The Bangles on American Bandstand, 1986

One of the many things I miss about the 1980s is all the great music: Def Leppard, AC/DC, and others.

But some of the female acts were incredible, too. The Bangles were among my personal favorites.

Here’s a gem I found on YouTube: the group performing on American Bandstand in May of 1986. Ronald Reagan was in the White House, I was about to graduate from high school, and Taylor Swift wasn’t even in diapers yet.

Susanna Hoffs, who is still quite active on the music scene, has always had a mesmerizing stage presence. (And yes, she’s still very easy on the eyes at age 64.)

Susanna Hoffs has recently written a novel, too, a romantic comedy entitled This Bird Has Flown. And though I’m ordinarily allergic to romance novels, I’m willing to give this one a plug. (Check out the book here, on Amazon, if you’re interested.)


Another ‘Indiana Jones’ movie?

Matt Walsh (who is too young to remember when the first Indiana Jones movie came out in 1981) summarizes the various critics’ pans of the fifth movie in the franchise. Indiana Jones and the Dial of Destiny will be released on June 30 of this year.

As is often the case, the humorless Walsh sees the downfall of Western Civilization in every cultural artifact. I’m not sure if I can read as many dire messages in these tealeaves as Matt Walsh does. But there are nevertheless some valid questions here, which one might arrive at with or without the assistance of Matt Walsh.

First of all: does the world of entertainment really need 80-year-old action heroes? We’re struggling, as it is, with an 80-year-old president.

Secondly: Isn’t it inevitable that a movie like this, featuring an elderly man teamed up with his spunky, wisecracking goddaughter, is going to hinge on generational and gender-based divides? And isn’t it inevitable that these conflicts are going to rub some people the wrong way, given the current state of the culture wars? (This is a movie that will likely draw equal ire from the “woke” and the “anti-woke” brigades.)

And finally: 142 minutes??? The first movie was only 115 minutes long, and that was in 1981, when attention spans were a lot longer. 

I’m as susceptible to 1980s nostalgia as anyone on the planet. I love the 1980s and generally loathe our current era. But even I have to admit: 42 years is at least two decades too long for a movie franchise to go on.

Nevertheless, I’m sure I’ll get around to watching this movie at some point. Like I said: I’m hopelessly susceptible to the siren call of 1980s nostalgia. 

Boy George: the non-controversy of the 1980s

Sometimes the past provides us with a lens for better understanding the present.

In the spring of 2023, Anheuser Busch launched an online marketing campaign that featured Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender social media influencer, as a spokesperson for Bud Light.

This resulted in a backlash and a boycott, with real financial consequences for the company.

But the backlash was predictable. The Bud Light/Dylan Mulvaney campaign did not take place in a vacuum, after all.

In recent years, many corporations have placed biological men in spaces allocated for women. Sports Illustrated has selected multiple transgender (biological male) models for its annual swimsuit issue.

Even Playboy has gotten into the act, thrusting female-presenting, biological male models before its heterosexual male readership.

The idea here seems to be that if you show heterosexual men enough transgender women, eventually they’ll start seeing them as indistinguishable from biological women.

This follows the twenty-first-century pattern of blunt-force culture warfare, something I’ll return to shortly.

But let’s get back to the Bud Light debacle.

It seemed to me that all sides were losers here. Anheuser-Busch was certainly a loser. Bud Light sales tanked, as Bud Light drinkers turned to other beers. The company’s stock value declined, too.

Alissa Heinerscheid, the Anheuser-Busch marketing vice president who had championed the Dylan Mulvaney campaign, was forced to take a “leave of absence”. That’s code in the corporate world for “fired”.

Did LGBTQ people benefit from this? Not really. Anheuser-Busch had just made them cannon fodder in its efforts to promote one of its products.

But our topic here is the 1980s, so I’m going to discuss some gender-bending controversies from the 1980s.

