Back to the Fifties: Nostalgia, Hollywood Film, and Popular Music of the Seventies and Eighties

Back to the Fifties: Nostalgia, Hollywood Film, and Popular Music of the Seventies and Eighties

Back to the Fifties: Nostalgia, Hollywood Film, and Popular Music of the Seventies and Eighties

Back to the Fifties: Nostalgia, Hollywood Film, and Popular Music of the Seventies and Eighties

Synopsis

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Hollywood studios and record companies churned out films, albums, music videos and promotional materials that sought to recapture, revise, and re-imagine the 1950s. Breaking from dominant wisdom that casts the trend as wholly defined by Ronald Reagan's politics or the rise of postmodernism, Back to the Fifties reveals how Fifties nostalgia from 1973 to 1988 was utilized by a range of audiences for diverse and often competing agendas. Films from American Graffiti to Hairspray and popular music from Sha Na Na to Michael Jackson shaped - and were shaped by - the complex social, political and cultural conditions of the Reagan Era. By closely examining the ways that "the Fifties" was remade and recalled, Back to the Fifties explores how cultural memories were fostered for a generation of teenagers trained by popular culture to rewind, record, recycle and replay.

Excerpt

Under the headling “America on the Rerun,” the cover of the March 1986 issue of Esquire asked, “Why is Madonna pretending she’s Marilyn? Why is Ralph Kramden bigger than ever? Why is Ronald Reagan still our matinee idol?” The accompanying story penned by television critic Tom Shales argued that America was in the midst of an era defined by cultural processes of “replay, recycle, retrieve, reprocess, and rerun” (67). Considered in retrospect, Shales’s observations ring quite true. Given the industrial and technological changes in the entertainment industry (the circulation of syndicated television reruns, the growth of oldies radio and revival concerts, the popularization of home video technology, etc.), it is easy to conclude that Americans had begun to utilize the practice of “time-shifting” with more than just their new VCRs.

For Shales, this cultural phenomenon was most prominently symbolized by “a President made up of reprocessed bits and pieced of old movie heroes”: Ronald Reagan (70). The fortieth president served as a symbol of an age when America seemed compelled to turn back the clock. As both a political and cultural figure, “the Gipper” relied on his ability to evoke the mythic Fifties small-town America depicted in film, television, and other forms of popular media—an America that featured a booming consumer economy, military strength, domestic stability, dominant “family values,” and national optimism and belief in “the American Way.” Never mind that, as Stephanie Coontz demonstrates in The Way We Never Were, this America did not actually exist. As media historian Daniel Marcus describes, Reagan’s rise to power was coincident with the New Right’s strategy in the late . . .

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