Last time, we reintroduced the “me” generation. We told you that one writer represented everything good about the eighties. And you asked us who that was.
In the 1980s, everything was planned ahead. Before a film was made, they had a screenplay. So while Back to The Future didn’t hit the screens until 1985, many people already knew what to expect in 1984.
But the eighties weren’t a decade of film, they were a decade of television.
Who was the screenwriter behind the most popular show in Reagan America? Besides Reagan himself, which actor defined the 1980s in America?
Virtually unknown in Europe, he was our favorite act at home, when we’d sit down and watch him. He wrote his own scenarios.
His character was a doctor named Heathcliff Huxtable, and his tv wife was a lawyer, but their life revolved around each other and their children. Like in other successful shows of the time, it was fashionable to be a functioning family. Yes, the actor that best defined the era was none other than Bill Cosby.
A close second was a Canadian actor Michael J Fox. Fox played the lovable side of the so-called me generation. His characters were smart, confident, and a little nerdy, but were just a little too materialistic for their own good. (I grew up thinking that “smart-alec” was named after Michael J Fox’s tv character, Alex Keaten.)
Erick Stoltz was the announced star in 1984, but he seemed to take his job too seriously. (Just as Reagan was elected for a second term in 1984 that didn’t start until 1985, so we didn’t get to see Back to The Future until 1985.)
Michael J Fox then landed the top role in Back to The Future.
In the Micheal J Fox version, that was released in 1985, we got to see that our parents’ generation wasn’t as innocent as they claimed, and that our President was once no more than “an actor.” But most of all, we got a chance to change the past, to see how life could have been if different choices were made.
When things were set “right”, Marty McFly’s geeky parents became as confident, suave, and as financial successful as he was. And they let him stay out all night with his girlfriend, (giving us a clue that eighties morality in film was not as strict as it was on television.)
The ability to rewrite history was not lost on other filmmakers. Rambo won Vietnam, and he brought Americans closer to the anti-communist victory to Afghanistan. Victory often went to the “good guy”, the character we could identify with.
We were used to winning. Reagan’s America had free reign in the 1984 Olympics, as many Soviet aligned countries boycotted in retaliation for Carter’s 1980 Olympic boycott.
Three Middle Eastern countries were in the news. The Soviet Union had a counter-insurgency operation in Afghanistan. Libyan terrorists shot Doc in the first Back to the Future. And in the second, the Ayatollah Khomeini asked Marty to try the spicy dish at the Café Eighties.
The Café Eighties, a fictitious diner in the year 2015, rightly predicted that three 1980s icons would still have significance today. In addition to the Ayatollah were Michael Jackson, and of course a computer generated version of President Reagan.
Technology was a constant feature in 1980s films and newspapers. The end of the Reagan era, USA Today held a special on how life would be in the year 2000. On the cover was a member of our favorite futuristic cartoon family, The Jetsons.
Back to the Future was a little more conservative, it gave us until 2015 to come up with the amazing technology.
With everyone predicting the future, how well did we meet those expectations? Did we come as far as we thought?
(continued in part III)