Generation X


The 80´s basics

The 80s form a large part of the collective memory of Generation X. The "Me-First Decade", The "Decade of Greed", The "Yuppie Decade", The "Reagan Decade", whatever it's called today, it was a unique time to be alive. We Generation Xers remember a time when America felt proud, and we dared to be confident in the future even as we feared for the world's future in a nuclear face-off between two superpowers. We knew an America where Michael Jackson was known as the King of Pop, rather than an alleged child molester, and when it came to drugs, we were told "Just Say No!", and in large numbers, we actually did just that.

It was a decade of high style- women had big, glamorous, elaborately-styled and wildly-colored hair, while men sported moused, feathered styles. The gals wore "leggings" while guys wore "Members Only"-style jackets (I did, anyway). We watched Dallas, Dynasty, Knot's Landing and Falcon Crest, and demanded "I want my MTV!" But we were content to see Theo on the Cosby Show and Alex P. Keaton and Mallory on Family Ties, "Nahm" and "Cliffie" on Cheers and Dr. Westfall on St. Elsewhere.

It was a decade of possibility - a preview of today, in many ways - but also unique. It was a time when we felt we could achieve anything, if, as Marty McFly told us in Back to the Future, "you just put your mind to it." Join me for a walk down memory lane. Return to a time when Pop was king and Reagan was in the White House. Return to the 80s, and take a walk with me through those years:

In 1980 , we certainly remember the Iran hostage crisis - America humiliated nightly on the evening news. But we also felt great when the U.S. hockey team defeated the Soviets. Unfortunately the people of Afganistan were less successful against the Soviets when they invaded their country. This prompted President Carter to boycott the Olympics in Moscow that summer. This was also the year Mount St. Helens blew up, and the year that the illegal Solidarity Labor Union was founded in Poland. It's also hard to believe now that Chrysler needed to be bailed out, but the company was on the verge of bankruptcy because they, like the other members of the "Big 3" automakers, hadn't learned to compete with the Japanese, who were becoming fiecely competitive in the auto industry. They learned quickly. We remember the killing of John Lennon, although as young teens we didn't really know much about him. We soon did, and for months, John Lennon and the Beatles became favorites of OUR generation, too.

In 1981, the Hostages were released on the same day, and same hour, that Ronald Reagan was inaugurated president, proclaiming that it was "Morning in America". We remember the assasination attempt on President ReaganPresident Reagan just two months later, and many of us were glued to our TV sets when we came home from school that day. We soon learned the name "John W. Hinckley, Jr." and of his obsession with Jodie Foster. Soon after this, someone also tried to assassinate Pope John Paul II. This was also the year that MTV came on the scene (though I didn't see it until a year later when visiting my cousin. I never did "get my MTV"). Also this was the year in which Charles and Diana were married and the scourge of AIDS came to be recognized as a threat, and it promptly ended the sexual revolution.

In 1982, the British fought and won the Falkland Islands War, the ERA was defeated, and Israel invaded Lebanon. We remember the Tylenol poisonings of that year, in which Tylenol pulled all of their product off the shelves, setting a new standard in safety management. The Vietnam War Memorial was unveiled in Washington, and the last generation began to come to terms with their war.

By 1983 , the cold war was heating up. Reagan called the U.S.S.R. the "Evil Empire", the U.S. deployed nuclear weapons in Europe - despite the protests of the Europeans, Reagan called for a "Star Wars" defense, and we all watched "The Day After" on TV. This film drove home the dangers of nuclear war, and we all began to really fear what would happen if their was an "accidental war". We also had to deal with the Marine barracks being bombed in Lebanon and an increase in terrorism against the United States. But we finally received some answers about the film version of Star Wars as the Trilogy finally ended with the release of "Return of the Jedi". Then, we waited for the next installment, due in 1986.(!) The brief invasion of Greneda in October, 1983 only served to highlight the growing Cold War tensions between east and west.

Click here to learn more about Gary Hart in the New Hampshire Primaries in 1984 and 19881984 was yet another a presidential election year, and President Reagan won re-election against Walter Mondale in a landslide. Democratic candidate Gary Hart had promised "new ideas" in the primaries, but that somehow never got exposure in the media. Then, Mondale evoked the famous line from a popular Wendy's burger commercial during a debate with Hart, saying about his ideas, "Where's the Beef?" The line stuck, and Hart's campaign was pretty much ruined. Speaking of commercials, one of the most effective and important commercials of all time ran during the Super Bowl in January, 1984. It was, of course, the famous "Big Brother" Apple Macintosh computer commercial , in which an attractive femail runner throws a hammer at a huge screen, as drones march along unthinkingly. The drones, of course, represented IBM, and the ad - and the computer - were about to shake things up in the marketplace and change personal computing forever. (Watch the original ad, in "Quicktime" by clicking here.) During this era of patriotism, Los Angeles hosted the Olympics. In New York, a lone gunman named Bernhard Goetz refused to be hassled on a subway and shot his would-be attackers (he was acquited of murder in 1987, but was held liable for damages in a 1996 trial). India's leader Indira Ghandi was assassinated this year and the Iran-Iraq War - the first Gulf War - began.

