Thursday, December 02, 2010

Were the 80s a Cultural Wasteland?

Had my 8 a.m. Logic class translating dialogue from Casablanca into first order predicate logic the other day and then Confused, Maybe Not pops into the office and we started talking about the cultural legacy of decades. When we turned to our decade, the 80s, he said that looking back it seems like the entire decade is dark, just nothing there. Everything was so clearly corporately constructed for marketing purposes that there seemed to be so little that was novel and bold. It all seems so embarrassingly dated when it is looked at now, nothing that seems a timeless contribution to the collective consciousness of the culture.

We tried to think of what will be the iconic works, the lasting impact of the 80s. We couldn't think of much. TV-wise, there was "Cheers," "Hill Street Blues," and "St. Elsewhere," but are any of them really going to stand the test of time? Musically, in terms of mainstream success there were the Talking Heads, early U2 and REM, maybe Tom Petty. On the fringe was American punk and the early days of hip-hop, but what from any of them will take on a life of its own? Film-wise, The "Breakfast Club"? "Back to the Future"? We did mention "Brazil" a few days back. Literary works that define the 80s? Non-fiction? In terms of social activism, we had Apartheid rallies, Ethiopian hunger, and homelessness come to the fore and with it stadium-sized rock fundraisers featuring artists from the 60s and 70s. There was cable tv which freed us from the triopoly of the networks, but is that really it?

Can anyone cite anything that will culturally justify the Reagan years or is it all just one big Flock of Seagulls haircut?