As the fun of New York Super Week 2015 quickly approaches and promises to inspire fans of all corners of pop culture, it got me thinking to what inspired me when I was growing up. Here’s what I came up with…
I was born in 1975. I’m a middle-aged boy of 40 years. So when I think of nostalgia, I turn to 1985-1995. In 1985 I had turned 10 and generally seem to have many more memories of that age than when I was nine, eight, seven, and so forth. I choose to end my nostalgia fondness in 1995 because, well, life after 21 should be about real responsibilities as an adult, right? Well, probably not, but it sounds good. Not surprisingly, as adults now, many of my peers who run Hollywood seem to think that their childhood pop culture touch points were so wonderful that we’re now inundated with reboots of everything from that era ranging from the Transformers and the Smurfs, to Mad Max, Star Wars, and the Terminator. Though I suppose this longing for one’s youth is certainly cyclical, just like in the late 70s and early 80s when the previous generation was reminiscing about the 50s via Grease, Happy Days, American Graffiti, and Stand By Me.
Nostalgia is generally regarded as looking back at the positive pieces of the past, but I want to jump right in and do the opposite. Let’s remember the Cold War! Seriously, until 1989, one my strongest memories is of always being afraid of nuclear war. Nuclear war was pervasive until 1990. Omnipresent. Inescapable. And it didn’t just come from obvious war-themed movies like Red Dawn, The Morning After, and War Games. It was such a part of daily life that Coke and Pepsi got in on the act with its cola wars, one of the most benign bands ever, Genesis, made an entire music video ending with President Reagan accidentally launching nukes, and even in the teen comedy Just One of the Guys, the horny kid brother simply wants to get laid as soon as possible because he never knows when we might die via The Bomb. Kids today don’t know how good they got it. In the 80s, we feared being kidnapped and ending up on the back of a milk carton, or even worse, finding razors in our Halloween candy. Not sweet.
But then there’s the good stuff as well. Namely, the junk food. Cotton Club orange soda. Snyder’s BBQ potato chips in the foil bag. And best yet, Jell-O Gelatin Pops. While many only remember Jell-O’s Pudding Pops thanks to pitchman-turned-sex-criminal Bill Cosby, gelatin pops were only available for a couple of years and were infinitely more delicious. They came in strawberry, orange, and raspberry, with the raspberry ones being my favorite food of all-time. I have vivid memories of eating them on Friday afternoons after elementary school on my front porch in Old Brooklyn, Cleveland, waiting for my friends to come over to play Monopoly. I stumbled across the ‘Old School Man Crate‘ which understands this stuff too.
From food to footwear, I’d be remiss if I didn’t bring up Nike Air Alpha Force, a fringe shoe that only briefly saw shelves. It was my favorite shoe while I was in middle school – ¾ top, one Velcro strap along the toe, and the first time my parents allowed me to purchase a pair of shoes that cost more than $50. They were a big deal to me, and most importantly, much sleeker and more streamlined that its bulkier Air predecessor, the Revolution, donned by Dr. Doogie Howser and lauded by John Lennon’s Instant Karma. The 80s also saw the walls in my room covered in classic Sports Illustrated posters which were simple in their appearance with a big picture beneath a simple black-and-white header of the player’s name. Ron Harper looked good on my wall as he drove the lane between two Lakers. And what sports fan of that age didn’t love playing Dr. J vs. Larry Bird (and later Jordan vs. Bird) on a Commodore 64 or trying to figure out if new brands of baseball cards like the Donruss Traded set, Score, or Upper Deck were better than Topps, Fleer, and regular Donruss? And Sport magazine gave SI a run for its money.
For fans of Nerd Nite, 1985-1995 was a wonderous time as many of the seeds of today’s gadgets were being planted. My parents had the foresight to buy a computer in 1983 – an Adam. This was even before the more popular Commodore 64. In fact, I used the Adam through high school to write papers. But when it came to gaming, it was all about Coleco Vision and later the Atari 7800. Who needed the Atari 2600 when Coleco Vision boasted a slew of games such as Lady Bug, Smurf, Zaxxon Venture, Cosmic Avenger, and Dig Dugg? Except my dad and I always got nasty blisters playing Decathlon because the Coleco Vision controller dug into the palm of one’s hand when operating it quickly to build up speed in the 100-meter dash. Even later, Texas Instrument calculators became a necessity, and I finally realized I was a luddite when, throughout all of college, I lugged around a Smith Corona word processor in my suitcase so I could have a portable machine on which to do my homework. And for reading, we gorged on choose-your-adventure books and relied on World Book encyclopedias to conduct ‘research’ for school – at least its entries were vetted a heck of a lot more than Wikipedia entries are today. And back then, in encyclopedias, we looked at different maps than we see today, learning about countries like ‘Yugoslavia’ and the ‘USSR.’ Nobody heard of Latvia, Georgia, or Montenegro, and the only way we ever heard of Estonia was if you saw Encino Man. Those Soviet boundaries have gone the way of Vuarnet, Hypercolor, Panama Jack, and Benetton shirts.
Oh, and baseball, players actually stole bases before they discovered steroids. Ricky Henderson, Vince Coleman, Brett Butler, and Willie Wilson swiped more than 100 bases in a season. Most teams don’t even combine to do that these days.
And it’ll be impossible for a television network to top NBC’s Thursday night prime-time line-up of The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Cheers, and Night Court.
I will say, life in the 80s was pretty grand, though maybe I say that because I don’t have kids today. Back then we ‘surfed’ in the back of station wagons (who needs seatbelts?), laughed at the only kid we knew who ever wore a helmet while riding a bike, and thankfully, never had to rely on our parents for arranging ‘playdates’ for us (Author’s note: ‘Playdate’ is my second most hated word only behind ‘panties.’). We just knocked on our friend’s door and asked if he or she could come out and play. This had to have been infinitely easier for parents too, as they never had to accompany their kids everywhere or over-plan them. Kids today seem so smothered. I mean, I feel we turned out all right, so why invent all this over-parenting? Or maybe we didn’t turn out all right and our generation is trying to improve? Who knows. Not my point. Though wearing a bike helmet and spending an entire Saturday day at five sports teams practices sounds a lot better than being nuked.