Eighties Rocker Renaissance
Zoli Simon, Insight on the News (19 August 2002)
Once relegated to the dustbin of music history, the big-hair rock 'n' roll bands of the 1980s now are on a national tour.
While most people thought that the big-hair rock bands of the 1980s were long gone, never to return to the music scene, eighties rock fans are detecting signs of a potential comeback of that genre. What many people also don't know is that behind their favorite recording artists-- be they country stars Shania Twain and Faith Hill, or teenybopper favorites Britney Spears and 'N-Sync - stand some of the same creative people who used to make the eighties-rock sound.
INSiGHT decided to investigate this phenomenon at the Nissan Pavilion, a stop in the Washington metro area for the Hollyweird World Thur now sweeping across America with four once very successful so-called "eighties-rock" bands: Poison, Winger, Cinderella, and Faster Pussycat.
This reporter knew immediately it was an eighties-rock show when the singers used the f-word every 10 to 15 seconds as they spoke and female members of the audience lifted up their T-- shirts to expose R-rated material....
While many outsiders put most eighties-rock and metal bands into the "hair/metal" category, referring to the all-important big hair of those playing this type of music, there are several subgenres to consider: melodic hard rock, glam rock and heavy metal, to name but a few. Regardless of these differences, however, the whole genre went down in flames in the early nineties with the advent of the alternative/grunge-music wave, which mostly originated in Seattle and relied heavily on cable's MTV channel to build its audience. Just as MTV built up eighties rock, it tore it down when it started playing Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Soundgarden and other similar bands whose dictionary didn't include words such as "fun," but did use words such as "depression" and "suicide." Many eighties-rock fans criticized the new Seattle wave of music as boring, depressive and "whiny."
....Only a very small number of bands decided to stick it out in the inhospitable environment of the early nineties without changing their music much. These bands mostly belong in the adult-oriented rock (AOR) category, the most sophisticated kind of eighties rock- the rock equivalent of adult-contemporary music. These bands that stuck with their music, come what may, included Journey, Foreigner and Asia. Some of them, such as Asia, had to sign with small record labels -- which inevitably meant lower record sales but, at the same time, the undying support of their fans.
....Mutt Lange...who used to work on albums for rock giants such as Foreigner, AC/DC, Def Leppard and Bryan Adams.... and other ex-eighties rockers transformed the Nashville scene by moving it away from what's called "traditional country" to what's alternatively referred to as "new country," "country rock" or "rock country."
In the last couple of years, many fans of eighties rock started noticing what they interpreted as signs of an impending comeback of their favorite kind of music. One such sign was the growing number of eighties-rock albums put out by new independent labels. While small, these labels - such as Now & Then, Escape, Frontiers and Music for Nations - dedicated themselves to preserving eighties rock. Some eighties rock bands, mainly thanks to infamous Artist & Repertoire (A&R) man John Kalodner, recently have been re-signed by major labels.
Another encouraging sign for eighties rockers is the appearance of eighties-- rock tours such as Hollyweird. While the Nissan Pavilion stop of the tour did not show signs of being sold out, a sizable crowd showed up to see bands whose albums once sold millions of copies....
Waiting to get backstage after the show, as was normally the case at an eighties-rock concert, was a large number of groupies. As far as opening act Faster Pussycat was concerned, nothing's changed since the eighties. As guitarist Brent Muscat told INSIGHT: "In the late eighties to early nineties, we were too into drugs and sex, which broke the band up. In 2000, we all got back into sex and drugs, so it was a good excuse to put the band back together."
Second act Winger was in top form. Winger started out as a band that, while consisting of professional musicians, still was entirely marketable to a teenyhopper audience....
Cinderella was okay, too, especially ballads such as "Don't Know What You Got 'Z`il It's Gone" and "Nobody's Fool," which run rings around anything Aerosmith has done lately.
Headliners Poison rocked the house with its opener "Look What The Cat Dragged In" - a glam-rock classic, if ever there was one. The band thankfully didn't play anything from its bluesy Native Tongue or traditional rock 'n' roll-wannabe Crack A Smile albums from the nineties.
After seeing an eighties-rock show such as Hollyweird - something fans definitely couldn't do just a couple of years ago - the question inevitably comes up: Is eighties rock making a comeback after all? There certainly are some encouraging signs for fans of the genre but, without MTV support, a real comeback might still be a long way off.
