Being a child of the eighties was something that well, only us children of the eighties fully understand. It was a time of freedom, rebellion, exploration, awesome music from all genre’s, cocaine and money. Lots of money. Ok lots of cocaine too but that’s neither here nor there! We as a nation oozed money, it poured from our skin like Don Johnson sexy sweat! Our country was thriving on a robust bond market, a sizzling hot Wall Street, real estate, and oil, black gold, Texas tea. Our parents (or so history would have you believe) were reaping the benefits of an administration that fostered free trade along with the opening of borders and capitalism. Dancing in the street led us all to be a bit Footloose.
A country had emerged from two decades of war, drought, protest, reform, political unrest and of course who could forget the gas crisis? Line after line of cars waiting, hoping there was still gas left when their turn arrived at the pump.
Our youth of the sixties fought racism, fought for woman’s equality and against war, people of the 60/70’s cared more about social reform than capitalism believing higher education created unequal social classes, while caring for one another through shared progress brought much higher rewards. Citizens struggled with the after effects of Vietnam and in doing so turned their backs on soldiers who were struggling mentally when they came back ashore. A recession in the 70’s showed us higher interest rates, and economic instability with most Americans struggling to earn enough money to survive. Our country was tired, emotionally spent having put forth so much effort in finding balance, only to be rewarded with a lying president (Nixon) who stepped down, cover-ups, just plain dirty politics and a new administration (Carter) that did nothing to create or foster stability.
I remember these times well. Worrying about how much money was left at the end of the week and where it should be utilized. Do we buy more gas that we can’t get or food for the table? My parents arguing about money and finances, over interest rates and fees, they were always working just to survive.
When things began to turn around in the eighties it became clear Americans were looking to become more self-involved as opposed to socially invested. Americans were looking for relief in any way shape or form. That relief appeared in the form of fantasy. But like many Americans Fantasy has a way of mimicking reality.
New television formatting arrived and with it shows like Dallas, and Dynasty were on top of the Nielsen ratings chart. Fading away was American staples like All in the Family, Chico and the man or the Jefferson’s; these shows broke new ground showcasing America’s struggle with diversity and acceptance. These shows handily worked at creating a better vison for America through entertainment. The eighties arrived and popular television shows turned self-centered, focusing on money, wealth, fast cars, lavish homes and expensive clothes. Changing the face of what America perceived as being American. Intertwined in this new gluttonous direction was a story line focused on the philandering practices of each cast member, showcasing a need for greed in both monetary and the flesh. We were a country desiring an escape. So many years of war, hate, death, struggle and need. The eighties came and took that from us each and every night corralled in either 30 or 60 minute segments.
As a child I too felt the pain. We never spent a lot on food, clothes or shoes. Food purchased was just enough to feed us in hopes dad had a good week on the road. (He was a salesman during this time) The change in the way I perceived how life should be lived came with a little family television show called Family Ties. It had everything I described above, as its two main characters were children of the 60’s now raising a family in an 80’s world. Struggling with a former social conscience while enveloping themselves in an emerging capitalistic society.
Their son Alex Keaton was an upstart young Republican, fighting against his parents democratic values, learning along the way that when you merge the two an amicable resolve can always be found. It peaked my interest as I identified with young Alex. A lad who didn’t have much but wanted more despite his parents trying to create a well-rounded giving child. It became my first taste of a capitalism fantasy.
That fantasy grew as most movies around this time also focused on the imaginary cash flow that Hollywood felt every American was living with during the Reagan era. Every high school film focused on kids coming from households either struggle or affluence. Either way you and your friends would end up driving BMW’s, Ferrari’s, Jeep Grand Cherokee’s and Porches. It was Weird Science but girls were at the ready and no one seemed to ever wonder where the money came from unless it was Risky Business. We all knew what pot held that cash! Of course if things didn’t work out the way you had planned there was always a Breakfast Club nearby to reignite friendships and ease your disturbed young mind. Or you could just have a Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. The world would stop, just for you because you were young, smarter than your parents and that combination always led to success.
But during this time as we emerged from high school wondering what awaited our young eager minds, we were not met with BMW’s or Ferrari’s, rich girls or money. I was met with three jobs, working hard just so I could find my Bright Lights Big City. It was hard and tiring, leaving me many times sleeping on the side of the road in my work truck, or in my own car at the back of my dad’s restaurant.
Why? Why did I work so hard? Because I had a dream. A dream to one day be successful, own a BMW, live in a giant mansion and become the Secret of my Success. Michael J Fox had shown me that it was as easy as being a part of a family that always did the right thing, having a dream, sneaking into a large company, assuming another’s identity while dating the boss’s wife or girlfriend then once inside the inner circle just woo many wealthy investors with you childlike wit and charm! Bam! Money and success are all yours!! On top of that if you have to choose For Love or Money you can’t lose! Education be damned! Our ambition will win out every time!!! It was the eighties remember!!! Michael showed me time and again through different directorial visions that is how it’s done!
Unfortunately my brain believed all this could be true and as I worked hard providing ideas while trying to prove that I was willing to go that extra mile, work 14-16 hours a day looking for just a snippet of financial excess. Something happened. The truth, I was nothing more than an employee. You see the movies and television told me hard work paid off, long days, endless hours helped you get noticed and ultimately afforded you a seat at the head table. But 90% of the time it does no such thing. Don’t get me wrong, you are valued, I never felt as though in some small way I wasn’t valued at the jobs for which I worked the hardest. But unlike what Michaels movies had taught me, there was no monetary reward at the end of a hard day. That to this day is held for the exceptional family member, investor or capitalist. Not the hard working outsider. Of course maybe I just didn’t work hard enough, or my ability to recognize opportunity wasn’t sharp. Either way I walked away with only the satisfaction of doing a good job. I only wish I hadn’t been brain washed to believe there was more. For that Michael J Fox you crushed me.
Today, I have an enlightened social conscience, a family that makes the Huxtables look lame and I am trying my hardest to instill a solid work ethic combined with education so when my four children hit the world after college they have an ability to choose between a capitalist lifestyle or a socially conscience one. Hey maybe I’ll have one of those children that can do both, you know that ultra-rare animal, the one that leaves you in awe whenever you gaze upon its presence; the philanthropist? One can only hope.
So as I creep up on my 50th year, struggling at times to make ends meet, still keeping just a slim hope that Michaels words, ideas and strategies might just pay off. I think; Fuck it!
In the end I could never stay mad at you Michael J Fox! I guess you really didn’t ruin my life and your movies allowed me to dream big. I try to share dreaming big with my children because of you and truth be told you are still one of the funniest actors I have ever seen. Hopefully my children can figure it all out. Succeed where I have failed. Heck someone has to take care of me when I get old, and they are not allowed to warehouse me in a convalescent home! I will not be put in an institutional Cocoon but prefer instead to be On Golden Pond.