22 July 2015

Remembering 80's Pop Culture and Some of its Warnings

I'm dating myself here. My wife and I are bona fide 80's aficionados. Though it will sound strange to the older generation we miss the 80's more and more everyday in the same way our parents talked about the 50's.

The tech boom of the 1980's seems kind of comical by today's standards and yet there were big changes afoot. Computers were becoming a bigger part of daily life. More and more homes were acquiring Apple II's and Commodore 64's. I had an Apple IIc and began my long and still persistent dislike of everything Apple. I was quite jealous of my friend's Commodore. Video games became more prominent as we all played on our Atari systems. The computer entered the office world. Well do I remember slaving away (literally) at my dad's office on his IBM with its astounding 80MB hard-drive. I would type forms, do data entry on Lotus 123, and fight with the dot matrix printer until my father finally purchased a laser jet. Then it was fighting with toner and trying not to make a mess.

In my free time I toyed with BASIC and MS-DOS functions, sometimes played Microprose's 'Silent Service' and I remember many people would gather around just to watch in astonishment. The idea of such a video game on a PC was amazing. It seems funny now.

Pop culture reflected the transition. Turning its back on the unkempt 1970's many of the hair and clothing styles re-cast the clean-cut space-age look of the 1950's. I remember my dad laughing at us pegging our pants which of course he had seen before. We didn't grease our hair back but we (guys) grew our bangs long and spiked it. Of course the girls had the boof-bangs that immediately date any picture.

The music turned away from the acoustic sound and introduced the synthesizer in a new way and with a new space age sound. Star Wars had opened up a new realm of science fiction imagination and it was reflected in the movies and songs.  

But not all was positive. The early 80's were a period of great angst in terms of the Cold War. Detente was over and things got rather tense for a few years. There was a fear of nuclear war and/or dystopia and this was reflected in movies such as Blade Runner and The Terminator and of course that trend has continued. Apple famously mocked 1984 with its Superbowl ad introducing the Macintosh. Back then I cared about football and was so pleased to see the Raiders trounce the Redskins but I remember being appalled that Barry Manilow sang the national anthem! Mr. Copacabana, really?

Of course it's ironic that Apple and the evil (Yes, I'll say it) Steve Jobs have helped as much as anyone to make our world take on an Orwellian hue.

I won't go into the details but we have had a lot of medical entanglements as of late and yesterday as I was dealing with a hospital official I grew frustrated with the scanning of identification and the complete capturing of my information. I'm growing increasingly resistant to having my picture taken and I'm about ready to just say that I don't have a driver's license or a claim a religious exemption. We have plenty of Amish around and so some will buy it.

I'm not a paranoid anti-government survivalist off-the-grid type by any means though I'm not pro-government either and I'm certainly not pro-business. In this country the lines get awfully blurry at times.

I'm struck by how many people fail to understand the issues and everyone just seems content to go along with it all. We're supposed to trust them that their databases are secure and we're not supposed to be offended when they ask us a myriad of questions that they don't need to know. At one doctor's office I literally left 7/8 of the form blank. There was no possible reason they needed to know any of the things they were asking about. I find it disturbing that so many younger people consider the lack of privacy completely normal and are in fact offended when you dare to question the data collection. When I don't feel like giving my address, email address and phone number to get a haircut I'm given that 'What's your problem' look by some tattooed overweight cleavage bearing hair-stylist. Speaking of the 80's I think it's time to get a Flowbee.

And as I was sitting there I was thinking back to the 1980's and some of the songs I used to appreciate. As a Christian I can't endorse these songs or these bands but the lyrics are mighty interesting, even prophetic. It's all the more interesting as these were lost people and yet they sensed the coming shift. It was going to take a good twenty years to really bear fruit but their alarmism which seemed unfounded at the time no longer seems so.

or for the full experience:

'Eye in the Sky' by the Alan Parson's Project evokes an era of surveillance and the ability to read the mind and anticipate your actions. Reminiscent of Orwell it apparently was inspired by Casino cameras as the lyricist contemplated a place or space under total scrutiny. Well, that's increasingly becoming all of society, all of our lives.

Some seem to associate this shift with Obama and the Snowden revelations but they forget this was well underway under Bush and even before. The United States has for a long time sought to capture everything. Echelon was an early attempt at this. The Internet and computer technology have made this kind of mass data collection possible.

I'm not saying I want to live 'off the grid' so to speak. That's not at all what I'm getting at though some seem to make it an issue of piety. I'm not opposed to driver's licenses and social security numbers but I am opposed to the level of data collection and surveillance that we are being subjected to. The 'eye' is now very real indeed in a way it wasn't in 1982.

