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Wake Up and Smell the Late ’80s

October 15, 2008


When people ask me how old I am, I’ll  often reply with a vague quip: “Old enough to have learned that nostalgia is cyclical.”

Indeed, the retro-roller-coaster that is American pop culture has been a fact of life since at least the 1970s, when “Happy Days” taught us that things were better before the Kennedy assassination robbed the Baby Boomers of their innocence.

Two decades later, the kids of the 1990s fell in love with the 1970s. Cases in point: The re-release of the “Star Wars” trilogy, P.T. Anderson’s meditation on the porn industry, and Samuel L. Jackson’s Afro in “Pulp Fiction.” With the cultural precedence already set, I saw the wave of 1980s nostalgia coming years before “The Wedding Singer” made it okay to like Billy Idol again. Thus, when that same movement provoked a generation of balding Duran Duran enthusiasts to curse the Killers as an offensive knock-off, I responded with the wisdom of my advancing years: “Alas, It’s inevitable.”

That being said, I have become rather surprised lately by the selective path nostalgia can sometimes take. Whereas fondness for early-’80s kitsch had been a dominating force for several years, it seems as if the Happy Days train has all but passed over the late-’80s doldrums that followed. I came upon this realization last week as I entered an Urban Outfitters and was bombarded by grungy apparel — straight off the boat from Seattle, circa 1992. All at once it hit me: The ’90s are back, and the late ’80s never came!   

Could North Dakota's centennial be the most important event of 1989.

The Wonder Years: Could North Dakota's centennial be the most important event of 1989?

In all honesty, I can’t blame the keepers of culture for passing over the era of King George the First — it was admittedly a very bland couple of years. I myself spent most of the era tuning out the world with mesciline and trying to convince people that Jane’s Addiction were not really that good of a band.

Still, for anyone who came of age during an episode of “21 Jump Street,” the late-’80s ommission from the annals of nostalgia is a bit of an insult. Couldn’t Urban Outfitters at least humor us with a few fanny packs?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Carolina Maine permalink
    October 18, 2008 1:46 am

    Ha! Fanny packs–my step-dad had one. So funny. I did the grunge thing-oh so sad. I hear Pearl Jam is popular again too:) I love PJ. I guess you know when I graduated high school–

  2. October 18, 2008 4:14 am

    Hmmmm.. Let me guess. between 1992 and 1994. The grunge thing didn’t last long. I think the corporate record labels got a hold of it right away. But Pearl Jam were the real deal, although I think Ten was their best.

  3. Carolina Maine permalink
    October 21, 2008 12:50 am

    Close–but I lived in AL so the trickle down took a while. 1996.
    “Black” was my favorite song.
    I did like Nirvana–too bad Curt died. I can’t believe Francis Bean is so big now!
    That makes me feel old.

  4. October 21, 2008 1:24 am

    I know, I saw pics of Francis. It must be strange for her to hear everyone talk about her famous dad, whom she probably doesn’t remember.

  5. Carolina Maine permalink
    October 21, 2008 2:41 pm

    Yeah, I always felt bad for her. Her dad died and her mother is Courtney Love. Have you heard Eddie Vedder’s Into the Wild soundtrack? I LOVE it. I also like Into the Wild.

  6. October 22, 2008 12:04 am

    Yes, awesome soundtrack– and a nice comeback for Mr. Vetter.

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