Or rather, gender-bending non-controversies. As it turns out, the 1980s were sometimes gay, and sometimes gender-fluid, too. But in ways that weren’t as deliberately confrontational as what you see in the present.

In 1982, I was 14 years old. My parents had just sprung for a basic cable television package, and it included MTV, then a brand new channel.

MTV played nonstop pop and rock videos. I was an immediate fan.

MTV introduced me to lots of new musical acts. I would subsequently buy the albums of some of them, which was exactly what the corporate minds behind MTV had intended.

On the American popular music scene, the early 1980s was the era of the Second British Invasion. Everyone who was big in youth music during that time seemed to speak with a British accent. MTV greatly facilitated this influx of British pop and rock acts.

One of these was a group called Culture Club. The lead singer of Culture Club, Boy George, appeared to be female. Boy George wore makeup and baggy feminine attire. He wore his hair long and in braids, in a distinctly feminine style.

Boy George’s mannerisms were feminine, too. He didn’t sing in a high-pitched falsetto; but his singing voice was high enough to pass for that of a woman.

Some time elapsed before I even realized that Boy George was not a woman. Sure, I sensed that there was something about the female-presenting singer that was atypical. But I was initially fooled.

Boy George is an extreme example, but he wasn’t the only popular musician in the 1980s to tinker with notions of gender norms. There was a whole subgenre of rock music called “glam rock”, in which male musicians took on deliberately androgynous appearances. This started with David Bowie in the 1970s. By the 1980s, groups like Motley Crue and Ratt were wearing makeup and quasi-feminine hairstyles. Women got into the act, too. Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics wore short hair and masculine business suits.

Culture Club, featuring the gender-fluid Boy George, was enormously popular in the early 1980s. In the fall of 1982, the group’s breakout song, “Do You Really Want to Hurt Me?” reached the number two position on the US charts.

The term “transgender” wasn’t common in the early 1980s, but that’s what Boy George was. He was a man who presented as a woman in public. At the very least, he was a drag queen.

Suddenly, the gender-fluid Boy George was in front of millions of impressionable young people, every time they turned on MTV. And practically all adolescents and teens watched MTV in the 1980s.

If we cast the 1980s in terms of the present, the next logical question might be: when did the backlash start? Where were the alarmed parents, taking to microphones in town hall meetings throughout the country? Where were the calls to boycott cable companies that included MTV in their basic packages?

We didn’t have the Internet in the 1980s, of course. But we did have CNN, network television, newspapers, and radio. There were certainly political and social movements that went “viral” during this period, like the Nuclear Freeze campaign, or the Save the Whales Movement.

But here’s the thing: there was no backlash against all of this gender fluidity on MTV and thoughout popular music. Many adults were aware of Boy George. He was too large of a cultural phenomenon to escape their notice.

In 1984, People magazine ran a cover article about Boy George, with the words, “kids are getting his message”. Yet the adult authority figures of 1984 were notably unconcerned. Boy George did not become a flashpoint in a 1980s version of the culture war.

Was this because the 1980s were more liberal? Hardly. Keep in mind that the 1980s are remembered for their conservatism, and not without reason. Politically, this was an era that belonged to Ronald Reagan in the United States, and Margaret Thatcher in the UK. In many of our institutions, members of the World War II generation still occupied positions of leadership.

A group that called itself the Moral Majority was very active, too. This organization, led by evangelical preacher Jerry Falwell, took very public positions on matters of sex and propriety. For example, the Moral Majority constantly campaigned against convenience stores that sold magazines like Playboy and Penthouse. Hotel chains that offered pay-per-view pornographic movies in guest rooms were put on boycott lists.

And yet, the Moral Majority and its various imitators didn’t care about Boy George, the gender-fluid, female-presenting lead singer of Culture Club.

I don’t ever recall hearing an adult fulminate against this man who dressed up in female attire to sing for young people. Not even once.

