What was the culture like? (overall, or specifically in the United States, or better yet in California)
This was the Reagan era, with conservatism triumphant in religion, a booming economy (after about 1983 and ignoring Black Monday in 1987), coupled with new respect for business and corporate life (Lee Iacocca was popular, and seriously mooted as a presidential candidate; junk bond trading and corporate raiding became known and even briefly celebrated), and the U.S. military at a high point (e.g., a 500-ship navy). Also, Rock and Roll had recently vanquished Disco, and was in the process of diversifying stylistically. Herpes and then AIDS got started in the second half of the decade, with obvious effects on the sexual culture. Condom use started being promoted. (Before that we always called them “rubbers.”)
What was the youth culture like?
Uh, Sting and Madonna? Trivial Pursuit and Rubik’s Cubes? In my high school, students divided themselves into lifestyle-based cliques: jocks and cheerleaders, “ropers” (goat-ropers, i.e. Country-Western fans who dipped chew and wore big belt buckles), stoners, nerds who played D&D and quoted Monty Python and Hitchhiker’s Guide to each other… However, some things united us all, such as the suspicion that Boy George was gay.
What was the state of consumer technology? (examples please)
I took a computer programming course taught on a Commodore 64. This was the beginning of video games–first Pong, then Space Invaders, Pac-Man, Donkey Kong…all the classics! Cable TV began to be popular, raising the number of channels from about 8 (where I lived) to dozens, and including newish movies and MTV. Also, video rentals began then. Walkmans technically started earlier, but I associate them with the 80’s. Faxes started being sent then.
How did people dress?
Dingo boots, Flashdance, Members’ Only, “preppy” styles. Jeans were popular through the whole decade, but went through variations (stone-washed or torn at the end, and women started having little zippers at the ankles). I don’t remember sneakers being the big deal that they are now. Leg warmers and jelly shoes? At one point stoner girls started wearing roach clips as earrings! Of course business attire was more or less what it is today, barring slight changes to the width of the tie and lapel. The idea of a “woman’s suit” became standardized (with shoulder pads!).
How did people talk? (Any slangs native to that time period?)
Oh, that changed so much, and you want a book on this. Where to start? Socially awkward, unpopular people were dorks, nerds, or geeks (the last two did not carry the positive connotations they might today). “Ralph” and “barf” (for vomit) became popular then, “gross” took on its present slang meaning. So did the term “space cadet.” A lot of surfer / Valley lingo like “totally awesome,” “radical,” “narley” and…anybody remember Max Headroom? “C-c-c-catch the wave!” I remember people quoting to each other that Canadian comedy thing with “hosers” and some song about the Great White North, but can’t remember what this was.
Was there any prevalent social behaviors that we don’t see today?
Fear of global nuclear war.
What were people fighting for?
The restoration of Coca Cola Classic, as opposed to New Coke. Also, feeding the starving Africans.
What were people’s hopes/dreams?
That’s hard. As usual, many people were interested primarily in their personal prosperity, welfare of their families, romantic prospects, etc… On a collective level, there was a wide desire on one hand for peace (mainly this meant with the USSR), but on the other hand, for a strong, confident America. Religious people would of course tend to have hopes that reflected this.
What do you miss from that decade?
What don’t you miss from that decade?
Pat Robertson running for president!
What is your most memorable 80s song?
“Almost Paradise” from Footloose. After that “True Colors” (Cindi Lauper), “These Dreams” (Heart), or “Broken Wings” (Mr. Mister).
In your opinion, what was the single most memorable pop-culture event from that decade?
At the time, the shooting of J.R. Ewing seemed to have the most impact. In retrospect, though, I’m going to have to go with Michael Douglas’s “Greed is good” speech in Wall Street in terms of suitability as a symbol of the decade. For me personally, maybe the Dark Phoenix saga from the X-Men comics.
What was the single most memorable moment of your life during that time?
Hint: it involved my high school girlfriend!