Intro: The Seeds of the 1980s

by languageformulatingbrain

RSS Feed | Forum

The 1980s is a meaningful decade to me. What does this even mean? I was born into the 1980s, how could I remember it very well? I, in fact, do not. It was simply the decade that my consciousness awoke from the oblivion of infancy into early childhood. It was an environment of television with its game shows, a room with a mysterious device called a home computer, childrens' books, restaurants with an older style of decor, different clothing styles, vinyl record players replaced by a new device called a CD player, VCRs that played Disney movies, and who could say from whence it sprung except according to the experience of our memories and the evidence that surrounds us? Few knew what lay beneath the surface, or what consumed the world of adults and teenagers. There were the older kids on their skateboards, what did they do when I wasn't around? And the adults, they had their own private lives apparently, but this would not be something I was conscious of for some time.

They towered over me like gods, these people with their alcohol-fueled gatherings, their sports on cable TV, and their cheering at home runs and other things. I learned to cheer on the teams my father liked, and at this early stage in my life it suited me to do so; it was on TV, my father was excited, he put down his beer and clapped his hands while he watched the bright television, having come home from his job downtown.

There were whisperings of children who had the much-sought Nintendo; there were Milton-Bradley board games; there were boxy cars and newspaper machines; and there was a man named Ronald Reagan who was President. This was the very tip of the iceberg, however. Beyond the ignorance of childhood, I realized as an adult that it was as if the world stretched infinitely out of reach, growing ever more distant the further one went in any given direction. I learned of glam rock, new wave, and punk rock which I was not aware of. There was heavy metal and far beneath the surface death metal and black metal were forming into a sinister concoction.

There was an utterly fake religiosity that passed for the spiritual life of the mainstream, and there were many cults both above and beneath the surface, and there were those which showed their faces to the public and those which shrunk away from the view of the public. Connecting some of these was an underground music scene which was enabled by the proliferation of consumer tape decks, many of which were made by Japanese corporations. Punk, industrial, hardcore, hip hop, underground metal, and all manner of amateur experimental music was spread by tape labels who recorded tapes and sent them through the mail. Demo tapes were recorded by bands who sent them to labels, photocopied fanzines were made for the various underground scenes and they also snaked through the mail.

Reagan was President. He was a bad actor, but many believed in him, and he presented a very good public image for sure. But his War on Drugs was a farce; every underground artistic scene in the 1980s was fueled by drugs. He was a selfish, corrupt man who ruined the lives of countless people, but did not stem the tide of drugs. They found their way into the hands of waiting consumers just as the tapes found their way into the tape decks of the curious or the die-hard fanatic for whatever form of music. All of the progressive thought and research on drugs was dismissed with the simplicity of Nancy Reagan's faux demand: Just Say No.

But many people said "yes"; as I understand it, everyone was doing cocaine. There was powder cocaine, rock cocaine, freebase. Cocaine was snorted, smoked, and injected. Its hedonistic and ego-inflating nature was fitting for the 1980s. Its influence probably lurked in corners of reality we can't even fathom, in the music that was played, in the art that was produced. This white powder went from hand to hand and money was exchanged for a short-lasting high.

In terms of movies, people tried to feel good about things on the surface. Sure, there was cynicism that reacted against the white-bread veneer of the 80s, but the nuclear pessimism of The Terminator was not seen for what it truly represented. Rebellion was minimalized in the harmless life-loving hedonism of Ferris Bueller's Day Off. There were violent movies about cops and criminals, ridiculous over-the-top epics of violence which went from theater to home video quickly. More than other decades, violence was entertainment, perhaps because the 1980s did violence to non-conformists. It was the revenge of the squares, who had their way in politics and polite society, pushing the poor aside and cutting progressive social programs, while Reagan did dangerous grandstanding against the nuclear power of the Soviet Union, and continued to violently manipulate politics in third-world countries.

Somewhere in this, there were those who were disgusted and wanted to bring this situation to ruins, and so were born children who would grow up to not exactly be paragons of morality. Over the whole of modern and postmodern society was the shadow of Nietzsche, who called on others to make their own meaning out of life, to forge their own identity, to make themselves. Some had looked to the recent past and seen the failed attempts to do this, and the gas chambers of Auschwitz or the smoking ruins of Hiroshima, Nagasaki, Tokyo, and Dresden were fresh enough in the minds of enough people that most people believed that it was not considered a good idea to forge identities and seek power with one's mythos.

But there had been writers like Philip K. Dick or William S. Burroughs who had in previous decades brought together a sort of postmodern gnosticism that would influence many artists with new ideas, who would use art itself to seek power or liberation, turn art to power or freedom, and while many of these ideas started entwining the world in the 1980s, it would be decades later that they would find their fruition in a synthesis of art, technology, and power that would enable the world to be turned upside down once again. Some would look back to the 1980s as the perfect illusion to hide the germination of the seeds of power that were sown, where everything was a smoke-screen for an underground that aspired to reach into the infinite...

Contact: [email protected]