I Love the 80s….Really, I Do!
Earlier this year, I began organizing female impersonation revue shows for a Newark restaurant and bar, The Cube, which opened last fall. It’s a wonderful place with great food and an 80s theme. The lobby has classic video games like Pac Man, Asteroid, and Pitfall, and they still only cost a quarter. The walls are covered with 80s memorabilia, including album covers, movie posters, and display cases full of Cabbage Patch, Rainbow Brite, and ALF dolls. Day and night, classic 80s tunes pump through the speakers, or Brat Pack films or 80s MTV videos play on a large screen, from when MTV featured music videos and not whiny, bratty, soon-to-be 16 year-old girls crying about getting a Porsche instead of a Jag for their birthday. The owners and the staff make it a point for the Cube to have a welcoming, family feel, and they hold all kinds of special events. The clientele is very diverse—from people like me who fondly remember growing up in the 80s, to teenagers who “remember” the 80s like I “remember” the 70s. (I was six years old when the 70s ended, but during college, I became fascinated with 70s culture and gay history...and disco.)
In case you haven’t noticed, the 80s are back with a vengeance! Recently, while walking around the mall, I noticed that many of the teenagers looked like they stepped right out of my teenage years—the haircuts, the neon-colored clothing, the tennis shoes with thick, untied shoelaces, all of it. As a budding little queen in the 80s, I was appalled by some 80s fashion. The brilliant DuPont chemist Joseph Shivers who, in 1959, conceived of blending macroglycol with a diisocyanate monomer into spandex, never intended for it to cling to cellulite in biker shorts, especially for people with no intention of planting their big derrieres on a bicycle seat. Hair should never be teased so much when it can’t tease you back. My high school best friend spent hours every week spraying the sides of her hair into “wings” and teasing a huge flower into her bangs. Some days, I felt the overwhelming desire to water her forehead. And huge pads belong on the football field, not on glamorous women’s shoulders. I guess Dynasty’s Krystle and Alexis found shoulder-pads useful for establishing a firm grip when shaking each other senseless, and as flotation devices when they found themselves floating in lily ponds.
But no matter what you thought of the fashion, the 80s were all about the music. There really was something for everyone—sappy bubblegum slow songs, metal power ballads, Halloween’ish glam rock, sexy and sultry soul, timeless duets, fun dance numbers, and minor musical invasions from just about every other country in the world. The 80s still reigns supreme in musical history as the king of one-hit wonders. You can “Take on Me” if you’re not “Too Shy,” but I should warn you that I’m “Turning Japanese.” Jump on the “Double Dutch Bus,” driven by “Mickey,” but the air conditioning is broken, so it’s “Hot, Hot, Hot.” “Pump Up the Volume” on your boom-box, take your singing voice from a “Whisper to a Scream,” and break into the “Curly Shuffle.” My idol, Tina Turner, made her big comeback in the 80s with her smash hit “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” a question I consider myself pondering a lot lately. Madonna, whom I used to idolize before she adopted a ridiculous British accent and started to resemble Wayland Flowers’ Madame puppet, broke onto the music scene in the 80s, despite the fact that some of my young gay friends don’t remember her pre-“Vogue.” Another one of my favorite divas, Cher, enjoyed a musical resurrection during the 80s. Remember that scandalous outfit she donned for her “Turn Back Time” video, while cavorting on a ship with sailors and massive, phallic cannons? That controversial ensemble pales in comparison to the outfits of some of today’s female pop stars, who take the stage wearing not much more than a cork and two band-aids.
The 80s were certainly an interesting time, politically and socially. Ronald Regan was sworn in as President when I was six years old, making him the first President I remember…and the first President I wish I could forget. Even as an adolescent, I recognized him as a convincing, comforting face for the camera, like Max Headroom’s kindly but conniving grandfather. Some people color Reagan as one of the greatest American Presidents, but I think he’s just one of the sneakiest and least capable. He labeled the Soviet Union “the evil empire,” ushering in the modern American political tactic of controlling the masses through fear, and bloated defense spending, federal budget deficits, and the national debt during what was actually peacetime. I also personally blame him for causing me adolescent nightmares, with visions of nuclear missiles dancing in my head instead of sugarplum fairies. During the 80s, when the modern LGBT civil rights struggle was really starting to gain a political foothold, the movement was sidelined by the AIDS epidemic. Thousands became infected while the Reagan administration refused to increase AIDS research funding. In fact, “The Great Communicator” never mentioned HIV/AIDS as an issue of national health concern until the May 1987 Third International Conference on AIDS, and he never spoke the word “AIDS” in public until one month prior.
Despite the fashion and political disasters of the 80s, I still remember that decade fondly. I suppose everyone remembers the decade in which they grew up through rose-colored brain cells. But where would we be without fabulous gender-benders like Annie Lennox and Boy George? Without the heroes who picked up the HIV/AIDS torch and ran with it? Without reruns of “Saved by the Bell” and “The Golden Girls?” The world would be a much drearier place, and I wouldn’t be enjoying the hell out of my “Ladies of the 80s” drag shows.
To learn more about the Cube’s “Ladies of the 80s” drag shows, or to donate your old 80s prom or bridesmaid dresses to a fabulous cause, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.