Friday, September 08, 2006

Anti-Communism and Popular Culture in the 1980s

The Onion AV Club recently ran this list of 8 "musical artifacts" that reflected the end of the Cold War period. However, not satisfied, I decided to extend the list beyond music. As a kid in the 1980s, I'm probably of the youngest group of people who can actually remember what life was like during ANY part of the cold war, rather than it being something "people heard about." Thinking back on that time, there were numerous great popular culture influences that trained us on the evils of communism. Thus, here is a list of five great things from the 1980s that perfectly reflected the geopolitical times.

1. Golgo 13 - I could have gone with any number of Nintendo games here, but this one was one of the first that really hammered (no pun intended) the Communist thing home, and was particularly good. Back before Nintendo became a full-blown force, Golgo 13 was one of the few non-Nintendo company games (Mario Brothers, Zelda, etc.) that really helped launch a company. The Cold War connotations are great, too, as a helicopter carrying "secret technology" was blown up near the Statue of Liberty (subtle), and you were immediately sent to find the Communists who did it.

2. Top Gun - the movie that still has girls swooning (stupid stupid movie), in my childhood it taught us all that MIGs were on the bad-guys' side, perpetuating the "US vs. them" mentality in children, even if we didn't even exactly know what a MIG was.

3. Berlin Wall for sale at K-Mart - many people remember where they were "when the Wall came down", and the glory of David Hasselhoff singing on top of the wall in 1989. However, in rural Ohio, one of the big things to do in the months afterwards was make your way to K-Mart, where there were (alleged) pieces of the wall for sale. This was great not only because the wall was down, but what was the immediate result? Commodification. Is there any other more appropriate capitalist response to the collapse of communism than selling it? Additionally, such commodification does demonstrate the importance of the event - you think we're going to be able to buy pieces of the torn-down Saddam statue anytime soon?

4. Red Dawn - while straight up comedic now, it's funny how "not too unplausible" Red Dawn seemed to kids in the 80s, as they'd run around the playground, anticipating their own "Communist takeover", probably from the Soviets, but you could never be sure about those damn cubans. Thanks to Swayze, Lea Thompson, et. al., numerous strategy sessions preparing for the Commie invasion were plotted among children in bedrooms, on playgrounds, and elsewhere throughout the 1980s.

5. G.I. Joe - while certainly more "subtle" than Red Dawn, it's not hard to see how the cartoon and figurines from G.I. Joe really helped children continue in their "US vs. them" mentality. The figure of Joe CLEARLY represented the U.S. and (naturally) all that was good, right, and whole in the world, while the figure of C.O.B.R.A. was certainly reminiscent of some abstract of a dictator seeking world domination by doing things like selling weapons to third-world countries(just like the Commies, right? Nothing like the U.S.....oh, wait. Iran-Contra. Natch that.)