The ‘80s were more than hair metal and Ronald Reagan! Welcome to MsMojo and today we’ll be counting down our picks for the Top 10 Things Only ‘80s Kids Will Understand.
For this list, we’ll be going over some of the things and experiences that you probably have to have grown up during the 1980s to fully appreciate.
#10: The Struggle of Going to a Video Store to Pick Your Favorite Movies...on VHS
In the olden times of a world before 1990 and, yet, somehow, after 1979, buying and renting movies was not as simple as getting them delivered to your door or streamed directly on your TV. Instead, we had to physically go to a store and to pay rent VHS tapes – or Betamax tapes if your parents backed the wrong horse – individually. Oh, right – video tapes were an analogue video format that recorded films that you had to rewind – with kindness – after you finished them. Yes, we know – it sounds exhausting. But it was all we knew, and it was better than waiting for a theater to run the movie again. Like, gag me, right?
#9: How Awesome “The Baby-Sitters Club” Was
From 1986 until 2000, Scholastic published “The Baby-Sitters Club,” a book series about a club of, surprisingly, preteen baby-sitters. Many of us grew up reading this series, and were completely obsessed with it. Something about it spoke to so many youths during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Maybe it was the thrill of the adventures the club got up to. Maybe it was the idea of a job we thought we could do. Or maybe, we just thought all the club members were the coolest and we even imitated their styles! “The Baby-Sitters Club” touched a whole generation, and given that an adaptation is heading to Netflix, we hope this is one thing that today’s generation will understand too.
#8: The Ubiquity of "Very Special Episodes" & "Just Say No"
The United States has used a variety of methods to combat crime and one of the most prevalent during the 1980s was the use of “very special episodes” of TV sitcoms. These departures from the typical comedic format saw sitcoms tackling serious issues, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Another frequent tactic seen throughout pop culture during the time was First Lady Nancy Reagan’s campaign of “Just Say No,” a catchphrase and program aimed at combating children getting involved in drug use. While both were well meaning, they were frequently seen as simplistic attempts at combating complex issues.
#7: The BEST Toy Commercials EVER
The ‘80s were a decade of heavy commercialization, where advertising really took off. This included more attempts to sell to kids, and what kids loved more than anything else was toys. Saturday mornings were filled with not only sugary cereals and cartoons, but just as bright and memorable were the commercials for the newest playthings, which we hyper-actively begged our parents to buy for us. And why wouldn’t we want the toys? The ads made them look like the most amazing things one could ever possess and they were practically as entertaining as the shows they were wedged between!
#6: The Simple Joy of Blowing into a Video Game Cartridge
Old school gaming didn’t have optical, DVD, or Blu-ray discs or digital downloads. In the ‘80s, our video games were on bulky plastic cartridges. Not only were they clunky, but they sometimes didn’t work. So when our games froze or just plain wouldn't boot, we’d eject the cartridge and blow into them, with the reasoning being that we were blowing away dust to make them run better. What we didn't know is that this didn't actually work, it was taking out the cartridge that actually did the trick, but, like the five second rule, we figured it couldn’t hurt to blow on them to make them “cleaner.” Because nothing says “clean” like air from the inside of kids’ mouths!
#5: Plastic Halloween Masks & Costumes Being TOTALLY Acceptable
Although plastic masks and costumes are still worn today for Halloween, they’re decidedly unfashionable garb for Halloween. Back in the ‘80s, they were basically required if you were a kid. Cheap plastic costumes made by companies like Ben Cooper were very popular, as they were inexpensive and often depicted characters or people from pop culture. Their cheap price and easily recognizable subject matter made them a no-brainer purchase for parents, and we kids were happy to get our candy while wearing them, even if they weren’t the most comfortable things in the world.
#4: The Allure of Neon Clothing
Speaking of fashion, the ‘80s had another big craze when it came to clothing – neon. While today’s clothes are fairly subdued, this decade saw the emergence of bright and colorful neon wardrobes. Neon ensured you’d be the center of attention by making you stand out from the crowd, and was arguably popularized by exercise videos and gyms. Kids and preteens imitated picked up on this trend in a big way, because most of us wanted to be noticed. After all, popularity starts when people pay attention to you, and few things draw the eye quite like neon.
#3: Rocking Out to The Sweet Sounds of a Walkman
Before iPhones, before iPods, and before CD players, the go-to name in portable music was Sony’s Walkman. A portable tape player, the Walkman was the first device we could listen to tunes on the go. All we had to do was pop in a favorite tape, snap on some headphones, and press play…Albums were great, but mixtapes were even better. That's what we called a “playlist” in the day. Regardless of which tape it was, kids today don’t know how cool it was to suddenly be able to listen to music while jogging or on a plane after years of that not even being possible! Show ‘em Star Lord!
#2: The Absolute Dominance of MTV
These days, MTV is known primarily for reality and award shows. But back in the ‘80s, MTV actually lived up to the “music” its “M” stands for. Before Youtube, MTV was the destination for the latest music videos and music related news. The network helped make artists like Madonna, Michael Jackson, Bon Jovi, and New Kids on the Block not just stars, but superstars! Perhaps you’ve heard that “video killed the radio star?” Well MTV pulled the trigger in that murder. These were dark times, my oh so radical dude! Bottom line, MTV was the number one entertainment destination for ‘80s kids.
Before we get to our top pick, here are a few honorable mentions:
The Strange Delight of Pin Art
Leg Warmers Were Everything
NEEDING to be Just Like Punky Brewster
The Satisfying Velcro Rip of a Trapper Keeper
How Cool It Was to Wear Multiple Swatch Watches at Once
#1: Big Hair, Don't Care
Like many things during the ‘80s, our hairstyles reflected the need to stand out. And when it comes to being noticed, bigger – and often weirder – was better. Perms, mullets, mohawks, jheri curls, flattops, hi-top fades, and many more styles were all huge in the ‘80s. We might care now – because we can only wear them ironically now, or if we’re an extra in a period movie – but back then we pulled…them…off, ya’ll! Or at least we tried. And if we couldn’t there were always scrunchies to pick up the slack.