Thursday, November 25, 2004

1980s - they're baaaaaack 

I have no idea about the demographic profile of my readership - more men or women? (I'd venture a guess it's the former) what's the average age? 20s? 30s? 40s and above? City or country? Average income? Wouldn't have a clue.

Hence I don't know whether you'll rejoice or grind your teeth at the message of Noah Oppenheim's article earlier this week in the "Opinion Journal": the 1980s are returning.

Being in the early 30s myself, I'm definitely a child of the 80s, with a proviso that having spent most of that decade behind the Iron Curtain my access to popular culture of that time was patchy and I could catch up on the rest only once I arrived in Australia in November 1988. My fondness for the 1980s is partly a function of the common variety nostalgia for one's young years; partly a quasi-political reflex, because while the pop culture of that decade was not particularly political in itself, the concept of Western pop culture very much was for us stuck in the middle of the dreary nightmare of socialist realism; and partly I genuinely still enjoy some of that stuff. With the emphasis on "some": I dread the time when the 1980s fashion, hairstyles and make-up make a comeback (although they could hardly be any worse than the periodic 1970s revivals), watching 1980s movies of any genre leaves me at a loss to explain what, aside from youthful exuberance and underdeveloped taste, made me once swoon over everything from "Highlander" to "The Breakfast Club".

But the music - the music I still listen to. Tragically so, according to Mrs Chrenkoff, who likes to show Brisbane's biggest 1980s CD collection to all our visitors as a harmless little joke to break the ice. Anyway, should you ever wonder where all the Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, A-ha, Big Country, Simple Minds, Marillion, Springsteen, Alphaville, Pet Shop Boys and Ultravox CDs have gone - I've got them.

Oppenheim notes all the signs of the 1980s resurrection: the remakes of "Miami Vice" and "Dallas" are in the pipeline, the 1980s music is back on the airways, big hair and big shoulders strut the catwalks again, and opulence and extravagance are in. But why? And why now?
"It may, in part, be merely cyclical. There is always some retro trend, and the '80s moment has arrived. Or it's a backlash against the minimalism of the '90s... But alongside the shift in the popular culture are uncanny parallels in the political realm. Could they suggest a cause? A polarizing Republican president. Skyrocketing deficits. Rampant anti-Americanism in Europe. A sense of impending apocalypse or, at the least, a feeling that the moment is filled with nerve-wracking global gambits...

"There is something in the ingredients of anxiety, uncertainty and isolation that do send us seeking relief in broad entertainments. And all the better that they should be familiar entertainments. The current arbiters of taste--the creative executives at the networks, studios and record labels, the magazine editors--are all children of the 1980s. And they're panicked, as much by the Bush majority as by al Qaeda. They are returning to the womb and dragging the rest of the country with them."
Or perhaps not. As Oppenheim himself recognizes, there is a strong gut reaction against the 1980s among our gliteratti and the beautiful people. This is arguably the reason why a full scale 1980s revival will not happen on the same scale as the 60s' and the 70s' ones: in the eyes of many of our culture makers and trend setters, the 1980s will remain forever tainted by the decade's politics. Debbie Gibson and Culture Club, of course, have nothing to do with Ronald Reagan, Star Wars (the weapons system, not the movie) or Wall Street but when you're thinking about the 1980s it's difficult to simply concentrate on the soundtrack without remembering that those were also the years of the Republican dominance in the United States, the Conservative dominance in Great Britain, and the dying rattles of the Evil Empire. This is precisely why the 1960s and 70s with their wishy-washy politics to go with the progressive popular culture and counter-culture will remain favorites of the artistic establishment still dominated by the Baby Boomers.

And this is also why the 1980s - the decade of greed, of exuberant patriotism, and of cheesy popular culture might ever be truly celebrated only by the red states, while the blue America remains stuck in the gilded age nostalgia for the decade of nothing, Clinton's 1990s.


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