The 1980s on Trial

The 1980s on Trial. By Mark Judge.

Before political correctness and the #MeToo movement, before iPhones and the internet and Twitter and outrage culture, there was an understanding that beneath the veneer of civilization was something wild, dangerous, and joyful — a soul electric with sex and slapstick.

Compared to previous generations, kids today are less likely to have sex, drive, work, drink alcohol, date, or go out without their parents. A lot of this has to do with the advent of smartphones and social media. Kids these days are terrified that if they do something bold — or stupid — it will wind up on Facebook, YouTube, or Snapchat. …

In the 1980s, we didn’t live in fear of our every action being caught on a cell phone or security camera and then posted on social media. You could go out on a Saturday night, drink beer, see a band, take a long walk by yourself, hit on a girl, toilet-paper a neighbor’s house, and speed on the way home. You could do all these things while remaining almost completely anonymous. By 2002 that became more difficult, and, by 2012, it was damn near impossible. 

No smartphone leashes:

In high school, and later in college, my friends and I would start the journey as soon as we finished our classes or punched out of our part-time jobs on Friday. We never thought to ask permission or to wonder if our parents might be worried. Showering, getting dressed in our coolest clothes, listening to departure music — there was a real sense of adventure and the unknown, of leaving the bland world behind, like Huck Finn and Jim drifting down the Mississippi on a raft. In a time before cell phones, going out to the beach was a long ride uninterrupted by texts or calls. The experience formed a kind of deep meditation. The professional world was not just lost for an hour of yoga or Pilates but completely abandoned for a lengthy, restorative journey. Often it changed you.

The point of all this risk and danger, ultimately, was to develop genuine happiness, tolerance, and virtue. Knowing your dark side helps one move more fully into the light — to accumulate the values of perseverance, humility, and unselfish love that lead to good choices, which lead to moral freedom, which ultimately matures into the expression of a well-integrated human being. Truly free people get to say “yes” because they’ve learned to say “no” to hundreds of bad choices.



When we’re young and our lust leads us to make a pass at a woman and we are rebuffed, or we get into a fight and are beaten, or we injure ourselves after a foolhardy daredevil move, the physical pain and feeling of humiliation more empathetically connect us with others and allow us to accept our natural limits. These experiences help us grow up and accept ourselves as flawed human beings — as sinners, if you will.

In his bestselling book Iron John, which I read when it came out in 1990, the poet and men’s movement activist Robert Bly describes a point when a boy has to steal the key to his liberation from under his mother’s pillow. In fact, both boys and girls need, at a certain point, to assert their independence and embrace the dangers and risks of the real world. Kids locked away in their rooms, under the sheets, eyes glued to their iPhones, will never get near Bly’s key. …


You’re not really allowed to be in awe of women anymore. It’s all interpreted as hate.

But it wasn’t just Brett and me who were on trial. It was the entire era in which we grew up. An era of robust cultural confidence when men and women were equally celebrated, the 1980s have now, in the rearview mirror, become fodder for our modern media scolds.

Kids were little adults:

In films like “The Wild Life,” “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” and “Risky Business,” teenagers have wild adventures that their parents don’t know about. From the perspective of today’s puritanical academic and media scolds, these rowdy and rambunctious movies appear licentious and libertine. In reality, they taught us important lessons about what it means to be adults. In short, they were essentially conservative. …


More than 30 years later, the internet has changed everything, perhaps with an assist from helicopter parenting and smartphones, which help kids avoid the kind of risks and hard work that was once required of artists. Anyone with a computer can write a song, anyone with a smartphone is a photographer, and anyone with a blog is a journalist. The slightest criticism offered to a young writer, musician, or journalist on Twitter is met with a napalm strafing of invective and resistance.

The internet is wonderful in that it allows talent to be exposed to the masses, but it has also made people lazy and self-righteous.

Judging by the music, the 1980s is looking pretty bountiful compared to the last decade.