Then and Now: How the 80s Defined Us

Did everyone have a good Memorial Day Weekend? What did you do to celebrate? Joe and I kept it pretty lowkey, but we did cook up bacon hot dogs. Jealous?

Did any of you watch the miniseries special The 80’s: The Decade That Made Us on the National Geographic Channel? It originally aired several weeks ago, but is making a second run around soon. Besides being awesomely narrated by Rob Lowe, Bad Ass Saxaphone Player Hottie of the 80’s, the show was really well put together and interesting.

Teach us about the 80’s, Rob!

Being born in the 80’s, I don’t remember a lot about them. Most of what I recall is actually the early 90’s trying to army crawl their way into a new decade. Watching this miniseries was really informational for me to understand what was happening in the world when I was born. And I started taking notes. Because I’m a dork like that. Because I didn’t want you to miss out on these great observations I had.

Then and Now

The Games We Play

Did you know it was the 80’s that brought us Tetris?

I remember playing Tetris, it was a game I was quite good at. Now everyone plays Angry Birds. And my 8 year old nephew told me my AB score was pathetic. #TrueStory

The Phones We Use

The 1980’s brought about the first ever cellular phone call. The phone call was made from inside a car and filmed on the news. As the phone’s creators held their breath, the nation watched to see if it would really work.

How do I get Facebook on this thing?

We’ve advanced from cell phones to smart phones. If you’re like me, your phone is now smarter than YOU are! My 10 year old niece uses her phone to update her Pinterest page. I do not yet have a Pinterest page.

The Way We Talk

The 80’s brought about a fad from West Coast high school girls who hung out at the mall a lot. Valley Girl Talk! Not sure what Valley Girls sound like? Check out Moon Unit Zappa’s hit song, Valley Girl. It’s like totally awesome! Ohmygod!

I’m not sure we have a dialect that is sweeping the nation, but I have been seeing a lot of anagrams sweeping the internet, IYKWIM… LOL.

The Music We Love

Madonna first made waves in the 80’s with hits like Material Girl, Like a Virgin, and Holiday. She was an innovative star who made music and fashion her own, thereby causing the vast population of women, and gay men, to emulate her.

As much as I wish we had a better example, the only one who I think comes close to this decade’s Madonna is Lady Gaga. Love her or hate her, she has a powerful voice and sense of fashion. She’s gained a huge following and is true to her self – meat clothes, black perfume, and all!

The Wars That Last Forever

The Cold War lasted almost an entire decade. It’s aftermath still leaves Germany divided. War, in any capacity, takes generations to overcome. And by the time we start to move forward, it seems we start a new war. I say this not to upset anyone’s political beliefs, or to dishonor our troops. I am very grateful for all those who serve our country. I understand my freedoms are because of their commitment. But watching The 80’s and learning of the Cold War was very engrossing to me. I understood much more about the values my parents raised me with and the shift in economy because of it.

For this generation, anyone born in the early 2000’s, the war that lasted almost a decade will be the War on Terror. A fight I know leaves us all fearful of what’s next.

The Epidemics We Face

Many of you who were of age to watch the news, and cared about it, probably remember the name Ryan White. I didn’t remember his name, but I am glad that I learned of him. At a time when the AIDS virus severely scared the nation, Ryan White put a face to the disease that told America “This could happen to anyone.” After contracting HIV from a blood transfusion, Ryan used his last years to campaign for HIV awareness and his mother still does this activist work today. I am grateful to both of them.

While it isn’t anything new, I think the epidemic we face is cancer. Nowadays you don’t have to look far to know someone whose family member, or they themselves, have been diagnosed with the disease. Both my mother and sister have overcome it. Here’s hoping with our medical advances, we’ll also find a cure to beat both of these diseases yet in our lifetime.

The Ability to Help During Disaster

In the campaign USA for Africa, one of the largest music-based fundraisers was held in the 80’s. We Are the World was written by Michael Jackson and Lionel Richie to help the many people of Africa who were dieing of famine. The single sold over 20 million copies and rallied a nation to aid our fellow man.

In 2010, I tuned in to give to the Hope for Haiti fundraiser after a horrific earthquake left the country in desperate need. Many of us made our donations to the Red Cross to help rescue survivors and provide shelter to those who needed it. We do this again to help our neighbors in Oklahoma now.

Our country has made many advances and come a long way, but one thing I’m glad hasn’t changed is our ability to help each other when we need it most.

What do you remember? What was big in the decade you were born in and  how has it changed? Do you wish we could go back to our old ways in anything? Resurrect Devo anyone?

