Out With the New In With the Old
It’s around the age of eighteen when you realize you’ve lived through your childhood. Things start to pop up from when you were a kid just to remind you how old you are—boxes of cereal they no longer sell in the supermarket, clothing styles you realize you haven’t seen in ages, the news that the lead singer of your favorite band as a kid is now turning forty. A wave of nostalgia hits you, a mixture of fondness, poignancy, and warmth seeping across your chest. It’s one of the most powerful emotions in our society. Studies have shown it can ward off depression and loneliness; it is the embodiment of longing for a simpler time. Could this be the reason why pop culture is now revolving around decades past? Are we all yearning to turn back the clock and reminisce?
According to the success of some recent television shows and movies, we are. Stranger Things and It are just two examples of movies and TV shows created recently that are either set in the ‘80s or ruled by ‘80s nostalgia. Stranger Things is a perfect example of the 80s reimagined, complete with a sci-fi monster, young boys who ride bikes around, and a parent who’s obsessed with the supernatural. Each of these aspects are clearly sampled from some ‘80s classics—the troupe of boys on bikes from Stand By Me, the monster’s “face-hugging” capability is straight out of Ridley Scott’s Alien, and mom, Joyce (Winona Ryder), is essentially a female representation of the dad from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The movie It, while not quite as filled with clear ‘80s nods, hosts repeated references to the ‘80s lifestyle—a time when smartphones weren’t available and activities like making paper boats and running amok unsupervised in nature were common. The decade filled with bright neon and the sounds of synth and funk is slowly creeping its way into everything we watch.
But why the ‘80s? Many have wondered why the decade is seeing a resurgence now, far past the typical twenty year turnaround. The ‘80s also saw a brief rein in pop culture in the early 2000s with shows like Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000), and movies like Wet Hot American Summer (2001). It made sense then, the revival of the ‘80s in the early 2000s. Creators of content like Freak and Geeks grew up during the ‘80s and were well into their twenties or thirties during the first resurgence of interest in the decade. Then, towards the end of the 2000s and into the 2010s we were launched into a short recall of the ‘90s. Now we’re back, so what gives? Why won’t the ‘80s fade respectively into history like the ones that came before it?
In a Vulture article, written by Jen Chaney in 2016 about why we may still be stuck in the ‘80s, the idea that the ‘80s weren’t fully appreciated the first time around is introduced. She references a New York Times article that refers to the ‘80s as an “irredeemable mullet joke.” But now, creative minds are starting to give credence to the era, highlighting its historical and political significance as well as giving kudos to the period’s art through imitation and sampling. A great example of this, while moving into the world of music, is the success of Bruno Mars and his album 24k Magic. Mars swept the Grammys a couple of weeks ago with six overall wins, including the prestigious Album of the Year award. The music video for his hit Uptown Funk is laden with ‘80s feels. In the music video, Mars and the Hooligans jive their hips on what’s meant to look like the streets of New York. Clad in bright colored suits and gold chains, eyes shadowed by Aviator sunglasses, the costuming is clearly ‘80s. The last minute of the video may be the most ‘80s part though, showing Mars and his crew performing in a smoky jazz club lit by a neon cityscape. This music video is the fifth most viewed video of all time on Youtube. Not only does Mars have the music of current pop culture at his fingertips, but the awards to prove its quality. The abundance of foot-tapping funk and soul that comes with his music is a feat that may not have been attainable without looking back to the inherent magic of the ‘80s.
Not only does the reappearance of past eras appeal to those who lived through it, but it also captures the attention of younger generations who see these seeming peculiar images as intriguing. Whether because of true appreciation for art from another time, or maybe simply as a marketing ploy, the ‘80s are back and booming. If you look carefully, ‘80s influence can be found in most of the media of today. From television to film to movies, we’re stuck in an era that was originally underappreciated. Will society finally move on when the ‘80s has been given its due diligence? Only time will tell. For now, it seems its influence is only increasing. So, slip on your high top sneakers and your fanny pack, listen to Bruno Mars, watch some Stranger Things, and enjoy it while it lasts.
Illustration by: Rishona Kumar