With so much attention focused on Iraq, homeland security, and national anxiety about where the economy is heading, no one should be surprised that a hint of nostalgia is drifting in the air these days, a cultural breeze from the 1980s.
Duran Duran, The Bangles, and several other groups that dominated the airwaves during the Reagan years are doing concert tours. Toymakers have decided to bring back Garbage Pail Kids stickers and Strawberry Shortcake dolls. Hasbro is trotting My Little Pony out of the retirement paddock. I can't criticize any of these trends because I am a huge 1980s fan, and I wish I had appreciated the decade a lot more while it was occurring.
Time smoothes over the rough edges of memory. The road through the '80s had a lot of bumpy spots. There was controversy over American policy toward Nicaragua, the hostage crisis in Lebanon, and the mysterious emergence of AIDS. I don't have room here for a complete list, of course.
But when I think back to those years, what I remember most clearly is the feeling of excitement and anticipation, a surge of cultural energy. President Carter has often been ridiculed for a nationally televised speech in 1979 in which he claimed that America was in a "malaise." I thought then, and still do, that he was absolutely right.
Starting around 1982, I personally felt the collective malaise dissipating. America was on the rebound.
Disco died. New sounds started coming out of my radio. I vividly recall the day I first heard a song called "Message in a Bottle" by The Police. I thought, "We are not in the '70s anymore." Music videos started appearing on TV. A new late-night show debuted with David Letterman. Guests were nonmainstream, offbeat personalities like Brother Theodore. Sometimes an edgy comedian named Jay Leno showed up in leather motorcycle togs.
The Soviet Union was bogged down in Afghanistan, and signs began to emerge that its system was in trouble. Longtime leader Leonid Breznev died. His successor, Yuri Andropov, didn't last long before he also passed away. And then, incredibly, the pattern was repeated with Andropov's replacement, Konstantin Chernenko. The Soviet monolith finally seemed to be cracking.
The boom in home computers was gaining momentum. My first printer used a daisy wheel and typed one page every three minutes. I thought it was almost miraculous. The guy who sold it to me said, "Wait'll you see the next generation."
For me, the event that embodied the forward momentum of the decade was the 1984 Winter Olympics in Sarajevo. Here was a country of religious, ethnic, and economic diversity that appeared to be on a solid track toward a prosperous future. The TV features that showcased various aspects of life in Yugoslavia made me want to hop on a plane and tour the entire country.
Oh, well. That opportunity is long gone. Some days I could swear the '80s just happened a few months ago.
Seeing the new version of My Little Pony on the store shelves will be one more reminder of how fast the years gallop by.