The Throwback Zone - A celebration of pop culture past
Published 22/08/2014 | 02:30
Which decade was the coolest? It's time to cast your mind back to a time when photos didn't need a filter to look totally retro.
Psychedelic sixties culture and children's entertainment ran headlong into one another. There was the relatively staid Bagpuss - a sad-looking cat apparently stitched together from faded cushion covers - but also the fearsomely wacky Banana Splits and Magic Roundabout, the latter featuring a talking dog. Sesame Street came to Ireland - in the pre-Elmo era the star, surely, was Mr Snuffleupagus, a slowly swaying woolly mammoth with the biggest, saddest eyes this side of Garbo.
Altogether more surreal was Wanderly Wagon, produced by RTE on a micro-budget yet with an eerie sensibility closer to Dr Who than the Wombles (who were, meanwhile, taking over British kids' TV).
The heyday of Pong, a bat and ball game played on a console that came with a mahogany finish. In the arcades, 'coin-op' titles such as Space Invaders and Pac Man ruled.
The early 70s were what happened when the 60s turned sour and the drugs got scary. In place of the positive vibrations of The Beatles and The Beach Boys, there were the claustrophobic, paranoia-soaked meanderings of Pink Floyd. From a Germany about to reassert its economic primacy in Europe came electronica innovators Kraftwerk; Bowie was in his prime, cycling between space-boots and alien hair and his sombre, Thin White Duke phase.
An age riven with contradictions, the 70s gave us both California rock and the gobby angst of punk - nearly 40 years on, how bittersweet that in many instances the former has aged better than the latter (who would you rather pay 100 quid to sit through - The Eagles or The Damned?).
Abba demonstrated pop was at its purist; Kate Bush established the archetype of the 'kooky' chanteuse, and D.I.S.C.O took off everywhere. At home, Horslips spliced the Floyd and pre-Christian Celtic mythology, and punks such as The Blades and The Radiators showed filth and fury could have an Irish tinge. The decade ended with a Dublin north-side quartet named after an American spy plane creating noises around town...
With the 70s came the nouveau auteurs of cinema. Scorsese's Mean Streets and Taxi Driver saluted the squalor of the post-Nixon United States. Elsewhere Francis Ford Coppola pushed bravura filmmaking to unprecedented heights with Godfather I and II. The future was brash and bright and it was ushered in by Spielberg with Jaws and, especially, Lucas with the first Star Wars. But if there was pivotal year for cinema it was probably 1976, when Superman became a blockbuster. At the time superhero movies were seen as quaint and quirky: now they are everywhere.
As the 60s petered out, hippy looseness gave way to downtown loucheness. Tight-fitting leather jackets, bell-bottoms and hot pants dominated while it is estimated that 1971 was the global heyday of the miniskirt. Previously regarded as glorified underwear, the t-shirt came into its own - suddenly it was fashionable to walk around with a slogan or the name of your favorite sports team emblazoned across your chest. Many of the vintage fashions that endure to this day - sports tops, retro running shoes etc - coalesced in the seventies. Icons of the age included Farah Fawcett, Bianca Jagger, Deborah Harry, John Travolta and, as kooky star of Annie Hall, Diane Keaton.
The success of Star Wars unleashed a new kind of toy - one that encouraged you to become an addict, forever craving further morsels of tiny plastic goodness. Kids inveigled their parents to splurge mini-fortunes on rare Hans Solo models and huge Millennium Falcon reproductions - pieces that can fetch dizzying sums on Ebay today. Fisher Price, for its part, was everywhere, ushering in a brave tomorrow where a toddler could stick a replica phone or train in their mouth without risking lead poisoning. Already around for several decades, by the mid seventies, Lego began its indomitable march on the affections of kids and adults alike. Looking back, it is striking how politically incorrect toys were back then: it was still possible to buy facsimile machine guns - as every eight year old instinctively understood, you looked twice as cool hefting one with a 'sweetie' cigarette dangling from your lower lip.
If the preceeding decade was gritty and avant garde, the Reagan era in the US influenced the globe... even recession-struck Ireland.
Children's television was turning into an arm of the marketing industry. Transformers were conceived explicitly to flog shape-changing robots - a similar business plan lay behind He-Man and The Masters of the Universe. In Ireland Bosco was the only show that mattered and, at its best, felt genuinely trippy, with its talking plasticine trees, long-necked aliens and magic doors (inevitably opening into a milk bottling plant or Dublin Zoo). For young girls, Care Bears and My Little Pony ruled all.
Madge and Michael defined the decade. Ms Ciccone turned parents pale with worry as she cavorted in her videos and played with religious iconography; Jacko sealed his status as King of Pop with Thriller and Bad. In rock, U2 started on the path to world domination, though they were pushed hard by Los Angeles' hair metal bands. Electronic music came into its own, first via the broadstrokes of Human League and Depeche Mode, later in the shirtless form of acid house. The Smiths appealed to angst, Duran Duran to squealing teens and boys who fancied trying lipstick and Stock, Aiken and Waterman advanced the concept of production-line pop via a rotating cast of Kylies, Jasons, Mels, Kims and Ricks.
