Saturday, April 13, 2013

Livin' in the Eighties

Brits celebrate the death of Margaret Thatcher
The death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher serves as the final nail in the coffin of the 1980s. While politicians, including our own duplicitous president, chose to commemorate Thatcher's "strength" and power, others, including British citizens who survived her  establishment, know from their life experience, that the decade was one of hardship, capitalist corruption, and utter cruelty.

LGBT Brits remember well the awful Clause 28, which banned "the promotion of homosexuality."

Actor-singer Russell Brand, whose films befuddle me in their popularity, nevertheless  offered a scathing summation of the Thatcher years.

"The blunt, pathetic reality today is that a little old lady has died, who in the winter of her life had to water roses alone under police supervision. If you behave like there's no such thing as society, in the end there isn't. Her death must be sad for the handful of people she was nice to and the rich people who got richer under her stewardship. It isn't sad for anyone else. There are pangs of nostalgia, yes, ... [but]... all of us that grew up under Thatcher were taught that it is good to be selfish, that other people's pain is not your problem, that pain is in fact a weakness and suffering is deserved and shameful."

PR still for Dynasty
This is particularly telling for my interpretation of this era in the eyes of Everett Forrester. Raised in a wealthy family, his disability forces him to see the underclass as his new community. How he learns to accept that and overcome these obstacles overshadows any craving for Eighties nostalgia.

Others choose to cast a campy glance backward. Capitalizing on the ongoing retro focus, National Geographic will air a new special focusing on the 1980s, specifically the glitz, glamour and excess of the Aaron Spelling TV show Dynasty.

The days of big shoulderpads and clunky cell phones, greed and excess, were made popular for the masses, and viewers lapped it up. While I do recall the many viewing parties at homes and in gay bars, even then I found the melodrama somewhat repulsive.

 This music video, "Eighties," by Killing Joke, typifies the visual orgy of corruption that some of us choose to remember about the 1980s.

The UK Guardian's Ken Livingstone debunks the myths of the Thatcher administration in his essay.

"Thatcher believed that the creation of 3 million unemployed was a price worth paying for a free market in everything except labour. Thatcher's great friend Augusto Pinochet used machine guns to control labour, whereas Thatcher used the less drastic means of anti-union laws. But their goal was the same, to reduce the share of working class income in the economy. The economic results were the reason for Thatcher's falling popularity. As the authors of The Spirit Level point out, the inequality created led to huge social ills, increases in crime, addictions of all kinds and health epidemics including mental health issues."

Quite a legacy.

Thatcher dances with Ronald Reagan
Livingstone continues: "This slump in investment, and the associated destruction of manufacturing and jobs, is the disastrous economic and social legacy of Thatcherism. Production was replaced by banking. House-building gave way to estate agency. The substitute for decent jobs was welfare. Until there is a break with that legacy there can be no serious rebuilding of Britain's economy."

Here in America, Thatcher's male political doppelganger Ronald Reagan continues to be lionized by a deluded Republican Party, who only days ago announced their determination to stand against marriage equality while national polls, and the impending Supreme Court debate over the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act prove a marked shift toward approval of same-sex marriage.

Economically, the Reagan era, to them, shines as a beacon of capitalism and the "free market" as Rand-ian examples of perfection. Of course, they ignore that both administrations laid the ground for the economic disasters we've faced since then.

As I polish up chapters in my early 1980s-set sequel to Every Time I Think of You, I want to be cautious about portraying too much of this era, or to be too prescient about the eventual nightmares. 

The early years foretold of the disasters to come. But there were also wonderful cultural achievements, created mostly as a reaction to the conservative surge. I'll blog more about that aspect later.

I'll leave you with 1980s music icon Elvis Costello, and his haunting song, "Tramp the Dirt Down," in which he foresees a day when he, too, can celebrate the end of that awful era.

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