TV NotesNational Geographic Channel makes the case for the '80s as 'The Decade That Made Us'
By David Hinckley, New York Daily News
- Apr. 14, 2013
To the increasingly rickety population that actually remembers the 1970s, it’s not as hard as you might think to find good things in that decade.
Secretariat in the 1973 Belmont. Bob Dylan’s “Idiot Wind,” Bruce Springsteen’s “Badlands,” the Chi-Lites’ “Oh Girl.” “M*A*S*H.” Carlton Fisk. Reggie Jackson. The Tall Ships.
Still, the ’70s were 10 years that began with Kent State, proceeded on to Watergate and day-glo polyester lapels, then ended with “Escape (The Pina Colada Song).” Small wonder the comic strip Doonesbury eulogized it as “a kidney stone of a decade.”
The beneficiary of all this was the 1980s, which started with a bar so low almost anything would have been an improvement.
And things did improve, National Geographic stresses in “The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us,” a three-night, six-part series that launches at 8 p.m. Sunday.
In fact, NatGeo vigorously argues, the ’80s really did make us what we are today.
We owe our obsession with outrageous celebrity fashion to the likes of Madonna and Cyndi Lauper, the show declares.
We owe our smartphones, the ones that will eventually give us a generation with thumbs the size of lobster claws, to the Sony Walkman and the personal electronic revolution of the ’80s.
We owe our sedentary indoor recreation lifestyle to Pac-Man.
We owe our political dialogue to Ronald Reagan, love him or hate him.
We owe our personal fitness industry to Jane Fonda.
We owe our music to the hip-hoppers who busted out of the Bronx and conquered the radio.
“We are telling the real story of how things happened that created the world that we all live in now,” says executive producer Jane Root.
To make that point, “The ’80s” sometimes skates lightly over the past, since almost everything it chronicles was seeded decades earlier. The sight of women’s knees shocked the 1920s every bi t as profoundly as Madonna’s “Boy Toy” belt buckle shocked the ’80s.
The ’80s also was hardly a decade of unbroken triumph. People shot the Pope and the President. We had Iran-Contra. AIDS germinated in the 1980s. John Lennon was killed and the Challenger exploded.
Rob Lowe, who narrates this special, torpedoed his own career in 1988 when he starred in a sex tape with a 16-year-old girl.
What the ’80s did masterfully, though, was market its product. It was in the ’80s that Super Bowl ads became more memorable than the football game.
Darryl McDaniels, better known in the ’80s as DMC of Run-DMC, says the big difference between then and now is that back in the day, the music and the culture were about something.
Today, he says, it’s just about getting paid.
“Most rappers today have no idea what’s going on,” says McDaniels. “They’re punks and they cheapen the music.
“We grew up listening and paying attention. We could talk to you about Dylan or ‘ something happening here’ [Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth”]. We made that part of our music. That’s why it lasts. We knew about history and we had something to say.”
In fact, he says, that’s how Run-DMC finally got MTV to play a rap video, “Rock Box.”
“We knew if you put some rock chords with the hip-hop beats, they’d have to play it.
“Everyone then was listening to everyone else and trying to do better. You’d hear KRS-One or Public Enemy and we’d be thinking about how we could make our next record better than that.
“Today it all sounds the same.”
The ’80s had its share of artists who came and went. It was the decade of Men Without Hats, Wang Chung, Nena, Rockwell and Milli Vanilli.
But Lauper says she finds audiences still enjoy her songs as much today as they did 25 years ago, and not just because it evokes their childhood.
“I didn’t make disposable music,” she says. “You make it so it will last.”
She says one of her most satisfying moments came when Miles Davis recorded her song “Time After Time.”
Root says National Geographic approached this series with the same premise: that after sifting through hundreds of possible segments to select the several dozen featured in the show, they wanted the survivors to resonate.
“We were looking for stories you can actually trace back to a precise moment when something really changed.” she says.
For instance: those Jane Fonda workout tapes.
“Jane Fonda was making ‘The China Syndrome,’ ” says Root. “She falls over and breaks her ankle, and she’s really worried because she’s supposed to wear a bikini in her next movie.
“She can’t do ballet for exercise anymore, so she kind of just stumbles upon aerobics, starts dancing, creates a studio.
“Then the thing that is amazing is that she connects up with this new form of technology which gives us the video machine.
“So you have not only aerobics and sports and gyms happen from that accident, but a fundamental change in entertainment.”
This special’s focus on flashpoints of historical significance does leave one casualty: ’80s fashion, which recedes into a supporting role.
“Quite honestly, one could do hours and hours on hairstyles of the ’80s, and that would be really cool and fun,” says Root. “But that wouldn’t be the show that we are making.”
It has been suggested that the upswing of the ’80s started on Feb. 22, 1980, when the U.S. Olympic hockey team stunned the Soviet Union hockey team, which to that point was the master of the hockey universe.
That 4-3 victory invigorated the whole country, right down to people who didn’t know a hockey puck from a hambone.
“The country needed a lift,” says Jim Craig, the goaltender for that U.S. team, and this collection of rowdy young amateurs was the perfect ensemble to provide it.
“We had nothing to lose,” he says. “We were kids in our early 20s. We were doing it for pride, not money.
“We had a sense of what it meant to people then. But I also find that as time goes by it means more and more to me.”
Vincent Paterson, who worked with Michael Jackson on the “Thriller” video, says he thinks the key to that project’s impact was that he and Michael started with a blank storyboard.
“We had no rules,” Paterson says. “We had no boundaries. It was like being a kid in Santa’s workshop.
“We created the framework for everything that followed, whether it was a tour or a music video.”
Maybe not, however, the framework for modesty.THE 80's: THE DECADE THAT MADE US
Sunday 8 p.m., National Geographichttp://www.nydailynews.com/entertainment/tv-movies/natgeo-airing-80s-decade-made-article-1.1314359