The ’80s Turn 40

Hey, GenXer . . . You’re Old.

A collection of old stereos and boomboxes

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As Pink Floyd so aptly put it in “Time” from Dark Side of the Moon, “Every year is getting shorter/never seem to find the time.” Scientists have noted that it seems that time accelerates as you get older. A side effect of that faster movement through the years is that your past may feel more recent than it actually was. Which is one reason that it’s worthy to note that, much to Generation X’s horror, the ’80s turn 40 today.

Culturally, America tends to act like the mid-20th Century is a lot closer to now that it is. World War II ended 75 years ago this coming August. JFK was assassinated 57 years ago, and The Beatles debuted on The Ed Sullivan Show 56 years ago. It’s understandable:  many people who defined the media for so long are Baby Boomers. Their interest, study, and promotion of that era made it seem more present.

President Ronald Reagan
“Hear that, ’80s kids? That’s 50 knocking.” (Mark Reinstein / Shutterstock)

Now that GenXers are shot-callers in so much of entertainment, the pervasiveness of ’80s and ’90s settings for films and TV series is growing. Just as the 1980s featured ’60s sentimentality in the form of shows like The Wonder Years, current popular projects like Stranger Things have that Reagan Era anchor. But even the GenXers knocking out those scripts might not realize themselves that 20 years ago isn’t 1990; it’s 2000. Millennials aren’t teens anymore; the youngest Millennials turn 24 this year. Hilariously, Pew Research is already flirting with putting a cap on Generation Z, suggesting that the kids who were born in 2012 might mark the end of that run (for the record, we should call the new kids the Avengers Generation). Time doesn’t march on. It runs.

Here’s where it really starts to hurt. What else turns 40 in 2020? How about The Shining, The Empire Strikes Back, Blues Brothers, and 9 to 5? Along with that film’s title tune, other 40-year-old songs now include Blondie’s “Call Me,” Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust,” AC/DC’s “You Shook Me All Night Long,” and Joy Division’s “Love Will Tear Us Apart;” on the album side, Iron Maiden made their self-titled debut (yes, Virginia; they were a new band once). BET began life as programming block on USA three years before it became its own network. The original Hawaii 5-0 signed off, but handed the reigns of Pacific crime-fighting to the brand-new Magnum P.I. A frankly unbelievable number of future stars and celebrities were born that year, including the likes of Michelle Williams, Kristen Bell, Ryan Gosling, Channing Tatum, Jessica Simpson, and Kim Kardashian. “The Dark Phoenix Saga,” an Uncanny X-Men story arc so popular that it’s been the subject of two live-action films and two animated adaptations, also ran throughout most of the year in 1980. Yes, GenXer . . . that was all 40 years ago.

What does it mean, aside from the fact that we’re all getting older? While our tastes may grow and change, we’ll always have a soft spot for the formative texts, films, and sounds that shaped our interests; science even suggests that we might stop looking for new music around age 30. And once we reach adulthood, we  just don’t want to get much older. As we try hold on to our youth, it just makes the old days seem closer than they really are. As Bob Mould sang on Sugar’s 1992 song “Changes,” “I want something like I remember/And I want something/That lasts forever.” They used to say that if you remembered the ’60s, you weren’t there. If you remember the ’80s, you were probably there; they were just longer ago than you’d like to think.

Featured image: Shutterstock

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  1. My 4th granddaughter at age 1 years old was handling the digital cellphone watching videos like it was as natural as breathing air , picking this up from her 5 year plus old siblings which picked it up from their mom and dad .

    she had no idea what she was doing or why , she thought it was what she was supposed to be doing watching her brother and sisters with theirs, she had no idea it was reading to her , playing music , making phone calls at 1 years old reasoning was telling mom you shit your pants and you are hungry .

    Now at 3 years old she picked up changing the volume , choosing video games ETC .. the point I’m trying to share is for her there is no learning curve since she was dealing with the digital experience before she was taking her first steps and it wasn’t handed down from mom or dad , it simply just was like magic .

    I’m a child of the sixties and I promise you we had nothing like that in our first year’s of life experiences , it’s a treat to watch the child experience this that she has no clue what it is but yet it’s a very important part of her future which makes me very curious as to what that will bring . It’s obvious the age of the learning curve of the digital experience is gone with her generation . I consider myself extremely lucky I got to experience this particular event of that generation coming into the what I consider the natural digital world experience .

  2. Jackie,

    As the writer of this piece, and a GenXer (born 1973), I don’t see this piece as an attack at all. Where did you get that from this piece? You also suggest that the Post “keep(s) on attacking Gen Xers,” but I don’t see it. I recently wrote a piece that jokingly said Generation X ruined movies, but in the same breath said “not really.”

    You seem to have a grievance against Millennials, but that’s not something that’s really represented in the piece, either. Could you explain more clearly?


  3. You keep on attacking Gen Xers but didn’t you know that we 1980 born people are Gen Xers too by most definitions. In fact we are on the tail end of Gen X. Please millennials, stop lumping us 1980 babies into your generation. Just because we happened to share the “8” digit doesn’t mean we are the same. Unlike you 80s babies, we were born in the final year of the disco era, Carter presidency, dark period coupled with the continuation of 1979’s unfinished business like the oil crisis that resulted in a recession and the Iranian hostage crisis, overall it was still a 70s culture when we were born. We grew up in the 80s, experienced the 80s pop culture, gadget-free childhood, greatly impacted with the major social changes in the 80s, turned 18 in the late 90s, no cellphones until 19-20 and we didn’t have internet in our entire teenage years. While you older millennials grew up in the 90s, were raised with electeonic gadgets, had internet and cellphones when you were pre-teens to teenagers.


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