2020/03/05

Window to the Past

He-Man Commercial 1980s

The inventors of television probably thought they were pioneering a revolutionary new communications medium. What they couldn't have suspected was that they were creating the next best thing to a time machine.

Yesterday I stumbled across this compilation of TV commercials someone had taped on a Saturday morning that time forgot. But the internet never forgets. Thanks to television and its digital incarnation YouTube, we have this living snapshot of what life was like for younger Gen Xers and older Ys ca. 1984.

Drink in the nostalgia, but not too deeply ...


What's most striking after the initial wave of nostalgia subsides is how different--i.e. degraded--Current Year TV programming is compared to 30 odd years ago.

Yes, your dad could say the same about TV 60 years ago. That should be a wake-up call.

Here's what stood out to me:

  • No cuck-mercials. The trope of the befuddled manlet husband standing knee-deep in water while the kitchen sink geysers behind him and his omni-capable wife rolls her eyes had not yet darkened our screens.
  • Looks like America: The US was 70% white in 1984. That was the year Reagan won the kind of landslide the GOP will never see again. The commercials reflect those demographics. Most of the actors in them are white, with a black or Asian kid thrown in the mix. Absent are families composed of Anglo trans lesbian dad, disabled Maori mom with Indian kid and Laotian kid living in Wisconsin. The ads come off as mainly trying to sell products to their audience, not demoralize them.
  • Commercials aimed at boys depict action, conflict, and camaraderie. Commercials aimed at girls portray nurturing, consensus-building, and emotion-primary communication.
  • The seeds of destruction had already been planted, though. True to the 80s stereotype, these ads push unmoderated consumption and materialism. One Barbie commercial sells girls the lie that they can "have it all" with hassle-free corporate success, romance, and a family.
These commercials from long-lost America will likely serve as inkblot tests for those who view them. What do you see through this window to the past?

Giant robot action torn from classic 80s anime!

14 comments:

  1. Speaking of older things, here is a more recent look at the generation divide from Kent State University

    https://www.kent.edu/yourtrainingpartner/gen-y-millennials-and-gen-z-do-you-know-difference

    We're very close to reassessing the way the generations are laid out. It is time for Gen Jones and Y to reclaim their identity.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. This is the second acknowledgement of Gen Y I've seen in the media in as many days. The demographer who guested on Coast to Coast AM last night brought it up, too.

      Reality doesn't go away however much you try to ignore it. The Boomer->Xer->Millennial demographic model isn't explaining the facts on the ground, and people are taking notice.

      Delete
    2. Now if only we can get around the cringe "Xillenial" titling.

      Delete
    3. The matter is under investigation, but I suspect use of that term may constitute a witch test autofail.

      At the very least, it seems to be favored by Gen Y AWFLs.

      Delete
  2. The amazing thing to me is the broadcasting ecosystem these commercials existed in. JD Cowan did a great post about the Saturday mornings belonging to kids thing. Those days (and the commercials that went with them) are long gone. Now it's either pro golf or The Rifleman reruns.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you!

      But they're not done yet. Up next is the internet.

      https://twitter.com/wastelandJD/status/1236200646921117697

      Delete
    2. Heh. Yeah, I saw you riffing on that guy. Need more popcorn!

      Delete
  3. I'm a younger Y (wasn't born yet when those were filmed) who was as severed from immediate pop culture as my somewhat paranoid mother could manage (she deeply distrusted TV for reasons stemming from her generation), and that brought on strange twinges of memory.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Homesick for a place we're not sure exists.

      Delete
    2. That is one of the advantages to being Y is remembering that such a thing exists in the back of your head.

      If we can hold that in our head as we move forward it can help give direction and guidance through the bizarre brier of the modern world.

      We know things can be better more than anyone. But we don't quite get that they can be even better than they were back then, too.

      Delete
  4. "True to the 80s stereotype, these ads push unmoderated consumption and materialism."

    All pre-made, pre-packaged, and over-sugared, like the food. (Spaghetti-Os followed immediately by Honey Nut Cheerios was a more painful memory.)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Their attempts to repackage candy as cereal were pretty transparent.

      Delete
    2. The toothpaste commercial licensed Baggy Trousers by Madness, a band that was only popular in the UK for Gen X teens.

      They really used to go all out to sell you things in the '80s.

      Delete