The 1980’s were a decade marked by great social, economic and general change. The Me Generation was synonymous with individuals such as Donald Trump, Leona Helmsley and Ivan Boesky, who epitomized the rise and fall of the rich and famous.
In business, multinational corporations relocated into Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan and China. Japan and West Germany enjoyed rapid economic growth while the U.S. re-adopted laissez-faire economic policies. The American auto industry faces major competition from Japan and Korea, though the Yugoslavian Yugo didn’t stay long. American cars became smaller and more efficient in design. The role of women in the workplace increased greatly, and political correctness came to the forefront regard treatment of minorities.
It was the beginning of the AIDS pandemic, claiming the lives of celebrities Rock Hudson and Liberace. There was an increased awareness of seat belt usage as well as child safety seats. In 1984, crack cocaine marked the start of the crack epidemic.
Politics changed with the election of President Ronald Reagan in 1980, who took a hard line towards preventing the spread of communism. Reagan demanded the dismantling of the Berlin Wall, and First Lady Nancy Reagan accelerated the War on Drugs with her Just Say No campaign. Sandra Day O’Connor was the first Supreme Court Justice, appointed by President
Anti-Communist sentiment played a big role in the U.S. boycott of the 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow. Civil discontent and violence were prevalent in the Middle East, including the Iran-Iraq War and the Soviet-Afghan war. Overthrows and attempted overthrows of Communist regimes were seen in Poland and Hungary as well as the Tiananmen Square Protest of 1989 in China. The disintegration of the Warsaw pact ended the Cold War.
Natural and man-made disasters loomed with the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in Washington State, which was the worst volcanic disaster in U.S. history. In 1989, oil tanker Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska’s Prince William Sound, causing an oil spill whose effects linger even today. The space shuttle Challenger disintegrated 73 seconds after launch, killing all crew members. A faulty O-Ring was the cause.
Gun violence was in the news with the assassination of John Lennon in 1980, the assassination attempt of President Reagan by John Hinckley, who had also stalked actress Jodie Foster and the shooting of Reagan’s Press Secretary James Brady. Brady became an advocate of gun control. Singer Marvin Gaye was shot and killed by his own father.
American sports had exciting moments, with the NY Islanders winning the NHL’s Stanley Cup for 4 straight years. Michael Jordan joined the NBA, causing a surge of popularity for the sport. Mike Tyson was the youngest boxing heavyweight champion at the ripe old age of 20.
The Nintendo Entertainment System claimed 90% of the American video game market by 1989, and games such as Super Mario Bothers, Donkey Kong, Tetris and Pac Man were popular. Nintendo also released its handheld game system, Game Boy, making video games truly portable.
Apple introduced the first Macintosh personal computer in 1984. The Sony Walkman and boomboxes were very popular. Consumer VCR’s and video rental stores joined the market, with VHS tapes winning out over Betamax.
Science saw interplanetary probes Voyager visit Saturn in 1980/81, and Voyager 2 explore Uranus in 1986 and Neptune in 1989. Halley’s Comet made an appearance in 1986.
Fads in fashion included teased hair, gelled mullets, ripped jeans, neon clothing, Ray-Ban sunglasses, shoulder pads, the Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, Members Only jackets, legwarmers and Swatch Watches. The Rubik’s Cube was a brainteasing fad as well.
Music changed forever with the advent of MTV and music videos. Artists like Michael Jackson and Madonna rose to superstardom with this venue. Hip hop came onto the music scene, and hard rock, heavy metal and glam rock were popular, with bands like Bon Jovi, Guns N’Roses, Metallica, and Motley Crue.
Americans flocked to the movies, attracted by films like E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, Batman, Rain Man, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Back to the Future, Driving Miss Daisy, Terms of Endearment, Platoon, Top Gun, Beverly Hills Cop, Raging Bull and Fatal Attraction, to name just
The Brat Pack emerged on the movie scene, with films like The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles, Dirty Dancing, Footloose and St. Elmo’s Fire. Horror franchises Nightmare on Elm St. and Friday the 13th were launched.
Cable TV became more accessible, and by the middle of the decade 70% of Americans had cable service, and over 85% of those customers were paying for HBO or Showtime. Nighttime network soap operas Dallas and Dynasty were huge. Other popular 80’s TV shows were Knight Rider, MacGyver, Magnum, P.I., Miami Vice, The Cosby Show, Murder She Wrote, The Simpsons, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Cheers, The Golden Girls, Seinfeld and Married…With Children.