Monday, November 23, 2009

The Best of the 80s

I happen to think that the 80s was a pretty great time, but then probably most people look back on their formative years with some amount of fond euphoria.

Granted, it was the height of the cold war. For instance, there’s 1983, the year civilization very nearly ended, with the Russians shooting down Korean airliners, Reagan firing up the “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative (a space-based system of satellites and weapons platforms designed to create a “shield” around the U.S. and its interests by shooting down any intercontinental ballistic missiles while they were still in flight), and the TV movie “The Day After” trying to show the world the horrors of global thermonuclear war. Check out that link when you’ve got a half-hour to kill, by the way – it’s a fascinating look at the details of how a NATO simulation, rising diplomatic tensions between East and West, and a crummy Soviet computer system very nearly caused the USSR to launch its nuclear missiles and bring the world to its knees. As Einstein said, “I know not with what weapons World War III will be fought, but World War IV will be fought with sticks and stones.”

And as much as 1983 would have been a pretty craptacular year for the world to end (which isn’t to imply that there would be a good year, but, really, 1983?), the 80s in general were pretty cool, at least from an Entertainment perspective. Some examples? Well, it was 1982 when Disney World’s coolest park opened – EPCOT. Cooler still, at the time it was intended to be the genesis of an actual living, breathing city with permanent residents. The name, in fact, stood for “Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.” Before that, you had the birth of CNN and, later, MTV which took the novel approach of actually playing music videos, unlike the more current lineup of reality shows and sitcoms.

For movies, it was one of the greatest decades for geekdom, giving us Conan (the first one, not the crappy second one), Beastmaster, Krull, Highlander, Die Hard, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Lethal Weapon, First Blood, Rocky III, Risky Business, Platoon, Young Guns, The Untouchables, Caddyshack, Escape from New York, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. But if one series really represents the glory of the 1980s, it’s not Indiana Jones, it’s not Rambo, it’s the story of time-traveling teen Marty McFly in the hit series Back to the Future.

I introduced my kids to that series this weekend – well, the first two, anyway – and they proved that the series holds up as well today as it ever did. They watched in rapt attention, exclaiming with alarm “Oh no! Is Doc Brown really going to get killed by the Libyans?? Who’ll take care of Einstein?” For those who haven’t seen the movies lately (and why not?), Einstein is Doc Brown’s dog.

We’ll probably watch the third movie on Thanksgiving or something, but seeing Marty scramble to get his parents together while trying to come up with 1.21 gigawatts of power for the flux capacitor gave my kids no small amount of joy and pleasure. As crazy and stupid and ridiculous as the 80s were with the big hair and the Pepsi Challenge and the Brat Pack, it’s good to know that some of the best entertainment of that era still holds up. I can’t wait to show my kids Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in a few years. And some day, when they’re older, Conan and I can teach them what is best in life, through the best of the 1980s.

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