The 1980s were twenty years ago. That’s just how it is. Don’t give me “math” or “logic” or “you have early onset whatchamacallit.” We won’t be convinced by your so-called “facts.” We are Gen X; we’ve committed our entire lives to not committing to anything.
I do recognize that the 80s are in the past. I’m not an idiot. But they are only twenty years in the past. Everything from my young adulthood onwards is twenty years ago, and it’s the same for everyone of my generation. At least I’m pretty sure it is; we’re not great at keeping in touch. Sometimes we Facebook.
U2 releases The Unforgettable Fire? Twenty years ago. The fall of the Soviet Union? Definitely twenty years ago. This town that I’ve lived in for thirty years? I moved here twenty years ago.
It’s not simply that everything is twenty years ago now. It’s always been twenty years ago. In the 90s, the 80s felt like twenty years ago. Between the 80s and the 90s, people in my age group became mature, responsible adults (cough-cough-“sellout!”). So much changed we barely recognized ourselves, mostly because that’s when we started needing glasses. Surely that much change could only happen over a span of twenty years.
When the 2000s came around, the 80s were almost definitely twenty years ago. It’s well documented, look it up. I also know this because we would regularly mope around and say, “Wow, I can’t believe Chernobyl, the Challenger explosion, the debut of Phantom of the Opera and ‘Hands Across America’ happened twenty years ago,” because we Gen X like to regularly remind ourselves that 1986 was kind of the worst.
After that, the 80s just kept being twenty years ago.
So why is this? I think it’s because when my generation was growing up in the 80s (twenty years ago), the 60s were twenty years ago, if you follow my math—and by now I don’t blame you if you don’t. We Gen X kids loved the 60s. We really wished we had lived through the 60s because our era, in a word, sucked.
Gen X kids were born in the revolutionary 60s and 70s but we were too young to enjoy it. Our Baby Boomer siblings got The Beatles and bell bottoms; we got “BJ and the Bear.” We were even too young to get into proper discos, which is pathetic on so many levels. This was totally bogus.
Twenty years before the sixties were the forties, and that was a whole other period of cultural upheaval. So much happened in both those twenty-year intervals that I think the concept of revolutionary change created a certain level of expectation on our mushy, poorly supervised Gen X brains of what the next twenty years would bring. If the boomers successfully marched for civil rights, surely we would have jetpacks, shrink rays and easy-open cereal bags.
We didn’t get any of that. Instead, when you think of the major changes that did happen from the 80s to the present… well, there’s the internet, I guess. Cell phones and social media, okay. We kind of hate everyone a lot more, sure. But none of that has felt like a revolutionary shift. It’s all just sort of crept up and absorbed us like a proper, all-consuming alien life form should.
Memory is never about accuracy anyway but about subjective impressions. And, whether accurate or not, it feels as though as much (and maybe less) has changed between the 80s and the present as between the 60s and the 80s. Therefore, if you allow that twenty years is the standard rate of cultural change, then it only makes sense that, with less evident cultural change, the 80s must still be only twenty years ago.
So is absolutely everything twenty years ago? On the contrary. Most things that happened within the past twenty years actually happened much sooner. 9/11? That was ten years ago. Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love”? A fairly recent hit. Barack Obama first elected president? Feels like only yesterday. Stephen Harper first elected prime minister? We’ve wiped that entirely from our memory.
The question is, will the 80s always be twenty years ago to Gen X? It’s hard to predict but I think it’s possible because, speaking on behalf of my generation, we’re all convinced we’re only 45.