80s gold
December 17, 2022 11:46 AM   Subscribe

I'd like to give a few 80s themed classes to the kids I teach. They're in the 11 to 16 yo vicinity. I'd like to present them with cultural treasures, pearls of wisdom, cult scenes or dialogues excerpted from 80s material, be it music, movies, books, comics, you name it.

Of course, I'm already thinking to some staples, Ferris Bueller, The Goonies, E.T., Ghostbusters, The TMBG's songbook, songs by The Cars or Billy Bragg or Weird Al etc. even if I haven't selected the parts we'll delve a little bit into. Reconstructed stuff is welcome (Stranger things or Tales from the loop obviously) but is not the main focus, since we're looking for cultural relevance and authenticity.

What are your favorite cultural items from the 80s that you would judge worthy of the interest of a young person ? Do not hesitate to point specifically at the best bits, the actual scene, the precise line, the main verse...as they may end up being the entry point into a cultural phenomenon, which would allow to retain a sort of basic enjoyment, but do not limit the focus to a short piece since we could find the time to experience a work in its entirety. Nothing is too well-known or underground.

Thanks !
posted by nicolin to Education (47 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
It might be a little risque depending on the age, but Paula Abdul dancing with a badly animated cat is the most '80s thing I can think of. (Aside from some hip-hop songs that probably wouldn't be good in a classroom.)
posted by eotvos at 11:57 AM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: That list seems mighty white to me. I would add Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, which has relevance to The Hate You Give (2018). I'd also look at Run DMC, Alice Walker's The Color Purple, and Prince.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:58 AM on December 17, 2022 [11 favorites]

The Simpsons have a great 80s-themed episode called, "Homer's Barbershop Quartet". Maybe you can show that one to the kids.
posted by alex1965 at 11:59 AM on December 17, 2022

I think the central message of Real Genius is only more relevant now—that it's important to be vigilant lest bad actors use your hard work and enthusiasm for nefarious ends. (I would, however, only show parts of this movie to kids as young as 11.)
posted by babelfish at 12:07 PM on December 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Anthrax and Public Enemy's collaboration on Bring The Noise marked the creation, and remains a high water mark, of rap metal as a genre.
posted by mhoye at 12:09 PM on December 17, 2022

Best answer: Buckaroo Banzai

posted by matildaben at 12:15 PM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Many of the kids have probably already enjoyed them, but the 80s is when Ghibli made their earlier films, like My Neighbor Totoro, Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Nausicaa (their first and my favorite.) They weren’t widely available in English until much later, so comparing 1980s Japan to Totoro, for example, might be an interesting perspective on an old favorite.

Stand and Deliver is a really important movie for Latino film history and it’s also a drama about high school kids. Comparing their school experiences could be an easy start to a very nuanced discussion.
posted by Mizu at 12:20 PM on December 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

Here are key things from the 1980s for me:
* Iran-Contra scandal
* Iran hostage crisis
* MTV birth
* Rapping starts recording in 1979
* Space shuttle Challenger disaster

* “Breakfast Club”
* “A Brief History of Time”
* “Cosmos”
* “The Dark Tower”, other works by Stephen King
* “Earth’s Children” series
* “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”
* “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”

* “Back to the Future”
* “Batman”
* “Chariots of Fire”
* “E.T.”
* “Out of Africa”
* “Platoon”
* “Raiders of the Lost Ark”
* “Rain Man”
* “Terms Endearment”
* “Top Gun”

* Blondie
* Garth Brooks
* “We Didn’t Start the Fire” and others by Billy Joel
* “The Wall” by Pink Floyd
* The Police
* Prince
* “Thriller” album by Michael Jackson
* Whitney Houston
posted by NotLost at 12:31 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Activism was very much on the rise, especially in the larger cities. ACT UP focused on AIDS and Guerilla Girls focused on bias and sexism, especially in the arts. There are many plays and theater about AIDS in this era but Angels in America may be the most accessible. Guerilla Girls has posters, etc on the above linked website.
posted by beaning at 12:36 PM on December 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

Best answer: To get the feel of the 80s go for some less mainstream movies too,
THE two definitely to show would be:
1. Spike Lee's Do The Right Thing
2.Susan Seidelman's Smithereens
posted by ojocaliente at 12:37 PM on December 17, 2022

Bluey 80s episode - "fairytale"
posted by freethefeet at 12:43 PM on December 17, 2022

I meant to mention the AIDS epidemic! That's a whole topic by itself.