Copyright 2002, Washington Times Corporation
Reliving the '80s:
The Music and Spirit of the "Greed is Good" Decade Are Back With A Vengeance
Andrew Clark, Macleans (15 November 1999)
Five hundred young men and women are dancing, drinking, smoking and, in some cases, making out. British pop band Duran Duran's 1981 hit "Girls on Film" pulsates through the sweaty atmosphere. Sounding sexually agonized, lead singer Simon Lebon whines out his tribute to pornography. Welcome to Retro '80s Night at the popular Toronto nightclub Whiskey Saigon, an evening dedicated to the nostalgic worship of the "Greed Is Good" decade. Every Sunday night, the Toronto radio station Edge 102.1 broadcasts live from the bar, playing such 1980s bands as Depeche Mode, Visage, Dexy's Midnight Runners and Canada's the Spoons for an audience the broadcaster says numbers 85,500. To 27-year-old retro night patron Matthew Canz, the allure is simple. "I'm so sick of the '60s and the '70s," he yells gleefully. "The '80s was the best decade ever. I mean, it was sooooo one-dimensional. Rich was good. Poor was bad. Cocaine was the drug of choice. Simon Lebon was on top of the charts. How can you ask for more?"
....Call it laughable. Call it proof positive of the decay of Western civilization. But, like it or not, the 1980s are back, big-time. Look around....Almost every week, a new 1980s greatest-hits CD is released. Recent offerings include Seven Year Itch by the Canadian glam-rock group Platinum Blonde (page 126). Brian Ferry, ZZ Top, ABC and the Pet Shop Boys are back on tour. This week, a newly reunited Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, which has just released the new album Peace, headline Madison Square Garden in New York City. Many American cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago, have all-'80s radio stations.
A host of 1980s-themed movies, such as 200 Cigarettes, The Wedding Singer and the current romantic comedy The Suburbans, threaten to usher in another round of big, gel-stiff hair and Flashdance sweatshirts. The new hit U.S. TV show Freaks and Geeks focuses on '80s teenagers, while '80s standbys such as Cheers, The Golden Girls, Simon and Simon and Miami Vice are in constant rerun....At the grassroots level, clubs all across North America are selling out by going '80s....
The crowd at Whiskey Saigon is a perfect case study in 1980s nostalgia. All the major varieties of '80s revivalists are accounted for. Roughly 80 per cent of the crowd are people in their early 20s. To them, retro night is a chance to discover the music that their older brothers and sisters grew up on. Then there are those who lived through the days of Miami Vice and Rubik's Cube. For these 30- and 40-year-olds it is a chance to relive their youth. Overall, 65 per cent of those present are female. "Women are the driving force behind the '80s revival," says 37-year-old Alan Cross, an Edge 102.1 DJ who has produced 10 retro CD collections. "Eighties pop is very danceable. The chicks dig it, and whenever you have women liking something, the guys follow."
....The craze started in the early-1990s as a way for disenchanted Generation Xers -- people in their mid-20s who had grown up amid the 1980s boom and then found themselves broke and jobless in this decade -- to mock '80s materialism....[O]bserves Cross..."They were cynical and that found an expression in grunge and industrial music. But they got tired of the angry sound. The '80s pop music ended up being the antidote to all that."
This antidote has not gone unnoticed by record executives. In the mid-1990s, companies began re-releasing 1980s CDs, and there are now hundreds of compilations and greatest-hits collections on offer....On average, 1980s CDs sell between 8,000 and 40,000 copies, according to EMI marketing manager Warren Stewart. Bands that were cult favourites 15 years ago can sell more than they did in the 1980s....
Luckily, not all 1980s phenomena are being resurrected. So far, no one appears to be pushing big shoulder pads and big earrings for women, or no socks and pastel jackets for men. And the 1980s revival is not even a revival of the entire decade. The retro trend is restricted to music and pop culture that emerged between 1980 and 1985. After 1985, '80s lovers agree, the decade took a wrong turn. Music became bland, and bands such as Huey Lewis and the News defiled airwaves....
The party will last only so long. Like that quintessentially '80s drug cocaine, nostalgia for the decade is getting used up quickly and proving tough to replace. But the club owners and DJs are already working on the next comeback. Streek is starting to insert the odd late-1980s or early-1990s song into his retro nights. The house music scene of early-1990s Manchester is back in vogue. It may take even less effort to pull the 1990s from the ash bin....
Copyright 1999, Maclean Hunter Publishing Ltd.
