What We Learned from the 1980s

by: Danielle Wordelman

Actually, as Morrissey likes to say the “Nineteen Hate-ies.”  For some reason, society and pop culture cannot refer to the 80’s in any serious discourse.  Although this is often warranted, the 80’s are usually met with disdain or caricature — have you been to a “1980s party” where everyone wore neon? — or general denial, as in the discourse around Reagan and Thatcher. So, I’m here to clear up any contempt, misinformation or denunciation you have about the years 1980 through 1989  — because you are overlooking a period of decadence in defiance, sanguinity in misery and goth music.

How to Riot

Political contempt and cultural subversion manifested itself in many ways during the 1980s, and while we may look back with nostalgia, everyone at the time was unhappy. But we got through it, we channeled our contempt into rebelling against Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. We lit things on fire, and WE’LL DO IT AGAIN. We know the unbridled passion of a population unhappy. We had enough of the hippie shit and now we’re listening to punk music.  We still are resisting, and we’re going to dance on Maggie’s grave when she dies. Just watch us.

What High School Is Like

While films like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink construct this fairytale version of high school where Molly Ringwald ends up with the contemporary Prince Charming in both films, these films create unrealistic expectations for anyone with a modicum of awkwardness associated with adolescence when it comes to navigating high school.

Thankfully, I will never have to go through that again, but John Hughes did teach me that every misfit has their day. The characters of The Breakfast Club created a community against the authority of the principal in a Nietzschesque critique of the eternal return, eventually transcending and continuing their solitary existences despite their momentary experience of collective understanding of the other high school cliques. Cameron from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off teaches us that our worst fears seldom will be realized therefore we should live like we’re making diamonds in our asses.

Except Duckie who was robbed at the end of Pretty in Pink.[1]

There Are Two Kinds of People

There is the kind that break John Cusack’s heart and there is John Cusack.

It’s the only dichotomy I subscribe to because it allows me to decide whether or not I should associate with a given person and I associate with plenty of heartbreakers.[2] Like John Cusack’s lovers, they tend to be these fantastical people who say hot phrases but have an impossible cool to their demeanor, which is the opposite of my crushing inability to communicate this admiration until it falls apart. The best way to remedy the situation is to wear a Clash shirt and drive in the rain, saying things like, “The water is a baptism.” All of John Cusack’s roles set up this poetic expectation of adolescence and romance only to be disappointed but you can find consolation with other John Cusacks.

Don’t Get Into Heroin

Diane (Kelly Macdonald) from Trainspotting said, “You can’t stay in here all day dreaming about heroin and Ziggy Pop,” and while she meant to say “Iggy Pop,” he’s dead anyway.

This was technically a 90’s movie, but Robert Downey Jr., I think she may as well have been talking about you.

How to be Queer

It wasn’t until the 1980s that the term “queer” was reclaimed by our community as a term of empowerment but moreover, a term without definition. In the early 80’s, we see the emergence of flamboyant gender presentations in the likes of Adam Ant and Siouxsie Sioux.

In the mid 80’s, the rise of androgynous gender and sexuality presentations pervades popular culture in the likes of David Bowie and Grace Jones, but it is in the late 1980s which the queer community organizes itself around an issue: AIDS. Act Up! forged the way for grassroots organization for queer rights as we know it today — with chants such as “We’re Here! We’re Queer! Get Used to it!” While the aforementioned people dismantled normative expectations of what “queer-ness” was, this group dismantled the stigma around queers with confrontational and cheeky slogans.

My favorite? “Fuck Your Gender,” which probably teaches you more about how to be queer than this article does.


[1] In the original script, Duckie ends up with Andie and this is the ending I have constructed in my mind because I am still waiting for someone to sing “Try a Little Tenderness” in Chuck Taylors to me.

[2] I’m a Cusack, obviously.

Danielle Wordelman is a third-year dilettante studying books written by dead people and paintings of (mostly) naked women. You can usually find her on her gold bike when she is not at the Wolfram Manor Collective. When she is not at home or at school, she visits craft stores and dreams about her life as an old woman where no one will criticize her for being crotchety, crocheting or tumbling.

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