But the tolerance of Boy George’s gender fluidity went beyond the adults. What about that most maligned of demographics: young, heterosexual males? You may have been told that the 1980s was an era of “toxic masculinity”. Not in regard to Culture Club, at least, it wasn’t. As a teenage boy in 1982 or 1983, your decision to listen to Culture Club—or to ignore them—wasn’t seen as a statement on your masculinity. 

Boy George held back nothing, and still, no one on the right cared. In 1983, he was asked in a television interview whether he preferred men or women. He replied, “Oh, both.” In a 1985 interview with Barbara Walters, Boy George elaborated further, stating that he had had both male and female lovers.

And still, there was no call to shield American children from this bisexual, gender-bending singer who made absolutely no bones about who he was and what he was about.

But why were conservatives so blithely tolerant of Boy George and all this public gender fluidity, in the most conservative era in recent history?

Because other things were different in the 1980s, too. Tolerance went both ways. No one on the right insisted on making Boy George and gender fluidity points of confrontation, because no one on the left did, either. Nor did the people who ran our schools, media outlets, and Fortune 500 companies.

I was in high school during the first half of the 1980s. My teachers were certainly aware of Boy George. Yet none of them suggested in class that maybe some of us should change our gender identification because this famous singer appeared to be doing so. Teachers in American grade schools weren’t making such arguments, either.

Nor would a marketing executive at Anheuser-Busch in 1983 have been foolish enough to troll the company’s core demographic by making Boy George a spokesperson for Bud Light. Bud Light commercials of the 1980s were designed to appeal to the beer’s mostly male, mostly blue-collar customer base. Bud Light ads of that era featured the humorous canine character Spuds MacKenzie, and real women in swimsuits. Some Bud Light marketing campaigns even made use of both in the same ads.

Nor did Boy George—or any of his fans—demand that we pretend Boy George was an actual woman, just because he presented as female in public. In fact, Boy George—who is still around—has publicly taken issue with the contemporary pronoun police.

Back in the 1980s, Boy George wanted to do his thing; and his thing was flamboyant, gender-bending, and bisexual. He didn’t demand that you change your ideas of gender and sexuality in order to accommodate his ideas or his choices.

The main strategy in the culture wars of the twenty-first century seems to be not persuasion, but staking out positions that are practically guaranteed to be inflammatory, then daring the other side to knock a chip off one’s shoulder.

As someone old enough to remember the 1980s, I can report that in regard to most matters, people were a lot more laid back and tolerant then. There was an acceptance of diversity, but it was also understood that diversity went both ways. Boy George represented one kind of diversity. As did the predominantly heterosexual, rough-edged culture of the typical Bud Light drinker. What Alissa Heinerscheid, the now fired marketing VP at Anheuser Busch, dismissively called “fratty” culture.

This sense of moderation on all sides was why Boy George never appeared in a Bud Light ad in the 1980s, and he never incurred the public disdain of Bud Light drinkers. Even as many Bud Light drinkers happily sang along with Karma Chameleon when that song came on the radio, as it so often did.

 What was a 1980s latchkey kid? 

A latchkey kid is a child or early teenager who is “home alone” for a few hours each day after school. This usually happens because parent(s) are working, and therefore unavailable.

The latchkey kid phenomenon is closely associated with the 1980s, and the generation of Americans born between 1965 and 1970-something. (The so-called “Generation X”.) That said, this was not the experience of everyone who was a school-age kid at some point between 1980 and 1989. Similarly, the generation that grew up in the 1980s was by no means the first—or last—cohort of young people who spent time alone after school.

All those disclaimers aside, we can speak meaningfully of the observable phenomenon, even if it is less than universal, and not strictly confined to the 1980s. The latchkey kid was a definite 1980s trend, owing to some unique circumstances.

Working moms, aka “career women”

In the third decade of the twenty-first century, the word “career woman” sounds quaint. Some might even find it sexist. Of course women have careers, you might say. And you’d be right, if we’re talking about the 2020s.

But four decades ago, things were different…and changing. Millions of upper- and middle-class women were entering the professional, white-collar workforce for the first time. 