New Wave Dance Hits of the 80s (1997).....The Best of the 80's (1998).....80s Pop Hits (2001)
Lying with Statistics:
Efforts to Discredit the Economic Achievements of the 1980s Just Don't Add Up
Alan Reynolds, National Review (14 October 1996)
By any measure of real output or income, economic growth has been much slower since 1993, when tax rates were last increased, than it was from 1983 to 1989, when tax rates were coming down. The agility with which some people deny such undeniable facts is quite remarkable. It usually involves some mixture of the following tricks:
1. Redefine the Eighties. This year's nomination for the annual John Berry award for economic illiteracy goes to . . . John Berry. On August 10, Berry wrote in the Washington Post that, "Despite the supply-siders' rosy view of what happened in the 1980s, productivity growth from 1986, when income tax rates reached their low point, through 1995 averaged less than 1 per cent a year." Defining 1986 to 1995 as "the 1980s" is a truly remarkable achievement in creative news reporting....
2. Compare this expansion with past recessions. In the Wall Street Journal of July 18, Steven Rattner of Lazard Frcres claimed the economy grew by only 2.4 per cent a year in the "Reagan - Bush" years. In order to come up with that low a figure Rattner had to place Reagan in the White House in 1980 rather than 1981, and have Bush leaving office in 1991 rather than 1993. Even after this artful dodging, however, Rattner still comes up with a number that is about the same as average growth during the Clinton "expansion"....
3. Forget what happened when. Another reason why it is deceptive to include the 1981 - 82 recession in any comparison with the Clinton years is that tax rates were not reduced until 1983 - 84. In a July 17 letter to the editor in the Wall Street Journal, Rep. Maurice Hinchey (D., N.Y.) states that a "tax cut . . . took effect in 1981." This is flatly wrong....Since the point of Rep. Hinchey's comment is to suggest that lower tax rates did not help the economy, it makes no sense to start measuring the impact of lower tax rates before tax rates were reduced....
4. Glorify the Seventies. The Concord Coalition says, "To avoid being misled by the business cycle, growth should be measured from one business-cycle peak to the next. . . . [GDP] growth averaged 3.4 per cent from 1969 to 1980. In the 1980s, it dropped to 2.7 per cent. Clearly, the Reagan tax cuts had little effect."
Yet the period from 1969 to 1980 was not one business cycle, but three. There were nasty episodes of stagflation in 1969 - 70, 1974 -75, and 1980 - 82. The Concord Coalition is suspiciously vague about defining "the 1980s"; it appears to include recession quarters in 1980 and 1990. The figures look quite different when we actually follow the Coalition's advice and measure GDP gains "from one business cycle peak to the next." From the fourth quarter of 1973 to the first quarter of 1980, real GDP increased from $3,936 billion to $4,574 billion -- a grand total of 16.2 per cent. By the second quarter of 1990, real GDP had increased to $6,174 billion -- or 32.8 per cent. Clearly, the Concord Coalition's nostalgia about the Seventies is unwarranted, even aside from the insufferable inflation of that decade.
5. Blame President Bush for not handing Clinton a deep recession. In The New Republic (Sept. 2), Matthew Miller writes, "The boom supply-siders love to tout, the 3.8 per cent annual growth between 1982 and 1989, came mainly because we were emerging from a deep recession that left jobless rates in double digits and much idle capacity." Alan Blinder of Princeton makes this same excuse. Apparently, poor Bill Clinton was not so lucky as to inherit the same sort of mess that Jimmy Carter left on Reagan's doorstep, so it just isn't fair to compare the post - 1991 expansion with the post -1982 expansion....
6. Make assertions about facts without bothering to mention any facts. Lawrence Chimerine of the Economic Strategy Institute wrote "The Return of the Supply-Siders" in the Washington Post, July 23. Chimerine said, "The personal savings rate dropped to a postwar record low, and the overall national savings rate dropped even more sharply." The personal savings rate averaged 6.2 per cent from 1983 to 1989, compared with 4.2 per cent from 1993 to date. The national savings rate averaged 17.2 per cent from 1983 to 1989, compared with 14.6 per cent from 1993 to 1995. Chimerine wrote that "Productivity growth was extremely weak in the 1980s." But productivity growth averaged 1.6 per cent a year from 1983 to 1989, compared with 0.5 per cent since 1993....
Apologists for high tax rates have become almost comical in their arrogant ignorance even by the low standards of election years. They should be ashamed.
Copyright 1996, National Review Inc.