More music:
* Bon Jovi
* Bruce Springsteen, especially the "Born to Run" album
* Madonna
* Run-D.M.C.
* U2
* Van Halen
posted by NotLost at 12:44 PM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

* "Cagney & Lacey"
* "Charlie's Angels"
* "Cheers"
* "The Cosby Show"
* "The Dukes of Hazard"
* "Family Ties"
* "Golden Girls"
* "Hill Street Blues"
* "The Jeffersons"
* "The Love Boat"
* "MacGyver"
* "Married with Children"
* "Miami Vice"
* "Taxi"
posted by NotLost at 12:51 PM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

At the younger end I would show them the whole Degrassi oeuvre. I mean the original, obv, not the next generation stuff.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 1:12 PM on December 17, 2022

A Cyndi Lauper video

The "Thriller" video

The "Nothing compares 2 u" video
posted by amtho at 1:14 PM on December 17, 2022 [4 favorites]

Prince - 1999
Family Ties and what Alex P Keaton represented
Dallas - particularly Who Shot JR?
Sixteen Candles
The Preppy Handbook
posted by juggler at 1:41 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

The 80s hailed the arrival of most technology that would eventually become incorporated into smartphones and tablets

- Walkman
- personal computers
- camcorders
- vcrs
- Polaroid cameras
- mobile phones
- gameboy
posted by koahiatamadl at 1:42 PM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

80s arcade games: Pac Man, Donkey Kong, Galaga, Dragon's Lair.... The whole concept of having to go to a place to play video games and hang out with your friends is alien to these kids. If this has to be boiled down to a song, play them Pac Man Fever.

In a similar vein, retrofuturism like Back to the Future 2. Show these kids what we thought the distant future of the 2000s was going to be like, and show them everything we got wrong; the biggest "miss" IMO was the influence of the internet and social media, which is something today's teenagers take for granted. We were too focused on flying cars!
posted by jozxyqk at 1:51 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

More TV:
* "L.A. Law"
* "Thirtysomething"
posted by NotLost at 1:57 PM on December 17, 2022

Also, if you can assume youtube access: find an archive of billboard charts. Assign each kid a different week spread across the decade and assign them to find and watch the music videos for the top 10 songs their week. Then have the whole class discuss what THEY see/hear.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:11 PM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: "Pee Wee's Playhouse" and "Square Pegs" feel quintessentially 80s, yet still appropriate for young teens.
posted by carrienation at 2:16 PM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Of course, I'm already thinking to some staples, Ferris Bueller, The Goonies, E.T., Ghostbusters,

Rewatch these before you put them in front of the kids. A lot of stuff from that era has not aged well at all, in particular around the treatment of women.
posted by mhoye at 2:28 PM on December 17, 2022 [10 favorites]

Also, I feel like you need something about tye AIDS crisis. Maybe something about the quilt.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 2:30 PM on December 17, 2022

That Aha Take On Me video.
posted by BoscosMom at 2:44 PM on December 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

Best answer: For the teens, Moonstruck. There's not a wasted line of dialogue in that movie and the whole overdramatic romance with Cher and Nic Cage is something that resonates with teen drama. And it's funny.

For the youngers, hm. Not a lot of 80s kid stuff holds up, most kid stuff now is waaay better. Maybe show them a collection of toy commercials, and Muppet stuff. Some of the millions of sitcoms, because they always had the most Hollywood 80s clothes.

