MY INTRO TO LET YOU KNOW
Yep, it’s the 2020s.
Nope, I’m not writing this to talk about the globe-changing year we’ve all experienced thus far. I’m here tiptapping away at my keys to offer a first-hand view of what it was like growing up in the 1980s, compared to now in the 2020s.
Why? Because my three year-old daughter will experience 56% of her childhood in the 2020’s. I experienced 44% of my youth in the 1980s. I became interested in examining the differences in our childhood backdrops.
I tried to discover the quirks, societal growths or setbacks, and the things that are new to present-day children. I also looked for normalcies that were popular for kids in the ’80s, but now seem extinct from the lives of 2020’s children — both bad and good.
Enjoy a trip back to the 1980s and remember that time changes everything. 30 years from now, there will be a writer who compares the 2050s with the 2020s. This person or robot will expose how foolish we seemed, and they’ll do this by using their present day norms, just like I am with the 1980s.
I’M BATMAN! NO YOU’RE NOT, I AM!
Aside from one year (1989), Batman has always looked the same to children — even with a completely different appearance. Prior to Tim Burton’s massively successful 1989 movie, BATMAN, the Bruce Wayne that kids dressed-up as resembled this…
- His headgear looked like it came from a masquerade ball.
- His outfit looked like it was borrowed from a trapeze artist.
- His voice sounded like any American-born adult male with decent schooling.
- His Batmobile looked like a car — a Ford convertible to be precise.
Almost immediately after ’89s stoic, no-nonsense Batman arrived, Gotham City’s loyal children had a watershed moment — this is Batman now. The era of wearing navy blue and grey tights was over for kids. No more cat-eared helmet. No more “BAM! BOOM! POW!“
Just to be sure, I showed my daughter a picture of Lego Batman. Before I could ask her who it was she shouted “BATMAN!”
Then I showed her a picture of Adam West’s Batman (with his arms covering the bat logo) and asked her who it was: “Ummm, I don’t know. Who is it? Wait! Who?” It’s Batman. “No, that’s not BATMAN.”
She’s correct, it’s not. It hasn’t been our children’s Batman since the late ’80s.
MALL EASTER BUNNIES WERE FRIGHTENING
During the 1980s, once a year, the mall Easter Bunny hopped his demonic-looking ass out of our nightmares and into our shopping centers. Though never confirmed, he seemed to have one goal with his visits — create genuine fear and panic in as many children as possible. He accomplished this through his hideously terrifying appearance.
The 1980s Easter Bunny looked like a costumed psychopath from a low-budget horror film. These days, his appearance is much more kid friendly.
I’M BURNIN’, I’M BURNIN’, I’M BURNIN’ FOR YOU
The year was 1989. I was 7 or 8 years-old. Me & my classmates were in art class. We were watching our art teacher demonstrate how to create the current week’s project out of clay. Afterwards, it was our turn.
We all began hand-shaping wet globs of milky Earth into stubby, cylinder-like molds. Once we were satisfied with our clay creations, we painted them with glaze. Our teacher then individually placed our sloppily-rounded structures into the explosive, gas-powered, 2200 degrees Fahrenheit classroom kiln.
After a brief wait, emerging from the classroom’s portal to Hell came my completed art project…
AN ASHTRAY FOR MY PARENTS.
My parents didn’t even smoke — but plenty of our relatives and family-friends did when they’d visit. My lovely Mother was gracious enough to display my school-made ashtray in her dining room figurine case for years to come.
PARENTAL ADVISORY: EXPLICIT CONTENT
Back in the ’80s, some parents were more worried about shielding their children from the scorching hot emergence of Gangster Rap, than protecting their young from the second-hand smoke billowing out of their nostrils. They enjoyed lighting Rap albums on fire almost as much as they did lighting their Marlboro’s.
In 2020, mommy’s and daddy’s (myself included) listen to Rap music with their kids. We know better than to think we can put limitations on an entire genre of musicians personal freedoms and their First Amendment rights to speak freely. And we would never try to slow the consumption of the music we hated by burning it.