Feminism on Lifetime: Yuppie TV for the Nineties, Part 1
Jane Feuer, Camera Obscura-A Journal of Feminism and Film Theory (May 1994)
....[A]lthough the idea of television as a living museum of its own past offerings has been stressed, little has been written about the way in which the recycling of television programs can be a form of rewriting and can even be of historical significance....In fact it is often the historical and aesthetic raison d'etre of the cable TV services to frame old programs in this way. In this, a cable TV service differs from the old network system not just economically but aesthetically--it provides a different kind of textual frame and thus represents a different form of authorship.
The Lifetime Television Network (as an example of a cable narrowcasting service) does far more than simply retelecast shows that appeal to "working women"; it also recycles and repositions the "quality" women's TV of the 1980s for the Lifetime target audience of the 1990s. It mines the quasi-feminist upscale dramas of the 1980s both obscure and well-known:.... Moonlighting, L.A. Law, China Beach, Cagney and Lacey, and more recently, Sisters. It also reframes numerous made-for-TV movies that were broadcast on network prime time during the 1980s as women's matinee pictures for the 1990s. By re-airing most of the major networks' social-problem films from the previous decade, Lifetime explicitly recodes these films (whose audience was always predominantly female) as "women's pictures" for the 1990s woman, as "woman" is defined by Lifetime. But how exactly is the 1990s woman redefined as a 1980s female yuppie?
My proposition is that "thirtysomething on Lifetime"--as it is dubbed actually transforms a program such as thirtysomething (among many others) to the extent that its meaning is altered. Lifetime becomes more than a cable service; arguably, it becomes an author, a source of enunciation. This is achieved through the overall "flow" of the Lifetime broadcast and especially through advertising and promotional materials. I will demonstrate this process of re-inscription through a number of examples involving the Lifetime versions of thirtysomething and other 1980s yuppie programs including China Beach and L.A. Law....In addition, I will demonstrate the repositioning of 1984's The Burning Bed for 1991 by examining its merger with an evening's flow of Lifetime's own product: ads, promos, and an original documentary entitled Prisoners of Wedlock. Although fraught with contradictions (especially those involving the presence of Lifetime's "poster child" Theresa Saldana--discussed below), the Lifetime showing introduces a proto-feminist critique into the re-broadcast, framing The Burning Bed as unrealistic in order to shore up the "realism" of the network's own documentary. We will see how Lifetime's recoding of this social-problem film also recodes feminism and femininity in the terms of 1980s yuppie culture.
"thirtysomething on Lifetime"
In its own publicity, Lifetime promotes itself as a cable service that "deliver[s] the most consistent, most desirable women demographics, and compensates for broadcasting under-delivery." Clearly its appeal to somewhat of a mass audience but especially to prized upscale women makes it unique; and its syndication and marketing practices have been key factors in its success. For example, Lifetime picked up two of the handful of yuppie shows to make the list of top-rated programs for the Reagan era, Moonlighting and L.A. Law, but it marketed L.A. Law as a woman's program full of beefy men. Eventually all of the women-oriented "quality" shows of the 1980s re-emerged on Lifetime: Jack and Mike, Molly Dodd, Cagney and Lacey, Kay O'Brien, Heartbeat, and China Beach. What, then, were the elements of Reagan-era yuppie culture that could be adapted to media and specifically to television representations?
1. Career obsessiveness, especially for women. But unlike 1950s corporate culture, work for baby boomers has to be personally meaningful.
2. Frenetic activity. Yuppies are always busy so that just as work becomes personal, personal life becomes work.
3. Emphasis on the two-career childless couple; later in the decade an emphasis on children.
4. Materialism expressed in home decoration, food, and restaurant culture.
5. Physical fitness as work.
6. Equality for women; sensitivity for men.
....Yuppiedom thus became a set of visual codes that could be reproduced across media--whether narrative or pictorial.
....The fact that so many of the yuppie shows considered failures by the networks wound up on the Lifetime Television Network (especially since most of them did not have enough episodes for regular syndication) points to a non-network narrowcasting strategy that was not yet a major force in the 1980s. Lifetime thinks of itself as a cable service for "delivering" not babies but their baby boomer mothers to advertisers. Founded in what Newsweek's cover dubbed "the year of the yuppie" (1984), the Lifetime Television Network had by 1988 solidified its position as the top cable network for reaching a female audience. It reached a small but select audience, as did the more authentic yuppie cultural media (for example, Metropolitan Home and New York magazines, Banana Republic retail shops, and particular upscale restaurants), and assured its owners--industry giants, Capital Cities/ABC, Hearst Corp., and (until recently) Viacom International--of a continued stake in the market as the major networks' shares declined....