I think ads are a good idea for both groups in that they tell you what people were wanting to be and thinking about.
posted by emjaybee at 2:54 PM on December 17, 2022

Quick comment that I just noticed I misnamed one of the groups twice. Guerrilla Girls is the correct name, not Gorilla Girls or Girl Gorillas. I've flagged this and hopefully a mod can correct it.
posted by beaning at 3:18 PM on December 17, 2022

Best answer: Paul’s Boutique and 3 Feet High and Rising were both released in 1989.
posted by kevinbelt at 3:23 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: As one who lived through the 80s, I really appreciate the podcast Wow, That's Problematic. It takes a look at some of the most beloved cultural pieces from the era, through the eyes of modern feminism. Splash, 16 Candles, Silence of the Lambs ('91), Fatal Attraction, When Harry Met Sally, etc. They've done great work pulling out some iconic moments.

Also surprised no one's mentioned Max Headroom yet. There's a relatively recent documentary that puts the work in social/historical/technical context in interesting ways. On Max Headroom: The Most Misunderstood Joke on TV.

And, no thread on the 80s would be complete without reference to Generation X, the Douglas Coupland work that coined the term for the generation whose childhood happened then.
posted by nadise at 3:23 PM on December 17, 2022 [5 favorites]

Best answer: One perfect example of the 80s is what personal computing was like. For me, it was a Commodore 64. You can find an online C64 emulator, along with a bunch of games, at c64online.com. Here is Summer Games, a very popular game in the mid-80s, in all the glory of its 8-bit color and superior (for the time) sound. Let them wonder at the world of their parents or grandparents.
posted by lhauser at 5:11 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

TV I remember:
Love Boat
Fantasy Island
30 Something
LA Law
GI Joe
Jem and the Holograms
Gummy Bears
The Smurfs
Mangum PI

There was probably stuff on after 9 pm that my parents watched that I didn't hear much about. Dallas? Falcon Crest? Other late night soaps probably. Now that's a genre that's moved to streaming.
posted by fiercekitten at 5:47 PM on December 17, 2022

Best answer: The 120 Minutes Archive might be helpful.
posted by MonkeyToes at 5:51 PM on December 17, 2022 [3 favorites]

For a lot of people, nuclear war seemed quite plausible in the early 80’s, and that was reflected in the culture, from pop music (“I Melt With You,” by Modern English is one example) to movies and TV (two very different examples, among many, being “WarGames,” and “Testament.”
posted by baseballpajamas at 8:27 PM on December 17, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I came for WarGames as the general feelings about the possibilities of thermonuclear war and the hazards of letting a 'smart' computer control things. Falken's speech about the eventual extinction of humanity is pretty good.

Then there's Footlose. Kevin Bacon in a town where Rock-N-Roll and Dancing is a forbidden sin. That whole 80's weird religious stuff. "Everybody cut footloose!"

Red Dawn would give a good feeling of the scare of Communism invading the US, but maybe too harsh for kids of today.
posted by zengargoyle at 8:40 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Also, the Tylenol murders.
posted by NotLost at 8:51 PM on December 17, 2022

Best answer: What DarlingBri said.

Contrasting a more serious movie like War Games with Valley Girl is something that comes to mind. The bonus - with Valley Girl you have the slang, mall culture, clothes, music ... a whole lot of a particular 1980s teen culture. Trailer for Valley Girl.

A clip from the movie The Sure Thing with two college students on the phone would be fun, one on a corded phone and one calling out being on a (large) cordless phone, which was a big deal in the movie (and as a contrast to phones today.) You would need to take just a snippet or you wind up with some problematic dialogue/scene a few seconds later. The relevant bit is about the first 30 seconds of this clip.

The debut of MTV and first video.

Yes, the Sony Walkman/portable music, and the mixtape phenomenon.

Yes, video games, arcades, and Pac-Man.

Taking a paper "quiz" and folding and passing it (scene from 16 Candles), vs. phone based everything.

