I caught the tail end of the 80s, but based on my ongoing obsession with the decade, it must have left a big impression in my head. I’m a huge fan of hair metal, I wear really tight pants, and I’m still stuck on that original Nintendo life. It’s basically inarguable that the 80s were the pinnacle of weird culture, and I love its completely bizarre aesthetics.
Another cool thing about the 80s is that consumerism was a lot more trend-based than it is now. With the proliferation of stuff these days, people can have all sorts of divergent styles. In the 80s, selection wasn’t as extensive, which means that fads had much more sway on the cultural clout.
That also means that basically every 80s kid had a few of the same things. Age group definitely made a difference to what possessions you rocked on the day-to-day, but the basics were pretty much the same.
- Sony Walkman - Sony changed the game for music forever with the Walkman. Before this portable device, tunes were strictly confined to places with a power outlet. The Walkman liberated people from the confines of their rooms or homes, and opened the world to them instead. Included with each Walkman were signature, orange-foamed headphones that signified to everyone that you were walking to your own beat.
- Garbage Pail Kids - A sort of hilarious counter-culture revelation, garbage pail kids were the irreverent cousin of Cabbage Patch Kids. These trading cards had weird babies with ugly hair doing hilariously gross things. Children on the playground traded these things like brokers on the stock market. They were basically currency during recess.
- Trapper Keeper - Before technology made organization a breeze, there were Trapper Keepers. This line of school supplies were colorful expressions of yourself that also kept your homework neat and organized. Complete with three binders, slots for pencils, and zippers for love letters, kids’ whole lives would be stashed in these colorful folders.
- Bad Moonwalk Impression - OK, this isn’t technically a possession, but every kid kept this dance move in their metaphorical back pocket. Michael Jackson is the first and only king of pop, and this dance changed everything. The way he glided across the stage inspired children everywhere to copy him, mostly unsuccessfully. But hey, we still all tried!
- Rotary Phone - Kids these days would look at a rotary phone with blank expressions on their faces. A strange handset sat on top of an even weirder base, with a totally puzzling dial on it. Rotary phones were all that existed for a couple of decades, until digital phones took over. Until then, you had to stick your finger in the weird holes over the number you wanted to dial, swing that thing all the way to the weird metal stopper, and hope you made it all the way before the dial stopped. If you messed up the last number after successfully navigating the first nine digits, you’d curse life and probably wouldn’t make the phone call, because whatever and whomever you were trying to call wasn’t that important anyway.
Whether you were rich or poor, these are possessions that you probably had at some point in your young 80s life. In a way, there was something beautifully egalitarian about the lack of consumer options in this magical decade. The proliferation of technology, while awesome, also made what used to be universal experiences moot.
For us 80s kids, we’re lucky to have experienced such a magically weird time.