The concept of women doing paid labor wasn’t entirely new. Working-class women had long performed paid labor outside the home to one degree or another, usually out of simple necessity. And don’t forget Rosie the Riveter, who filled the vacuum in the male workforce during World War II.

There was also a long tradition of women working in specialized professional careers, especially teaching. (Almost all of my elementary school teachers were women.)

What was new in the 1980s was the mass entry of women into private-sector careers traditionally reserved for men. This is why you heard so much about the “career woman” in the 1980s. This really was a new dimension of female employment, and at an unprecedented scale.

These were also the women who were the young and early middle-age mothers of that era. Their children typically got home from school around 3 p.m., several hours before the end of operations in the typical white-collar workplace.

The result was millions of latchkey kids.

Economic uncertainty

At the same time, a struggling economy had led to high levels of unemployment in the early 1980s. The economy improved as the decade progressed, but unemployment in the United States peaked at 10.8 percent in 1982!

This economic dislocation was dramatized in the 1983 movie, Mr. Mom, starring Teri Garr and Michael Keaton. In the movie, an out-of-work automotive engineer becomes a stay-at-home dad. His wife, meanwhile, becomes the family breadwinner, accepting a high-profile position in the advertising industry. Hijinks ensue, as Dad the Engineer attempts to cope with grocery shopping, housecleaning, childcare, and other traditionally “female” tasks.

Mr. Mom is a comedy; and as would be expected of any movie made 40 years ago, it is largely dated now. Nevertheless, the film serves as a time capsule of the economic anxieties—and realities—of the early 1980s.

As manufacturing took a hit, some traditionally masculine careers (what could be more manly than automotive engineering?) went into decline. Jobs involving computers, marketing, and other forms of white-collar “knowledge work”, were beginning to rise in importance. Many of these careers appealed to women.

Small families and broken homes

The 1980s latchkey experience was also affected by recent demographic changes. The 1980s was, compared to the decades before and since, a decade of small families. By the time the first GenXers were born in 1965, the postwar Baby Boom was petering out. The World War II generation was done with reproduction and childrearing, and that burden increasingly fell onto the shoulders of the Baby Boomers themselves. Most of the Baby Boomers opted for smaller families.

Once married, the Baby Boomers divorced in record numbers, causing divorce rates to peak in 1980. The so-called “broken home” was another reason for the latchkey kid phenomenon. Divorce compelled many mothers to enter the workforce.

My latchkey kid experience

But what if both of your parents were happily married, and gainfully employed? That was my situation.

I was twelve years old in 1980. That same year, my mother took a job as a contract administrator at a local defense contracting firm. The company made the fuses that went into Cold War-era weapons like the shoulder-fired TOW missile and the Hellfire Missile System. 

I spent several hours alone each afternoon, between the time when school let out, and when my parents arrived home from work (usually between 5:30 and 6:00 p.m.)

Learning to entertain yourself without technology

What to do during that time? Homework? Surely you jest. There were a few other kids in my neighborhood, and I got along with them. But we could only hang out so much until we grew tired of each other.

How about TV? Afternoon television in the early 1980s was a wasteland for adolescents and teens. Cable television was just taking off, and nothing worth watching aired until the evening, when adult audiences were tuned in.

Most of the afternoon programming on the non-cable networks consisted of either cartoons or soap operas, neither of which was of much interest to a twelve-year-old boy.

Nor did technology offer much in the way of engaging entertainment. The Internet and cell phones were still decades away. Video games were in their infancy. (Think “Pong”.) If someone had uttered the word “iPad” to me in 1980, I would probably have assumed it had something to do with personal hygiene.

That left latchkey kids largely responsible for entertaining themselves. This was especially true on rainy days, and during the winter months, when it was distinctly unpleasant to hang around outside.

Most of us learned to entertain ourselves in various ways. I became an avid reader, and began dabbling with writing my own articles and stories.

