Right now, everyone loves to love the 1980s. People wax rhapsodic about Saturday morning cartoons. They miss their Garbage Pail Kids and their Teddy Ruxpin (though, at least, I saw him at Target the other day). They want their MTV — back when it actually played videos — which they watched wearing their Converse chucks. These are the ’80s we pine for. The one with Night Court and scrunchies and Mall Madness.
But this is not the ’80s we actually had, my friends. At least not in its entirety. Because there while the ’80s were filled with a lot of good stuff, there was a lot of bad shit too.
1. The Mullet
AKA, the ape drape, the Kentucky waterfall, business up front and party in the back: this was an actual haircut actually accepted by actual society. You could walk out of your home or (gasp) place of business, because the bemulleted were actually employed — and no one would point at you, laugh, or take photos destined to end up on someone’s mocking Instagram (and not just because there was no Instagram). We believed in the mullet. Rock gods sported the mullet, most notably Axl Rose, Bono, and Paul freaking McCartney.
2. Sky High Bangs
Every girl born before 1987 knows exactly what I mean here. First, you curled half your bangs up and back, then hit it with enough hairspray to make your own personal hole in the ozone layer. Then you curled the bottom back and down, and hit that sucker with hairspray. It end up like some weird exotic Georgia O’Keefe flower, except made of your hair and stuck to your head. It also required copious re-dosing of hairspray, which is why a condition known as “Girl’s Bathroom Lung” was epidemic in high schools across the US.
Kid’s movies featured more slurs than some bathroom walls. We loved showing our sons Monster Squad — and freaked the hell out when we had to explain to our eight-year-old what a f—-t was and why he couldn’t ever, ever, ever fucking say that word under any circumstance whatsoever. Wayne’s World is really funny until those moments when they call everything bad “gay” and you shift uncomfortably in your seat like, Should I turn this off? Are Wayne and Garth bad people? The hit sitcom Three’s Company had casual homophobia as a basic premise. You might be wallowing in ’80s nostalgia, with He-Man and She-Ra and the birth of Nickelodeon, but the LGBTQ+ community certainly is not.
4. Ignorant Paranoia About AIDS
Now, if not a cure, then there’s at least a way for people to live with the HIV virus in relative normalcy. Back then? Ryan White, a kid who got AIDS from blood transfusions for hemophilia became a celebrity when he had to fight for his right to attend school. People thought you could get AIDS from all sorts of dumb shit, like touching doorknobs or kissing. Ryan lived a then-miraculous five years with the virus. Magic Johnson’s been alive and kicking ass for 26 years now, since he announced his diagnosis in November 1991, a mere year or so after Ryan’s death.
5. Ugly-Ass Cars
There is no version of any car manufactured in the 1980s that is not inferior, looks-wise, to its sister version made in the decades before or since — and we had to live through the 1990s, so that says a lot. The boxiness, the weird flip-up head-lights — and God help you if you procreated, you were driving a station wagon. My husband’s parents owned two of them: identical, maroon, with wood paneling. Which is basically plastic wallpaper on the side of your car the you drive around with. Whee!
6. “We Built This City”
Originally recorded by Starship in 1985, this song has been slammed by numerous outlets. It was named as the worst song of all time by Blender: “The truly horrible sound of a band taking the corporate dollar while sneering at those who take the corporate dollar.” Rolling Stone readers nominated it as the worst song of the 1980s — by a wide margin. But in 1986, it was actually nominated for a Grammy.
7. Trickle-Down Economics
The ’80s were founded on racist politics. Oh, wait…. Anyway, back when Reagan was making his run for election in 1980, he used the term “welfare queen” to imply that women kept popping out babies to game more cash from the government and use it to buy TVs and Cadillacs while neglecting said children and using drugs. Racism fully intended. This term persisted through the 1980s, and when you said “welfare queen,” everyone knew exactly what racist trope you were dragging up. But how to solve all this? Oh yeah: let’s fix poor people’s predicament by giving money to — wait for it — the rich. This shit had been proven not to work even then.
Those aforementioned rich peeps had fun snorting lines off mirrors in their boardrooms, back rooms, and club bathrooms. The poor? Well, they had crack, a rock-like form of the same damned drug, popular among the inner-city crowd. Guess what garnered more jailtime, harsher punishments, and more approbation in the general culture? Hint: it was not the rich people’s drug o’ choice, done by everyone from lawyers to realtors to partygoers to Eric Clapton (see: Cocaine.). The ’80s were a racist-ass decade, man.
9. Disney sucked
Okay, it’s unfair to compare this to the 1990s, which everyone admits is the Golden Age of Disney animation. But other than The Little Mermaid, which they snuck in at the tail end of 1989, animated features include The Fox and the Hound, The Black Cauldron, The Great Mouse Detective, and Oliver and Company. Give me some good ol’ Don Bluth: during the same time, he released The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, All Dogs Go To Heaven, and The Land Before Time. Now that’s some shit I’ll show to my kids, and they will be alternately terrified, confused, and elated.
There you have it — the’80s. And I didn’t even get into the Doomsday Clock, latchkey kids, or missing kids on the side of milk cartons.
And if you feel the need to threaten me with bodily harm after reading this, maybe you should read this instead.