I turned nine years old in 1980 and graduated high school in 1989, so needless to say I literally grew up in the 1980s. They were the most influential and formative years of my life. I went from watching Saturday morning cartoons and having not a care in the world to driving cars and needing a job during that ten year span of time. During those years I had many pop culture voices telling me what to do. How should I live my life? What was important? What should I do? Looking back at it now a few decades later, it seems I got some bad advice.
1: The Russians did not, in fact, kill us all.
While you might associate the Cold War with the 1950s, the fact is, the USSR was still very much "the enemy" during the 1980s. Thank God Rocky Balboa saved us during his epic boxing match with Ivan Drago. I remember after that we all held hands and sang Survivor songs and the Berlin Wall fell. But seriously, during the 1980s we were still steadily fed a diet of fear mongering propaganda that the Russians could launch a nuclear attack and kill us all at any moment. As it turns out, they had problems of their own and by the end of the decade the Berlin Wall had fallen without the help of Rocky. God bless America. Now, all my youthful training in the woods with plastic guns and action figures fighting Russians is useless. It also now appears that they may, or may not, be running our elections anyway so thanks for nothing Rocky.
2: Saying my prayers and taking my vitamins did not give me 24 inch pythons and it won't give them to you either, brother.
I was a huge (obviously) pro wrestling fan during the 1980s and there were few pro wrestlers bigger and more charismatic than the man with the largest arms in the world (they weren't) - the Incredible Hulk Hogan who told me if I said my prayers and took my vitamins that I too could grow up to be a bloated monster with giant arms. Unfortunately, Hulk Hogan forgot to tell me that those vitamins might need to be Winstrol or Deca-Durabolin. Now I'm not saying Hulk Hogan was on steroids because he told Arsenio Hall that he wasn't and, God knows, Hulk Hogan has never lied about anything, but with or without, the man still has some amazing genetics which I don't have. So, all the prayers and vitamins in the world isn't going to help me body slam a big, stinky, 700 pound (he wasn't) giant... brother.
3: Even Princesses and Princes don't live happily ever after.
On July 29, 1981 the world ground to a halt for a fairy tale wedding straight out of a novel. Prince Charles Philip Arthur George and his bride Diana Frances Spencer were married in London, England at St. Paul's Cathedral with all the pomp and circumstance you could possibly swallow in one sitting. It was everything a little girl could dream of seeing- an honest and for real fairy tale Princess wedding... just without the happily ever after part. By 1992 the couple would be split up. By 1996 they would be divorced and poor Diana would be killed shortly there-after. Less of a Disney fairy tale and more of a Grimms' one.
4: This new Coke is not, actually, very good.
Yeah, it was one of the biggest marking blunders of all time. Coca-Cola told us we needed a change. As absurd as it seems in 2018 when there are literally ten billion sodas on the shelf to choose from, back in the 1980s there was actually a "Cola War" between Coke and Pepsi and Coke was getting it's can kicked. So, their idea to fix the problem was to take one of the most iconic and recognizable brands on the planet of Earth and change it. Introducing- New Coke! Tests were undertaken. Surveys were given. The conclusion? Screw it... here's the new Coke. How did that turn out you might ask since you haven't seen a New Coke in decades? Well, this statement from Coca-Cola tells you all you need to know: "To hear some tell it, April 23, 1985, was a day that will live in marketing infamy... spawning consumer angst the likes of which no business has ever seen." Have that and smile.
5: You're not actually that special.
Feel good platitudes were crammed down our throats in the larger than life 1980s. Millennials, don't for a minute let anyone tell you this is a new phenomenon because Generation X was told how special we were constantly. We can do anything! You can be anything you want! All you have to do is reach for the stars! Except, that's probably not really true. While hard work and ambition are very important what we weren't told is that a lot of luck, a lot of connections, and fortuitous breaks are also necessary ingredients in "making it". Also, you probably aren't going to be the President unless your family is Illuminati or something despite what your teacher told you. Remember that Pretenders' song Brass in Pocket? "Cause I gonna make you see, There's nobody else here, No one like me, I'm special, so special..." Yeah... not really that accurate.