The rise of Grunge.
posted by gudrun at 9:16 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Live Aid - the most iconic performance for me was Queen, with Freddy Mercury just owning that stage.
posted by current resident at 9:17 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

* Mikhail Gorbachev's glasnost and perestroika
* Fall of the Berlin Wall
* Soviet-Afghanistan War
* Famine in Ethiopia
posted by NotLost at 9:45 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I lived in the UK in the early 80s so the music was New Wave, New Romantic, post punk. But the thing that I haven't seen mentioned that goes with War Games and nuclear war fears (The Day After/Threads/etc.) is the women's peace camp at Greenham Common. To me there's a line between Greenham Common and later protests like anti-apartheid (See: Sun City, the Little Stevie anthem) and the FDA protests about the failures of AIDS. I think you could get an interesting lesson out of that.
posted by gentlyepigrams at 10:10 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mudhoney.
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:31 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You can also google "cnn the 80's" and find a decent 7 episode retrospective of the 1980's covering pretty much everything.
posted by zengargoyle at 10:40 PM on December 17, 2022 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Having lived through the 80s, one thing that had a big impact on me was the English post-punk music scene (Shriekback, Gang of Four, PiL, etc) which otherwise didn't make a big intersection in North American culture. So hey.
posted by ovvl at 6:53 AM on December 18, 2022

Best answer: Definitely WarGames - Nuclear war scare + modems + hacking + prime Matthew Broderick

Dire Straights' Money For Nothing video - Baby Boom reacting to MTV generation.

Real People - Reality TV show that had segments on everything that was going on; if you can find clips I remember it being super zeitgeisty. There was also "That's Incredible!" which was the same but also leaned into paranormal stuff (that's where I learned about spontaneous human combustion!)

FAME. I can't stress enough how big Fame was. The movie was awesome but too R for your youngest students. The TV show was on forever. The theme credits were iconic. "You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here's where you start paying. In sweat." Janet Jackson was on Fame. Debbie Allen choreographed interpretive dances at the Oscars for all the nominated movies for years.

Not sure how to emulate this, but for Gen X kids, it was an amazing and baffling era: we were "latchkey kids" - our parents were often divorced, our moms generally worked, so we would be the first generation (and maybe now the last?) where it was expected that you'd come home from school to an empty house and entertain yourself and sometimes make your own dinner. The 80s was an Atari 2600 attached to a TV that up until fairly late in the game didn't have a remote control, but it didn't matter because there were only about 8 channels. And then when you had a remote control, maybe 3 years later, BOOM cable and MTV and too many things to watch. On the blue in the last month there were a couple of posts with the "top" TV theme songs and the "top" toys over the years - and we knew all the words to the themes and among our friends we owned most of the toys, because we were that bored and our parents weren't going to get personally involved in our entertainment in any way if they could help it.

Also the biggest joke of the entire 1980s seemed to be that no one could program their VCR. Most people actually could. Or at least, everybody I knew. But somehow, any sitcom, any comic strip (comic strips were relevant then), any stand-up comedian had a joke about people not being able to program their VCRs, or the clock on the VCR always blinking on 12. Why? I have no idea.
posted by Mchelly at 9:00 AM on December 18, 2022 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Princess Bride (movie). 1987!
posted by amtho at 9:09 AM on December 18, 2022 [1 favorite]

Rick Astley ought to be an entry point into the whole Stock Aitken Waterman oeuvre of saccharine pop and large hair. It could be a bit Brit-centric, although Wikipedia has a list of a US hits. (I'm also not sure if this is considered child cruelty.)
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 10:45 AM on December 18, 2022

Along with Live Aid, there is Band Aid. "Do They Know Its Christmas?" is another example of something was everywhere in the 80's, gets an A for effort and an F for lyrics and actual problem solving. Bob Geldof led both efforts and is still involved with an assortment of African-related assistance projects.
posted by beaning at 11:27 AM on December 18, 2022 [3 favorites]

I think you need to give Malcolm McLaren a shout-out; he was a Zelig-like figure from the 70s into the 90s, and had a huge influence on 80s culture.

Start with Duck Rock, one of the earliest hip hop albums; follow up with Fans, an inspired mashup of classic operas like Madame Butterly and Carmen with club beats. 1989 saw the release of Waltz Darling, and helped introduce voguing and ball culture.

(Speaking of the 80s, I've got a pretty good mix tape from '85, complete with some Ferris Bueller clips, digitized into a single mp3. Drop me a MeMail if you want a link.)
posted by Bron at 3:33 PM on December 19, 2022 [1 favorite]

The birth of hip-hop/rap.
posted by tristeza at 11:26 AM on January 12, 2023

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