I also immersed myself in various hobbies: coin collecting, stamp collecting, and angling. In the summer of 1978, my grandfather had introduced me to bass fishing. I acquired back issues of Field & Stream and Fishing Facts, and read them all cover-to-cover. By 1981, I knew more about developments in fishing than my grandfather did.

Ironically, this was just about the time that I dropped fishing for other, “cooler” pursuits. But I can still speak knowledgeably about the differences between spinning, spincast, and baitcast reels. I could give you a solid introduction to bass fishing in Midwestern and Upper-South lakes and rivers. (The basics of fishing, I’ve since discovered, really haven’t changed that much since I went fishing with my grandfather.)

The net effects of the latchkey kid phenomenon

All this time alone gave me the ability to ignore the crowd, zero in on an objective, and take a deep dive. I have resisted the modern obsession with cellphones and social media, the compulsive need to be constantly connected, and in constant communication.

Spending so much time alone, at such an early age, taught me to keep my own counsel. I don’t need that much approval from others. I really don’t care what most people think, either about me, or about what I’m doing.

This self-containment has obviously given me the advantage of independence. I have many, many faults; but being a joiner, a follower, or a bandwagon-rider is not among them. I never met a rule, group standard, or authority that I couldn’t challenge.

But all that independence and self-containment has a downside, too. The crowd can be a sinister mob, but that isn’t always the case. A thriving society cannot subsist solely on the uncoordinated activities of lone wolves. There are situations in which being a team player, marching in line, and having a willingness to be led by others are necessary and desirable.

I recognize this principle abstractly, but I don’t feel it in my bones. I’ve never been able to switch off my independence instinct for anything beyond a short-term, provisional basis.

My corporate career was notably lackluster, partly because I bristled at being ordered around. Nor did I naturally aspire to becoming the boss—the core motivator of most underlings. I have never wanted to take orders…or give them.

Oh, and I’m over the age of fifty and single. That might suggest that I have some commitment issues.

A final note on the latchkey kid. The term itself seems to be a retroactive one. Although my research tells me that it existed in the 1970s and 1980s, I don’t recall ever hearing it in those years, either in the media or in daily conversation. Nor do I ever recall anyone describing himself as “a latchkey kid”. The definition and analysis of the phenomenon have mostly come later. Back then, being a latchkey kid was simply what a lot of us did.


The 1980s: pop culture collage

I like this 1980s pop culture/current events collage. Not sure if this is an original piece of artwork, or something photoshopped. (Photoshop has ways of making photos look like various kinds of hand-drawn artwork, in case you weren’t aware.)

In any event, it brought back some memories for me. Kind of cool, so I thought I would post it here.

Remembering TV Guide

In those days before a zillion cable channels (let alone the Internet), there was TV Guide.

Launched in 1953, these little weekly magazines would be familiar to anyone from the Baby Boom generation or Generation X. (Some of the older Millennials may have dim early childhood memories of TV Guide, too.)

Each issue of TV Guide contained a listing of the week’s programming, of course. There were also articles in the front of the magazine that were sometimes worth reading. (If you were interested in television and Hollywood happenings, that was.) 

The covers, moreover, were often minor works of art. Like this one from 1986, which depicts the cast of Cheers, one of the most popular shows of the 1980s.

TV Guide was always on my mother’s shopping list. It was on everyone’s shopping list. Why? Because without this publication, you would have a hard time knowing what programs were on, on which channels, and at what times. 

The magazine was cheaply priced. (The 60¢ May 10, 1986 issue shown above would equate to only about $1.65 in today’s dollars.) But TV Guide was nevertheless essential.

With a shelf life of only one week, these weren’t magazines that anyone saved for posterity. Sometimes, though, one of them would end up beneath a sofa or behind a recliner, only to turn up months later. 

Needless to say, no one prints, purchases, or needs TV Guide anymore. Not in this era of cable, Hulu, Netflix and YouTube. 

Yes, another casualty of our digital age of hyper-abundance. TV Guide’s original mission has become not just obsolete—but impossible, even if someone wanted it. 

