Wednesday, June 11, 2008

The '80s

I came home from my night class tonight and sat down to work on my novel and watch mindless television. My son, 19, has on a VH1 show about the 1980s. It's all pop culture and mostly tacky, but I can't help but laugh at what was "hot, hot, hot" in 1987 and 1988 (the year he was born). The hair was absolutely bizzare, the '80s must have been the time when we got used to the crassness of what became pop culture, and there were some great movies back then, like "Rain Man," a movie that introduced the clueless to autism (in some ways a good thing, in some ways a bad). But what stands out to me is what I thought was the most telling event of 1987.

Of course, that could be a lot of things, but I give that title to the Baby Jessica falling int he well incident. America sat by the TV for three days worrying over the fate of that toddler. Who can forget when she was brought up? Who can forget how the rescuers ran and the heavy equipment that was brought in? What did it mean? Careless parents get lots of media attention? The discrepancy of the American attitude toward children--we'll go to the greatest lengths to save a child's life but we'll neglect them and their real needs and we'll kill them before they are born in record numbers? The power of media to make us feel as if an incident really maters to us whe it doesn't? That we can be riveting by something that a week later we don't care about?

At the end of the year I called it 1987 the tales of two Jessicas, because the other big story was the seduction of Jim Bakker by Jessica Hahn, or vice versa (was that not the depth of sordidity?) They represented to me the extremes of our culture then and now.

Anyway, the show is funny, but crass. These are cheap shows to make, like Mystery Science Theatre 3000--show a corny movie from the past and take cheap shots at it. We love to make smart comments about people who take themselves too seriously; it's a national pastime.

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