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My Reagan years - The Phantom Librarian
Spewing out too many words since November 2003
My Reagan years
You know, with all the reminiscences about Reagan lately, I thought I'd find myself more effected by this than I actually am. I'm not sure why I thought this; it just seemed to be the done thing. The 80s were the time when I became myself--Reagan was elected the year I turned ten, and left office the year I turned eighteen. You'd think I'd make some connection.

I was not, to put it mildly, a great Reagan fan while he was in office. I lived in a farming community, and in the 80s, everything was going to hell in a handbasket. They were, however, huge Reagan fans... oh, sure, the economy stunk, but he brought back American image in the world, and so on and so forth. And they agreed with him on key moral issues.

So I've never been really sympathetic to the view that "Only rich people who benefitted from the tax breaks liked Reagan"--I know better. William Howe and Neil Strauss, in either Generations or 13th Gen pointed out that voting for Reagan in 1980 was, more than anything, a vote against the '70s, a vote to bring the decade of est and primal screaming to a permanent end. That's what the people around me voted for, and it's very much what they got. The horrible rural economy, they accepted (at the time) with stoic faces. That was the way things went. Of course, once Clinton was elected and they had neither a good economy nor a morality they approved of, they started going a bit bonkers. Tim McVeigh grew up about an hour from me.

Nevertheless, despite my increasing Republicanization, I just can't look at Reagan as the defining human being of the second half of the century. I can't think of anyone I would name, actually--real giants have been scarce on the political ground since WWII ended. No one seems to be able to get the kind of unity of purpose that FDR was able to get from so much of the country. And when I think about the '80s, I don't think about them as "the Reagan years."

This whole business has made me think about certain things, though--the kids I work with every day were largely born after Reagan left office, which was the same year I graduated high school and started college. So were several people on my f-list. And these aren't cute little kids belonging to friends that I can coo over; these are intelligent young adults whose company I enjoy as human beings who are fully themselves.

I don't know whether or not that makes me feel old, but it does make me think about what life was like for me when I was their age, just getting started. Which I suppose is pretty much the definition of "old fogey," isn't it?

I remember all the Reagan jokes. Just saying Bedtime for Bonzo was enough to get a smile. (It appeared in a novelty rap song with no context other than going, "Bonzo... Bonzo... B-b-b-b-Bonzo, Bedtime for Bonzo.") And of course, the jokes in Back to the Future when Doc Brown refused to believe Marty that Reagan was president.

I feel bad now because frankly, he must have been in the early stages of Alzheimers even then, but his failing memory was often a joke. As a drama club officer, I often did the morning announcements at school, and at one point I made such a joke in the office, and our principal--a nasty old bastard who went through a play I did and made me remove every swear word including "hell" and "damn," despite the fact that I was adapting it from an assigned book and lifting the dialogue directly--threatened to give me detention if I ever did such a thing in his presence again. "I will not have the president of the United States mocked in this school!"

:Fern looks back across the years, evaluates the comment, and gives Mr. Beswick the finger again, exactly as she did the second his back was turned. No change in my opinion there. I may have been rude and that was cause for a scold, but that wasn't why he did it. It's one thing to say that you're expected to behave decently toward fellow human beings, and something else entirely to say, "I won't have that opinion expressed in this school." Casual half-mast flip-off.:

Still, when I look back at the '80s, Reagan's voice and presence is there, but not anything particularly dominant in my memories. I can't remember any particular SNL sketches about Reagan, or cartoons drawn by teenagers (I remember Carter's smile cartoons scribbled on my babysitter's notebook.) These are other things I remember just as prominenently, and some more prominently, not to speak ill.

  • Michael Jackson's Thriller album and the long-form video that went with it. Everyone had the silly thing, and tuned in to

  • MTV. It played video after video then, kind of like a radio station with pictures. Our parents didn't get it, but we liked it a lot. I mean, we were raised on Sesame Street and Schoolhouse Rock--we were primed and ready for MTV. "I want my MTV!"

