Living in the Eighties

Living in the Eighties

Living in the Eighties

Living in the Eighties


Some see the 1980s as a Golden Age, a "Morning in America" when Ronald Reagan revived America's economy, reoriented American politics, and restored Americans' faith in their country and in themselves. Others see the 1980s as a new "Gilded Age," an era that was selfish, superficial, glitzy, greedy, divisive, and destructive. This multifaceted exploration of the 1980s brings together a variety of voices from different political persuasions, generations, and vantage points. The volume features work by Reagan critics and Reagan fans (including one of President Reagan's closest aides, Ed Meese), by historians who think the 1980s were a disastrous time, those who think it was a glorious time, and those who see both the blessings and the curses of the decade. Their essays examine everything from multiculturalism, Southern conservatism, and Reaganomics, to music culture, religion, crime, AIDS, and the city. A complex, thoughtful account of a watershed in our recent history, this volume will engage anyone interested in this pivotal decade.


Gil Troy and Vincent J. Cannato

Once upon a time, back in 1980, when people heard about “AIDS,” they thought of assistants or helpers, not a deadly disease. An “Apple” was something you ate, not something you would boot up. Windows could break but did not crash. “Trump” was a term from bridge, not the brand name of a celebrity tycoon. “Madonna” evoked feelings of spirituality rather than provoking controversy about a pop star’s aggressive sexuality. The “Moonwalk” referred to the astronaut Neil Armstrong’s famous first steps on the moon not the singer Michael Jackson’s silky-smooth dance move. And most people thought PC meant “partly cloudy,” not “personal computer” or “politically correct.”

By 1990, the new meanings for these words reflected a new world. American politics were more conservative. American capitalism was more aggressive. American society was more individualistic. American culture was more indulgent. It is important to appreciate and analyze the vast social, economic, and political changes that occurred during the decade of the 1980s, placing them in historical perspective.

In the “decades derby ” that so many people play when discussing the twentieth century, it is easy to caricature the 1980s as frivolous. It was indeed the decade of the diffkult-to-solve Rubik’s Cube and the ever-so-lovable Cabbage Patch Kids. It was a time defined by movies such as “The Big Chill,” which showed how a group of baby boomers went from being idealistic Sixties hippies to self-involved Eighties “yuppies”—Young Urban Professionals, a term that . . .

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