The year is 2015.
Time-traveller Marty McFly is involved in an argument with Griff Tannen in Café 80s – the futuristic vision of Lou’s Café that Marty frequents when in his own version of present day. Just like retro-themed American diners that nod to the 1950s, Café 80s is a hub for nostalgia that attempts to transport customers back to a “simpler time” through décor, fashion and music of the 1980s.
In Back To The Future II, the addition of Café 80s was a poke at pop culture’s fixation with its past and the nostalgia that the first film trucked. Yet, today, 80s-themed restaurants are a dime a dozen and, on any given night of the week, you can guarantee that there is a club hosting an 80s revival party.
Big hair, bright colours, legwarmers and the sound of synth-wave trigger an emotional response even in those who weren’t around to experience it first-hand. We’re a society obsessed: from Stranger Things and Glow to shoulder pads and pegged pants and entire sites dedicated to retro gaming, we Just Can’t Get Enough of 80s culture.
Of course, decade nostalgia is by no means new. For as long as there have been humans, there has been an ingrained tendency to romanticise a bygone era and lament the death of the “good old days”. Yet, our obsession with the 1980s is a different beast.
It’s easy to chalk it down to the fact that most producers, writers and directors of today enjoyed the full 80s childhood experience – and, seeing as they are responsible for the films and TV shows we watch today, it’s makes sense that the children of the 80s would take inspiration to set the tone for trends in pop culture.
According to Video Essayist Lindsay Ellis, our fixation is simply an example of the ‘30-year cycle‘ – the period of time it takes for people who were consumers of culture as children to become creators of culture as adults. Since they retain an emotional connection with the media of their youth, they are naturally inclined to recreate it as, to them, 80s culture is a fast-track ticket to the warm and fuzzies.
In reality, it’s so much more than that.
The 1980s symbolises to us the final era before the world was radically changed by the internet. Sandwiched between a decade of disco, the rise and fall of the punk movement and the early dawn of the digital age was a firework display of dramatic key-changes and fashion that verged on the ridiculous.
It was the decade that laid down the foundations for global entertainment and globalisation on a whole, but our naivety made it a thrill ride. Often remembered for its materialism and consumerism, the decade also saw the explosion of blockbuster movies and the emergence of MTV, which introduced the concept of the music videos.
As new technologies entered our life, there was excitement in their air and the future stretched out ahead as an ocean of possibility. Just look at the smiles and positive energy in the 1986 Crystal Light National Aerobic Championship – it truly is Western civilization at its peak.
To the hippies, the 80s was a hangover of a revolution; an unwelcome change of pace from peace and LSD to cocaine and money. Perhaps they were too cynical to see that the lovechild of cocaine and money was pure, unadulterated excitement. No idea was too wild, no plot too outrageous, no joke too offensive. There are even articles like this one where Dennis Quaid claims that cocaine was an expense built into movie budgets.
Between them, Debbie harry, Madonna and Robert Smith must have used an entire warehouse worth of hairspray – their fans did just the same. To their elders, teenagers must have looked ridiculous – but when they were “Dancing in the Dark”, and “Walking on Sunshine” at the club, they didn’t care.
The 1980s was a new revolution built on renewed enthusiasm. It’s not necessarily that things were better, because most of us would agree that the idea of carrying around a bunch of cassette tapes rather than a digital library in our pocket is impractical to say the least.
It simply symbolises a time in which we were free of the burdens that came with the digital age: privacy concerns, cyber-bullying, information overload, instant gratification, smart-phone addiction and identity crises to name but a few. In the 80s, technology like the Walkman and the mobile phone were considered ‘cool’ accessories rather than the cornerstones of society.
Yet, because it was the birth of modern technology, it’s a period that young people today can still relate to. The 70s, by contrast, may as well be the middle ages.
said Steven Spielberg, while promoting his ’80s-themed movie Ready Player One.
Perhaps he’s right.
Or perhaps it was all that cocaine.