The ’80s Turn 40

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.

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