  • Beads on safety pins, attached to sneakers. G-d knows why, but we spent hours putting beads on safety pins. The pins would then be attached to sneakers or jackets.

  • Madonna and Cyndi Lauper came out around the same time, and were neck and neck for awhile in the pop market. Madonna, of course, won, but I always liked Cyndi Lauper better.

  • Giant lines for ESB and RotJ.

  • Hair bands.

  • Big hair, feathered bangs, puffed up hairstyles.

  • Flashdance. Footloose. The Breakfast Club. Stand By Me.

  • Everyone was reading Stephen King.

  • Nighttime soaps were often--get this--multigenerational. I know, it's a strange concept to the generation raised on Fox, but the big thing in the eighties was to have a family dynasty (one such show was in fact called Dynasty) and follow its trials and tribulations. Miss Ellie, on Dallas, often got as much screentime as Suellen, and Suellen got as much as teenage Lucy. The ones that weren't multigenerational tended to be about middle-aged people (thirtysomething, Knots Landing).

  • We didn't have community service requirements, or much organization at all. Most people my age that I know are actually kind of horrified at how regimented young life seems to be now. (I remember when community service started being suggested--Howe and Strauss quote one Gen X-er saying, "Isn't that what criminals have to do?") When is there time to just, you know, hang?

  • In the 80s, casual sex went from being some hard-won freedom to being our generation's Russian roulette (again, H&S's terminology, but I think they're right). It wasn't something you did to show peace, flowers, freedom, and happiness; it was what you did to say, "Hey, I'm pretty much immortal, and F all this crap they're trying to press on me in school." I have no idea what it is now.

Feh. Have to go. Just thinking all 80s-ish.
17 comments or Leave a comment
From: falco_999 Date: June 10th, 2004 11:45 am (UTC) (Link)
FernWithy, have you checked TLC recently? Lines of Descent is mentioned at the bottom of an excerpt from one of Cassie's stories in an article!

BTW I enjoyed reading your comments on the eighties.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 10th, 2004 11:56 am (UTC) (Link)
Yeah! cheshyre tipped me off this morning. I'm dead chuffed.
From: falco_999 Date: June 10th, 2004 12:15 pm (UTC) (Link)
Less than ten hours behind the fandom news - I'm improving. :)
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 10th, 2004 12:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Hey, I almost never check anything except SQ until someone sends me, so it was a total surprise to me. :)
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: June 10th, 2004 12:33 pm (UTC) (Link)
Not to quibble with your memories...

I'm roughly a decade older than you, so my memories of the '80s are far different.

I remember looking out my office window wondering if the bombs were going to fall today.

I remember thinking that I'd like to try some deficient spending, but VISA not agreeing.

I remember graduating from college in '82 and not finding a full-time job for three years.

The fall of the Wall. The AIDS scares - can I use a public toilet? Challenger. The fall of the Shah in Iran and the release of the hostages. Hizbollah.

And that's as it should be. I would hope that a ten-year old girl didn't know about such things.

Reagan fan, I was not. But we live in a world defined during his presidency. I honestly cannot think of another man or woman whose impact was as great as Reagan's, love him or hate him.
fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 10th, 2004 12:40 pm (UTC) (Link)
Oh, right--I remember the public toilet scares. And my grandmother was horribly afraid of using silverware that someone with AIDS may have used in a restaurant. I don't really associate that with Reagan though. He was just the guy in the White House at the time.

I remember graduating from college in '82 and not finding a full-time job for three years.

I graduated in '92 and didn't find a full time professional job until 2000--finally had to give up in 1999 and go to grad school.
kizmet_42 From: kizmet_42 Date: June 10th, 2004 07:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do put Reagan and AIDS together, if only because I was working with a woman who wanted Reagan to declare a state of emergency, test all of "them" and quarantine them, preferably off US soil.

