The Reagan Years

59d. Life in the 1980s

Courtesy of Rolling Stone
The eighties were a decade where style reigned supreme, and few artists had as much style as Madonna. Her 1984 hit "Material Girl" spoke volumes about what is remembered as an image-driven decade.

"I want my MTV."

Americans enjoyed many fundamental changes in their standard of living in the 1980s. One major transformation was the new, expanded role of television. Cable television, although available in the 1970s, became standard for most American households. This change ushered in a whole host of new programming.

Sports-minded Americans could watch the ESPN network 24 hours a day. Nickelodeon catered to the children of the baby boomers with youth-centered daily programming, and to the boomers themselves by broadcasting reruns of classic sitcoms at night. Americans could catch up with the news at any time by watching CNN.

MTV, or Music Television, brought a revolution to the recording industry. MTV broadcast music video interpretations of popular songs. Beginning in 1981 with the prophetic Buggles tune "Video Killed the Radio Star," MTV redefined popular music. Stars like Madonna and Michael Jackson were much more able to convey an image as well as music. Madonna's "Material Girl" message typified the values of an increasingly materialistic decade.

"Garbage Pail Kids"
Rude, crude, and with a bad attitude, the "Garbage Pail Kids" collector cards took the U.S. by storm in the 1980s. With names like "Potty Scotty" and "Barfin' Barbara," these kids were a reaction to one of the decades other fads — the Cabbage Patch Kids.

The videocassette recorder (VCR) allowed Americans to record television shows and watch them according to their own schedule and view feature films in the privacy of their own homes.

Perhaps the product that introduced the greatest change in American lifestyles of the 1980s was the personal computer. Introduced by Apple in 1977, the personal computer allowed management of personal finances, quick word-processing, and desktop publishing from the home. Businesses could manage payroll, mailing lists, and inventories from one small machine. Gone were the ledgers of the past. The Silicon Valley of California, which was the home to many of the firms that produced the processors that made these computers run, became the symbolic heart of the American technological economy.

"Greed is good," declared the lead character of the movie Wall Street. With the growing economy, many middle-class Americans rushed to invest in the bullish stock market and to flaunt their newly acquired wealth. Young Urban Professionals, or yuppies, replaced the socially conscious hippie of the previous generation of youth. Yuppies sought executive track jobs in large corporations and spent their money on upscale consumer products like Ray-Ban sunglasses, Polo apparel, and Mercedes and BMW automobiles. The health and fitness industry exploded as many yuppies engaged in regular fitness routines.

Apple II
The computing revolution of the 1980s began with the introduction of the Apple II series. Sometimes referred to as the "Model-T" of computers, the Apple II allowed businesses to streamline operations and brought the wonders of digital data management into the home.

The hedonism of the 1970s was being re-evaluated. Many drugs, which were considered recreational in the '70s, were revealed as addictive, deadly substances. As reports of celebrities entering rehabilitation centers and the horrors of drug-ridden inner cities became widely known, First Lady Nancy Reagan's message to "Just Say No" to drugs became more powerful. Regardless, newer and more dangerous substances like crack cocaine exacerbated the nation's drug problem.

The sexual revolution was rocked by the spread of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS. This deadly disease was most commonly communicated by sexual contact and the sharing of intravenous needles. With the risks of promiscuous behavior rising to a mortal level, monogamy and "safe sex" with condoms were practiced more regularly.

While greed may have been rewarded in the '80s, lust, be it for drugs or sex, proved fatal for thousands.

On the Web
Sixteen Candles, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Pretty in Pink, The Breakfast Club ... no filmmaker captures growing up in suburban America during the '80s better than John Hughes.
Learn More...
Before PlayStation and N64, there was Atari. And the children of the 1980s loved it.
Learn More...
I love rock 'n' roll, put another dime in the jukebox, baby ... Get the lyrics to 488 other great '80s songs, and sing along with the glamorous rock heroes of yesteryear.
Learn More...
In The '80s
For anybody with even an inkling of interest in Life-In-The-Eighties, this site is candy. Gobs of links to articles, timelines, reviews, quizzes, and primary sources pertaining to all-things-'80s. They even have classic video games like Centipede and Pac-Man that you can download. This site actually makes you want to go back in time.
AVERT — AIDS Education & Research Trust
The sexual revolution that began in the '60s and '70s came to a screeching halt in the '80s with the onset of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome — better known as AIDS. Brought to you by a United Kingdom based AIDS education charity, this megasite can provide you with an amazing amount of AIDS info, including the history of the virus that causes AIDS — known as HIV. There are also dozens of pages devoted to stopping the spread of AIDS — get educated here!
CNN's Twenty Year Anniversary
Watch the first broadcast of CNN's 24-hour newscasting history! Choose a year and watch a Quicktime clip of CNN's coverage of John Lennon's assassination, the failure of New Coke or the Exxon Valdez oil spill. Find almost all of the major news events from the 1980s and see how CNN's coverage has changed over the years. Click on "Top Stories by Year" in the Video Archives to start in 1980 with the first broadcast.
Apple History Gallery
How did a plywood encased experiment for the Homebrew Computer Club evolve into a clam-shaped, Blueberry iBook? Take a look through this Apple gallery and see the transformation from start to finish. Learn codenames, see some of the first Apple print advertisements and find out how Lisa introduced the GUI — which stands for "Graphical User Interface" and is pronounced "gooey." This award-winning student site also offers an extensive history of Apple, Inc. and projections for Apple's future in the PC world.

If you like our content, please share it on social media!

Facebook reddit