrait of the 80’s is a very modern, “Jimmy Fallon Tonight Show satire” portrayal, and although there is no denying that the 80’s was the era of big hair, neon colors, and questionable fashion choices (see: shoulder pads), chalking up the 80’s as a decade to those few things is simply a travesty, and a falsehood at that.
The 80’s was also the era of many hot Broadway musicals, with shows like Phantom of the Opera, Cats, and Les Miserables premiering (in the United States) in the 80’s. The insanely popular musical Rent, although not written until the 90’s, takes places in the middle of the AIDS crisis in New York City. Rent ended up facing a little bit of controversy because of the way it seemed to bury the problems of homelessness and AIDS and LGBTQ+ rights in catchy songs and well-off characters, almost romanticizing the issues.
However, this seems to be similar to how we as Americans deal with the 80’s in general. We couch all discussion in jokes about the horrible fashion and silly hairdos, not ever truly touching on the origins and issues that made the 80’s Like That. We focus on shoulder pads and rock music rather than the discrimination faced by LGBTQ+ folk and the terror of the AIDS crisis. Billy Joel’s “We didn’t start the fire,” for example: the majority of the references for the 80’s (only in the last verse) are very much negative, with lyrics like “heavy metal suicide// foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack,” none of which are terribly positive things.
A film that I watched, Night of the Comet, seems to capture this underlying angst that usually remains shoved into the metaphorical closet. The plot of this film, which came out in 1984, is that a comet comes to earth and wipes out almost all life, turning nearly everybody into either a pile of dust, or a blood-thirsty zombie figure. The film has lots of fear and murder, at one point two children are shown nearly getting killed for the purpose of maybe finding a cure for the zombie-fication. Additionally, although unrelated to the widespread cultural angst this film shows, the end is very conservative and traditional. The main female protagonist, Regina, who, throughout the film is shown defending herself and taking no grief from anybody, ends up in a stereotypical mother/housewife role. This was incredibly interesting to me, because I truly expected Regina to remain a strong, independent woman. However, when I consider the fact that this movie was made in 1984, it becomes less of a surprise. Regina says something along the lines of “its up to us to uphold civilization” so of course she would fall into a housewife/mother role, because that is- according to the thinking of the time, not my personal beliefs- the only civilized place for a lady to be.
In conclusion, a lot of the loud, raucous 80’s culture seems to be a desperate attempt to keep things normal and secure despite a wave of chaos and change, what with computers becoming common in homes in the 80’s and the domestic and foreign chaos. Not to say, of course, that that makes 80’s culture inherently bad, or that 80’s culture can only truly be enjoyed by nitpicking it for metaphors. I enjoy all of these things just as much at a surface-level of appreciation, especially the abundance of neon colors!