And So It Began...The First Broadcast of MTV: August 1, 1981, 12:00 AM
Culture in the 1980s
On the Walkman The 1980s was a decade of revolutionary changes on the music scene. The two major developments were the advent of MTV and the compact disc. Music became more diverse, with new wave, heavy metal, rap, techno pop, alternative rock and the "new" country sounds. And music became a huge marketing tool as filmmakers, TV producers and manufacturers of everything from sneakers to soft drinks used hit songs and hot performers to sell their products.
MTV was called "illustrated radio" and a "subliminal fashion show" by its detractors, who complained that it elevated image over music. Daryl Hall, of the pop duo Hall and Oates, said that "the visual has begun to overpower the music." But music videos revived an industry that was in decline in 1979, when revenues plunged 10% in a single year. Video dance clubs sprang up everywhere. Radio played a wider variety of music. Many artists acknowledged the impact of MTV on their careers; Duran Duran understood that their appeal depended on music video exposure. No artist surpassed Madonna in terms of taking advantage of the decade's image-based music revolution.
At the Movies The 1980s marked a resurgence for Hollywood.. The decade opened with many predicting a grim future for the film industry. In the Seventies, production costs had soared while ticket sales declined. It seemed that cable television and videocassettes could only make matters worse. That turned out not to be the case. The Eighties proved to be good years for Hollywood. Some critics complained that a "bottom line mentality" ruled the day, but in fact many films during the decade demonstrated that social consciousness was alive and well in the movie business. A few examples: Mississippi Burning (1988) delivers a powerful message about racism; Talk Radio (1989) does likewise on the subject of white supremacy. Platoon (1986) addresses the trauma of Vietnam as well as any film before or since. The Big Chill (1983) portrays the transformation of Baby Boomers from hippies to yuppies. Wall Street (1987) is a telling testament to the excesses of the decade.
There were a great many mergers and takeovers in the movie business during the Eighties. In 1982, Coca-Cola acquired Columbia, and then Sony purchased Columbia and Tri-Star from Coca-Cola seven years later. 20th Century Fox became the property of oilman Marvin Davis, and in 1985 media baron Rupert Murdoch purchased a 50% interest in the studio. MGM merged with United Artists in 1981, and then was acquired by Ted Turner. Paramount was taken over by Gulf+Western in 1989. As profits went up, so did budgets; film stars began earning huge salaries. And the sales of videos, along with revenues for cable TV distribution of theatrical releases, increased studio earnings. At the same time, multi-screen cinemas spread like wildfire across the country.
Youth-oriented movies were big in the Eighties. Many critics missed the fact that at the core of a great many of these films lay a protest against wealth, status, conformity and conspicuous consumption. Some of the most notable films in this genre: The Breakfast Club (1985) looks at the dark side of being a teenager; Pretty in Pink (1986) examines teenage castes and cliques; Risky Business (1983) satirizes the greed and materialism of the era; The Sure Thing (1985) delineates the very real difference between love and sex; Matthew Broderick's title character in Ferris Bueller's Day Off(1986) defines the rebel kid of the Eighties--a far cry from James Dean or a flower child, but no less symbolic of an era.
A group of young stars who became known as The Brat Pack dominated the youth-oriented films of the decade. Many of them joined the ensemble cast of St. Elmo's Fire (1985); they included Andrew McCarthy, Rob Lowe, Emilio Estevez, Ally Sheedy, Demi Moore and Judd Nelson. There were others -- Molly Ringwald, Matt Dillon, Charlie Sheen, Anthony Michael Hall, Sean Penn and Robert Downey, Jr. Born in the early Sixties, they were the hottest items in Tinseltown, and in both their performances and their not-so-private lives they represented the dreams and dilemmas of teens and young adults in the 1980s. Demi Moore was the only member who went on to greater fame in the 1990s; some of the others let drugs, sex and inflated egos do irreparable damage to their careers.
The Eighties was the decade of the sequel, and in some cases the sequel was as good as (or even better than) -- and as commercially successful -- as the original. Harrison Ford's Indiana Jones became an American icon in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981), Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984), and Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade (1989). Comic Eddie Murphy became a big star of the big screen with Beverly Hills Cop (1984) and Beverly Hills Cop II (1987). Lethal Weapon (1987) and Die Hard (1988) defined the action flick, and both spawned hit sequels. Sylvester Stallone's Rambo flexed America's muscles and represented the nation's renewed patriotic fervor in First Blood (1982), Rambo: First Blood, Part II (1985) and Rambo III (1988).
On the TV Television was transformed in the 1980s. With the advent of cable, the three major networks -- ABC, CBS and NBC -- lost their monopoly on what Americans viewed in their living rooms. In the late Seventies, Time Inc.'s Home Box Office became available. In 1980, Ted Turner unveiled the Cable News Network (CNN). Media baron Rupert Murdoch paid a billion dollars for Twentieth Century Fox and, with Barry Diller, created TV's fourth network, Fox.
In 1986, 82% of American adults watched television daily, and the average household had the television set on for seven hours a day. Sunday was the most popular night for television viewing, and the most popular form of television entertainment was the mini-series, followed by made-for-TV movies. Americans watched an average of 39 minutes of television news daily. By 1985, 68% of all American households (60 million) had cable television service, while 88% of those subscribed to a pay cable service like HBO or Showtime.
Cable wasn't the only culprit in ending the era of network television. New technologies resulted in the videocassette recorder, home video games and remote control devices. According to TV Guide, "the remote control switch revolutionized the way we watched TV in the 80s."
The decade was the golden age for primetime soap operas -- Dallas, Dynasty, Falcon Crest, and Knots Landing all had their legions of faithful viewers. New life was breathed into the sitcom, with hit series like The Cosby Show, Cheers, Family Ties and the irreverent Married. . .With Children. The animated sitcom The Simpsons debuted in 1989, though Bart Simpson had previously made appearances on Fox's The Tracey Ullman Show. Top crime dramas like Magnum P.I. and Hill Street Blues enjoyed long runs in the 80s, while the innovative Miami Vice had a significant impact on television imagery. Programs like thirtysomething and Moonlighting appealed to the yuppie crowd. TV talk shows hosted by the likes of Geraldo Rivera and David Letterman became more provocative and occasionally outrageous.