“I hate the ’80s!”
Little millennial twerp, I thought. I was a grad student, she was a freshman. Thrown together by virtue of shared religion/culture, I balked at this barely legal ’90s babe who scoffed at my decade of choice. Ten years later, she’s the loser now. The ’80s are back and better than ever.
‘8os nostalgia, birthed in the fashion world through stretch pants (now termed “leggings”) and blousy tops, is coming of age on television this fall with the premiere of the ’80s-era flashback sitcom The Goldbergs and the return of ’80s icon Michael J. Fox to the small screen in The Michael J. Fox Show.
Rattling reality TV ennui is a task welcomed by ABC, the frontrunner in resurrecting the family-sitcom formula. The marketing campaign for The Goldbergs is as ‘roided as Hulk Hogan on Saturday morning WWF. Along with lacquering social media with a series of ’80s flashbacks and publishing endless ‘80s nostalgia lists on BuzzFeed, ABC mass-mailed every Goldberg in the country (including this one) a faux 5 1/4″ floppy with a letter from “the family.” A USB sticking out from the cardboard classic linked you to the Goldbergs’ TV room online, harkening back to a simpler, pre-cordless phone time when everyone in the family watched television and did virtually everything else …together.
Michael J. Fox’s new self-titled show on NBC brings Family Ties into the 21st century. In the “old school family comedy,” Fox is now the dad who, in this case, isn’t letting his Parkinson’s get him or his family down. While the show is not set in the nostalgic decade, Fox’s return is the crowning moment for the family sitcom, a genre nearly murdered in the ’90s by snark and the rise of friend-based sitcoms.
So, in the era of Obama, why are we so culturally obsessed with the decade of Reagan? Citing a recent study published in Psychological Science, Acculturated’s Emily Esfahani Smith quotes research of millennials showing “a drastic bump in memories, recognition, perceived quality, liking, and emotional connection with the music that was popular in the early 1980s.” She also cites a study published in the New York Times showing “even since the eighties—the decade of music young people today like most—the music has qualitatively changed. Today’s music is literally less hopeful and positive than the music of three decades ago. Between 1980 and the mid-2000s, lyrics from the most popular songs became more self-obsessed, anti-social, and negative over time.”
For Esfahani Smith, the difference lies in the lack of self-obsession in the ’80s. (So much for being the Me Decade.) Speaking as a child of the ’80s, the difference lies in the possession of hope. Today’s generation is simply given none. Only last week, PJ Lifestyle’s Becky Graebner issued a request to a downhearted media to cut her generation, “stuck between expectations set by tradition and rigid reality,” some slack. This past weekend, Salon picked up an article by Alyssa Figueroa, who observed, “The media love to analyze millennials. It’s almost like there’s a competition to see who can rip apart Generation Y in the snarkiest fashion.” Who wouldn’t want to shirk authority with Ferris Bueller after that kind of ceaseless tongue-lashing?
For that matter, who wouldn’t want to apply a little Rambo-style politics in the era of Kerry’s Chamberlain-esque pseudo-peace? Who wouldn’t want a little do-it-yourself Reaganomics instead of being told, by their president, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money,” before being encouraged to suckle the government teat by a man who, along with his wife, clearly thinks greed is good? How about a president who makes demands of terrorist governments instead of apologizing and turning a blind eye before handing over the arms and cash? Or a leader who takes responsibility for his administration’s scandals instead of playing golf while his secretary of State remarks, “What difference does it make?”
For millennials, “hope” has become a shoddy campaign promise. As a self-defined Gen-X’er riding the cusp of the millennial transition, I can’t help but feel sorry for these kids. Personally, I’m glad the ’80s are back, for their sake. They deserve to know what life was like before the perestroika of our society through political correctness. Speaking of which, Robert Rorke at the NY Post observed: “Even with a full-season order, The Michael J. Fox Show needs an audience willing to embrace its star as an individual for whom disease is sometimes a laughing matter.”
Where there is humor there is hope and there’s no better time than now to go back to the future.