We can’t. Most music is digital. You can’t burn the internet.
MICHAEL JORDAN’S POPULARITY
In the ’80’s, Michael Jordan emerged as the main attraction in professional sports. All across America, people learned to respect his greatness. Old and new sports fans couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next.
In 2020, Michael Jordan emerged as the main attraction in professional sports. All across America, people learned to respect his greatness. Old and new sports fans couldn’t wait to see what he’d do next.
In the 1980s, the majority of American children became virally infected with the highly contagious Chickenpox. If your case was bad enough, the ‘pox would leave you with lifelong scars. Being covered in those red blisterbumpscabs was a rite of passage as a youngster back then.
Since the mid-’90s, a Chickenpox vaccine has been recommended to parents as part of the standard infant immunization package. This has lowered the annual amount of infected children in 2020 by nearly 90% when compared to the total cases of childhood Chickenpox back in its ’80s heyday.
As you’re all well aware, these days we’re in the middle of a global pandemic caused by a far more serious virus. One that has no target audience, and has changed the way we live. #Chickenpoxwemissya
LEFT: Me in the only mask I was “highly encouraged” to wear during my childhood.
RIGHT: My daughter wearing her “highly encouraged” ‘Ronamask.
BOTTOM RIGHT: The Mask incorrectly wearing his “highly encouraged” ‘Ronamask.
WE USED REAL BASEBALL BATS ON PINATAS
Baseball bats were invented with the sole purpose of being the main offensive tool used in the game of baseball. Ever since the turn of the 20th century, one thing hasn’t changed — the two people who are positioned closest to the swinging baseball bat (the catcher and the umpire) wear protective gear. This body armor protects them from serious injury by speeding baseballs and swinging bats.
You can suffer broken bones, brain damage, and disfigurement from being cracked with a bat. You can die — many people have died. Mobsters, convicted murderers, and mid-twentieth century street gangsters know what I’m talking about.
If you’re swinging a bat and it’s not to hit a baseball, that bat then becomes a dangerous weapon. In the 1980s, if you were swinging a bat close to others — as long as you were in a party setting — nobody seemed too concerned.
At many birthday parties, wood or aluminum baseball bats were routinely handed to blindfolded children who were standing in the middle of a tightly-formed circle. This claustrophobic circle was usually made-up of classmates, kids from the neighborhood, and siblings.
The goal for the blindfolded bat-yielding boy or girl? Swing the bat as hard as freaking possible in an attempt to break open a candy-filled piñata. Most kids were at eye level of every bat swing, and the circle of children got closer to the swinging bat as the anxiety of the pinata busting open increased.
These days, pinatas are still birthday party staples. However, most likely due to hundreds of emergency room visits and a little common sense sprinkled on top, baseball bats have been phased out as the popular piñata buster of choice.
In the 2020s, some pinatas come with pull-strings. These versions make kids jump up and grab a string, which rips the pinata open, rather than swinging something. If you need to swing something, “pinata sticks” are now sold at party stores. They are packaged with a blindfold and marketed as the safe and accepted way to break open a piñata nowadays.
HATE IT OR LOVE IT, MOST BOYS IN THE ’80s PLAYED ORGANIZED SPORTS
In 1980s youth sports, a portion of each year’s participating boys didn’t want to play sports. It was obvious. Every year on my baseball team — until I reached junior high — there were kids who possessed zero athletic traits. They moved like slugs, held the bat like it was a joust, and hated being there.
There is no way in hell that these unatheletic kids insisted they get signed up year after year. Their parents more than likely didn’t give them a choice. I loved baseball, but not every teammate of mine did.
I was one of those kids when it came to soccer. I sucked. I can’t remember ever wanting to play soccer. I was never forced to play, but I don’t recall ever begging to get signed-up. It just kinda happened. I played three or four seasons of park district soccer, never enjoying any of it.
I remember hating soccer practices and never making friends on any team. Elementary soccer teams were stacked full of the unfunny gross kids from school who annoyed everyone. The type of kids that got extreme delight from the sounds of their farts, and even more pleasure from making people unexpectedly smell them. I didn’t care to associate.
