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2016 Retrospective: Reconning the ‘80s in 2016

The ‘80s revival that has been steadily gaining momentum in the pop culture arena since the mid-2000s (post-Grand Theft Auto: Vice City) reached a new and impressive zenith in 2016, no doubt capstoned by the critical success of the Netflix original series, Stranger Things. This television show (which will be explored in a different retrospective at Fanbase Press) encapsulated all the trademark hallmarks of the decade: Cold War fears, slasher-horror elements, youth-centric stories, period piece music and nods to vintage advertisements, hair styles, and fashion. The show was a perfect example of homage-as-genre, a type of cinema pioneered by Tarantino in the ’90s with Pulp Fiction. Other directors and producers attempted to mimic the homage-as-genre style to mixed results. This scenario has plagued the ’80s resurgence as well, as the failure of the live-action version of Jem and the Holograms in 2015 illustrates; however, it is the true artisans and crafts folk, the ones who lived in the era and have come of age (late Gen-Xers and Millennials) that truly see the value and potential of the decade, and have been successfully mining it. Stranger Things may be the most prominent example for 2016, but beneath it a whole ’80s world flourishes across different medias.

There is no real terminology to collectively refer to this resurgence of ’80s pop culture, though some definitions have been tossed out there. The term “outrun” (a reference to the 1986 Sega driving arcade game, Out Run) is sometimes used to refer to a particular aesthetic style of the ’80s revival: fast cars and faster bikes, cyberpunk and vector graphics computer interfaces, heroes wearing sports jackets and brandishing firearms, California beaches, and neon magenta everywhere. On the other hand, there is also the dark-’80s, which embraces the ’80s giallo, slasher, John Carpenter, occult ,and satanic elements of the decade. Somewhere in between is simply “the ’80s:” nostalgia for Saturday morning cartoons and living the idyllic middle-class life in the suburbs promised by television shows such as ALF and Family Ties (of which Fanbase Press’ own podcast, Quality Time with Family Ties, is devoted to).

Regardless of terminology, the ’80s resurgence can be found in music, film and television, video games, comics, and other media, as well. There are far too many to list for this particular article, but some of the most noteworthy ones will certainly be highlighted.

One of the most iconic elements of Stranger Things was its electronic soundtrack composed by synthwave band, Survive. Synthwave and retrowave (The two terms are sometimes used interchangeably.) were definitely brought into limelight due to its use in Stranger Things, but regardless of this additional attention, the genres saw a huge outpouring of activity in 2016. Foundational bands Perturbator, GosT, and Mitch Murder all released new albums and EPs (The Uncanny Valley, Non Paradisi, and Megamagic: Wizards of the Neon Age OST, respectively) while newer projects such as Red Marker and Volkor X released their debuts (Accelerator and This Means War, respectively).

The ’80s were a popular decade for the sword and sorcery/sword and planet genre of cartoons, encompassing series such as Galtar and the Golden Lance, Thundarr the Barbarian, Blackstar, He-Man and the Masters of the Universe, and She-Ra: Princess of Power. The subject matter of these cartoons was recently revisited this past autumn in a highly unexpected and post-modern fashion with the animated/live-action hybrid sitcom of Son of Zorn. The popular sitcom, Full House, saw a continuation with the Netflix series, Fuller House, which saw two seasons of content released.

Making huge news over the summer was the Ghostbusters reboot, reimagined with an all-female cast. The dialogue around the film became, at times, volatile, ranging from the concept of an unnecessary remake/reboot, to gender politics. To coincide with the release of the film, for a limited time the fondly remembered sugary drink, Ecto-Cooler from Hi-C, was brought back. The Neon Demon, the newest film from Nicolas Winding Refn, continued to show the director exploring ’80s aesthetics and music, something he started with in his movie, Drive, from 2011.

Nintendo made waves within the video game industry when they announced and subsequently released their NES Classic Edition console. The unit, though smaller, mimicked the design of the original (American) Nintendo Entertainment System and came loaded with thirty iconic NES games, such as Metroid, Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, and Kirby’s Adventure. The demand for the console was extremely high and quickly sold out. Sega followed suit with a second updated release of their Sega Genesis: Classic Game Console that contained eighty games, from many Sonic the Hedgehog iterations, but also the functionality to play actual Genesis cartridges, a function the NES Classic lacked.
Aside from releasing/repacking old video games, many indie developers turned to creating their own games inspired by the decade, no doubt modeled off the success of prior games such as Retro City Rampage, Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, and Hotline Miami. The Steam service saw a plethora of ’80s-themed game released this year, such as Neon Drive, Donut’n’Justice, Megamagic: Wizards of the Neon Age, and OutDrive. Retrogaming continues to be discussed and celebrated online with the efforts of Cinemassacre and its flagship program, The Angry Video Game Nerd, Pat the NES Punk, and The Gaming Historian.

Comics publisher IDW has dominated the realm of bringing IPs that were popular in the ’80s back into currency, albeit in the comic book format. This past year IDW continued to release comics and trade paperbacks for Jem and the Holograms, Transformers, G.I. Joe, Ghostbusters, My Little Pony, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

In 2017 there is yet even more to look forward to in regards to the ’80s resurgence. John Wick, a love letter to the Hong Kong bullet-ballet films of the 1980s, will see a sequel, John Wick: Chapter 2. The cult short film, Kung Fury, had an announcement that a sequel was underway. The synthwave scene shows no indication of slowing down, with tours, compilations, and albums being promised next year. And, of course, the highly lauded Stranger Things was announced to have a second season being released next summer.

“Hotline Miami Fan Art” Image created by Tony Skeor.


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