‘Fess up. Did you leave work early so you could be first in line for the premiere of Adam Sandler’s new wave-era comedy, “The Wedding Singer”? Then, did you wiggle into some spandex pants and bop down to catch Quiet Riot in concert? And — come on now, spill — are you giddy over the prospect of Tom Selleck’s coming back to prime time television?
Then you, my friend, are hopelessly stuck in the 1980s. But don’t fret — your condition isn’t as uncool as you might think. The decade of parachute pants and perestroika, of Fawn Hall and Ferris Bueller, is making a comeback. To quote a line from a 1986 hit flick, “Be afraid, be very afraid.”
“The Wedding Singer,” which follows the exploits of a luckless entertainer in the days when Van Halen was still on its first lead vocalist, raked in more than $20 million when it opened over the extended President’s Day weekend. Its popularity is just one of many signs that the Reagan-Bush years are seeping back into our collective consciousness. To wit:
With the renaming of a Washington airport in his honor, Ronald Reagan is once again making headlines and drawing the ire of air traffic controllers, whose strike he busted in 1981.
Mikhail Gorbachev, former president of the Soviet Union and the architect of glasnost, appears in a television commercial for Pizza Hut.
Beginning the week of March 15, VH1’s snarky “Pop-Up Video” show spins off a new series, “Pop-Up ‘80s.” Such events as Reagan’s inauguration and the fall of the Berlin Wall will be “popped” along with videos by Sting, Cyndi Lauper, etc.
Besides Quiet Riot, who exhorted us to “Cum On Feel the Noize” in 1983, such ‘80s-identified groups as Bow Wow Wow, Loverboy and Judas Priest have reunited and hit the tour circuit. On the horizon: a hair-metal package tour featuring Warrant, Poison and L.A. Guns.
Nick at Nite added “The Wonder Years” (1988-1993) to its stable of reruns this fall, resulting in stellar ratings.
Even indirectly, the decade is exerting influence. What are the Spice Girls, ultimately, if not five Paula Abduls? Mind you, the revival is still a limited one. Trickle-down economics is still out. So is Rob Lowe (can you remember anything he’s done since the video in the Atlanta motel room?). And, mercifully, ‘80s fashion has yet to make a comeback.
“I wore leg warmers with gold clogs,” admitted Linda Mitchell, 37, at an opening night showing of “The Wedding Singer” in Atlanta. Mitchell pronounced the ‘80s “fun” save for two things, “Reagan and synth music.” Of the decade’s high points, she cited “little clubs that everybody went to.”
“I don’t want to wear an Izod shirt with the collar flipped up ever again,” asserts 25-year-old Glenn Gaslin. An editor at Los Angeles’ New Times newspaper, Gaslin knows the ‘80s. He and fellow Northwestern University graduate Rick Porter have written - deep breath - “The Complete Cross-Referenced Guide to the Baby Buster Generation’s Collective Unconscious” (Boulevard Books, $14).
This cheeky compendium chronicles the formative years of Generation X, from Atari to “Xanadu.” (Sample listing: “Duh” - All-encompassing negation/put-down that gained wide popularity during the Valley Girl era, circa 1982-83. Variations include the redundant “No duh”(and) the alternate pronunciation “Doyee.”)
“One of the points of the book is that there is no point,” says Gaslin. “Because I feel the ‘80s are really hard to define. The amount of information available to a human just exploded. And to kids growing up, all those ridiculous little video games and Brandon Tartikoff TV series had equal weight to military invasions and space shuttle disasters.”
OK, but why are the ‘80s such a hot commodity now? Jack Nachbar, professor emeritus of popular culture at Ohio’s Bowling Green State University, believes it’s a marketing thing. Only those 18-49 will understand.
“People who were in high school and college during the ‘80s have emerged as a high consumption group,” says Nachbar. “And as the first baby boomers get into their late 40s and early 50s, they are leaving the demographic that advertisers usually try to appeal to.”
Porter, 26, has a more personal take on the wave of ‘80s nostalgia: “When I was a teenager, I got sort of turned off by the whole re-celebration of the Summer of Love, Woodstock and all that. I wasn’t even alive then. Why should I care?”
One question remains: Will there be a ‘90s revival? After all, how can you recycle a recycled culture (didn’t we just go through a ‘70s revival a while back?) Doesn’t matter, says Gaslin. “There’s no escaping what you grew up on. No matter how bad it is.”
An ‘80s revival is all well and good, but let’s remember that there are some artifacts from those years that should be locked away in a time capsule and never spoken of again. Below are a few positives and negatives about the “Greed is good” decade.
The Good ‘80s (Fer sure!)
“The Breakfast Club”
Ronald Reagan (“There you go again”)
“You’re no Jack Kennedy”
Howard Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff
Eddie Van Halen and Valerie Bertinelli
The fall of the Berlin Wall
Michael Jackson, circa “Thriller”
“Bright Lights, Big City” new wave
The Bad ‘80s (Gag me with a spoon)
“St. Elmo’s Fire”
Flock of Seagulls hair
Ronald Reagan (“We begin bombing in five minutes”)
“Where’s the beef?”
Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, PTL’s chief cheats
Sean Penn and Madonna
Michael Jackson, circa “Bad”
“Less Than Zero”