6: Everybody does not, in fact, want to rule the world.
I like Tears for Fears and while this tale of ambition was inspirational in the 1980s the reality turned out completely different. Everybody does not, in fact, want to rule the world. In reality, many of my 1980s classmates, as it turns out, only wanted to tune out. That's why we had an opioid epidemic followed by a meth epidemic followed by a heroin epidemic followed by another opioid epidemic and rinse and repeat. My generation mostly did not want to rule the world as evidenced by the fact we are not ruling the world but instead making lots of drugs in our bathtubs at home and blowing up our single wide trailers.
7: I Would Not Actually Die 4 U
The late guitar virtuoso and vocal phenom Prince sang to his lover famously "I Would Die 4 U" apparently inventing text-speak a couple decades before text messaging caught on. But, as we would find out later in life, we probably actually would not die 4 each other as the divorce rate in the United States hovered around 50 percent. That, in and of itself, is a misleading statistic as many people just stopped getting married to begin with and some studies suggest that the 50% number really only tells us that half of people are staying married at that moment and that number is, in reality, closer to 75%. They would not die 4 U in most cases.
8: Maybe you ought to worry first...
Bobby McFerrin might not be a name you recognize in 2018 but in the late 1980s he was very much a pop culture figure. You see, he's the dude that sang all those a cappella songs using just his vocals to mimic the music. His biggest hit- Don't Worry, Be Happy. As it turns out, there was plenty to worry about for the 1980s generation. We would be met with the highest unemployment since the Great Freakin' Depression (I added the 'Freakin' designation), the economy went down the tubes, and we entered perpetual never ending war. Bobby McFerrin also sang the theme song for a 1980s television show you might have heard of- The Cosby Show. I think it turns out that guy had some things to worry about too.
9: Yeah, something stopped you now.
A couple of left over vocalists from the 1960s manage to somehow put out one of the worst pop albums ever in 1986 under the name Starship. It's a long and winding story but just read the Jefferson Airplane-Starship Wikipedia page sometime for a real headache of how Starship came about. From this rambling mess of commercialized tripe came the rambling mess of commercialized tripe hit song Nothing's Gonna Stop Us Now. Well, that was a lie. The 1980s generation found out that poor economic policies, war, and the generalized entropy of America would actually stop us. Starship would also be stopped via lawsuits and general crappiness. Let 'em say we're crazy. What do they know?
10: Problems can't be solved by dancing about it.
This has to be my number one take away from the 1980s book of problem solving. We had multiple movies telling us that all our angsty problems could be solved if we would just dance hard enough. What the every lovin' heck? This problem solving technique broke even racial barriers. I came from a town so white that it scares bleach. I can vividly remember how teachers at my school used to tell me how inner city minorities had cut down on gun violence and fighting by employing a revolutionary new idea in non-violent warfare- break dancing. Yes, instead of fighting or shooting one another, we were told that now conflicts were solved with cardboard and spinning. We were told to watch the movie Breakin' for further details. I kid you not this is a true story.
But wait, we Bible belt thumpin' pale skins had a dancing problem solver of our own- Footloose. The teachers failed to tell us about that because... well dancin' is against the very nature of God (says nowhere in the Bible) if done by white people for purposes other than fightin'! We still snuck to the theater to see Kevin Bacon in all his glory win a small town political battle by dancing to the sweet music of Kenny Loggins. As it turned out, none of this prepared me for life after the 1980s where I have never once been able to solve a problem by breaking into dance. Maybe I'm doing it wrong. Picture me now smacking my palm directly into my face that this was ever a thing.
If you found this article interesting consider becoming a Patreon supporter. That is how When It Was Cool keeps our website and podcasts online, plus you get lots of bonus content including extra and extended podcasts, articles, digital comics, ebooks, and much more. Check out our Patreon Page to see what's up!
If you don't want to use Patreon but still want to support When It Was Cool then how about a one time $5 PayPal donation? Thank you!