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Remembering 1988 and 1989, VH-1 Style

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In late December 2004, I watched two episodes of a show on VH-1, something like remembering the '80s, each focused on a particular year, these two being 1988 and 1989. I confess some amusement to watching entertainers of various levels of celebrity reflect back on what they and their peers were doing a decade and a half earlier. Perhaps most amusing of all is that so many of these people reflect back on those years and wonder aloud what they were thinking.

Although of the opinion that one should always seize the moment and savor it, I must point out that the moment should not be taken out of context. Those who are only vaguely aware of the notion that there is a future and without any real picture of what it looks like are doomed to suffer unpleasant surprise when confronted with accounts of what they said and did, particularly in matters like dress that are so heavily influenced by others.


Since almost nothing on television would have content were it not for a fascination with what other people wear, several critical bits of fashion were discussed.

  • Ripped jeans. All the rage, and quite a discussion about techniques for ripping, including buying them that way in the first place, having them professionally ripped, using a razor, using scissors, and simply wearing them out.
  • Cindy Crawford's House of Style. The very notion of having guys in jeans and T-shirts comment on "House of Style" is amusing. Hearing what they had to say only confirms what many women already suspect: far too many men are morons. Watching a television show whose content is of no interest only so that one can watch Cindy Crawford is not the sort of thing to be proud of, much less to announce on national television.

Current Events

Of course, most "current events" commentary has much less to do with what is making the world go 'round at any particular time and more to do with what sort of antics the ill-behaved elite of the entertainment world have managed to perpetrate.

  • Zsa-Zsa Gabor going to jail for slapping a Beverly Hills police officer. She slapped someone. She was charged with a crime. She was convicted by an impartial jury of her peers. She went to jail for a few days. Who cares?
  • An entire sentence was dedicated to the fall of the Berlin Wall. This is clearly a show that is all about people who not only understand the moment, but how it fits into the stream of time and what things will be remembered as really critical in the development of human society. (The content-free fly-by surprised even me; I would have thought that a shot of President Reagan standing at the wall saying, "Mr. Gorbechev, tear down this wall!" followed by video of the wall going down would make for good television. But what do I know?)
  • Young urban professionals (b.k.a., "Yuppies") were derided, apparently because they were "not beautiful" and "made more money than they deserved." Considering the source of these pronouncements, it seems best just to let the monuments stand on their own for history to judge as it will.


Here is where we can expect to see the real expertise of VH-1 start to come to the fore. So we were reminded of a few shows that we otherwise could have forgotten and a few products that probably more people than the number who would admit it "just had to have" at some point in their lives, probably not long before they got the product, and only sightly further away from the time that they would come to ask themselves the day's question: "What was I thinking?"

  • "My Two Dads." A hokey television show (how redundant is that?) where a teenage girl loses her single mother to a tragic, early death and winds up being placed with two men, since either could be her father and there is no way to tell who. Basically, an Odd Couple with a teenage daughter in there somewhere to allow for some additional variation in the story lines.
  • "Doogie Howser, M.D." The show about the fifteen year old practicing physician who just wanted to be a normal kid. Or not.
  • "Thirtysomething." A show I never did watch. At the time, I was "somethingteen" and it didn't seem to have anything that particularly interested me. Looking back on it through the eyes of VH-1, it's pretty clear to me that the hours spent teaching myself to program computers instead of watching the show was wisely invested.
  • Chia Pets. Naturally, no discussion of television would be complete without a mention of some of the more, uh, time-bounded products that were sold through television wind-ups. I tried not to pay attention when someone sang the little "Ch-Ch-Ch-Chia" jingle, but somehow I managed to catch a comparison to Richard Simmons' hair.
  • The Clapper. Something that I never noticed before is that the box for Chia Pets and The Clapper are identical in design. Well, if you've got a formula that works, why mess with it by bothering to deal with something as tedious as design all over again?


Movies are a big part of American pop culture. So resurrecting a few films seems to be a worthwhile part of any review of pop culture.

  • "Young Guns." Get a bunch of guys to ride around on horses and shoot at stuff. People will go see that. That they would make a television show vaguely resembling the movie was apparently too remote for VH-1's erudite writers to discern. (Think: "Young Riders." Did that even make it a whole season?)
  • "Beaches." The ultimate chick-flick, apparently. Not having seen it, I cannot comment, since the show said almost nothing else about it.
  • "Coming to America." My favorite part was the quotes from people saying that it was the greatest movie ever. Give me a break.
  • "Field of Dreams." Listening to voices in your head that suggest you should turn your cornfield into a baseball diamond is a great way to meet your deceased father and to create the most sensational traffic jam the county had ever seen. Sadly, the movie ended before anyone got to see that there weren't nearly enough hot dogs to go around.
  • "When Harry Met Sally." Of course, it was all about Meg Ryan's famous performance and Billy Crystal being seen (in the words of VH-1's learned commentators) as sexy for the first time in that role. (No doubt an important milestone that needed to be crossed so that years later, he could lend his voice to Mike in "Monsters, Inc.") Sadly, with all of this to discuss, there was no time whatsoever to consider the film's soundtrack, which was in fact excellent, a set of standards performed by the very talented Harry Connick, Jr. Far be it from VH-1 to discuss music.


So perhaps my previous comment about VH-1 not talking about music was a bit unfair. They did (theoretically) talk a bit about music. Boy George offered his commentary for the program, in some bit of makeup that can be described only as bizarre. The guy could very well have been in the circus in that getup. He seems utterly irrelevant and yet he keeps finding his way onto television. On second thought, I guess that makes sense.

  • Samantha Fox. The discussion about her did not center on the notion of timeless musicianship. I realize that this is shocking and scandalous and that you're no doubt as outraged as am I.
  • Richard Marx. His cookie-cutter pop music. His hair. Was anything real? Richard, we'll be right here waiting for you to produce a lyric that isn't banal.
  • "Patience." The Guns-n-Roses tune. Lots of quotes from people complaining that acoustic guitar was all the rage then, so "G-n-R" was just doing more of the same and they couldn't figure out how exactly Axl Rose managed to whistle the first ninety seconds of the song. (I don't see anything so strange about a whistled melody. It is no more weird today than it was when Axl did it in 1989. And no more weird than when Billy Joel did it a decade earlier in "The Stranger.")

In the fine tradition of cable television channels, particularly on holidays, the whole series of ten was apparently to replay again, immediately following its conclusion. Fortunately, even before learning that important fact, I decided that I had seen as much of that series as I would see. Contrary to the impression that a viewer would likely get by seeing the 1980s retold from VH-1's perspective, the decade was indeed eventful and one worth revisiting. Consequently, I'm about as likely to allow myself to be guided through the wonders of the rest of 80s by VH-1 as I am to be led through a museum of history by a hyperactive child with attention deficit disorder.

Created by cmcurtin
Last modified 2005-01-17 08:42 AM
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