You mean Devo still is together? And they’re on tour in California next month? Then bring on the Devolution!

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38 responses

  1. Whip it good!! Just glad you left out Big Hair and the horrible amounts of hair spray we went through in our attempt to scale lofty Hair Heights – now that’s a trend we certainly don’t need to revisit…

    1. Unfortunately I still experienced that both from my mother and sister. I think all of us, minus maybe my brother Justin, had perms at some point too. Poor Jim, his is forever ingrained in our minds because it’s on his High School photo, which our parents have proudly displayed in the dining room.

  2. I remember all of this. I was a child of the 80’s, being born in the 70’s and all, so the 80’s were my wheelhouse. We are the World, Hands Across America (look it up), Madonna, Thriller, the Berlin Wall coming down and of course, Ryan White. All of it.

    1. Were you a Real World watcher from the start? We grew up without cable, so on rare occasions when I could watch from my sister’s college apartment were very exciting. I think Pedro on the Real World also opened up a lot of eyes of the younger generation who maybe before only heard their parents’ points of view.

      1. Yep. I was there when they first stopped being polite and started being real. When they picked diverse cast members as a social experiment on clashing societal, race and class hierarchies. Way before they solely picked famewhores to get drunk and screw everyone in the filming city for “good TV.”

        I was also there for the very beginning of MTV. I was a tot, but I was alive.

  3. I graduated from high school in the late ’80s so you’re playing my song(s) here, sister! When MTV first started in the early ’80s, they only played music videos (shocking!). Sometimes, we just left MTV on all day–kind of like a radio, but with pictures. I love the music of that decade. When I hear it, I also see the videos replay in my head.

    And, yes, I’m a little bit jealous of your bacon hot dogs.

    1. I miss old MTV. Somewhere in my parents house are stacks of VHS tapes that we recorded Friday Night Music shows on. They had Madonna’s Vogue on there, and Extreme’s More Than Words! *swoon*

  4. I was a child of the 70s so it was all bell-bottoms and Shaun Cassidy for me. The 80s I was in high school/college. God, I’m so old.

    1. You’re my sister’s age. You’re not old, I’m just a freakish Oops Baby. *hangs head in shame*

  5. It’s like, you know, way cool that, you know, we can, like, talk about those old times. Know what I mean?

    Here is the coolest (!) thing about blending our then with our now…

    I don’t have to lose the songs that rocked me in the undisclosed decade that defines me, I can reach out via the Internet (Thank you, Al Gore!) and reconnect with buddies from High School and College.

    Oh, how I wish the 70’s era banners to “Make Love, Not War” had the potential to change history.

    The things I really miss? (Aside from bacon-wrapped hotdogs that I haven’t had in, like, forever.)

    Letter writing, and pen pals. Playing outside until the streetlights came on. Innocence of childhood not marred by too-young-for-young-eyes prime-time television. Big Bird. Silly love songs. Hayrides. Drive-in movies and all the “necking” that went with it. Steaming up car windows on back country roads. Wolfman Jack. Chicago, Credence Clearwater Revival, The Stones, Beatlemania.

    And, am I the only reader of your blog you remembers Pac-Man?? Say it isn’t so!

    Do kids these days have the benefit of that innocence? Not sure. They’re exposed to so much at such an early age.

    1. Gloria, I totally agree. I’m not sure kids today do get to grow up with that innocence. I was lucky that I did. I still have like 100 letters from my penpal who lived in Pennsylvania. My mom and I still write letters to each other because you don’t really get a lot of REAL mail anymore. It’s fun to get letters sent to you on pretty notecards.

      And, you’ll be pleased to know that the town next to mine had a drive in theater. So I know of this “necking” you speak of. 😉

  6. I still play Tetris!

    1. Awesome! Now I’m jealous. I’ll trade you a bacon hot dog for a round of Tetris?

  7. The Cold War peaked in the 80s, but it really got its start way back in the late 1940s, following on the heels of WWII. By the time the Cuban Missile Crisis rolled around, it was already in full swing.

    Having said that, of course I remember the 80s! I always associate them with the Atari 2600, PacMan, hair metal, and John Hughes movies.

    1. I don’t know, do we really have any iconic teen movies like the 80s had the Brat Pack? American Pie maybe…but that’s sort of a bleak look at our youth. LOL.

  8. The ’80s… love it! The music. The movies. The pop culture. The clothing. The cell phone!! I’m such a child of the ’80s…

    1. I don’t think much of the fashion needs to come back as much as it already has. Down with shoulder pads!

      But the music can stay!

