In defence of the 1980s…

24 07 2011

Dynasty - the big hair, the shoulder pads, the painted-on makeup. How the super-rich lived and squabbled.

I grew up in the 1980s. I turned 13 in 1980, so this was pretty much my decade. And like every other generation, I have a fondness for the music and dare I say it – fashion – of the era that I went through my teenage years and became an adult. It has become fashionable to laugh about the 1980s but it wasn’t all bad!

So here are some of the best things about the 1980s.

• Big hair. All it took was hair spray / gel (it wasn’t called product then), a hair dryer and a bit of time. Anyone could do it.

• Shoulder pads. Yes, OK, we overdid it. But clothes that looked good on the coat-hanger also looked good on a person because of the shoulder pads.

• Power dressing. The thing about power dressing for women wasn’t the clothes, it was the public declaration that women could be highly successful in their careers and have – yes, wait for it – power. The fashion industry declared that women could have power and we believed them.

• Australian music – Models, Crowded House, Midnight Oils, Men at Work, Hoodoo Gurus, Divinyls, Hunters and Collectors, Mondo Rock, Icehouse, Nick Cave, Paul Kelly. I could go on, but then it would just be a list of 1980s music.

• But the best of them all, INXS – and Michael. Gorgeous, sexy, wild Michael.

• Stadium Rock. It was big. Big sound, outrageous costumes, wild hair and make-up, and massive lyrics. Yes it was commercial.

• Yacht rock. What would the easy listening stations play if yacht rock hadn’t been invented?

• But there were some good indi bands – B52s, UB40, Boomtown Rats, The Cure, The The, Joy Division.

• Pop rock – Madonna, Human League, Cyndi Lauper, Sade, Wham, Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Adam Ant, Billy Idol. And lots of others with the sugary texture of bubblegum.

• And of course, MTV. Music clips had evolved from just showing the band playing the song, to mini-movies with budgets to match.

• Aerobics gear. Yes, we got into gyms in a big way, but the best part was being able to get around in dance gear. Lycra does wonderful things for the figure! You couldn’t quite do the tutu unless you were Madonna.

• Mad Max. OK, so Mel Gibson might have fallen from grace, but in the 1980s he was young, gorgeous, and we claimed him as Australian.

• Entrepreneurs – we celebrated entrepreneurs. Big money, big egos, big yachts, young sexy wives with plastic surgery. They seemed to have it all. And it seemed achievable for us as well. The big court cases came later.

• For most of the 1980s we were in a major bull market. The stock market just rose and rose. Unfortunately I was too young for most of the 1980s and missed out, but that feeling of optimism that lasted until the 1987 crash – that’s still there somewhere!

• Video-games. This is where they began. Before this, they were pin-ball machines. Remember the iconic Pac-man and Space Invaders?

• Great British comedies that didn’t rely on unfunny sexual innuendo. Blackadder. The Young Ones. And the comedians they brought to our attention: Rik Mayall, Rowan Atkinson, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Hugh Laurie (better known now as Dr House)

• Acid colours. I vaguely recall owning a fluorescent orange suit. I must have looked like a traffic cone.

• St Elmo’s Fire. An amazing coming of age movie that launched the careers of Rob Lowe, Demi Moore, Emilio Estevez, Andrew McCarthy, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy and Andy MacDowell.

• Top Gun when we liked Tom Cruise (the volleyball scene with Val Kilmer). Flashdance (see dance gear above).

• I was really never into Dynasty and Dallas and their various spin-offs, but these were really big. They showed us how the super-rich live (apparently it involved a lot of cat-fighting and scheming) and how they spent their money (sequined dresses and private jets). Whole generations of Krystal and Alexis’ were named after characters in this show.

• Computers. OK, so computers were not invented in the 1980s. But the concept of the desk-top computer and a computer in every home and office was. And Microsoft Windows, for better or worse, made it all quite usable for the average Joe or Josephine. Prices came down and it was all quite affordable.

• Cheap plastic jewellery and sunglasses. Yeah they were cheap and they looked it. They were meant to be fun and they did mean everyone could get the look. Very democratic. And disposable.

• Bling. It wasn’t called bling then. But big flashy jewellery preferably teamed with a sequined dress that swept the ground behind you, but plunged to expose as much cleavage as possible. Yeah, that was style!

• Ken Done, Jenny Kee. Probably less said the better, but they did put Australian fashion and the Australian way of life on the world stage. And their designs are instantly recognisable even today.

• We took the Me generation to a new level – Greed is Good! The idea that if you work hard enough you can achieve anything (the flip side being if you haven’t got what you want or need, then its your fault. Not so nice.) On the other hand, we had Band Aid.

• Trivial Pursuit. Probably the best new board game since Monopoly or Scrabble.

• The end of the Cold War. The Berlin Wall came down. It seemed like such a good start for the 1990s.

So what have I forgotten? What else did you like about the 1980s? Leave a message in the comment section and I’ll add them in.

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