Tuesday, March 15, 2011

David Sirota Explains How the '80s Made Us The Country We Are Today

Wall Street scandals. Fights over taxes. Racial resentments. A Lakers-Celtics championship. The Karate Kid topping the box-office charts. Bon Jovi touring the country. These words could describe our current moment—or the vaunted iconography of three decades past.

In this wide-ranging and wickedly entertaining book, New York Times bestselling journalist David Sirota takes readers on a rollicking DeLorean ride back in time to reveal how so many of our present-day conflicts are rooted in the larger-than-life pop culture of the 1980s—from the “Greed is good” ethos of Gordon Gekko (and Bernie Madoff) to the “Make my day” foreign policy of Ronald Reagan (and George W. Bush) to the “transcendence” of Cliff Huxtable (and Barack Obama).

Today’s mindless militarism and hypernarcissism, Sirota argues, first became the norm when an ’80s generation weaned on Rambo one-liners and “Just Do It” exhortations embraced a new religion—with comic books, cartoons, sneaker commercials, videogames, and even children’s toys serving as the key instruments of cultural indoctrination. Meanwhile, in productions such as Back to the Future, Family Ties, and The Big Chill, a campaign was launched to reimagine the 1950s as America’s lost golden age and vilify the 1960s as the source of all our troubles. That 1980s revisionism, Sirota shows, still rages today, with Barack Obama cast as the 60s hippie being assailed by Alex P. Keaton–esque Republicans who long for a return to Eisenhower-era conservatism.

“The past is never dead,” William Faulkner wrote. “It’s not even past.” The 1980s—even more so. With the native dexterity only a child of the Atari Age could possess, David Sirota twists and turns this multicolored Rubik’s Cube of a decade, exposing it as a warning for our own troubled present—and possible future.

Jackie says:
"What happens to us in the future? Do we become assholes or something?"
--Marty McFly, 1985

"Sirota starts out his book with this quote, and it's a fitting one. Because, yeah, Marty, we kind of did. But we have a defense--we've been deliberately programed from pretty much the womb on up. 'We' meaning those of us who grew up in the late 70's through the early 90's, the 50/40/30 Somethings who are the workforce and 'tastemakers' (some of the time at least). In a country where more than half of the population has been born since 1979, you'd think our
80's childhood would be a faded memory. But a monster was created back then, a seemingly immortal wizard who practices virulent narcissism and continues to lure people into the Cult of Personality that began with Michael Jordan as the faceman and Nike as its booming voice, but has become legion-- all those folks who believe in 'Just do it' somewhere deep in their questionably existent souls. Either we are the uberman or we worship and obey the uberman without much questioning or thought. Some of it was backlash against the Vietnam War. Some of it was greed, a grasping for money or power. Some of it was improved technology and communication advances. But the vast majority of it was planned, "sculpted" as Sirota says frequently throughout the book. Page after page he points out how even the simple, 'innocent' things like children's toys and sit-coms from our childhood shape who we are and what we do each and every day NOW--agendas and machinations lurk within the video and movie screen, propaganda abounds. You've got to hand it to Sirota for dishing these dark tales out in an engaging, often funny manner, getting us to laugh before we cringe. He's a part of this generation, he admits it fully. But he also gives us a way to peek behind the curtain to see exactly what the man behind it is doing, and thus we can never go back to blissful ignorance again. I highly urge everyone, regardless of generational identity or political leaning, to read this book because it's going to be talked about A LOT come Spring, and the conversation promises to be something you don't want to miss."

Get a feel for the book from this Huffington Post article Sirota wrote recently.

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