Thanks to the Retroist forum, I learned of a recently released book entitled Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We live in Now – Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything.” With a title like that, I knew I had to check it out. The author David Sirota, a New York Times journalist, is a child of the 80s and he demonstrates a mastery of 80s subject matter. Utilizing 80s pop culture references, the author makes a comprehensive argument that ties the politics of the past 30 years to themes that developed in that decade. The book kicks off with a detailed analysis of the impact of Michael J. Fox’s seminal roles of Alex P. Keaton in Family Ties and later as Marty McFly in Back to the Future. Naturally, Alex P. Keaton represented the self-serving business culture that many associate with the 1980s. But, Mr. Sirota also notes that Back to the Future reflected a pervasive desire in the 1980s to return to 1950s values after the tumultuous 60s and 70s.
The book then provides a broad look at the influence of Michal Jordan and Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign. Mr. Sirota considers the advertising to be aligned with prevailing cultural trends that encouraged people to embark on paths of self-improvement. Yet, he also argues those trends encouraged get-rich quick attitudes, the diminishment of strong work ethics, and a rise in narcissism. Mr. Sirota proceeds to contend that Americans’ attitudes toward government were significantly influenced by 1980s pop culture. Many films and TV shows of that era portrayed the government as ineffectual or overreaching, such as the A-Team, ET, and Ghostbusters. At the same time, Sergeant Slaughter, G.I. Joe, and Top Gun restored respect and confidence in the military that diminished in the 1970s.
Throughout the book, Mr. Sirota provides examples of the enduring legacy of various 1980s phenomenon. But, readers should be forewarned: this is a serious tome about political and cultural influences. I anticipated a more lighthearted look at 1980s pop culture. Instead, this book is often more academic in nature – especially when exploring detailed political trends. Fans of 1980s culture should definitely consider adding this to their reading lists, but should be aware of the seriousness of the subject matter.