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A LOOK BACK AT THE 80s
If the 1970s was the “Me” decade, it could probably be said that the 1980s was the “Me! Me! Me!” decade. Tidbits takes a look at the conspicuous consumption, the glitz, and the outrageousness that gripped our nation during that time.
• Three products were introduced in 1980 that have since become part of our everyday vernacular: 7-Eleven’s Big Gulp®, 3M’s Post-It® Notes, and the Sony Walkman®. All-news cable channel CNN hit the airwaves for the first time, and Mattel launched their International Barbie® Collection, featuring African-American and Hispanic versions of the classic doll.
• The TV show That’s Incredible made its premiere in 1980. Because of the stunts attempted on the show, the hosts coined a warning phrase we still hear today: “Don’t try this at home!”
• We had reason to rejoice in February of 1980, when the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviet Union in the Winter Olympics, and went on to win the gold medal. Our joy turned to mourning later that year, when Washington’s Mount St. Helens erupted in May, and again when John Lennon was shot in December.
• In January 1981, Ronald Reagan took the oath as the 40th President of the United States. At just about the same time, the 52 remaining Iranian hostages were released after 444 days of captivity. Later in the year, Reagan would nominate Sandra Day O’Connor as the first woman on the Supreme Court.
• The world had its eyes on London in July 1981, as Charles, Prince of Wales, took Lady Diana Spencer as his bride. A nervous 20-year-old Diana charmed the audience when she mixed up the order of her husband’s many names while reciting her vows. “I do believe you’ve just married my father,” her husband later joked.
• The aerobic exercise craze first swept America in 1981, and the sales of active wear – leotards, leg warmers, sweat pants – started to increase. When Olivia Newton-John’s hit “Physical” topped the pop music charts for 10 weeks, the companion video made headbands and Danskins a fashion “must.”
• MTV made its debut in August 1981 by playing the Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.” The original five vee-jays, as they were dubbed, were Martha Quinn, Nina Blackwood, J.J. Jackson, Alan Hunter and Mark Goodman. And it’s hard to believe now, but in its infancy, the only commercials shown on MTV were public service announcements.
• In other 1981 news, Pac-Man spawned an arcade video game craze that cost millions of kids (and adults) millions of quarters. Daytime TV viewers were glued to their sets as they watched General Hospital’s Luke and Laura finally take their wedding vows, and we said “good-bye” to boxing great Joe Louis and rock-and-roll pioneer Bill Haley.
• It cost 20 cents to mail a first-class letter in 1982, and tamper-proof packaging on medications (and many other products) became the norm after a tainted Tylenol® scare.
• Rap music gained mainstream credibility in 1982 when the New York Times named Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message” as “the most powerful pop record of the year.” Meanwhile, Valley Girl lingo (“Like, grody to the max, totally!”) migrated out of California, thanks to Frank Zappa’s hit song. Along with the speech patterns came a distinctive fashion: flouncy mini-skirts, brightly colored clothes and make-up, and hair that was teased and moussed almost to the point of defying gravity.
• In 1983, Ocean Spray introduced the first “juice box” drink, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day became a national holiday. Fashion-wise, Ray-Ban® Wayfarer sunglasses were a bona fide hit, as were Swatch watches. Time magazine named the personal computer its “Man of the Year,” and the “Just Say No” campaign was introduced to combat drug abuse.
• Stone washed jeans became all the rage in 1984. Yuppies (Young Urban Professionals) had excess disposable income and made “dress for success” their battle cry. “Power” suits became the work garb of choice, and women sported hefty shoulder pads that rivaled those worn by football players. Twenty-something men looking to join the ranks of CEOs wore long-sleeved white shirts and suspenders under their Bill Blass® suits.
• By 1985, New Wave music crossed into the mainstream, and neon-colored, asymmetrical hairstyles became commonplace. A TV show called Miami Vice further influenced men’s fashion. Suddenly, a five o’clock shadow on a man’s chin was stylish, as were unconstructed pastel suitcoats and (gasp!) sockless feet. Madonna’s thrift shop chic manner of dressing inspired many pre-teen girls to use underwear as outerwear, and the Live Aid concert helped to raise millions of dollars for African famine relief. Meanwhile, scientists were beginning to worry about the ozone layer.
• Fox TV first hit the airwaves in 1986. The company jumped right into the network wars with a controversy, hiring Joan Rivers to host her own late night talk show. (Rivers had reportedly been in the running to replace Johnny Carson prior to her defection to Fox.) In the retail world, men’s boxer shorts outsold briefs for the first time. Norwegian pop group A-Ha gained international recognition for their innovative half-animated, half-live-action music video for the song “Take On Me.”
• 1987 was a year full of political headlines. Margaret Thatcher won a rare third term as Prime Minister of Great Britain, while Oliver North confessed his involvement in the Iran-Contra affair. The Supreme Court decreed that the Rotary Club must admit women, and PTL honcho Jim Bakker admitted to an inappropriate relationship with Jessica Hahn.
• Compact discs outsold vinyl records for the first time in 1988. The anti-depressant Prozac was introduced, and Sonny Bono was elected mayor of Palm Springs, California. The music world bid adieu to Roy Orbison and Andy Gibb, and Bobby McFerrin’s a cappella hit “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” became not only an overplayed song, but also an obnoxious catch phrase. Pan Am flight 103 exploded suddenly over Lockerbie, Scotland, and Lloyd Bentsen told Vice Presidential candidate Dan Quayle that he was “no Jack Kennedy.”
• The Berlin Wall was torn down in 1989, some 28 years after its construction. The Exxon Valdez ran aground in March, spilling 11 million gallons of crude oil into Alaska’s Prince William Sound. Arsenio Hall became the first African-American to host a nightly talk show, and supermodel Cindy Crawford launched MTV’s House of Style. Milli Vanilli won the Grammy award for Best New Artist, but were forced to relinquish it later when it was revealed that their voices didn’t appear on the record.