OUR PLAYGROUNDS AREN’T THE SAME
Compared to the 2020s, children’s parks were far more dangerous back in the 1980s. The materials used to construct our ancient playgrounds are the biggest reason why.
Unlike today’s parks, there was no impact reducing rubber underneath your feet at the playground. There was sand. The wind would whip this harsh dust into your eyes on occasional visits. Finding buried treasures like condoms, broken glass, and hidden dog shit in the sand would happen too.
Old parks weren’t made out of rounded rubbery plastic with hidden fasteners. They weren’t surrounded by safety rails. There was no such thing as weather-shielding canopies to keep the equipment cool, as seen below.
Parks of the ’80s had lots of one-story step ladders made of sharp steel. Hundreds of exposed nails and screws. Scorching hot sheet metal. Ragged, splintery wood. And heavy iron chains that were possibly leftovers from a tugboat manufacturer.
Need even more proof on how our playgrounds have evolved? Look no further than below. Pictured is a McDonald’s PlayPlace in 1987, where I had my birthday party.
At McDonald’s, no longer can you send your frantic kids down a steep staircase to play next to a creepy tree, ride a fish-filet teeter-totter, or stand in a jail that looks like Grimace.
1980s CAMERA FILTERS = SLAP A MAGAZINE PAGE ON YOUR FACE AND SNAP A PICTURE
Back in the 1980s, ripping a page out of a magazine and holding it up to your face was the silliest goddamn shit in the history of your face. There was no Snapchat. There were no picture editing apps, and no phone filters to alter your appearance just for comic relief. Our phones usually hung stationary on a kitchen wall, accompanied by a cord long enough to do double-dutch with.
1980s TODDLERS DRESSED LIKE GRANDPARENTS. 2020s TODDLERS DRESS LIKE PARENTS
Pictured below, is me as a kid, dressed like someone’s grandparent. After that, it’s my daughter (around the same age as me in these pics) dressed like she’s someone’s parent.
ASHAMEDLY, IN THE 1980s, ANIMAL RIGHTS WERE RARELY CONSIDERED
In the ’80s, we all pretty much agreed that animals didn’t have feelings and they possessed no emotional intelligence — except for maybe dogs. The mental health of the animal kingdom wasn’t a concerning topic for most humans. Which brings me to the above picture of three year-old me, atop a slowly circling pony on an Illinois Summer day.
I’m sure these pony death marches still exist, but it’s been a while since I last saw one. Once you get past the cuteness of a child safely riding a real live horse, the facts are ugly:
- Eight ponies chained to a restricting iron wheel.
- Two feet from the next horses ass.
- The ponies have two options — walk in a slow circle or get dragged.
- For the entire duration of the carnival’s daily operating hours.
- On top of the hay that is supposed to feed them mixed with their own shit and piss.
- While unknowingly rough children tug at their manes and heel-kick their rib cages.
- Only to be rewarded for their hard days work by being locked up in a horse trailer for the night.
In hindsight, the widespread apathy towards this type of carnival ride seems completely despicable. But this type of pony ride was never even looked down upon back then. They were everywhere — at every fair, carnival, pumpkin patch, and zoo. Sheesh.
WE “LEARNED” ABOUT “INDIANS” IN SCHOOL
Staying on the topic of ignorance in the ’80s, in school we never learned about our country’s Native Americans. We learned about “Indians.” And we only learned about “Indians” once a year, when we’d discuss the G-rated fairy-tale of the Pilgrims and “Indians” creating the first Thanksgiving.
We also sat “Indian style.” My daughter sits “Criss-Cross-Apple-Sauce.”
WE DIDN’T HAVE RESTRICTIONS ON WHAT FOOD WE COULD SHARE WITH THE CLASS
At school, every year on our birthday we had our Mom bake us our favorite treat and bring that in to share with our class. We signed no waivers or consent forms to eat each others goodies. We ate whatever whomever made for us, however they wanted to make it, whenever it was brought in.