Halfway through the decade, in 1985, I graduated from High School. It was the year that Soviet Leader Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in the U.S.S.R. - with consequences that few could have forseen (although I told my Current Events teacher that "he will make big changes!" What a prophet I was!) The "Woodstock of the '80s", the Live Aid concert , captured our attention, featuring many top acts of the era - and of the '60s era as well. It was one of the greatest gatherings of musical talent in history. Despite a lame attempt to replicate it in the '90s, it remains the greatest international concerts ever produced.

The Apartheid system in South Africa came under heavy attack by many in politics and Hollywood. One of the biggest blundersNew Coke - the Flop that didn't work

in advertising and corporate history was the "New Coke" debacle. Trusting focus groups - obviously filled with Pepsi drinkers - the Coca-Cola Corporation rolled out a sweeter, less "Coke-like" Coke in April, 1985, and pulled the old Coke formula off the market. It flopped, and after an outcry, the "old" Coke was returned, with great fanfare, leading some to believe it was just a huge marketing gimmick after all. Rock Hudson died on October 2, 1985 from AIDS in Beverly Hills, drawing the world's attention to the disease for the first time.

The biggest event of 1986 was the explosion of the space shuttle Challenger. Many of us were shaken deeply by this accident.The explosion that ripped our hearts out. Like the assassination of John F. Kennedy a generation ago, this was a defining moment in our generation's history. Also this year, Reagan and Gorbachev met in Iceland for a summit that did little, and Chernobyl in the USSR was the site of the worst nuclear accident in history. We bombed Libya (without the use of France's airspace for our jets) and celebrated the centennial and restoration of the Statue of Liberty after the old lady got a well-deserved cleaning.

Statue of Liberty - Restored for the Ages in 1986We remember the antics and swindling of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker. General Secretary Gorbachev's visit to America, and Col. Oliver North testified before Congress about the Iran-Contra deal in 1987 . This year was the 200th anniversary of U.S. Constitution, and we all reflected on the importance of our democratic heritage. We also took notice of our own financial futures as we witnessed the Stock Market crash on Wall Street. It seemed as if our hopes for a prosperous future were ebbing away as the media jumped on the "80s are over" bandwagon. What was over was much of the prosperity and opportunity that the previous generation had enjoyed.

1988 foreshadowed the 1990s in many ways. Environmental issues began to be debated more seriously, Reagan and Gorbachev held their historic summit, and the Navy was sent to the Persian Gulf, and it wouldn't be the last time. In a terrorist attack, Pan Am Flight 103 was destroyed over Lockerbee, Scotland, killing all passengers and crew. Wall Street buyouts were all the rage, signalling a "decade of greed", which continued throughout the 1990s. And in a move that foreshadowed the future peace deals, the PLO renounced terrorism. Benezir Bhutto was elected Pakistan's Prime Minister. Also a signal of what was to come, Democratic presidential candidate and the front-runner, Sen. Gary Hart, fell apart in May when the Miami Herald reported that he had spent the night with an attractive young model named Donna Rice. Unlike the 1992 campaign and Bill Clinton's trysts, however, the media and the public were not forgiving. Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected President over Massachusetts Governor Mike Dukakis, who had promised "Good jobs at good wages" one year before a dismal recession hit.

The final year of the 1980s was one of great celebration that also signaled that we were moving into a more dangerous and more uncertain world, an era some called "The End of History".

1989 saw the end of the Cold War as the old Soviet Bloc crumbled. One by one, the nations of Eastern Europe threw off their Communist governments, with only one violent revolution, in Romania. The hated and feared Berlin Wall finally came down, and the nation of East Germany ceased to exist within a matter of days. In June, the Chinese government violently put down a student protest in Tiannamen Square in Beijing, ending hopes for democracy there. The Exxon Valdez disaster in Prince William Sound in Alaska damaged wildlife and the local fishing industry. The San Francisco earthquake occurred on Oct. 17, during the World Series at Candlestick Park. Panama's leader Manuel Noriega, suspected of assisting drug smugglers, was arrested and taken into custody by invading American forces after hiding out in the Vatican Embassy for two weeks while U.S. Marines blared rock music over loudspeakers to convince him to come out. This was also the year that the Savings & Loan crisis, caused by a lack of government regulation and oversight of the S&L industry, was finally addressed by politicans. Both parties had known about it for years, but had agreed to cover up the full extent of this disaster until after the 1988 election. A complete banking disaster was averted with the infusion of over $175 billion in taxpayer's money. This seemed to be a fitting end to a decade that saw both great events and great excesses.


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