In 1992 Lifetime ran promos for L.A. Law and China Beach within an episode of thirtysomething in which Dana Delaney (pre-China Beach in the episode itself but post-China Beach in the promo) plays a woman with whom thirtysomething's Gary (Peter Horton) has fallen in love. As if in vengeance, the husband of another more casual lover has trashed Gary's apartment and written death threats on the walls. As he and Dana Delaney's character look on in horror, Lifetime cuts to a promo for L.A. Law. The next commercial break links a scene in which Gary fantasizes the Delaney character has stabbed him in the back with a scissors after a discussion of trust and fidelity (qualities notably lacking in Gary) to a promo for China Beach in which McMurphy (Delaney) discusses men with the prostitute, K.C., and a U.S.O. entertainer. Under the promo's male voice announcing: "Only Lifetime gives you the women of China Beach--on men," we see a series of shots featuring McMurphy: "men are whatever we make them"; K. C.: "I know what they want and I give it to them"; and the USO entertainer: "If he doesn't belch in public, you're sure it's love." Actually, the conversation is created by Lifetime's editing of the promo; China Beach's character K.C. appears to be excerpted from a different episode than the other two. In an uncanny example of female bonding across space, time, and texts, the next segment of thirtysomething features a "hen fest" between the Dana Delaney character and thirtysomething's Hope and Nancy in which a discussion of the male of the species--"It's either Nietschze or Pee Wee Herman, there's no middle ground"--uncannily parallels the promo for China Beach just viewed.
Lifetime gives these three yuppie shows--thirtysomething, L.A. Law, and China Beach--the opportunity to appear as a unified textual field with interpenetrating boundaries not possible in their original network broadcasts (especially since L.A. Law originally appeared on NBC and China Beach and thirtysomething on ABC). Lifetime, in 1992, recreated yuppie TV of the 1980s in a kind of yuppie nostalgia channel--the 1980s equivalent of Nick at Nite for baby boomers: Nick recreates our childhood, Lifetime our young adulthood. Lifetime also rewrites all of these programs as "women's pictures." Furthermore, Lifetime claims to "deliver" the "highest concentration of working women among the basic cable networks in key dayparts." The "Lifetime Viewer Product Usage Profile" tells advertisers that Lifetime women score high in the following categories: rented a car, own credit cards, purchased aerobic fitness shoes, traveled by plane, purchased tailored suits, own a money market fund, and purchased a luxury car, as well as more mundane consumer achievements. This places the audience, at least in part, solidly within the yuppie mainstream.
But yuppies were a risky bet in the 1980s, especially for network television. Estimates of the number of yuppies in the population ranged from 1.5 million to 20 million depending on exactly whom was included. The truly elite group at the more modestly estimated end of this range was certainly too small to constitute an audience for 1980s network TV; and the percentage of unsuccessful yuppie shows indicates that even during the 1980s, the mass audience still held sway for the networks....For purposes of comparison, on a good week (7 March 1989), the moderately successful thirtysomething drew about 14 million households to conventional network television compared to the hit series The Wonder Years at about 21 million and Roseanne at 26 million households.
Advertisers were wary both of yuppie marketing and of trying to reach yuppies through broadcast television. Since yuppies are small in number and fickle in taste, major corporations found them too risky a target. Moreover, yuppies were too busy to watch much TV. American Express, in fact, found magazines and newspapers much more effective than television for reaching the yuppie vanguard. Even though Hill Street Blues (1981-1987) was the first TV program to be sponsored by Mercedes-Benz, more than two-thirds of advertising on that show in the early 1980s consisted of traditional ads for traditional television products (toothpaste, hair products, food products)....Later in the decade, however, a program such as Moonlighting--a mass audience hit, not just a narrowcast demographic one--is littered with calls to yuppie spectators if not exclusively to such an audience. For example, commercials during ABC's Moonlighting and thirtysomething season premieres in December 1988 were strewn with images of baby boomers....
Commercials during the ABC thirtysomething premier had the images of old money wealth (Cadillac again); a yuppie stockbroker taking Actifed; funky characters a la thirtysomething's Melissa (Melanie Mayron) taking spontaneous photos with a Kodak Impulse camera; parents giving McDonald's gift certificates for Christmas; thin yuppies with babies eating pure, natural dairy butter (only 36 calories); and so forth. Once again, the true yuppie images were in the minority. As late as 1988, the Television Bureau of Advertising was still trying to convince the industry to use more television to reach upscale baby boomers.