The Constitution? you may ask? Bill of Rights? Writ of Habeas Corpus?

"They" needed to be carted off somewhere and left to die.

I guess "compassionate conservatism" didn't come into play until GB model I.
cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: June 11th, 2004 07:53 am (UTC) (Link)
I would hope that a ten-year old girl didn't know about such things.

I'm the same age as Fern.
  • I remember the nuclear threat. I wonder how well my observations match with your experience.
  • I remember worrying about crippling debt (though that was more in high school)
  • I remember how hard it was for my father to find work
  • No memories of public toilet scares, but I do remember following the news of a hemophiliac boy who was burned out of his house by NIMBYish fear.
  • I remember the release of the hostages, but not so much the fall of the Shah. I do remember Ayatollah Khomeini and Moammar Khaddafi as the big villains in the Osama & Saddam mold.
  • Challenger explosion made a huge impression, and I still remember exactly where I was when I heard. (Among other things, keep in mind it was the first teacher in space)

    Ooh, just remembered another big scare from that period -- the downing of the KAL flight... <shudders in memory of the fear that engendered>

  • fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 11th, 2004 09:29 am (UTC) (Link)
    I remember the nuclear threat, but in a kind of fuzzy, distant way. I remember being more scared in the 70s... there was a rumor about chemical weapons that went around that would kill all the people but leave the physical structure intact for other people to come and use. I used to have nightmares about empty buildings.

    I was an internationalist in high school--some memory of thinking Canada had to be a better example of democracy than we were. But mostly, my attention wasn't focused on national politics.

    My mother was steadily employed as a nurse in those days--probably why I associate AIDS as a medical issue much more than a political one, even though she worked with geriatrics--and I do remember that we went through federal loan company to buy a house, only to have Reagonomics start shooting the interest rates and payment through the roof.

    AIDS--like I said, I saw it as entirely a health thing, and an education thing. I remember a lot of rumors, and the main business being trying to figure it out. I remember my mother being frightened once when she cut her hand at work, but I mostly remember her saying that it wasn't something that was easy to get if you took precautions. (Because of course, as a health worker's daughter, I was worried about my mother catching it.) So the mantra I remember was essentially, "No, you can't get it from breathing it in. No, you can't get it from touching someone. No, you can't it from using a toilet--that's just stupid." By the late 80s, things like, "The virus doesn't live long outside the body" and "It's not easy to catch AIDS if you're being careful" had been added. As far as the government goes... I honestly don't remember ever associating the two.

    Challenger did make a huge impression--my Spanish teacher, who died in a different accident later that year anyway--had applied to be the teacher in space. Again, I didn't associate with Reagan. It was the space program, which, like the military, I tend to think of as essentially a free agent that sticks around no matter who the president is.

    I remember the hostage crisis. In my fifth grade classroom (during the election), the teacher used to keep a chart of how many days they'd been held. I have very vague memories of a bungled attempt to rescue them. The actual release, though of course it happened, doesn't seem to be in my mind anywhere. Don't know why.

    I also remember the election, and cheshyre's mention of John Anderson reminded me that he's the one I was rooting for--the beginning of a long pattern of backing the wrong horse for me. This Scholastic Newsletter, I remember, had articles about the different candidate's pets, and we were supposed to vote for whose pet we liked.
    shellebelle93 From: shellebelle93 Date: June 10th, 2004 01:14 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Wow. Someone who remembers the 80's just like I do, pretty much. LOL

    I had huge hair! And in high school, those friendship bracelets everyone was making was just coming in. I had a wardrobe like Molly Ringwald's in Pretty in Pink.

    The Day After scared the crap out of everyone. (Of course, to look at it now, 'tis very hokey.)

    Jean jackets with a kazillion pins on. Rubber bracelets part one.