The only food allergies or restrictions I can remember anyone having is one or two kids in the entire grade being allergic to peanuts. If a birthday treat with peanuts was brought in, tough shit for those two kids. They couldn’t have any. No one felt bad for them. It was their own damn fault for having a peanut allergy.
RIDING IN CARS WAS DIFFERENT
In the ’80s, you could find us riding in the front seats of cars, often times in the middle seat up front since we were the smallest. Back then, most cars had middle front seats, equipped with either a waist belt for safety, or no seatbelt at all.
If we were in the backseat, we also were most likely secured in by only a waste belt, as most cars of that time only came equipped with backseat lap belts. Seat belt laws did not exist yet. People knew riding without being buckled-up was dangerous, but it wasn’t the law. Some parents enforced buckling up. Others never wore a seat belt, therefore never made their children and passengers wear one.
In 2020, children are supposed to stay in a car seat (booster seat) until they are either 4 feet 9 inches tall, or 12 years old. That’s 6th grade for most!
To put this into perspective, the year after 6th grade, I experienced my first time unbuckling someone’s bra. I can’t imagine a world where the year prior I was unbuckling my own car seat.
WE GREW UP LOYAL TO TEAMS, NOT PLAYERS
The teams you root for should have just that — roots. Back in the 1980s, the majority of sports fans held loyalty to their teams. Either due to them being your city’s home team, or from a family member influencing your fandom since birth. You didn’t change your favorite team every few years like you see so many do these days.
The main reason? Back then, we weren’t able to watch whatever team or game we wanted to — we were only able to watch what was put on our TV by our local networks. This was usually the team that was closest to where you lived, or named after the city you lived in. The only reading we could do on sports was from our local newspapers, which also heavily exposed us almost entirely to our closest geographical team.
Today, that isn’t the case. It’s now possible to watch every game of every season of any team from anywhere. Because of this, you’ll find many people who root for players instead of teams. Whatever team their favorite player is on, that’s the team they like. Once their favorite player is gone from that team, they are no longer fans of that franchise. #TheCavs
To me, it’s irritating and does not represent what sports fandom should be. Having roots in your team and showing loyalty to a franchise does.
THE BIG YELLOW SCHOOL BUS
Like many of today’s kids, we rode the bus to school. Unlike many of today’s kids, we walked to the bus stop. We waited for the bus without our parents next to us or watching us from their car.
Our wifi-less buses had no air conditioning, heat, or seat belts. And the floorboards reminded me of walking on a bowling alley’s surface. If it rained or snowed, you were prone to more slip and falls than a lubricated banana peel on ice skates.
In the ’80s, we rode our bikes EVERYWHERE. We took shortcuts through the fenced-in backyards of people’s houses we didn’t know. We never wore helmets. Sometimes we rode long distances alone. Sometimes we traveled in packs.
Kids in the ’80s were granted a sort of freedom that’s not prevalent for today’s kids. Most of the time, once we left the house on our bikes, our parents never knew exactly where we were.
We would tell them where we were headed before leaving home, or leave a note. Once we arrived, we would call them from the house phone of wherever we ended up. If it wasn’t a house, we’d use a payphone. If where we were at had neither, we knew to call whenever we did find a phone.
They had no GPS tracking apps to pinpoint our every move of every moment like we do today with our kids.
THAT’S A WRAP
I hope you enjoyed my first-hand reflective perspective on the childhood backdrops of the 1980s and 2020s. My intentions are for the body of this post to summarize a conclusion for my readers, if one is even needed at all. For those of you who have lived it, I hope you can relate to some of this. For those of you who haven’t, I hope I showed you something new.
I do not claim to own the rights to any music involved in this post: “It Ain’t Hard to Tell.” — Nas, Columbia Records…… “1980.” — Dirt Nasty, Shoot to Kill Music…… “Head over Heels.” — Tears for Fears, Phonogram Records…… “Waiting for a Star to Fall.” — Boy Meets Girl, RCA……
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