Inc., February 2021
My daughter is 6, and because we’re stuck at home a lot these days, we’ve been passing the time introducing her to classic ’80s movies like The Goonies, Back to the Future, and E.T. I was close to her age when these movies came out, so my recollection of some of them is hazy. As I’ve re-watched them, I’ve been struck by something–the ’80s were a lot weirder than today.
It’s definitely true that it would be hard to make a movie about violent-but-goofy crooks chasing around a bunch of unsupervised kids and their deformed but kind-hearted brother today. That sort of delightful weirdness has been largely replaced by a parade of slick-but-safe superhero movies. But it’s not just the movies themselves; it’s the world they depict.
The past looks inconvenient–Marty McFly skate boards around instead of calling an Uber–but also more colorful. In the decades before omnipresent corporate standardization and big tech dominance, according to ’80s movies at least, the space they now occupy was largely filled with humans putting themselves out there in all their diverse, strange, colorful glory.
Is that true? Has our day-to-day world become more bland (even if global news is a roller coaster ride)? Or am I just turning into a grumpy old person pining for the good old days while chasing kids off my lawn? It turns out that on the visual level at least there is a way to definitively answer that question, and a British museum recently ran the experiment.