After decades of scandal, war, and protest, the 1980s were a decade defined by excess and greed. Pop culture became the norm with entertainment and news merging into one entity. Hell, the president was a former actor who quoted Dirty Harry, and Clint Eastwood was the mayor of Carmel, California. It was a decade struggling to forget the past while rushing to find the future. That rush led to a bunch of bad ideas and weird pop culture happenings.
The decade that brought us MTV, John Hughes and Gordon Gekko has started to rear its acid-washed head again in recent years. This year alone has seen remakes of Robocop, About Last Night and Endless Love. A rebooted Dallas just began its third season on TNT and ABC has a minor hit with The Goldbergs, a sort of 1980s version of The Wonder Years. Even the recent escalation of Russian/American tensions over Ukraine has news channels discussing a new “Cold War.” The 1980s are back whether we like it or not, but that does not mean that everything related to the decade needs to return.
Here are five things that we should all hope never return:
It makes sense that a decade known for greed would have several television shows where one of the main characters is the ultimate status symbol: a fancy, expensive vehicle. In fact, you might be hard pressed to find a vehicle not represented by at least one show in the eighties.
Helicopter? Airwolf and Blue Thunder. Motorcycle? Streethawk and CHiPs. Luxury Cruise liner? Love Boat. Spaceship? Buck Rogers in the 25th Century. Sports Car? Knight Rider is probably the best example, but we should also recognize Miami Vice and Magnum P.I. Also, The A-Team had a cool van that they modified in almost every episode. The Fall Guy had his pick-up truck that jumped over things. And on The Dukes of Hazzard, the Duke boys used a modified Charger to evade Sheriff Roscoe P. Coltrane. All of these cool vehicles led to some pretty amazing merchandising and probably helped a few of these shows last past their first seasons.
Andrew Dice Clay
In 1984, a forgettable film called Making the Grade starring Judd Nelson was released. It’s a somewhat typical 80s film about a rich kid who needs to graduate from a prep school or his parents will cut him off financially. Making the Grade is also the first appearance of Andrew “Dice” Clay — or more specifically, the “Dice” character created by stand-up comedian Andrew Clay.
Before “Dice,” Andrew Clay was your typical observational humor kind of comic. But with the added edge of “Clay,” he became a huge star by reciting “naughty” nursery rhymes, and either making you laugh or groan or both. By the end of 1990, he had hosted Saturday Night Live (famously both cast member Nora Dunn and musical guest Sinead O’Connor boycotted the episode), released a hit album The Day the Laughter Died and starred in the box-office flop The Adventures of Ford Fairlane.
Sure, bands like Motley Crue and Def Leppard are still touring and filling arenas. But in the 80s, sales of Aqua Net must have been at record levels. If one musical genre defines the 80s, it’s hair metal in all of its misogynistic, neon spandex, poufy hair glory.
After the release and subsequent commercial success of Bon Jovi’s Slippery When Wet in 1986, glam metal gained wider public acceptance despite critical disgust. Videos began appearing on regularly on MTV and in 1987, the network began airing The Headbanger’s Ball. The show became a showcase for hair metal acts, and was one of the most popular shows ever to air on MTV before it ended in 1995. Hair metal ended the decade still going strong with Motley Crue’s Dr. Feelgood, Guns N’ Roses’ Appetite for Destruction and Def Leppard’s Hysteria all going multi-platinum, and reaching the top spot on the Billboard charts.
Dark Children’s Movies
Movies have been scaring children for decades from Pinocchio to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang to Finding Nemo. But movie makers in the 1980s decided to add a level of creepiness unlike anything seen before or since in movies supposedly made for children. There are at least a dozen movies that could be noted here, but two directors really define the look of 1980s kids movies.
Former Disney animator Don Bluth directed a string of darker animated movies, starting with 1982’s The Secret of NIMH and ending with All Dogs Go to Heaven in 1989, which were less polished than those being produced by Disney at the time. Bluth was hoping to return animation to the classic Disney look of the studio’s early movies, which had their own share of scary moments for kids. Along with Bluth’s work were two movies directed by beloved Muppets creator Jim Henson, The Dark Crystal and Labyrinth. Henson was looking to move away from his Muppets and was hoping to create a more realistic puppet in the vein of Yoda, who was created by the Henson Studios for The Empire Strikes Back. His attempt at realism led to mixed reviews from critics, but eventually both movies became cult classics due in large part to the many children freaked out by the Skeksis and David Bowie’s tight pants.
I think The Simpsons sums this one up best with a quote from the sixth season episode, “Bart vs. Australia” when State Department official Evan Conover (voiced by Phil Hartman) says, “As I’m sure you remember, in the late 1980s, the U.S. experienced a short-lived infatuation with Australian culture. For some bizarre reason, the Aussies thought this would be a permanent thing. Of course, it wasn’t.”
Honestly, it was pretty odd that almost every aspect of American pop culture in the 1980’s made Australians very popular. In music, Men at Work reached No. 1 with “Down Under,” and won a Grammy for Best New Artist in 1983, while INXS sold over six million copies of Kick and reached No. 3 on the Billboard charts in 1987. At the theatres, Crocodile Dundee made over $300 million at the box office in 1986, and star Paul Hogan won a Golden Globe for his portrayal of Mick Dundee. Mel Gibson became a box office star with the Mad Max and Lethal Weapon franchises. A slew of Aussie actors have become Hollywood stars over the past 20 years, from Russell Crowe to Hugh Jackman, so maybe our infatuation with Australian culture became a permanent thing after all.
Oddly enough, some of these have made slight comebacks over the years. Knight Rider was rebooted in 2008, but only lasted one season. Andrew Dice Clay continues to perform stand-up and appeared in Woody Allen’s 2013 film Blue Jasmine, while The Darkness and Buckcherry have been credited with a minor resurgence in hair metal’s popularity. Let’s just hope no one decides to green light a movie involving a creepy, realistic David Bowie puppet.
Follow Jeremy Klumpp on Twitter @Klumpp13