In June 2017 I got to attend a very original exhibition held at WOW Spazio Fumetto (Comic Art Museum) with my friend Rebecca in Milan. It was called “’80s Nostalgia” and focused on the Eighties and their relevance in pop culture.
The ’80s were an incredible decade. We are talking about the years of video-games and Japanese cartoons, the triumph of commercial television, of hit parades and the fantasy movie genre. Nowadays we are living in an era which puts a lot of emphasis on the idealization of the past, so even teenagers and young people are interested in discovering what went on during those days.
This exhibition was not merely an historical, sociological and cultural in-depth study about one of the most controversial decades of the 20th century, but also an entertaining journey meant to rediscover symbols, passions and icons that many people grew up with.
Authentic memorabilia courtesy of private collections and the Fondazione Franco Fossati was included in the exhibition, which was divided in years (1980-1989) and gave an insight on the most relevant aspects of this time. We got to see some iconic pieces like the Rubik’s Cube (which sold 100 million pieces in 1982 only) and the Sony walkman (with its own Bic used to rewind the tape without consuming the batteries); some big panels were documenting pop culture facts and news stories, including music and cinema. We had the possibility to see ’80s toys, video-games, newspaper pages, discs, original movie posters, magazines, comics tables, robots, board games and so on.
In 1980 Ronald Reagan became President of the United States and the sequel to Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back, came out. The Buggles’ Video Killed The Radio Star played on the radio, along with AC/DC’s Back in Black album. In Italy there were various music hits that became popular, like Gianni Togni’s Luna and Heather Parisi’s Disco Bambina. Pac-Man was the year’s most played video-game.
1981 was the year when Dallas first aired on Italian TV and became one of the most watched American shows. On July 29, 750 million people all over the world watched the wedding between Prince Charles II and Lady Diana Spencer on live television.
Harrison Ford played Indiana Jones, another 80s icon, on the big screen. The French movie La Boum (The Party) starring Sophie Marceau, was released in Italian movie theaters and represented one of the most romantic films of the year, telling the story of thirteen-year-old Victoire’s first love.
The song (Out Here) On My Own, sang by nine-year-old Nikka Costa, became the most popular foreign song in Italy and remained on top of the charts for 14 weeks.
Italy won the Football’s World Cup on July 11, 1982, defeating Germany. The radio played iconic Italian songs like Claudio Baglioni’s “Avrai” and Miguel Bosé’s “Bravi Ragazzi”.
Hollywood got to know Steven Spielberg’s new creature; E.T., an alien who manages to go back home thanks to his terrestrial pals.
Italian television went through a lot of changes with the birth of Italia 1 and the unification of private TVs that broadcast the same programs simultaneously. This was the beginning of Hollywood-like epic blockbusters; Marco Polo, a co-production between China and the West, kept about 26 million viewers glued to the screen.
The Italian summer of 1983 stood for musical hits. The Righeira duo played Vamos a la Playa, a Spanish-language song that became the symbol of the 80s in Italy. The movie musical Flashdance was among the most-watched of the year, and its soundtrack gained massive popularity due to the Academy Award-winning song “What a Feeling”, sang by Irene Cara from the Fame TV show.
The last chapter of the Star Wars trilogy, The Return of the Jedi, was the perfect chance to launch the first video-game inspired by the series, simply called Star Wars. However, the “award” for most popular video-game of the year went to Dragon’s Lair; the use of laserdisc technology gives the images an amazing quality, similar to an animation movie. On January 1st, the computer protocol for data transmission through interconnected computers ARPANET changed its name to Internet Protocol, known more simply as the Internet.
1984 is the title of a famous novel written by George Orwell in 1948, which narrates a dystopian future where a single party oppresses millions of people, who are constantly watched by a Big Brother. In 1984 a popular TV ad took inspiration from this written masterpiece; Ridley Scott was directing the ad, which was broadcast during the Super Bowl(and never again on TV), with the purpose of launching a new Apple computer, the Macintosh.
In the new world of video-games, a little puzzle game was welcomed like a signal for relaxation; a Soviet game called Tetris, in which you have to stack shapes composed of four blocks to make them disappear from the screen. The idea it originated from is very simple, but the game is absolutely riveting.
The best movie at the Italian box office was a comedy titled Non Ci Resta Che Piangere (Nothing Left To Do But Cry), starring Roberto Benigni and Massimo Troisi.
In the United States fantasy movies were all the rage; Ghostbusters is a mix of comedy, horror and fantasy, starring Dan Aykroyd and Bill Murray.
A German fantasy film destined to change the cinematic history of the decade was The NeverEnding Story; some people preferred instead Terminator, an action film starring Austrian actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. There were also movies which brought together Italy and the United States: Italian director Sergio Leone ended his career in Hollywood by shooting Once Upon a Time in America, with a cast that included Robert De Niro and James Woods.