Compare these advertising strategies to a string of ads just after the credits during a "thirtysomething on Lifetime." In the first commercial (for Valu-Rite Pharmacy), a power-suited, shoulder-padded, thirtysomething woman is told by her father to go right to the top for answers, playing on the corporate success motif in the yuppie constellation of myths and images. An ad for packaged pasta that comes with a pasta and wine guide (and presumably turns your home into a yuppie restaurant) makes the appeal to culinary and dining aspects of yuppie culture. A Yoplait yogurt commercial ("low fat calcium rich with active yogurt cultures ... it's something forty-year old Vicky Gentry does every day ... creamy, rich, do it for you") intones its message over images of a baby boomerish woman athlete, enacting the exercise-obsessive gym regime so central to the yuppie stereotype. This is reinforced by a Reebok "I believe" ad, without doubt the most charged advertising campaign of the early 1990s for yuppie women:
"You are what you believe [over images of exercising women]. I believe babe is a four-letter word. I believe that the person who said winning isn't everything never won anything. I believe sweat is sexy. I don't believe in liposuction. I don't believe blondes have more fun. I believe in mass transit. I believe you should go big or stay home. I believe there's an athlete in all of us. [Followed by a superimposed title:] "Life is short; play hard."
I quote this commercial in full in order to show how it epitomizes the uneasy relationship between Lifetime's definition of women and other versions of feminism. For Reebok, as for Lifetime, feminism represents both a renunciation of mainstream beauty culture (don't dye your hair, don't have liposuction), and its reconstitution in terms of the yuppie ideologies of exercise-as-work and winning-as-everything....
....In addition, the Lifetime broadcast of thirtysomething creates nostalgia for the eighties by recreating the decade's images in its commercials. Specifically, it creates nostalgia in upscale female baby boomers for that affluent time before parenthood and the recession. In a way, it's always 1984 on Lifetime. It's just that, demographically speaking, 1984 didn't reach television until 1992.
Feminism on Lifetime: Yuppie TV for the Nineties, Part 2
Jane Feuer, Camera Obscura-A Journal of Feminism and Film Theory (May 1994)
Prisoners of Wedlock: The Burning Bed on Lifetime
As I have shown above, the text's position within the flow of Lifetime programming, advertisements, and promos infuses it with new meanings as it is read by the audience it so carefully addresses. In the case of 1980s "quality" series, this repositioning invoked nostalgic pleasure, but the text's relocation in the Lifetime environment can also produce jarring revisions and severe contradictions. Originally broadcast on NBC in 1984, The Burning Bed had represented a feminist intervention into the often centrist discourse of the made-for-TV public service drama.] It marked a departure from its genre both in terms of narrative structure and possibilities for feminist appropriation. Unlike other films of its era and type, The Burning Bed did not follow a problem-solution format in which a socially produced trauma (in this case, domestic violence) could be resolved by recourse to a New Right-inspired, grass-roots political organization led by an outraged victim of the problem the film addressed (see for example, Adam, M.A.D.D., Tough Love, and Victims for Victims). Rather, employing a flashback structure from the perspective of the main character's incarceration prior to the jury trial that concludes the film, the telefilm detailed an endless cycle of abuse and the failure of social welfare institutions to prevent it....
What are we to make of this ambiguity? Is The Burning Bed another Right populist chronicle of a desperate act committed in a public void? Or is it a bold feminist gesture of taking the law into one's own hands when the nuclear family has failed as an institution? The film itself does not say. Yet it has been widely appropriated by feminists. In its original broadcast, The Burning Bed was announced as "Farrah Fawcett in a powerful drama torn from today's headlines--based on a true story of a woman trapped in a brutal and violent marriage until the night she struck back."
....[T]he entire 1984 local broadcast of this film subverted the hopelessness of its narrative. During commercial breaks, numbers for local domestic violence hotlines were flashed on the screen. Just after a police officer tells Francine that he cannot arrest her husband unless he is caught in the act, we see a pitch for the Women's Shelter, saying that the film is "unfortunately, a true story," but implying that we can now solve the problem of domestic violence through strategies of self-help. In a promo for the eleven o'clock news, we see the female anchorperson watching the film with a group of battered wives and are promised "their reaction at eleven." Although the film suggests that wife abuse is a deep structural problem embedded in the contemporary nuclear family, the non-diegetic materials suggest easy solutions obtainable through the forming of self-help groups and grass roots organizations in local communities.....
When The Burning Bed came to Lifetime in 1991, it was showcased as part of an evening's flow of programming around and about domestic violence. But now the Lifetime flow provided the context that printed titles, promos, and public service announcements had furnished in the original network broadcast. The film followed an original Lifetime documentary entitled Prisoners of Wedlock: A Your Family Matters Special. The contradictory message of this title was conveyed throughout the cablecast. That is to say an up-front, proto-feminist declaration of the evils of domestic violence was coupled with a reassuring stance towards Lifetime itself and the service's ability to protect your upscale family. Thus Lifetime promoted the documentary during the closing credits of the L.A. Law episode that preceded it: "Why can't battered women break the cycle of abuse? ... followed by one woman's escape from domestic violence in The Burning Bed." Lifetime also promoted the documentary via its star icon and host who was none other than Farrah Fawcett, star of the original telefilm....The title of her show and its associated logo--P.O.W. [Prisoners of Wedlock]-suggested an analogy between domestic violence and war crimes that her serious commentary enforced throughout the documentary. Yet it also assimilated domestic violence to other wars of the Reagan era--the war on crime and the war on drugs, for example. In saying that Francine Hughes sought protection from violence in the original film, Fawcett's narrative gives the false impression that Francine did receive help--perhaps from a civic-minded feminist organization such as Lifetime cable television....In fact, Prisoners of Wedlock took a very grim view of domestic violence, setting itself up as the radical text for which the original film was merely a precursor. Although fraught with contradictions, the Lifetime broadcast seemed to be denying the realism of The Burning Bed in order to promote the realism of its own documentary.
As Prisoners opens, we view Fawcett listening to 911 calls while she narrates the "facts" about domestic violence: "there is a 50% chance it will happen to you." The mode of address is from one woman/victim to another, blurring the boundaries between Farrah and Francine. We see a clip of a violent scene from The Burning Bed and Fawcett tells us: "But that was only a movie. And when it happens in real life, most women do not find sympathy in the system that judges them."
This is an incredible statement. It completely repositions the film that was "torn from today's headlines." Now the telefilm is fictional and Prisoners of Wedlock real. And now the telefilm is interpreted as "finding sympathy in the system" even though the 1980s film had shown repeated failures of such sympathy....
In this way, Lifetime repositioned The Burning Bed in a context both more overtly feminist and more contradictory than its original network broadcast. Lifetime itself becomes the institution that will inform and protect its women viewers, all the while reassuring them that their husbands are still nice (although 50% of them will beat you). In this context, we should not consider Lifetime's showcasing of domestic violence as merely a rerun of an old movie that we have already seen. It is actually a rewriting of that old movie in the context of Lifetime's own mission to the women of America, a mission that in the 1990s consists of rewriting 1970s feminism as 1980s female yuppiedom.
NOTE: This article is available in its entirety from IU Press.
Copyright 1994, Indiana University Press
Bruce Ward, Ottawa Citizen (22 December 2002)
Maybe the 1980s simply needed more adult supervision, someone to tell us That's enough, now settle down when things got out of hand.
Because somehow it turned into a decade characterized by unbridled id, lust and celebrity perfume lines. "Greed is good!" was the movie quote that summed things up. Thanks to Madonna, underwear became outerwear (when it was worn at all). "Know what comes between me and my Calvins? Nothing!," cooed teenager Brooke Shields in an ad for blue jeans.
The whole sorry mess of a decade is captured on Rhino's Like, ohmigod! the '80s Pop Culture Box (Totally), a collection of 142 songs on seven CDs. It comes with a fascinating timeline booklet that brings to mind things best forgotten, such as Rubik's cube, Atari, those Baby On Board signs, and Dr. Ruth.
Here's a look back over a decade that was a lot like high school. We lived through it once, but please, never again.
1. Michael Jackson's sequined glove
2. The baseball cap hanging out of Springsteen's back pocket
3. Oprah's weight-loss "skinny" jeans
4. Prince's eyeliner and lace
5. Evian facial misters
6. Madonna's street-slut look -- junk jewelry, bustiers, lace gloves, tube tops and stretchy skirts
7. Margaret Thatcher's helmet perm
8. Leg warmers
10. Leather hair scrunchies
Ten decade-defining taglines
Let's do lunch
Two thumbs up
Go for it
Memorable lines from the movies
"Snakes. Why'd it have to be snakes?"
Harrison Ford as Indiana Jones in Raiders of The Lost Ark (1981)
"E.T. phone home." E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial (1982)
"Ah'll be back." Arnold Schwarzenegger in The Terminator (1984)
"Wait a minute, Doc. Are you telling me you made a time machine ... out of a DeLorean?"
Michael J. Fox in Back To The Future (1985)
"There can be only one!" Christopher Lambert in Highlander (1986)
"The point is, ladies and gentlemen, that greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works." Michael Douglas in Wall Street (1987)
"If you build it, he will come." Field of Dreams (1988)
"I'll have what she's having." Restaurant customer Estelle Reiner in reference to Meg Ryan's over-the-top fake orgasm in When Harry Met Sally (1989)
Fairy-tale weddings that didn't last
7/29/81: In a ceremony watched by 700 million viewers, including several men, Lady Diana Spencer marries Prince Charles at St. Paul's Cathedral.
11/16/81: Luke and Laura tie the knot on General Hospital, the long-running ABC soap opera.
The decade's mind-altering medium: MTV
"I want my MTV," moaned David Bowie, one of many pop stars who shilled for the new channel in ads. Who could tell the ads from the videos? MTV was a master stroke -- direct selling to a growing global audience, 24 hours a day.
"Feel the burn," exhorted Jane Fonda in full Workout mode: stretchy tights and that red-and black striped top. Perky Olivia Newton-John presaged the fitness craze by a full year with her 1981 No. 1 record Physical. The annoying side of exercise: whiney Richard Simmons and his short-shorts.
It changed the way we listened to music, and how we watched movies and TV.
In 1980 Sony introduced the Walkman portable cassette stereo, giving joggers and commuters on public transit something to listen to on their journeys. The Walkman led to the compact stereo system, or Boom Box, also known as the Ghetto Blaster. "Take the beat to the streets," the ads urged. Soon, teenagers were sharing their swell musical taste with innocent passersby.
The VCR, as the video cassette recorder came to be known, transformed the way Hollywood did business. Once everybody bought a VCR to rent movies they'd never pay to see at a downtown theatre, second-rate actresses like Julia Roberts could demand a $20-million salary per picture.
(Perfect score: 3,333,360)
The video arcade game (introduced in North America in December, 1980) cashed in big by updating low-tech pinball machines. It was originally named Puck Man, until somebody at the company figured that teenage boys would change a letter and call it something unprintable.
CD player and CDs
Mass-marketed for the first-time in 1985, they offered improved sound quality and convenience -- you don't have to turn the record over! The shiny discs were an immediate hit with consumers, despite costing a lot more than vinyl records.
And to help us keep track of everything, we had the Post-It Note. It came to be when a researcher at 3M used one of his company's failed adhesives to make bookmarks for his church choir's hymnal.
Notable TV moments
"You miserable bitch!" Krystal (Linda Evans) screams at arch-enemy Alexis (Joan Collins) as they mud-wrestle in the lily pond at Carrington mansion.
Hill Street Blues:
"And remember -- let's be careful out there!" Sgt. Phil Esterhaus (Michael Conrad) to cops at a New York precinct house.
"What you talkin' 'bout, Willis?" Arnold Jackson (Gary Coleman).
"I pity the fool!" B.A. Barracus (Mr. T).
Wendy's TV ad:
"Where's the beef?" Clara Peller.
Saturday Night Live:
"Well, isn't that special!" Church Lady (Dana Carvey).
The 1980s was a great time for pop music, with Michael Jackson's Thriller, Prince's "When Doves Cry," U2's Rattle and Hum and Springsteen's Born In The U.S.A.
But there was plenty of dross on the radio (and on the fledgling MTV, too), such as these songs that briefly put their creators in the spotlight:
"99 Luftballoons" -- Nena
"867-5309/Jenny" -- Tommy Tutone
"Puttin' On The Ritz" -- Taco
"Love Plus Love" -- Haircut 100
"I Want Candy" -- Bow Wow Wow
"She Blinded Me With Science" -- Thomas Dolby
"The Salt In My Tears" -- Martin Bailey
"Walkin' On Sunshine" -- Katrina And The Waves
Over all, the '80s Pop Culture Box is an excellent round-up of the decade's good, bad and ugly. And Canada's Loverboy managed to combine all three elements in "Working For The Weekend." Arguably, it had the decade's most indelible chorus.
One final warning. If you still get the shakes when you hear Darth Vader say "I'm your Father," you'll be a child of the '80s, like, forever.
© 2002 Ottawa Citizen
The Eighties Club is not affiliated in any way with any of the publications from which these excerpts were derived, and does not profit in any way from the purchase of the complete articles. These excerpts are provided for educational purposes only.