Randy LaistNov 9, 2023
The '80s Resurrected
Essays on the Decade in Popular Culture Then and Now
Randy Laist, professor of English at Goodwin University and the University of Bridgeport, has a new edited volume focusing specifically on popular culture and the 1980s. The essays in The '80s Resurrected: Essays on the Decade in Popular Culture Then and Now (McFarland, 2023) approach this theme from a number of disciplinary perspectives, global positions, as well as a wide variety of pop cultural artifacts. Laist’s effort in bringing together these essays was not just about reflecting on the 1980s, and particularly how the 1980s seems to be quite present in contemporary popular culture, but also because of the way that the 1980s has shaped our current political environment. The ‘80s Resurrected includes chapters on different media engagement and different issues that are fleshed out from different artifacts—including video games, film, television, dolls, and music. The ideas that these chapters dive into include questions of race, gender, class, sexuality, LGBTQ+, neoliberalism, misogyny, representation, and nationalism. There is much in this compilations of chapters that explores the nostalgic impulses that toggle between our contemporary moment and the Decade of Reagan and Thatcher, and how the political and economic impulses of that time have shaped our lives today. Many of the chapters also peel back the gloss of the foregrounded ideas of the 1980s, which highlighted white middle-class perspectives in mass culture. Many of the nostalgic ideas about the 1980s cover up the disturbing other side of the decade, with the war on drugs, the rise of the carceral state, AIDS/HIV, sexism and racism in the workplace all as parts of this same decade that is often seen as an era of shoulder pads, pussy bows, neon colors, body building, and swagger.
The ‘80s Resurrected: Essays on the Decade in Popular Culture Then and Now brings the reader along in considering how ideas like “making America great again” are connected to our thinking about the arbitrary construction of the importance of delineating decades and the impact they may have on our concept of ourselves and the nation state. As we discuss in the interview, even defining particular decades against each other is rather arbitrary, and to then weight those individual decades with various kinds of import further contributes to this artificial framing. Even so, it is hard to break out of this construction, and The ‘80s Resurrected examines why this particular bracket of time, which is also marked by the elections of Ronald Reagan in the United States and Margaret Thatcher in the United Kingdom at the beginning of the decade and the fall of communism at the end of the decade, remains important to our understanding of history, politics, culture, ideology, economics, and concepts of self and nation. This is an engaging and fascinating assortment of chapters by a global collection of scholars.
Lilly J. Goren is a professor of political science at Carroll University in Waukesha, WI. She is co-host of the New Books in Political Science channel at the New Books Network. She is co-editor of The Politics of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (University Press of Kansas, 2022), as well as co-editor of the award winning book, Women and the White House: Gender, Popular Culture, and Presidential Politics (University Press of Kentucky, 2012). She can be reached @gorenlj.bsky.social