The most famous song of the year was Stevie Wonder’s “I Just Called To Say I Love You”, from the movie soundtrack of The Woman in Red, starring Gene Wilder and Kelly LeBrock.
There were also many quiz shows airing on TV, like Help, hosted by different Italian TV personalities.
Live Aid is one of the most known events of 1985; a concert held on July 13, stemming from “Usa for Africa”, an initiative to help the Ethiopian people, which was going through a severe famine. The event was organized by Wham!, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Bono, who sang together “We Are The World” and managed to raise 50 million pounds.
The most successful Italian single of the year was by fifteen-year-old Mexican singer Luis Miguel, titled “Noi, I Ragazzi di Oggi.”
The Goonies and Rambo II were among the greatest movies of a year which is also remembered for the historical wave of frost from Russia; Italian cities, especially in the North, were paralyzed by a snowfall which lasted for 72 hours.
Super Mario Bros is the videogame that launched Nintendo Entertainment System, a console which sold millions of copies around the world.
In 1986 the film adaptation of Umberto Eco’s The Name of The Rose came out in cinemas, starring Sean Connery as the main character. Another famous movie that came out was Yuppies 2, sequel to an Italian comedy starring some of the most popular Italian comedians.
On top of the charts was Madonna with “Papa Don’t Preach”. The Legend of Zelda was the first Nintendo game to surpass a million copies sold.
It was also the year of the Dylan Dog comics, whose main character was inspired by Rupert Everett.
The most prominent news story of the year was probably the Chernobyl disaster, with the explosion of the fourth nuclear reactor; this culminated in a referendum that the following year led to the ending of the nuclear program in Italy.
1987 saw Europe’s “The Final Countdown” as one of the most popular songs of the year. Bernardo Bertolucci directed The Last Emperor, a blockbuster co-produced with China and England and the first West movie shot in Beijing’s Forbidden City, the imperial palace of Ming and Qin dynasties. The movie counted crew members from Italy, England and China, along with 20.000 walk-ins. The movie went on to receive nine Academy Award nominations, and it won every single one of them.
Quiz shows were the main TV genre in Italy, with Mike Bongiorno launching one of his most popular programs, TeleMike, which aired until 1992.
Mega Man debuted in the world of video-games; this was the beginning of a very long career, with more than 130 video-games named after this hero.
In 1988 Italian singer Jovanotti released his first album, reaching the top of the charts with the song “Gimme Five”. The singer was also an ambassador for the Nintendo campaign, during the release of Super Mario Bros 2.
The British band Duran Duran got on top of the Italian hit parade for the first time, remaining there for six weeks with “I Don’t Want Your Love”. The same year they held seven concerts in Italy.
The most successful movie worldwide was Who Framed Roger Rabbit, which sees the interaction between real actors and cartoons in a world never conceived before.
Another famous movie of the year was Rain Man, one of the first to deal with the sensitive topic of autism.
On the Italian TV there was a new satyrical program called “Striscia La Notizia”, which still airs to this day.
1989 was a great year for the Italian music scene, with Edoardo Bennato’s “Viva La Mamma”; after a career spanning 30 years, the Italian singer gained one of his biggest successes with a song that has the sounds of the ’50s.
Movies like Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and Dead Poets Society, the latter about an anti-conformist college professor who changes the life of his students at the end of the 50s, were among the most- watched of the year.
The Italian TV saw the triumph of The Betrothed, a blockbuster with an international cast that attracted millions of viewers. The production was entirely RAI, with a huge budget, 248 actors and 10.000 walk-ins.
The most famous adventure video-game of the year was DuckTales, but there was also the advent of an innovative game called Sim City, in which there isn’t a target set and one can potentially go on playing. The player has the opportunity to create a city from scratch or solve problems like traffic, fires or even a monster attack!
It was a year of big changes, with the fall of the Berlin Wall and the free elections of East Germany the following year. There were attempts to overthrow the old regimes, as it was evidenced by the Tiananmen square protests and the revolution in Eastern Europe countries.
It was so interesting to watch all these amazing ’80s objects displayed at the exhibition; I am a kid of the ’90s but some of the memorabilia was also part of my childhood, especially the board games and the movies, which are destined to remain iconic for many years to come.
Rebecca and I had a great time at the Comic Art Museum; it was also a chance to reminisce about our childhood and a very educational way to spend the afternoon. I am thankful because Milan always offers great cultural events and provides you with the opportunity to learn new things.
Thank you to WOW Spazio Fumetto(Comic Art Museum) for providing detailed explanations about the history of the 80s. I didn’t mention most of the historical events which took place during those years both in Italy and abroad because the exhibition was mainly centered on pop culture.
All pictures are my own.
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