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Things From ’80s Movies That You Can’t Get Away With Anymore

There are a lot of things to love about the ’80s.  It was arguably the most iconic time in American history for movies and television, and highly influential on today’s popular culture.  The ’80s saw the birth of MTV, John Hughes’ classic films and leg warmers.  But, as ‘totally rad’ as movies from the ’80s are, there’s no denying that there’s no way many of them would get produced today.  In retrospect, many of those movies were reductive, racist and sexist.

That’s not to say we can’t still appreciate what they have to offer.  In re-watching some of our favorite ’80s classics we can notice those cringe-worthy moments, and appreciate how far a lot of modern entertainment has come in terms of inclusivity and and respectfulness, and how far we still have to go. 

On top of our changing attitudes towards social and cultural sensitivity,  A LOT of the jokes from ’80s movies are lost on millennials without broader social context and many important plot devices have become obsolete with the invention of modern technology and updated modes of communication.  When you break down a lot of these film plots, they sound ridiculous in a modern context. 

So, here are some of the more outrageous things that have happened in ’80s movies that you couldn’t get away with anymore. 

1. You can’t suddenly wake up as a 28-year-old Tom Hanks, get a high-ranking job at a major toy company and rent a majorly sweet Manhattan loft with high ceilings. (Big)

There’s no way anyone in their 20’s could afford that huge apartment. You’d have to be a certified millionaire to score that place. Even in the ’80s, Josh’s first paycheck (a grand total of $187) wouldn’t have been able to cover the deposit.  And he’d definitely need a real social security number, not his middle school locker combo.

2. Decide to try to find an ancient pirate treasure with your misfit group of friends (one of whom is named Chunk) in order to save your neighborhood from being razed to make room for golf course. (The Goonies)

Parents today are a lot more cognizant of their kids’ whereabouts and shenanigans.  Any parent who monitors their child’s gluten intake (when they don’t have Celiac disease) is not going to let them go traipsing around the neighborhood looking for treasure and fat shaming their friend by making him do a dance they call the ‘Truffle Shuffle’.  Poor Chunk.

3. Kidnap the “rich b*itch” socialite suffering from amnesia, who refused to pay you after building her a closet for her yacht, and convincing her that she is your wife and the mother of your four kids so that she can “pay off her debt.” (Overboard

On the one hand, it is kind of interesting to see a movie (especially from the ’80s) which implies that housework and childrearing does have value – and monetary value at that.  On the other hand, you simply cannot insinuate that it’s okay to kidnap a psychologically vulnerable woman from a hospital and manipulate her into caring for your children, because, eventually, she’ll learn to love you and her new role as a mother.

4. Create the “perfect woman” by feeding cutouts from Playboy into a computer scanner which is attached ~ somehow ~ to NASA supercomputers, and then have her follow you around making you look sexy and cool by association. (Weird Science)

Though the hyper-sexualizing of women (and particularly women of color) is still a prevalent issue with today’s media, it’s particularly ridiculous to see women’s nude images reduced so completely, and to watch these young boys Frankenstein together their version of the perfect woman.  And then to parade her around as a trophy to try and up their cool factor…*sigh* Also, Playboy doesn’t even publish nude photos in their magazine anymore (baby steps people).  

5. Make fun of your Chinese exchange student. (16 Candles)

16 Candles is a coming of age classic on par with Clueless and Mean Girls.  It’s got a relatable protagonist, a drool-worthy love interest and Joan Cusack! But that does’t really make up for the overtly racist portrayal of the Chinese exchange student named Long Duck Dong.  There’s not a single scene in the movie where they don’t take an opportunity to mock his language skills or accent.  Long Duck Dong is the ultimate caricature.  At one point he even uses two forks as chopsticks to eat with…

6. Pretend to be a different ethnicity in order to secure financial aid. (Soul Man)

In what is perhaps the most absurdly offensive movie you’ve ever heard of, a young white man puts on black face, and pretends to be African American in order to secure a scholarship to Harvard Law school because his rich father won’t pay his way. There is so much wrong with this premise, that it’s really unbelievable it made it past so many levels of approval and into theaters. NO.  

Television shows and movies from the ’80s still have a huge impact on today’s popular culture.  We’ve seen a huge resurgence of remakes and homages (Footloose, the Ghostbusters remake, Stranger Things).  But they all acknowledge the shortcomings of our favorite ’80s classics, and subvert the harmful and unrealistic standards they were complicit in perpetuating.  

Madeline is a fourth year Theatre Arts Major at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. She loves corgis, giant sweaters, cold brew, and theatre history. She is the Co-Manager of the only theatre club at Cal Poly, and has performed in and also stage managed many of the MainStage productions. She has aspirations to one day be responsible enough to take care of a dog, and also to attend graduate school to earn a PhD. She is excited to be contributing to Her Campus this year; a goal she's had since her freshman year of college. Her personal heroes include Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Rachel Bloom, and people who commit to monochromatic outfits.
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