It would not be incorrect to say that TV Guide is a relic of pre-Internet times; but this description would be insufficiently precise. TV Guide is a relic of a time when the scope of available programming for a single week was small enough that it could be completely curated, listed, and described in a single publication. Needless to say, those days are gone; and—barring some cataclysmic change that restarts everything from scratch—those days are gone forever.

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps

The period between the two world wars was the golden age of the pulp fiction magazines. This was a time before television, or (of course) the Internet. Entertainment options were limited. (Heck, they barely had radio in those days.) Many people therefore turned to magazines that specialized in quickly written and fast-paced stories of romance, western adventure, crime, science fiction, or horror.

What happened to pulp fiction? The pulp magazines weren’t the victims of television, as is commonly thought. They were the casualties, rather, of the cheaply printed paperback. Modern paperback books were first introduced in 1935, but they really caught on during and shortly after World War II. The paperback completely changed the publishing and bookselling landscape, much as Amazon would about sixty years later. 

Some of the original pulp content is still with us, of course. Horror fans who adore H.P. Lovecraft may not know that favorites like “At the Mountains of Madness”, “Dagon” —and most other Lovecraft stories—were originally published in Weird Tales, a pulp magazine founded in 1922. (Note: Weird Tales technically still exists, though its format has undergone some modifications; the magazine has a site on the Internet.)

A cover of Weird Tales from the H.P. Lovecraft era

I’ve read and reread Lovecraft’s oeuvre  as much as I care to. So when I was recently in a mood to do some reading off the beaten path, I decided to indulge in a bit of vintage pulp crime fiction. 

Or actually, quite a lot of vintage pulp crime fiction. The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps contains forty-seven stories and two complete novels. Writers represented in this collection include well known names like Raymond Chandler (1888-1959) and Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961). There are also plenty of stories by writers who are long forgotten. 

The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps

Why read pulp fiction? Well, you probably already watch pulp television. 

I’m a longtime fan of pulp TV, in fact. During the 1980s, I regularly tuned in to action television shows like The A-Team, Knight Rider, Airwolf, and the original MacGyver. These shows were all escapist television, with plots that roared out of the gate like a 1981 DeLorean or a 1987 Toyota Supra. 

My favorite was The A-Team. An episode of The A-Team kept you on the edge of your seat. Each episode ended with a blazing gunfight, in which no one was usually killed or seriously injured. The A-Team made absolutely no attempt to provide any sort of messaging on social, political, or philosophical issues. The other aforementioned 80s-era pulp TV shows were done in a similar vein.

An iconic combat scene from The A-Team

Most of these shows did not age well. For nostalgia’s sake, I recently tuned in to a few old episodes of The A-Team and the original MacGyver. In the MacGyver episode, the eponymous hero found himself in the Soviet Union, where everyone conveniently spoke English. The Russians even spoke English with each other. I managed to sit through about twenty minutes of this. Life is too short.

The same might be said of the stories in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps. You can detect the literary and storytelling skills at work; but you can also tell that you’re reading fiction produced in a different era, when expectations were very different. My 1980s pulp TV shows did not have to compete with Netflix. The writers whose work is collected in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps did not have to compete with Michael Connelly or Lee Child. 

The stories in The Black Lizard Big Book of Pulps are interesting as artifacts of the pulp era, in the same way that a Ford Model T is an interesting artifact of automobile technology in the 1920s. But as entertainment for present-day audiences? Keep in mind that some of these stories are more than eighty years old. You had might as well ask me if I would like to use a Model T for my daily commuting needs. 

I suspect that this massive tome (more than one thousand pages in print) is so massive for a reason. The editors knew that the phrase “your mileage may vary” would be very applicable here.

Dashiell Hammett, 1934

What about their usefulness for writers? Those of us who write fiction are always thinking of a story in market analysis terms, after all.  

