I Hate 1984

The music and movies were epochal. The politics were abysmal. A poison valentine to the year that won't go away.

1984: An Introduction

Peter S. Scholtes

I was 14 for 10 months and 7 days of 1984, which tells you about all you need to know. The year before I had become a "punk rocker" at Marquette Middle School in Madison, Wisconsin, which was cool. I remember being outside on the grass during gym class, and somebody giving me shit about my hair, calling me Frankenstein, and then another girl saying, Shut up, he's dressing punk. Once people knew what I was, they respected it. We were in eighth grade, so there was no one older than us to beat us up and enforce the rules.

Dan Picasso

Then I entered my freshman year at East High School near the Oscar Meyer factory, big and anonymous and working-class, where you could get seriously hurt for looking weird. I had painful acne, and at home my brothers and my sister were joining me in moody adolescence. Hating Reagan and loving music brought us together, corny as that sounds. Our Episcopal church had given sanctuary to Central American refugees, whose torture scars we could see if they let us. My parents (it's complicated, but I have four of them) didn't object when the kids walked out of school to protest apartheid in South Africa.

I distinctly remember my stepmom, Peg, whose church we attended, buying us these albums to share for Christmas: Cyndi Lauper's She So Unusual, Madonna's Like a Virgin, Bruce Springsteen's Born in the U.S.A., Chaka Khan's I Feel for You, Van Halen's 1984, and Prince's Purple Rain. This was back when buying records was an investment for me, so getting all this music at once was a big deal. Meanwhile, through my friend in punk rock, Joel, I had gotten into the Replacements' Let It Be, the Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime, and Hüsker Dü's Zen Arcade, all in a matter of weeks. The last of those became my first record review in the high school newspaper, for a senior named Ruth Conniff, who later became an editor at The Progressive.

So it was the year I had to show my ugly adolescent body, naked and shivering, to fellow high school showerers during health class (where bathing after activities was required). But it was also the year I saw Apollonia naked on the big screen, and the year I began to see some of her voluptuousness in the new wave girls around me. This was the year my classmates literally cheered Reagan's reelection. (With more than a little melodramatic self-pity, I found myself empathizing with Winston Smith in Orwell's 1984, which I was reading around that time.) But it was also the year that radical, political punk rock produced its greatest art.

I hate 1984 today because it makes all the other years look bad. Not that I haven't felt much, much better in the two decades since, or that things around me have particularly gotten worse. (Communism left, the Bush clan stayed, and we've still got a bomb and could all die here today.) But I've never been so fully engaged in popular culture as I was in that lonely year.

Which is to say, I've never enjoyed the culture as fully through my family and through the friends I call family. I'll never forget watching The Terminator with my brother Matt and my stepdad, Tom, groaning "Arnold" at the screen and getting the whole theater to do the same. I'll never forget my sister J.J. (now Jenna) and a bedroom full of her friends singing "Darling Nikki" together at the top of their lungs. (Tipper Gore was right.) I'll never forget my mom's enthusiasm for the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense movie, or her patience when I tried to convince her that the Minutemen were great even though they couldn't sing. You lose some of this familial perspective when you go off to make your way in the world.

And now I remember with fondness my dad's system of preferential voting for what movies we would go see as a family, and the one we all agreed about afterward: Sixteen Candles. Things I took for granted at the time, like my brother Ben's martial arts moves, that seriousness on his face, the way a news segment about him on local TV used The Karate Kid theme--these are now some of my fondest memories.

Nostalgia and anti-nostalgia is a snap in the digital age: The above paragraphs, and most of the essays that follow, were taken from my self-indulgent web log www.complicatedfun.com, which launched this series in the spring. Visit the blog to find the complete set of 1984 tributes, with obsessions ranging from Run-DMC to Van Halen, The Terminator to V: The Final Conflict. We've mostly avoided Prince, in both print and online: Do you really need to read another article about Purple Rain?

If so, write one and I'll post it on the website.


The Minutemen: Double Nickels on the Dime

Brad Zellar

Other than listening to music, I honestly couldn't tell you what the hell I was doing in 1984. I was a college flunky with more incompletes than grades on my University of Minnesota transcripts, I know that much. I was through with college, and I surely had some sort of shit job, or combination of shit jobs; whatever money I could scrape together from this meager existence I know I was spending on Old Milwaukee, microwave burritos, and records.

Next Page »