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New Trends in American Life in the 1980s

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  • 0:08 New Morning in America
  • 0:47 Money and Power
  • 1:27 Music, Movies and Television
  • 4:09 An Expanding Society
  • 5:32 Epidemics in the 1980s
  • 6:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Adam Richards

Adam has a master's degree in history.

The 1980s represented a drastic change in American society, one not seen since the 1920s. Learn more about the decade, including its lifestyle trends, new consumer goods and expanding cultures, in this video lesson.

New Morning in America

When President Ronald Reagan entered office in 1981, he promised a new 'morning in America.' His promise reassured Americans that the United States would move on from the general economic, cultural and political malaise that developed during the 1970s. The generation of Americans who followed the 'Baby Boom' generation, also known as 'Generation X,' took full advantage of the new opportunities presented to them by the revamped economy under Reagan. As a result, the spirit of the 1980s was associated with extravagance and transformation; money, consumer goods, programming and music exemplified the ever-changing period. Let's take a look at American society and culture during the 1980s.

Money and Power

'Generation X' Americans were quickly stigmatized as the 'me' or 'yuppie' generation. During the 1980s, many young Americans earned college degrees, made a respectable income and consumed goods at an alarming rate. Without hesitation, Americans invested heavily into the stock market. They also purchased automobiles, paintings, trendy apparel, Nintendo, the Walkman and personal computers - thanks to the Apple Corporation. Credit card usage skyrocketed during the period as Americans attempted to compete with one another to showcase their wealth. Slogans such as 'Shop 'Til You Drop' and television shows like Life Styles of the Rich and Famous stimulated the American desire to spend. Sounds similar to the 1920s, doesn't it?

Music, Movies and Television

The 1980s saw Americans tune into pop, hip-hop, new wave and various forms of rock-n-roll. Madonna and Michael Jackson became the respective queen and king of pop music during the decade. Yet, artists such as Cyndi Lauper and Prince were all mainstays on the pop music charts. Hip-hop artists, such as Public Enemy, Run D.M.C. and Digital Underground, attempted to shed light on racial issues, violence and urban life. New wave music was unlike anything heard in prior decades. This genre of music synthesized pop and rock music into a melodic blend of sound. Introduced largely by British artists, new wave grew to heightened popularity in the United States by mid-decade. Groups within the new wave category included Duran Duran, Tears for Fears and Dire Straits.

Rock-n-roll received a heavy makeover during the decade. Many sub-genres of rock-n-roll formed throughout the 1980s, including soft rock, heavy metal and alternative (later dubbed 'grunge'). Soft rock was comprised of artists such as Bruce Springsteen, whose track Born in the U.S.A. oddly became the re-election theme for President Reagan, and U2, who enjoyed a meteoric rise up the music charts. Metallica, Exodus and Guns N' Roses thrashed their way into the heavy metal scene. Veteran groups, such as Black Sabbath and Deep Purple, also enjoyed significant success thanks to the rejuvenated metal genre. Younger Americans who found themselves between soft rock and metal developed alternative rock. Famous bands such as Sonic Youth, R.E.M. and the Violent Femmes brought a unique musical aggression to disillusioned youths.

The film industry exploded during the 1980s. The decade became known as the era of the blockbuster film. Digitally enhanced and visually stimulating, movies such as Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, Ghostbusters, Back to the Future and Top Gun generated impressive revenues at the box office. Directors began shedding light on the Vietnam War with movies such as Born on the Fourth of July, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket. Simultaneously, films that parodied the decade surfaced with greater regularity. Wall Street, The Breakfast Club, Monty Python's The Meaning of Life and Heathers all found a way to highlight various societal ills. Additionally, the rise of the film industry mirrored the advent of the videocassette recorder, or VCR. Americans could enjoy watching videos at home instead of traveling to movie theaters.

Like films, television programming and sitcoms boomed during the 1980s thanks to the widespread availability of cable. Americans enjoyed programs that focused on everyday life such as Cheers, Roseanne, Family Ties, Golden Girls and the Cosby Show. Genre-specific enthusiasts relished in the around-the-clock programming of ESPN, CNN, and the newly created Music Television Network, or MTV.

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