I wouldn’t recommend that any twenty-first century writer try to imitate the style of these stories, exactly. At least a quarter of these tales contain plot holes that you could drive a Model T through; and almost all of them contain hackneyed dialogue. (“He’s on the square!” “The place looked swell.”) 

And oh, the eyebrows that will be raised among the finger-wagging social justice crowd. While these stories aren’t intentionally sexist, they are the product of a different time, when ideas about men and women were different. They overflow with gendered terminology that would make any writer the target of an online pitchfork mob today (“honey,” “doll”, “sugar”, “dame”, etc.). 

The female characters in these crime stories are mostly props. But then, so are most of the men. These stories are all about plot, plot, plot.

And that is where this book may be instructive for writers who have found themselves too immersed in navel-gazing literary fiction. The writer who suspects he is spending too much time on flowery descriptions and internal monologue may learn something valuable here: how to get to the point, or to the plot. The pulp-era writers were certainly good at that, despite their other shortcomings. 

The network premiere of ‘Mr. Mom’

That’s what happened 37 years ago today (February 16, 1986), when Mr. Mom was shown on network television for the first time.

The movie was originally released in the cinemas in 1983. This was a time when a.) many Baby Boomer women were becoming working moms, and b.) male employment had been battered by the recession of the early 1980s. Both themes are present in the movie.  Continue reading “The network premiere of ‘Mr. Mom’”

The Breakfast Club + 38 years

You know you’re getting old when someone born when you were a teenager would now be in early middle age.

And yes, all you Millennial readers: 38 qualifies as “early middle age”.

But I wasn’t born in 1985 myself. I was almost 17 years old on February 15, 1985, when The Breakfast Club hit the cinemas for the first time. I was a member of this movie’s teenage target demographic. 

I wrote an essay about this movie a few years ago, which gets a fair amount of traffic. Rather than rehash it all again, I’ll just let you know that you can find that piece here, if you’re interested in reading it. 

Spoiler alert: The Breakfast Club was a good (if not a great) movie; but it encouraged an entitled, self-absorbed view of one’s youthful world. This was a film that tried way too hard to suck up to its target audience, of which I was then a part.




The Greatest American Hero, John Hinckley Jr., and Connie Sellecca…oh, my!

The Greatest American Hero was a comedy-drama superhero series that ran for three seasons, from 1981 to 1983.

Here’s the premise: Ralph Hinkley, (later Hanley—I’ll explain why in a moment) is a substitute teacher in the Los Angeles public school system. Extraterrestrials bestow on him a suit that gives him superhero powers. 

After that, Ralph (played by William Katt) works with his FBI sidekick, Bill Maxwell (Robert Culp) to thwart criminals, and carry out the usual superhero endeavors. 

Ralph is also aided by his divorce lawyer, Pam Davidson (played by Connie Sellecca).

The show premiered on March 18, 1981. On March 30, 1981, a whackjob named John Hinkley Jr. shot then President Reagan and three other individuals. This was an association that the show’s producers obviously wanted to avoid. So Ralph Hinkley became Ralph Hanley.  Continue reading “The Greatest American Hero, John Hinckley Jr., and Connie Sellecca…oh, my!”

Challenger disaster +37 years

I was a senior in high school on January 28, 1986. The explosion of the Space Shuttle Challenger occurred that day at 11:39 a.m., EST.

The explosion took place just 73 seconds into the shuttle’s flight, and killed all seven crew members. Among the dead was Christa McAuliffe, a Massachusetts teacher who had been a guest astronaut. 

That year I had a part-time job in my school’s cafeteria. I was operating a soda machine in the lunch line when the students began filing in, talking about what had happened. This was one of those national tragedies that was announced in classrooms, rather like the assassination of JFK, when my parents were in high school.

The Reagan Administration had been hoping to revive interest in the U.S. space program, as well as to inject some life into math and science education. (Even then, there were concerns that American students were falling behind their global counterparts in math and science.) The presence of teacher Christa McAuliffe on the mission was a key part of that effort. McAuliffe’s inclusion would have been a good idea, perhaps, if not for what happened.

