I've always been fascinated by different periods of history and also by how those different times look to our minds' eyes as we think about them, whether we were there or have only read about them in history books or seen movies set in those years. Each decade seems to have certain elements that end up as archetypes that define, in the minds of many people, that particular series of years. When I think about my own life and the different decades I've lived through, I realize that the 1980s had a very strong impact on my development as a person and, years later, as a writer. Of course the 80s did, for that was the decade that contained most of my childhood. I was 3 in 1980 and 12 in 1989, and that's the part of life where the imagination really forms and certain images and themes embed themselves in the mind of a creative person. So I find myself considering which things that could only have happened in the Eighties really stuck in my head and had something to do with the person and writer I turned out to be. Here are some that come to mind.
THE STAR WARS PHENOMENON
Yes, I realize the first Star Wars movie came out in the late 70s, but the two sequels were in the 80s and the cultural craze those movies prompted lasted well into my childhood. I don't know if any other series of movies has ever had such an impact on so many children as Star Wars. The movies, its characters, the action figures, comic books, and everything else that had anything to do with George Lucas's science-fantasy saga surrounded us, penetrated us, and bound us all together just as the Force did in his movies. And for any kid who grew up wanting to be Luke or Han or Leia or even Darth Vader, the Force is still with us now.
IRON MAIDEN T-SHIRTS
This had nothing to do with music. When I was a very young kid in the early 80s, I had no idea that Iron Maiden was a band. I had never heard one of their songs. But those shirts seemed to be everywhere. You couldn't walk through the local mall without seeing at least one teenager wearing one of those shirts with their gruesome designs. They were scary! And that fascinated me. Seeing one of those shirts was like catching a brief glimpse into a strange nightmare world, and I loved the mystery of that feeling.
EARLY VIDEO GAMES
While I'm all for advances in technology and I think today's video games are wonderful to look at in all their realistic, precise detail (although I don't play them often), I'm glad I grew up at a time when the graphics were simpler and didn't look so much like perfect pictures of what they were supposed to be. Why? Because seeing what was on the screen and simultaneously seeing what you imagined the little colorful blips would really look like gave the imagination quite a workout! As I thrilled to The Legend of Zelda or Castlevania, I was seeing both the fuzzy little monsters on the TV and the frightful things they would have been if those images had been able to replicate what the story told me they were.
MTV WHEN IT SHOWED VIDEOS
There were some really weird looking rock stars in the 80s, and they made some interesting little films to go with their songs. As a kid seeing the New Wave videos or Michael Jackson's "Thriller" or so many other videos, it really didn't matter too much to me if I liked the music or not. The images that went with the songs sometimes sent my mind in interesting directions in ways that a song alone or a regular movie couldn't.
JEREMY BRETT AS SHERLOCK HOLMES
Anyone who reads this blog regularly knows that Sherlock Holmes is my favorite fictional character. I was very, very lucky to have discovered the Great Detective at a time when the most faithful series of film adaptations was being produced. Beginning in 1984, Jeremy Brett played Holmes in a Grenada Television series that adapted over 40 of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's mysteries. They were as close to perfect as adaptations can be.
Putting him on my list has nothing to do with his specific politics, but rather his presence during the years in which I grew up. Having such a high-profile president in office at the time when I was first learning something about the history and government of my country made those subjects even more interesting to me. My opinions of what Reagan or any other president did or didn't do while in office are beyond the subject matter of this blog entry, but as a character in my early impressions of the world, Reagan deserves mention here.
PHOEBE CATES BY THE POOL
If you do the math, you'll realize that I was only 5 when Fast Times at Ridgemont High came out. No, I wasn't that precocious! But when it showed up on TV a few years later....let's just say it made quite an impression on me. As I later learned, it wasn't just me. When men of a certain age discuss certain things that had important impacts on their childhood, that movie (and especially that scene, with its soundtrack by The Cars) usually makes the list.
If I thought about it for longer and really let my mind wander back through those years, I could probably come up with dozens, maybe hundreds of things from the 80s that influenced me then and still do today, but I've spent enough time in the past for one blog. Maybe I'll do a sequel some day.