By our legwarmers shall ye know us. Sure, there was a great deal more to eighties style than ridiculous calf-garb - but it is fair to state a lot of it was in a similarly OTT vein. Turn on Dynasty or Dallas and you were assailed by hulking shoulder pads; on the 'street' fingerless gloves was where it was at (cheers Madge). For dudes, rolled-up jackets had a terrifying period of dominance, as did feathered fringes. As the nineties loomed, everything had gone oversized - circa 1988 nothing yelled 'bright young thing' like a billowing sweater, inevitably accessorised with low-slung bet. Style icons? Princess Diana of course, Madonna (yes her again), Grace Jones and Christy Turlington.
It was the heyday of the blockbuster - of Raiders of the Lost Ark, Empire Strikes Back and Ghostbusters. The rom-com also came into its own, via When Harry Met Sally, the 1989 Rob Reiner film that established the tropes that frame the genre to this day. The flops were extra floppy: Howard the Duck turned Hollywood off wacky comic book movies; 1980s Heaven's Gate not only destroyed the career of its director, Michael Cimino, it brought down the United Artists' studio. The concept movie was also spawned in the eighties, gaudy flicks such as Flashdance and Top Gun often built around a single idea - like Tom Cruise in a jet fighter wearing mirrorshades.
Cabbage Patch Dolls swept all before them - in America parents' actually slugged it out in the aisles trying to lay their hands on one of these creepy looking dolls. In Ireland, Barbie became the must-have plaything for little girls. Elsewhere Etch ASketch, Simon, Rubik's Cube and Pogo Balls basked in their 15 minutes of ubiquity.
Rave, Britpop, teen flick domination and girl power, the 90s are officially hot again - one look at MTV will prove that.
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Mighty Morphin Power Rangers investigated just how muchweirdness the average 8-year-old could endure, and the divide between kid and adult entertainment blurred - it was initially assumed The Simpsons, Ren and Stimpy and Beavis and Butthead were for the delectation of offspring - cursory viewing revealed this to be incorrect. Beverly Hills 90210, My So Called Life, Saved By The Bell and other teen-centric shows were insanely popular.
In the UK, shows like Queer As Folk and Spaced were hitting on an "everyman" genre; however it was the rejuvenated sitcom that dominated the decade. Friends began in 1994 for a ten year run, and made instant celebrities of its six stars. American TV became more sophisticated towards the end of the decade, with HBO commissioning shows like Sex and The City and The Sopranos in the wake of serial dramas like ER and The West Wing drawing large audiences.
Shakespeare and Austen became cool again, with the Beeb's Pride and Prejudice, Clueless and 10 Things I Hate About You dominating, and producing retro-inspired heart-throbs.
You hated yourself and you wanted to dye (your t-shirt… a nice shade of purple henna). Grunge exploded like a popped boil; Kurt Cobain became a figurehead for anti-establishment types. Quicker than you could say 'oi!' and slip into your Adidas runners, however, Britpop was off to the races - Blur squared up to Oasis. In Ireland, Sultans of Ping established the caricature of the wacky Cork band; later Boyzone and Westlife demonstrated how fundamentally the country was changing: now we could be slick and successful just like everyone else. The Spice Girls and Britney dominated the charts also, proving girls would buy the records of other girls. Also an incredible era for hip-hop, Tupac, Puff Daddy, Jay-Z et al were massive.
The Buzz Lightyear dolls that were the must-have gift in Christmas 1996 are essentially the same as today's version. You can still buy big-haired trolls and pump-action waterpistols at your local toy barn. Furby had a moment, as did Tamogotchi key-ring 'pets'. Increasingly, however, technology and toys seemed one and the same: the Nintendo Gameboy was everywhere, soon joined by the original Playstation, and Snake on the Nokia 5110. It was a glimpse of a future where everyone was wired and playing with old-fashioned toys would strike kids as irredeemably quaint. Also, EVERY girl wanted Dream Phone. Sigh.
People and Style
The icons of the age often had little to do with fashion: Bill Clinton and his sexual relations, and Courtney Love, a lipstick smudge in human form. Winona Ryder was every sensitive boy's fantasy date; the Spice Girls put the ladette on the socio-cultural map. Kate Moss emerged from deepest Croydon, with the same vaguely miffed expression she has sported ever since. Britney Spears represented a corporate merger of the Lolita complex and dance pop; Jennifer Aniston was the friend you fancied or wanted to dress like.
George Clooney and Russell Crowe were the thinking woman's crumpet, but it was really Leonardo Di Caprio's decade as far as sex symbols go, owning the late 90s with the aforementioned Titanic and Romeo + Juliet. In the real world, we rocked ripped jeans, combat boots, mini-backpacks, chokers and denim overalls. We were only gorgeous.
It was a strange time for cinema. The high-concept silliness of the '80s' calcified into the formulaic absurdity of Jerry Bruckheimer productions such as The Rock and Con-Air. Indeed, bloat was everywhere. Once one of Hollywood's leanest directors, in 1998 James Cameron unleashed Titanic (making a star of Leonardo DiCaprio); Spielberg turned in Jurassic Park, but also Schindler's List and Saving Private Ryan. Representing a new wave of directors were the retro-obsessed Quentin Tarantino and David Fincher employing shock tactics and hyper violence with aplomb.