I really like the articles that Jason “David Wong” Pargin writes for Cracked.com. While his stuff certainly has a consistent level of humor, his topics are always poignant and often striking, which is why I opted to pen this post in response to his recent article “Reminder For ‘Stranger Things’ Fans: The Eighties Sucked”, which I don’t think is worthy of his normal level of output.
I feel that the overt tone of the article shows that Pargin is either trolling for page views while the latest installment of Stranger Things is still fresh in people’s minds or that he had a particularly shitty time in the 80s and is extrapolating…eh…for page views. He and I are about the same age but differ in the geography of our respective youth, which might contribute to the difference between his memories of the 80s and mine.
I grew up in Southern New Hampshire, which is considered to be a “bedroom community” attached to the Greater Boston Area. A “bedroom community” basically means that some/many/most people live here, but work in and around Boston. We’re not a particularly wealthy state (we sued ourselves in order to fund many of our own schools), although we have no sales or income tax and live off of the profits from a state-run liquor commission and tourism (the two are oftentimes related).
With this in mind, the government of Nashua, NH opted to turn their entire border ward into a retail suck-hole by building the Pheasant Lane Mall smack-dab in the face of Massachusettes in 1986. We did have two other “malls” at the time: the Nashua Mall and the Royal Ridge Mall, but the Pheasant Lane was to be the largest in the region. I don’t know if Nashua alone was large enough to warrant such a mecca, but the plan was that it would draw in the communities of Tyngsboro, Chelmsford, and Lowell, and that meant that there was enough of an incentive to spend whatever amount of 1980’s monies were spent to graft this place onto our little city. Once the Pheasant Lane was in place, more retail centers followed, and now in 2019, the south end of the city is a traffic snarl of tax-free shopping. Hooray for progress!
We also had two movie theaters. One of them, located at the Nashua Mall, only charged $2.50 for a ticket, which is how I saw Star Wars 10 times in the theater. The other theater picked up films when they went out-of-market, and only charged $1.50, which is how I saw Star Wars another 15 times after that. Going to the movies was a regular occurrence in part because it was so cheap and, yes, because it was one of the only cultural draws in town.
If going to the movies was a regular pastime because it was so cheap (by today’s standards), then hanging out at the mall was downright financially responsible. Part of today’s cultural hobbies is dissecting entertainment for “Easter Eggs”, and so picking apart the authenticity of the Starcourt Mall in Stranger Things is right up that alley. I’ve seen things in that presentation that I had forgotten about from my own experiences in hanging out at the mall, which was a thing that actually happened unironically. In terms of “things to do in public,” going to the movies and loitering at the mall were pretty much all we had available in our neck of the woods, and in that, Stranger Things is pretty accurate from my perspective.
Getting around wasn’t always easy when I was the same age as the kids in the show. Like them, I had to ride my bike, but in the 80s pretty much everything was accessible by bike (except for the south end in my case, which was practically highway). My friends lived on opposite ends of the city, and I was right in the middle, so I frequently peddled my ass up one side of Main Street and down the other, between sun-up and sun-down, alone, my whereabouts unknown to my parents at any given time. When we got older and friends started getting their licenses, we did drive aimlessly around town, although that was pretty much the extent of it. We weren’t the kind of kids who drove out into the woods to drink beer; we just wandered around in sober circles because we finally could. When we did land at someone’s house, we’d either play video games on the C64, Amiga, Sega 8-bit or Genesis, or just congregate in a common room and maybe watch whatever garbage movie was playing on cable.
I know none of this sounds particularly exciting from our vantage point in an era when we have a global watercooler around which we roast the latest incredulous bullshit in politics, entertainment, or business. I think we’ve become way too enamored with our own wittiness and wokeness that everything has to become either a target of snark or of outrage. With 24/7 everything, sitting idle and doing nothing is considered wasteful when there’s a spigot of the entire human experience in everyone’s pocket or purse. We can no longer just turn everything off for an extended period of peace because there is no longer any panic-rooms where the tendrils of always-on culture cannot reach. Even those of us who grew up in the decades before the Internet can be infected with the sweaty need to check the news or social media every few minutes. Because of this, it’s easy to look back on the last, real Internet-free decade and declare that it was total shit, mistaking the opportunity to shut out the world as a lack of engagement of anything interesting to do. At the risk of sounding my age, back when we were kids we made our own fun, and at the time, when it was all we knew, it was fun. Sometimes I miss the simplicity of it, but I don’t remember the 80s as being as wasteful or as anger-inducing as Pargin does, for real or for the snark. It was all we knew at the time and for the most part, we were happy with it. I wish that sometimes we had the potential to get back to that level of “non-2019-ness”, which I believe is what is fueling the nostalgia in a lot of the “children of the 80s”.
Take heart, though: Once the “children of the 90s” reach middle age, we’ll all get to crap on that decade and let the 80s get the rest it deserves.