Hiding in the past

These days, it seems like you can’t leave your house withoutbeing bombarded by the newest fixation of our culture’s bizarreretro fascination: the revival of the 1980s. The ’70s garage rockrevival of the last few years has been superseded by a new desireon the part of “hip” new bands to sound like they came from 1983.The Strokes and the Hives, vanguard of the faux garage revival,have released new albums which both boast a distinctively ’80snew-wave sound. The Cure’s new album is a hit and sounds exactlylike old Cure. Even Tears for Fears, only a few years ago relegatedto the realm of latenight “best of the ’80s” infomercials, hasreunited. The Pixies resurrected themselves to headline Bumbershootand play stadium shows around the country. One out of every threepeople you see on the street is wearing some variety of checkeredVans. Flipping on any of the corporate music television channelsreveals either “I Love The Eighties,” or a reality show featuringwashed-up ’80s bands reuniting or their fragmented members sharinga house with other Reagan-era personalities.

But why is all this happening? It seems that, when I wasyounger, most of my peers were of the opinion that the 1980s werethe most uncool decade imaginable. When did these people startloving the things they once derided, thirsting for them as if theyhad just traversed a kitsch-barren desert?

I, for one, can definitely remember what made the ’80s uncool.Conservative social and political climate, bad pop music, badclothes, tense international relationships, in fact, everythingwe’re living through right now. Why would you revere that?

But the children of the 1980s are growing old and weneed something to wax nostalgic about. And what better to reminisceabout than Lite-Brite and the days of our youth? Never mind thefact that the little pegs to that toy got lost or swallowed withinthe first 15 minutes of owning it and, meanwhile, the spectre ofnuclear destruction still loomed large over the world asnow-crumbling superpowers faced off against each other with anarsenal more destructive than anyone had the capacity tounderstand. So the trifles that sheltered us from that grimknowledge again serve to protect us against the vague and facelessthreat of “terror.” The collapse of the Twin Towers signified a seachange in our culture’s collective consciousness as we struggled todress our shattered sense of security in a rotting cloak ofcomforting, once-discarded pop culture.

Don’t get me wrong, there was definitely a lot of good music inthe ’80s, but most of it wasn’t pop – with some notable exceptions,like The Cars or maybe even the Police. Some of the greatest bandsof our time flourished in the fertile underground of the mechanicaldecade, such as the Dead Kennedys, the Replacements and theSmiths, to name just a few. This womb birthed the unwittingstandard bearers of the 90’s – such as Nirvana, who explodedunderground into the mass conciousness of the United States – andforced a reckoning between the music buying public and theprocessed hair metal they had been swallowing as “rock.” Rock hadlong since died and gone underground by that time. And theresurrection of the eighties has created a climate where greatbands like the Pixies and the Cure can re-emerge and flourish againand where Morrissey’s solo album can be a huge hit.

Why, then, do I have to put up with Depeche Mode every time Iturn on the television? Because it’s way more comforting to hearthem preaching simplistic messages of peace that don’t reallyaddress any problems than it is to hear Jello Biafra rant aboutgovernment corruption and the bloated corporate entity that isMTV.

Cannily, the corporate establishment has guided the ’80s revivalinto a shape it can handle and profit by. By spoonfeeding usendless doses of the kitsch end of the ’80s spectrum, with sidedressings of trivia to the soundtrack of “so bad it’s good” music,any chance of the nuance, defiance and anti-consumerism of most’80s music is handily sidestepped. People’s appetites are sated bythe reappearance of the pop culture face that pulled the wool overtheir eyes in the ’80s, hiding them from danger abroad and in theconservative halls of our government. We are ripe for the samething to happen again in our current Reaganesque climate.

So the ’80s revival, fast becoming a source of bogus hipstercredentials, is really just another way of buying into the same oldlame, prefab, mindless pop culture. It’s just older and morefamiliar. Think about that next time you see checkered Vans, hearof another ’80s band reuniting or turn on VH1. Say no to that andyou’re saying no to the Man.