It finally happened; I’m at an age when I get to spend time correcting younger people about the misconceptions some older people are giving them about “my” time.
Maybe it’s just me – but I’ve been noting a little surge of questions – and revisionist answers – about the 1980s, lately.
I’ll stick with the question:
I’ll take a run at that.
No, Mr. McGeoch and anyone else with the question – they were even better than most people today credit them for.
Do yourself a favor and watch the movie the movie “Miracle”; the opening montage *brilliantly* shows how depressing US life was in the ’70s.
Here it is.
If you are of a certain age, you can almost feel the depression of that era – the malaise that plagued us for that miserable decade – creeping over you.
We know how the movie – and the game whose story it related – ended; a two hour movie about a one hour game boiling down to one of the most memorable minutes in the history of television:
The decade took a little longer, and was a lot more suspenseful.
It wasn’t just that we bounced back from the economic malaise of the ’70s, and the ’82 recession (as bad as 2008) in a way that seems *miraculous* today. Although to a guy getting out into the world at the time, that was pretty good timing.
No – it was much bigger.
In the ’70s, Communism – the bloodiest dictatorships in history – was at its peak. And while the success of Ronald Reagan’s goal of extincting the USSR has a thousand fathers today, in 1980 literally nobody thought they were going away.
People today think of the Cold War as a cultural punch line – but it was no joke, kids.
I grew up in missile country, during the height of the cold war, between two SAC bases. I grew up very aware the world could get incinerated in minutes if some colonel in Moscow or Colorado Springs had a bad day.
I was *never* going to have kids in a world like that. This was something I knew when I graduated from college. Why bring someone into the world, just to have them die with you, and the rest of civilization? What was the point?
And over the course of that decade, the USSR – the most murderous regime in history – went from being the “other” superpower to…gone.
The threat hanging over all of us and everything we did…
In 1980, the entire American intelligentsia said the Communist world was here to stay. Anyone who says that they didn’t think so is lying.
Even his own staff thought it was too reckless. The Democrats? Forget about it.
And even though I was living in the middle of it at the time, I didn’t quite believe it. Even as the Berlin Wall fell…:
…I couldn’t quite believe it.
I’ve cited Miracle; I’m going to drop the other pop culture bomb. Things still hadn’t sunk in for me when I was working at at Top 40 station. This song came out:
It’s “Right Here, Right Now” by Jesus Jones. They’re a trite, flash in the pan British post-new-wave band. But it was the only song (other than the Scorptions Wind of Change) about that bit of history. I can’t think of a whole lot of pop culture artifacts about “watching the world wake up from history”.
It’s a trite bit of new wave pop – and I get a catch in my threat when I listen to it, to this day.
Because it came out about the time that the USAF, which had kept nuclear bombers on alert 24/7 for literally 40 years…stopped. Hundreds of missiles got retired.
And it was like someone lifted a steamer trunk full of bowling balls off my chest. I have no idea how to relate that to someone who wasn’t there.
Bob Dylan didn’t have this to sing about
You know it feels good to be alive
Other than perhaps to hope one gets the significance that my oldest was born a year later – into a world that was safe enough to think about it. And for all the jabbering about “revolution” that the generation before mine had inflicted on the world, this? This was revolutionary.
All because of what happened in the ’80s.
I saw the decade in, when it seemed the world could change with the blink of an eye.
And it didn’t end there. With the end of the Cold War, a tidal wave of defense effort turned to civilian uses. All that American ingenuity that had spent the ’70s and ’80s helping tanks hit their targets while driving at 40mph, detecting Soviet submarines hundreds of miles away, went into civilian goods. The GPS in your smart phone started out in smart bombs. Your car’s airbag’s origin story was in the fire detector in M1 Abrams tanks. This blog comes to you via ancient Department of Defense project eventually called the Internet.
It was the “peace dividend”. Bill Clinton (with the invaluable assistance of the last actually conservative GOP Congress forcing him to the right) got to cash it. The economy went on the longest boom in history.
It would not have happened without the events of the 1980s.
That’s the fun, nostalgic part. I spent my late teens and early 20s watching the world wake up from history.
But as another song put it, nothing good ever lasts: Mr. McGeoch’s entire generation grew up knowing little about the era but what they’ve been told by the people who write the memes, who shoot the TikTok videos, write the cultural punch lines – while at the same time benefitting from its results as no previous generation in human history. Two generations have grown up thinking that the world that started in 1989 was the natural order – or, simultaneously better and worse, not having to think about it all that hard.
It’s not. Mankind’s natural state is for the strong to dominate the weak; for those with the will to power to control those without. The moral arc of history is long, but almost always – but for this past 200-odd years – bends toward tyranny and barbarism.
And it can all go away like *that*.
“I saw the world change in the blink of an eye” when I was 26.
I’m seeing it change back in a long, slow, masochistic drip drip drip.
Like the seventies – only much more serious, this time. Perhaps because I’m old enough and well-read enough to know the consequences. Perhaps because the people driving us toward what appears to be an even deeper, grayer nadir are not comic book villains in tanks, but people in our own country, with PhDs and blue checkmarks.
Hope that answers the question.