February 2, 2016
Is it too soon to look back at the Eighties? I don’t think so. It was an interesting time, a period of ups and downs and ins and outs through thick and thin. And we survived. How did you survive? Why not write about it?
- Off to a good start. Minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn in as President on January 20, 1981, Iran released the fifty-two Americans who had been held hostage for 444 days.
- But there was a recession. With the Federal Reserve tightening money to curb inflation, which had peaked in April 1980 at 14.76%, the U.S. recession began in July 1981. Unemployment was 7.6%, rising to 9.7% before the recession ended the following year. Still, we made money. The Dow Jones Industrial average began the decade at 838.74 and ended at 2,753.20, coming out way ahead of Black Monday in 1987, when the market lost 22.6% of its value, falling 508 points to 1,738.74.
- Dirty little secrets always come out. The decade had its share of scandals. The Iran-Contra affair reeled the Reagan Administration. The Gary Hart/Donna Rice affair shook politics. The ban of Pete Rose from baseball hit the sports world hard. Milli Vanilli’s lip synching rocked music fans. Coca Cola kept secret its recipe for the syrup that is the basis for its soda, but deigned to change it to “the new taste in Coke.” It fell flat. Pepsi had its own calamity when Michael Jackson’s hair caught fire while filming a Pepsi commercial.
- Moonwalk to the music. Of all the music videos we watched on MTV, and there were a lot of them from our favorite musicians, Michael Jackson moonwalking to “Billie Jean” from his Thriller album got into our heads. From the same album Jackson danced to “Beat It” and “Thriller.” The zombie sequence from the later has been reenacted from Times Square to Hollywood and Highland. We learned Jackson’s moves and recited his words, so we’d always be in step. While Frank Sinatra wore a hat with style, no one did more for a black fedora — or one white glove — than Michael Jackson.
- More stations, more of the time. We watched a lot of television in the Eighties, and not just MTV on cable. Dallas was the first of the primetime soap operas, spawning Knots Landing, Dynasty, and Falcon Crest – I watched them all. In the fall of 1980, the resolution of the Dallas cliffhanger that had ended the third season generated 83 million viewers, more than the number of voters in that year’s presidential election. Just about everyone wanted to know who shot J.R.
- Talk a little. Talk a lot. In 1987, the National Association of Broadcasters bestowed the Peabody Award on Johnny Carson in honor of his 25th anniversary hosting The Tonight Show. Joan Rivers, David Letterman, and Jay Leno were favored guest hosts, going on to their own late night talk shows. Meanwhile, Oprah Winfrey’s show went into national syndication in 1986 and soared in the ratings during daytime.
- Tennis, everyone? It didn’t matter if baseliners were playing serve-and-vollyers on hard court, clay court, or grass court. We loved rooting for our favorite tennis player of the decade, of which there were many greats of the game, as they came out swinging, taking on their rivals, wooing crowds, and becoming household names. Leading the men, there was Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Ivan Lendl. The women were just as popular and included Chris Evert, Martina Navratilova, and Steffi Graf. And then along came Monica Seles.
- Here come the brides. A lot of famous couples got married in the Eighties. Some of them are still together, including Danny DeVito and Rhea Perlman, Tom Hanks and Rita Wilson, and Michael J. Fox and Tracy Pollan. Others didn’t make it, such as Madonna and Sea Penn, Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Bruce Willis and Demi Moore. And then there was Prince Charles and Diane Spencer. An estimated global television audience of 750 million watched their 1981 fairytale wedding. Yet for sheer spectacle, nothing was more remarkable than the mass wedding conducted by the Reverend Rev Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church. The gathering of 2,075 couples, brides and grooms dressed in identical outfits at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1982, was a sight to behold. Moon matched the couples himself, often pairing differing races and nationalities, in his belief that all of humanity should be united. A church spokesman puts the divorce rate for the blessed at a mere 25%, which, if true, is better than the national average.
- Women first. The Eighties saw a number of firsts for women. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first woman to sit on the Supreme Court. Sally Ride was the first American woman in space. Geraldine Ferraro, as Walter Mondale’s running mate, was the first woman on a national ticket. Aretha Franklin was the first woman inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
- The walls come crumbling down. “Tear down this wall,” President Reagan pronounced in 1987. And two years later the Berlin wall came down. Back at home, unemployment was at 5.3%, and inflation, too, had decreased dramatically, falling to 4.65%. And we cheered.
© 2015 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved