The funniest scene in the movie “Field of Dreams” — other than Platteville’s Mary McDonald Gershon’s two words, “It’s sick!” — may be when James Earl Jones as reclusive J.D. Salinger-like author Terrance Mann meets Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella for the first time and says “You’re from the ’60s!”
That came to mind because of Sunday’s Platteville High School commencement, when faculty speaker Scott Statz admitted that he, like the editor of your favorite weekly newspaper, is not from the ’60s, but from the ’80s. Statz’s admission came after class speaker Matthew Schaefer mentioned two iconic ’80s movies, “The Breakfast Club” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” It also came to mind because of my putting a new number ending in zero on the physiological odometer (which you read here last week).
The ’80s is the decade of, in chronological order, my Eagle Scout award, first girlfriend, driver’s license, first job, high school diploma, first job in my intended line of work, college degree and first full-time job, among other events. Not on the “first” lists, but perhaps the most memorable of my high school days, was my high school’s state boys basketball title in 1982, when we Madison La Follette fans wanted that title so badly that we would literally die if we didn’t win it. We didn’t literally or figuratively die, and we won. (As you know, I was on that team. Playing trumpet.)
The decade started with American hostages in Iran, and ended with the Berlin Wall coming down, an inconceivable event even two years earlier. It was the decade where the president and the pope were shot within a month of each other, but survived. Our I-remember-where-I-was-when moment — John F. Kennedy’s assassination for those who grew up in the ’60s, and 9/11 for everyone since 2000 — was the space shuttle Challenger’s exploding a minute after taking off in 1986.
The ’80s was the decade that a company named Apple Computer developed the Macintosh personal computer, without which there would be no iPhone, iPod or iPad. (Or, given how much Microsoft was, shall we say, inspired by the Mac operating system, no Windows either.) It was the decade that the cellular telephone attained popular use. (For those who wanted a telephone the size of an small toolbox.) David Letterman got his late-night TV start in the ’80s, typifying an attitude that reflects at least many of us (including, yes, me) with birth dates in the 1960s brought forward. (Unless smartaleckery is genetic, which I’ve thought may be the case.) It was also the decade of “Miami Vice,” “The Terminator” and the “Back to the Future” movies, which included a prediction of the Cubs winning the World Series this year. (Which proves that predicting the future is hazardous.) The drinking age was 18 at the start of the decade, but became 21 by the end, which proves that while change is inevitable, positive change is not.
On my phone’s Spotify I have a playlist of ’80s music, which has 185 songs as of today. I’m one of the people who prefers songs to artists, so there may be 75 different singers. Musically the ’80s jettisoned disco, but still had plenty of synthesizer, which was jettisoned in the guitar-heavy ‘90s. At some point, ’80s music moved from contemporary hits (formerly known as Top 40) to, yes, oldies.
The one thing the ’80s is not known for is great sports in the state of Wisconsin, other than the Brewers’ 1982 World Series trip, and one playoff appearance and three bowl games for the Packers and Badgers, respectively. (Of course, those who attended Platteville High School in the 1983–84 school year have a different opinion.) In fact, as I’ve argued here before, 1988 was the nadir of Wisconsin football, with the BADgers going 1–10 and the Packers 4–12. Fans of the Bears, who came to UW–Platteville for training camp in 1984 and one season later had their first, and to date last, Super Bowl win, and the University of Iowa, which played in three Rose Bowls, also remember the ’80s fondly, except for failing to win any of those Rose Bowls.
The other thing the ’80s is not known for is cars that bring back fond memories. In fact, ’80s cars often bring back bad memories — underpowered thanks to the automakers’ introducing electronic engine controls that weren’t quite worked out before sale, cars whose styling (outside and in) years later makes you wonder what the stylists were thinking, and, of course, the Yugo. (The worst car I ever owned belongs to this decade — a 1988 Chevrolet Beretta GT, “Beretta” being Italian for “lemon,” “gremlin,” or “something out of the back end of farm animals.”)
Statz said it was a good thing there was no social media in the ’80s for those of us who grew up in the ’80s and survived the experience. (For instance: Few bike helmets, no padded playgrounds, etc.) There were, however, two things the ’80s had: The Fifth Amendment, and the statute of limitations.