Once upon a time, in a land not so far away, there lived a generation of children who wore side ponytails and jelly shoes. They were happy children, dressed in either stone- or acid-washed jeans, which they commonly tight-rolled and layered with multi-colored slouch socks. They often enjoyed Melody Pops, watched the movie “Beetlejuice” and sang along with Michael Jackson whenever they heard “I’m Bad.”
This land of off-the-shoulder-shirt wearing, ThunderCats-watching, crimped hair-loving, Atari-playing children is not a figment of imagination. Rather, it is the life and childhood of
children raised in the ’80s. It may seem distant, but the pop culture that raised the college-aged generation of today is as influential as ever, as Generation X departs the education world and heads for the workplace.
In 1989 the Fox network and Matt Groening took a chance on a primetime cartoon that would later become one of America’s most watched and most influential television series of all time. “The Simpsons”, a dysfunctional-yet-adorable family made up of Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and Maggie, not only entertains us but also has a huge impact on popular culture.
This year the Oxford English Dictionary added Homer’s catch phrase, “D’oh,” defined as: A word used to express dismay or frustration when things have turned out badly, or one has done or said something considered foolish.
With its numerous satirical assaults and quick-witted scripts, it has brought more than laughs to millions of homes every week. “The Simpsons” has called attention to issues from theory to common sense, most notably the cultural limitations on small-town America, made evident with situation after situation set in the flawed town of Springfield.
“The Simpsons” is more than just a cartoon; it is an icon for a generation.
1980 brought the nomination of Republican Ronald Reagan and his running mate, George Bush. Together they easily defeated President Jimmy Carter, who was seeking a second term.
The end of Carter’s reign left America in one of the worst economic states in history. Inflation was in the double digits and a recession loomed, said UW political science professor Donald Downs.
“People were worried about America in the future, the American dream, and individual economic fulfillment and freedom,” Downs said.
In the late 70s, U.S. citizens viewed their country as economically and militarily defenseless, but Reagan saw it differently. For the first year of Reagan’s presidency, the United States came close to an economic recession as a result of the reserve taking money out of the system to fight inflation. This set the basis for large-scale economic expansion, beginning in the early ’80s and ending one year ago.
“Reagan and Clinton deserve due credit,” Downs said.
Children’s perceptions of politics during the ’80s differ, however.
“The fact we never saw a big war,” UW junior Katie Swank said. “No one understood the falling of the Berlin Wall.”
Mass media’s influence grows
The mass media took a huge leap in the ’80s. USA Today printed its first edition, movies began premiering instantaneously around the country and cable television became available.
UW journalism and mass communications Professor James Hoyt remembers a time when movies premiered in different times in the Midwest, sometimes two or three weeks later than New York or Los Angeles.
“Now everyone is exposed to the same movies at the same time,” Hoyt said. “This creates a broader shared experience.”
When USA Today came off the presses in the early ’80s, it was geared to the television generation; it had vivid color and innovative design. It prompted other newspapers to wake up.
The New York Times and the Wall Street Journal followed with more visually based design. With the addition of national newspapers, it exposed America’s readers to identical stories, giving them a common bond.
CNN helped give birth to a 24-hour TV news cycle, putting increased pressure on broadcast news to break stories ahead of competing networks.
Generation X was the video-music-era’s first audience. When MTV first aired in 1981, Carson Daly, MTV News and the countless soap operas and cartoons it has run in the past two decades were too distant to foresee.