  9. I was in high school for all of these things. And I graduated college, in 1989. I loved the 1980s, but I love the 70s more. Probably because I was blissfully ignorant about a lot of things that kids know about today. Hell, in the 70s, We were allowed to go on field trips without permission slips! No one had allergies. And no one worried about what would happen if we ate too many french fries. They were just delicious.

    That said, there were not many haircare products. I love the 80s because, along with Madonna, came the invention of haircare products. Thank goodness for mousse and gel and hairspray.

    1. LOL. How did you and your poor hair manage in the 70’s?

      And did you sport the Madonna, scarf in hair, teased bangs ‘do? Can we see pictures?!

      1. Oh honey. Those pictures are on the blog. Waaaaaay before I knew you, I wrote about prom. Ahem. I should update.

        1. Now I know my first google search of the day.

          1. You inspired me to revise. New post up up up.

  10. […] Then and Now: How the 80s Defined Us […]

  11. Lady Gaga doesn’t even come close (in my mind) to Madonna back in the early 80’s. I was born in the mid-60’s and remember the 80’s very fondly…high school, college, getting married, and starting my career. We were so optimistic compared to the cynicism of many people today.

    Ronald Reagan made us proud to be Americans, the Cold War ended with the fall of the Berlin Wall, MTV began, Disco died and gave way to pop (Michael Jackson was huge too) and alternative (Talking Heads) and rock (U2). “The future was so bright, we had to wear sunglasses at night.” Or something like that.

    Just my two cents. Thanks for the walk through Memory Lane. Seems like yesterday. 🙂

    1. Well, I know Lady Gaga isn’t everyone’s fave, but neither was Madonna at the time. I was thinking about it and Katy Perry is a good contender too. She’s had huge success with her songwriting and record sales. It remains to be seen yet who will truly achieve Madonna status after many more years and hopefully albums to come. You know, Beyonce is a good contender and I think she’s adapted herself too over the years which is good.

      I’ve seen U2 in concert. Great show! I also went to see the U2 wall in Ireland – blocks long graffiti fan art. Pretty cool!

  12. Although born in the ’70’s, I was a child of the ’80’s. The 70’s were good for disco, bell bottoms and tie die shirts. 😉

    I remembered almost everything you mentioned, but must have blocked out Moon Zappa’s song as too painful. When I think Valley Girls I think Square Pegs (the TV show with Sarah Jessica Parker, Jami Gertz & Tracey Nelson) or Valley Girl the movie (with Nicholas Cage).

    1. Man early Jamie Gertz was fab! She did a movie called Jersey Girl that I loved!

      1. She has definitely been underrated through the years. 🙂

  13. It’s strange to realize that my childhood is considered a history lesson now. *headdesk* One thing I definitely miss is the great family shows of the 80s. We had the Huxtables, the Seavers, the Keatons, and even the Bundys.

    Sometime ago, I did a post with an 80s quiz: http://julieglover.com/2011/08/08/are-you-a-child-of-the-80s/. Loved this post, Jess!

    1. I watched a lot of Cosby show growing up. And then in the 90s it was Family Matters. Hello Steve Urkel. Lol

  14. I miss old MTV too! I was in middle school and high school in the 80s–MTV was a big part of my life. Well, as soon as we got cable. That took forever. That reminds me that my kids have no idea what it’s like to wait for something! Everything is so accessible. LOL

    1. Yah I didn’t have access to cable until college. I was sooo deprived!

  15. Thanks for the memories! Great post!

    1. Your welcome! Definitely a decade that was all about the excess of things.

  16. Such a fun post! I feel like I should remember more about the 80s, but really my big memories (high school and college) were in the 90s!

    1. I’m a huge fan of the 90’s, having grown up during them. LOL. Joe likes to make fun of my music taste and blame it on the 90’s. Please say you’d dance with me to TLC and the Backstreet Boys!

  17. Love, this, Jess! I graduated from high school and college during the ’80’s so that decade pretty much defines me. I remember everything you listed- especially Ryan White. His story took a disease once associated only with homosexual men and brought it into the mainstream population as we realized this disease affects everyone, not just a specific demographic, thereby helping advance research that eventually resulted in finding ways to better control its spread and alleviate its symptoms.
    Great, informative post – wish I had known National Geographic produced such a show!

    1. If you click the link of the shows name, it’ll take you to the Nat Geo channel website. It looked like they were going to run the series again and I thought it was awesome! I don’t really remember the 80’s cause I was so little, so for me the show was really informative and I understood what was happening in the world around me.

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