Christa McAuliffe in 1985

I’m not going to exaggerate, and say that the Challenger disaster depressed me for a month, or anything like that. I was sorry for the loss of life, of course. But in 1986 I was a self-absorbed teenager, and this was a faraway event. 

The disaster did have a sobering effect on me, though. At my present age (I’ll let you do the math), I am acutely aware that life is fragile, and that bad things happen to good people. I wasn’t as aware of this in 1986. Continue reading “Challenger disaster +37 years”

My grandmother’s favorite TV show

I didn’t realize that all four of The Golden Girls had passed. Betty White, the last of them, died on New Year’s Eve, 2021.

But I suppose I should not be surprised, given that the show has been off the air for 30 years, and the actresses were rather advanced in years even when the show was filmed.

Back in the day, I wasn’t a fan of The Golden Girls (1985-1992), not because I actively disliked it, but because I was outside the show’s target demographic. I was between the ages of 17 and 24 while The Golden Girls was in primetime. A sitcom about four elderly women was difficult for me to relate to at the time, I guess.

But my grandmother, who was born the same year as Betty White and Beatrice Arthur (1922), absolutely loved it. My grandfather, born in 1921, watched it, too. (My grandfather loved television, and would watch almost anything.)

I have fond memories of dropping by my grandparents’ house in the late 1980s and early 1990s, to find them both tuned in to this much loved, bygone television show. The show delighted my grandmother to no end. 

So I suppose I am a fan of The Golden Girls, after all. I just didn’t know it back then.

The VCR revolution: December 24, 1984

Though I certainly do remember Christmas, 1984, I can’t claim to remember the above cover of Time magazine. But as the magazine cover proclaims, VCRs were a big deal back then. 

My parents had purchased a VCR a few years earlier…probably in 1982. It was my favorite device in our household, and my parents loved it, too.

If you’re too young to remember the world before the VCR, then you don’t remember the days of fitting your schedule around your favorite TV programs. Continue reading “The VCR revolution: December 24, 1984”

Dress standards of the WW2 generation

The above photo from Historic Photographs showed up in my Facebook feed. It is captioned, “This impeccably dressed woman shopping for groceries with her son. 1945”

My maternal grandparents were of the World War II generation. My grandmother would have been a few years younger than the woman in the photo. (My mother was not yet born in 1945, so she was younger than the child in the stroller; but my mother’s arrival in the world was only a year away.)

My grandparents always dressed up. They dressed up for church, of course, as well as for social engagements. But they also dressed up for airplane flights and doctor’s appointments—which I never understood.

Their basic idea seemed to be: if you are going to be in the company of strangers, look sharp. 

I am a child of the 1970s and a teenager of the 1980s. I landed in the corporate world in the early 1990s, just as “casual Friday” and (even better) “business casual” were becoming fully entrenched. My standards of dress are therefore decidedly less exacting than those of my grandparents. 

I will confess: much as I admired my Greatest Generation grandparents, I have no desire to emulate them in this regard. Being now self-employed, gym clothes are my default attire. (I should note, however, that I do actually go to the gym.)

Nevertheless, it’s interesting to observe that about seventy years ago, adults had very different ideas about the way one should present oneself in public. 

View of a newsstand, 1985

From Historic Photographs, a view of a subway newsstand in Lower Manhattan, New York City, in 1985 

I was nearing the end of my high school years in 1985. A happy time for me, overall. But I was far from New York City (Ohio).

I recognize two faces on the magazines in the background: Sting on the cover of GQ, and Eddie Murphy on the cover of Ebony.

No big surprise there, as both Sting and Eddie Murphy were pretty ubiquitous in the media of 1985.

But the above photo also contains two ordinary people: the young man reading as he waits for his train, and the young woman minding the newsstand.

Assuming they’re both still alive, the twentysomethings in the photo would be in their sixties today.

My, how time flies.