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1980s VS 1990s: Battle of the Decades

VO: Rebecca Brayton WRITTEN BY: George Pacheco
Get ready for a decade-battling throwdown! In today’s installment of “Versus,” we’ll be pitting the neon-soaked, big haired, shoulder-pad wearing 1980s against the flannel-clad, angst-ridden Generation X vibe of the 1990s! Special thanks to our user Xjx Highlights for suggesting this idea! Check out the voting page at https://www.WatchMojo.comsuggest/1980s+vs+1990s.

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Script written by George Pacheco

1980s VS 1990s

Get ready for a decade-battling throwdown! Welcome to WatchMojo, and in today’s installment of “Versus,” we’ll be pitting the neon-soaked, big haired, shoulder-pad wearing 1980s against the flannel-clad, angst-ridden Generation X vibe of the 1990s!

Round 1: TV Shows

Although the television programs of the ‘80s didn’t do as much boundary pushing in terms of socio-political themes as their predecessors from the 1970s, the small screen world was a diverse place: game shows, soap operas and sitcoms ruled the roost, while made-for-TV movies – another ‘70s staple – continued to draw strong numbers and attention from critics. Basic cable also began to pop up in more homes than ever during this time, with pay channels like HBO and Cinemax bringing uncut films to TV screens around the world.

Okay, game shows, soaps and specials struggled to find an audience in the ‘90s, and TV movies pretty much got phased out of network television in favor of cable channels like USA or the Hallmark Channel. But, it was during the ‘90s that TV became more realistic, building on the foundations established by great ‘80s programs like “Hill Street Blues” or “St. Elsewhere.” Plus, television content was getting edgier, contrasting the way-too-sweet sitcom boom of the previous decade: upstart channels like FOX courted controversy with hit shows “Married... with Children” and “In Living Color,” while primetime young adult fare like “Melrose Place” pushed the envelope in terms of pulp storylines and tawdry sex.

So, while ‘80s television really ran free with tons of content; that content was arguably streamlined during the ‘90s, making it stronger and more impactful.

Winner: ‘90s 1 / ‘80s 0

Round 2: Fashion

We all know about the…well, let’s say the “lack of subtlety” that defines many ‘80s fashion choices. Whereas decades past may’ve been associated with muted tans and browns, the ‘80s brought forth an explosion of color that shattered convention and promoted individuality. The thing about fashion in the ‘80s was the risk factor: fashion choices were made to be noticed… sometimes at the expense of good taste. Big hair, big makeup, big shoulder pads: everything was big, and everything was NOT necessarily functional – but as long as it was totally rad, it didn’t even matter.

If the ‘80s were all about crafting a unique image, then the ‘90s promoted the “anti-image.” Likely as a response to the “Hey, look at me!” aesthetic of the previous decade, the idea in the ‘90s was to look like what you were wearing was an afterthought – somehow, no style was the style. Grunge and alternative rock were also to thank (or blame) for this dressed down reaction to the big haired pop rock and heavy metal of the ‘80s. Fewer chances were taken and clothes were toned down in a big way, in terms of color and design.

While the ripped jeans and flannel, or baby doll dresses and boots looks are both iconic; ‘90s style is harder to define than ‘80s style. What’s more, the ‘80s reputation for ingenuity and fearlessness gives it the edge in this round.

Winner: ‘80s 1 / ‘90s 1

Round 3: Games

‘80s gaming cannot be discussed without mentioning the Great Video Game Crash of 1983, when the industry fell into a deep recession and several companies declared bankruptcy. Many factors caused this collapse, not the least of which were the straight-up bad games being released, as well as the influx of competing consoles. Gaming didn’t disappear though, and many families still purchased and played their Atari systems and home computers. Plus, we haven’t even mentioned the revenue brought in by stand-up consoles in arcades, bowling alleys and local watering holes. Ultimately, the industry pulled itself back from the brink thanks to two big names: both the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Sega Master System helped gaming evolve and regain the popularity it once had.

However, this comeback really solidified itself in the ‘90s, when both Nintendo and Sega were publishing some of their most beloved titles. Gone were the days when people thought gaming was reserved for troublemakers in skeevy arcades; in the ‘90s, it became more common than ever for the average home to own at least one video game system, if not more. Everyone, from the city to the suburbs, was gaming away to their heart’s content – and it wasn’t only kids’ stuff either, as evidenced by the massive popularity of Sony’s PlayStation.

While the ‘80s was the decade when this industry arguably saw the most growth, in the ‘90s video games truly came into their own as a hobby for all ages, laying the groundwork for what is today one of the largest segments of the entertainment industry.

Winner: ‘90s 2 / ‘80s 1

Round 4: Music

Variety was the spice of life in the ‘80s music scene: audiences listened to nearly every genre, from hair metal and synth-pop to new wave and singer-songwriters to soft rock. But, the single most important innovation in music in the 1980s was MTV, whose debut on August 1st, 1981 brought big-time artists and up-and-comers to home televisions, and in doing so changed tastes and formed opinions about what was hot or not. MTV also forced musicians to evolve or die when it came to cultivating their image and promoting their work, essentially making new stars almost overnight.

Music in the ‘90s was largely a reaction to the flash of the decade that preceded it. As with fashion, the “anti-image” became the trend, with artists rebelling against the establishment – and no genre exemplified this better than grunge. Although it soon became as much of a trend as the hair metal that came before it, the hard guitars and realistic subject matter were a breath of fresh air on the pop charts. Elsewhere, voices in the underground were making waves in the hip-hop and extreme metal communities, both of which were becoming darker and grittier by the day, while the indie scene saw an influx of empowered female singer-songwriters who formed the riot grrrl movement and populated tours like Lilith Fair.

There was a lot to like about music from both of these decades, but ultimately, the power of Music Television wins out here, evening out our versus battle at two rounds apiece.

Winner: 80s 2 / 90s 2

Round 5: Films

Nostalgia is a powerful thing, which is why so many ‘80s movies are considered classics. From one-off winners like “The Goonies” and “E.T.” to franchise hits from the worlds of “Indiana Jones” and “Back to the Future;” the earnestness of these films is tough to beat, and their honest desire to entertain is something that’s often looked back on fondly by moviegoers around the world.

But, if nostalgia’s the word of the day, how can we ignore the ‘90s? Movies like “Hackers,” or “Empire Records” either serve as a throwback to a world you once knew or a snapshot of a time you wish you’d been around for. Sure, the early CGI attempts we see in ‘90s-era movies are pretty bad, but the decade also ushered in filmmakers like Quentin Tarantino and Kevin Smith; both of whom brought with them new, creative voices and fresh ideas. Disney also made huge strides in the ‘90s with their more family-friendly fare, with animation benchmarks like “Aladdin” and “The Lion King.” Okay, but the ‘80s was the heyday of slasher movies, right? Well, eventually with all those sequels, it became overkill… a fact that was cleverly used to bring the genre back to life with self-aware horror films like “Scream,” which poked fun at ‘80s horror conventions while also celebrating them.

It comes down to the wire once again, but at the end of the day, the ‘90s kids pull out what’s perhaps an upset victory, knocking out the ‘80s with a score of 3 rounds to 2.

Winner: ‘90s 3 / ‘80s 2


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