A little bit ago I tried to put the years and era of my childhood in the context of the varying popularity of action figures. It just made sense to me as the toy industry put out a steady stream of popular toys that formed a strata of specific memories that one could date childhoods as if they were counting the layers of rock that contained a fossil. They’re very specific.
But why not movies? Movies more than even the toys or maybe even video games, defined the times I grew up in. Video games could probably define many men’s childhood, but even then it was a relatively narrow subset of the population compared to how broad reaching movies were. Most didn’t own a computer or console (and there was only one at a time for quite a while) until well into the ’90’s.
Do you like gladiator movies?
It’ll come as no surprise that a child of the ’80’s talking about nerd culture will talk at great ends about how great their movies were. They can quote non-stop their favorite movies. And while each gender had their favorites, everyone pretty much saw everyone’s movies. Everyone eventually saw Star Wars, The Goonies, at least one John Hues film, anything with Schwarzenegger, and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure.
But there were also the films that almost everyone could relate to even if they hadn’t seen it (and that was pretty rare): Back to the Future, Ghostbusters, just about any Spielburg film, Gremlins, Friday the Nightmare on Halloween Street, Beverly Hills Cop, The Princess Bride, and on and on. And even cooler, many of the movies we all remember, I remember enjoying with my mom and dad.
Movies defined everyone I knew. From pretending (my wife played Annie with her friends, while a couple hundred miles away I shot Storm Troopers), to quotes during conversations, and just generally talking about a funny scene. Tie ins were printed on everything. My parents still own a couple Return of the Jedi Burger King glasses, and while she won’t admit it, my mom values them almost as much as she does her china.
Yes, the ’80’s are the reason you now feel guilty giving away toys, or even opening them.
So if movies were so pervasively important, why not use them to describe where I was at the time? Oddly enough, it’s because they were too pervasive. They weren’t like the movie system we have now, where we’re so flooded with choices that we don’t have to enjoy just one thing. The movies from my past lasted.
Most didn’t just get enjoyed in the theater, briefly again when you’re friends watched it on VHS, and then you forgot about them. Few kids of the time don’t have a movie they’ve seen 50+ times, and that was before you could watch Disney films at home. Even more importantly, a good movie at the time would come out, and people wouldn’t stop referencing it or thinking about it for literally years. This varied a little bit on strength, but many of these movies still resonate not only with people who lived during the ’80’s but in our culture.
My dad still talks about Ghostbusters and Back to the Future. My mom Pee Wee’s Big Adventure and The Blues Brothers. I can walk up to almost anyone my age in the right situation, say, “Nobody puts baby in the corner,” and get a chuckle. There are well over 100 of these movies that we all still think about today. We’ll drive you nuts talking about them.
Tell him about the Twinkie…
That’s not weird, that’s just being very, very popular. What I find most unusual is that these movies were so profound in their entertainment, that I have a hard time remembering what it was like before I felt a need for speed. I just always did. It’s difficult for me to say, “When I was interested in Indiana Jones, I was…” because I honestly can’t remember a time when I wasn’t interested in adventurer’s branch of archaeology.
One day there would be no Gremlins, the next they were always there under the bed. Bueller… Bueller… Bueller… were nonsense words one moment, and the next you had always wanted to be him. They became facts in our lives. Solid, tangible facts. 1.21 Gigawatts was an accurate measure of the power in a bolt of lightning, and as far as we were concerned, it always had been.
So despite wanting to tell you about the time frame I grew up in with movies, I simply can’t. They exist out of time for me.