Is it possible to be nostalgic for the decade that gave us Milli Vanilli and crimped hair? Apparently so. Pop culture, having exhausted the 1960s and tired out the '70s, is now mining the Reagan years.
Last week Topher Grace, the former star of That 70s Show, jumped a decade with the Blu-ray release of Take Me Home Tonight, a movie named after a 1986 hit by Eddie Money and Ronnie Spector. The movie is a tribute to the youth films of the '80s, complete with enough John Hughes spirit to make Molly Ringwald seem cool again.
I know one film does not a trend make, but Take Me Home Tonight is far from being the only '80s throwback of 2011. Super 8, a terrific homage to the Spielberg films of the '80s, was a recent box office hit. The upcoming 30 Minutes or Less, the new Jesse Eisenberg comedy, uses music from Beverly Hills Cop, The Smurfs are bringing the blues to the big screen next week, and soon the floodgates open with remakes of Total Recall and Fright Night (both starring Colin Farrell who, apparently, is a self-styled '80s pop culture evangelist), and a reimagining of The Muppets. Also, if a remake of Footloose (updated with a hashtag in its subtitle: Everybody Cut #Footloose) is a sign of the apocalypse, then look out, Armageddon is on the way.
So why the comeback? Esquire writer Stephen Marche suggests it’s partly because “...we're in pretty much the same socioeconomic boat as we were then (high unemployment numbers, an inspirational leader with shaky approval ratings, etc.),” which is a valid point, but I think it has more to do with that soft fuzzy glow people get when they think about their youth.
If you were 18 in 1980 you’d be on the cusp of your midlife crisis now. Perhaps the eyesight is a bit blurrier than it once was. Having trouble hearing? Sorry, didn’t catch what you said. Maybe your job sucks and the mortgage you’re paying on your ex’s house is draining your bank account. What's wrong with a little blast from the past to brighten the day?
The '80s were rough times— Air India Flight 182, the Iran-Iraq war, Jheri curls— but not if you were 18. You had a world of opportunity at your feet, parachute pants to buy, and Pac Man to play, all set to a soundtrack of Madonna and Wang Chung. So what if it was plastic and phony? It was fun at least that’s the way you remember it and these '80s themed movies are a way of reminding us of a time before life got too complicated.
The '80s aren’t the first epoch to get a second look. Every generation has a time they remember fondly. The '60s died at Altamont but interest in them didn’t die until recently, squeezing out opportunities for proper reexamination of the years that followed. Now we’re playing catch up, burning through the ensuing decades so quickly that soon we may well run out of eras to be nostalgic for. It’s enough to gag you with a spoon.