Again it must be emphasized the threat is corporate just as much as it is the official state. In many ways the corporate sector is doing the work for the state.

Another song I thought of is 'Mr. Roboto' by Styx.

It's interesting because it's a warning to mankind regarding technology. View it as a saviour if you will but beware. It's amusing because at the time Japanese manufacturing and cultural intrusion was all the rage. The Japanese were taking over. We're turning Japanese! China was only beginning to wake up in the early 1980's. You might also remember the comical line in Back to the Future about the failing circuit. "No wonder' says Doc in 1955, "it's made in Japan."

The song while apparently based off a rock opera nevertheless evokes trans-humanism and the dehumanising effect of technology. The video is dark and at moments is reminiscent of a dystopian world. Yes it's kind of silly. It was the 1980's, but don't get hung up on that. Many movie sequels lost their flavour when they went all glittery and tried to spruce up the special effects. The unpolished primitiveness of the original Star Wars, Terminator, and Blade Runner are in part what gave the movies the sombre dark edge and the feeling of angst. They captured the zeitgeist of the 1980's. But I suppose that's always been a minority position. Most people go for the glitter and the directors and studios go for the gold.

Special effects do not a story make.

And though this one may raise some eyebrows I include it because lyrically it is spot on. I'm speaking of Electric Eye by Judas Priest.  

Again, I do not endorse these bands or this music. I don't listen to this stuff anymore but I sure did in the past. Judas Priest is obviously anti-Christian but as a non-Sacralist Christian some of my perspectives are a bit different now. We're supposed to be antithetical to the culture and so I believe we can make limited use of the other existing cultural critiques. We can appreciate their questions, but not their answers.

They are lost people singing about the world and yet again it's interesting what the lost can sometimes see. And it's interesting how Christendom has affected them and their attitudes to the state, especially the state enforcing morality etc...

Remember this was the age of Thatcher and Reagan and the revival of overtly Christian politics. Christians don't like Authoritarianism when it's the wrong party but they warmly embrace it when it will forward their agenda and empower them. They seek to escape the sphere of Fascism by falsely recasting the concept of collectivism as exclusively a 'leftist' impulse and declaring their opposition to all forms of it. Nothing could be farther from the truth. History, their own writings and even current events demonstrate this. Santorum a crypto-Fascist if there ever was one, is of the Francoist school and was heartily embraced by American Evangelicals.

Rob Halford the singer of Judas Priest is a sodomite. I don't know why we didn't quite realize that back in the 1980's. Watching some of their videos it's pretty obvious now. He's usually prancing around shave headed in an S&M leather outfit with a bullwhip.

Shaved heads all the rage right now, often had a different connotation back then. Aside from the endless Tally Savalas/Kojak jokes, it might mean you were a skinhead or a homosexual...or both.

Of course some will also remember Tipper Gore, Susan Baker and the PMRC. I hated them. They were going after many of my favourite bands! It was like HUAC and McCarthy again and Rob Halford and Judas Priest were targeted... though the song Electric Eye antedated these events. Later they were caught up in the subliminal message controversy and lawsuits that also affected other rock stars like Ozzy Osbourne.

The attacks on them were mostly rot. That said it's a bunch of wicked music though aspects of it are still interesting to me. If I listen now it's with a critical ear sitting at my computer, not rocking out in my car. The messages are sinful and fleshly. Rebellious to be sure, and antisocial (is that all bad???) but a big part of it was just that exhilaration of the power of electric music. It was music aggression. It's hilarious now but you see it exhibited in the song 'Breaking the Law'... nice message eh? Guitar power! Classic 80's metal.

Of course this impulse was also prominent in the opening scene of Back to the Future and the famous scene in Spinal Tap (with Meathead) about the speakers that go up to 11.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aWM5bmzYRh0  (I used to have a denim jacket just like that.)

But enough digression...

Electric Eye is indeed prescient as the Wikipedia article says. The lyrics are spot on. Ignore the music if it's not your cup of tea, but the social commentary is acute.

"I am perpetual I keep the country clean."

Just picture Michael Hayden belting this out as the NSA/CIA theme song. For some reason I like to envision him with a whip. The album art even looks like a stylized drone with missiles, a predator-eye indeed. Amazing insight for 1982 and of course the real 'tip of the hat' goes to figures like Orwell, Huxley and Philip K. Dick. They inspired the ideas that some 80's dissidents were starting to recognize, a bit premature it seemed, but they were right after all.

Now what we need is a hero to fix it. I vote for Bonnie Tyler, a coal miner's daughter for the 80's.

And you know you're 80's if you remember the television show that used the song. I wasn't into it, but I remember it.

Enough fun for today.