In doing some research for work about the 1980s and the creation of our current political landscape, I stumbled upon a few very, very interesting cultural things. They definitely make you wonder: have we not left 1986?
There are three main areas where this feels particularly pronounced: lifestyle and fashion, race relations, and Donald Trump. While I do not know the entire context(s) of these items back then, you and I can peep into windows of bygone news broadcasts to get an idea of how things looked…and they’re remarkably similar to now.
The first clip is from a Tom Brokaw and Jane Pauley led news special for NBC called The Eighties. The special aired at the end of the 1980s to recap the past decade and usher in the 1990s. There was talk about the rise of AIDS and gay rights activism, space flight, and the rise in personal technology.
What was most fascinating was the view of materialism, which apparently rose with the greater prevalence of commercials and advertising. Set to “Material Girl,” the section of the special bemoaned (Or praised?) a pre-Kardashian Kardashian era in which we were defined by what we bought and what brands we use to express ourselves as embodied by the Yuppies, a breed of American designed to “consume and compete and live to the max.” This sounds like Instagram before Instagram existed.
Similarly, foodie culture, eating out, fitness fads, wine, and sparkling water were the rage, a lot of things that seem remarkably similar to now. Calvin Klein rose to fame and, like today, defines how a generation expresses themselves. Most alarming is the rise of athleisure which, of course, isn’t the same athleisure we have now but its genesis started in the eighties, with the rise of sneaker culture and activewear.
Onward to heavier things, MTV’s reflection on the decade was a brash, forward thinking way of capturing a decade’s ideology by reflecting what it was: racist. “During the Reagan years it became fashionable to be racist,” Spike Lee explained as skinheads pop on the screen to gripe about how “those people” are taking jobs and land and money from white people. It’s fairly disgusting…and it feels a lot like today? That gross hate was more outward facing than it is today (These acts have been co-opted by politics and police forces, quieted by institutions.) but the sentiment and exhaustion is the same: why are we dealing with this still in the most progressive country in the world? The assumption, as Spike mentions, is that it comes from Reagan era ways of thinking.
And we all know what that gave birth to.
(Also of note is a hyper fucking embarrassing interview with John Malchovich around the 32:20 point, in which he—A white man.—explains how black people “point out racism where there isn’t any.” Does he know now that he gave this interview? It’s really jarring given his liberal aura.)
Now, we arrive at 1988, at the Republican National Convention, where none other than Donald Trump was a ubiquitous figure. He gave several interviews that have been circulating recently about why he is a Republican and why he supported George Bush.
Most fascinating is that the Trump then and the Trump now are parallels in rich cockiness. The difference is that the Trump then didn’t think he wanted to be in politics. He was a Republican that was “for the people” and, as he tells Larry King, he “likes to win” because its easy for him. “I doubt I’ll ever be involved beyond what I do right now,” he says of politics, which he calls beautiful, a system that he thinks is great. At this time, Trump was rumored to be running for president but ultimately didn’t because it wasn’t for him. Thirty years later, here we are.
All this—these three coincidences—are to say that times don’t really change, sadly. One shitty era ends, another begins. Should we have hope for the future? Of course! But know that our problems and ways of thinking and living are not unique: they’re now a remix of the past aided by technology, ideological nepotism handed down from a past generation to the future.