    And perms. Oh, the perms. :-)

    Thanks for this! *hugs*
    fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 10th, 2004 02:06 pm (UTC) (Link)
    I couldn't get my hair very big--it's too fine--except when my mother tried to tease it the way they did in the 60s, which of course wasn't the point. I never did master styling mousse, but that was because I was a total geek.
    thewhiteowl From: thewhiteowl Date: June 10th, 2004 06:28 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Soaps are still multigenerational here. And community service requirements? WTH? The US in general strikes me as being more individualist than Ireland or Britain, what is this service?
    lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: June 10th, 2004 06:48 pm (UTC) (Link)
    Many states/school districts require some kind of community service to graduate from high school. I'm all for community service, but only on a voluntary basis. I'm not in favor of forced altruism.
    fernwithy From: fernwithy Date: June 11th, 2004 10:47 am (UTC) (Link)
    It's mainly instigated by people who think we're too individualist and don't much like the culture as it is.

    (Okay, that's just my take, but I haven't seen anything to suggest otherwise.)

    It's not true in every school, but it's true in enough schools to be creepy to me. Some people, imho, would do the community more service by having time to go home and work on sculptures or practice poetry or music.
    lazypadawan From: lazypadawan Date: June 10th, 2004 06:43 pm (UTC) (Link)
    President Reagan's effect on the country and on the world is as great as FDR's. Before 1980 no one would have ever guessed the Soviet Union would collapse, that Germany would reunify, or that Central and Eastern Europe would be free for the first time in decades. In itself, it's a remarkable achievement. But Reagan was the first president to make modern conservative principles mainstream: limited and smaller government, low taxes, a strong defense, promoting the free market and private enterprise, and traditional values. There are a lot of folks who proudly identify themselves as conservatives today because of him (myself included). Even President Clinton adhered to some conservative principles during his administration, particularly when it came to the free market. If I didn't have to work and if I wasn't saving leave $ for when I quit next month, I would have gone over to the Capitol to view Reagan lying in state.

    Anyway, for the fun stuff, you are right about the nighttime soaps. Most t.v. shows back then were "intergenerational." Why? We didn't have 500 channels back then. Most folks still watched network television and Gen-X was a relatively small demographic (we didn't have the $$$ allowances or credit cards like today's rugrats either), so we saw a lot of old people on t.v.. The exceptions were family sitcoms like "Diff'rent Strokes," "Family Ties," and "The Cosby Show."

    My '80s memories are, well, interesting given that I lived in Miami in the "Vice" years. Lots of cocaine, lots of drug money floating around, and lots of murders. There was actually a shootout between rival cocaine gangs in the mall I used to shop at all of the time. In a lot of ways, it was like Chicago in the 1920s.
    (Deleted comment)
    cheshyre From: cheshyre Date: June 11th, 2004 07:45 am (UTC) (Link)
    Reagan was elected the year I turned ten
    I'm the same age. My reactions to this week are very similar to yours. Hope you don't mind, but I quoted your opening paragraph in my own post on the matter.

    voting for Reagan in 1980 was, more than anything, a vote against the '70
    Thanks for putting it so clearly. I remember in 1980 feeling very adamant that Jimmy Carter must go, but I could no longer remember why. xiphias, four years younger, often asked why, and your explanation helped make sense of it.

    I can't remember any particular SNL sketches about Reagan
    Interesting. I can recall Not Necessarily the News on HBO, and the really famous Reagan impersonater. [Yeesh! Just thinking about him now, I even remember his name: Jim Morris.] Also, during his second term there was a popular book Ronald Reagan's Reign of Error which was similar to Bushisms

    Everyone was reading Stephen King.
    Was V.C. Andrews big in your high school, too? Wow. I think she died while I was still in high school. And yet new books are still being published under her name...

    Most people my age that I know are actually kind of horrified at how regimented young life seems to be now. (I remember when community service started being suggested--Howe and Strauss quote one Gen X-er saying, "Isn't that what criminals have to do?"
    And how about the oxymoronic term for it: "mandatory volunteerism"

    Thanks for the nostalgia trip.
    17 comments or Leave a comment