The cultural significance of the neo-romanticised movement of the 1980s should not come as any great surprise to anyone who owns a television set, a recently purchased pair of clothes, or to those who have listened to the latest MGMT album.
Over the last decade, iconic references to this period have dominated pop-culture, with TV shows such as GLOW, Stranger Things, and the most recent series of The Crown, all highlighting an era remembered for its social and economic vibrancy.
This sense of glamour and excess has also been expressed through the aesthetic of this decade’s fashion, which although lurid at times, is filled with enough colour and tenacity to fill us with a sense of hope – something we have needed more than ever before.
In the face of chic, understated dressing, we have embraced a louder and more vivid styling in a desperate attempt to counter the tedium of the loungewear that has become the uniform of lockdown. People have sought to replicate the design of ‘80s fashion icons, such as Princess Diana, who’s quaint sweaters have clearly been referenced in Zara’s AW20 collection, while nods to her seminal “revenge dress” have been witnessed across multiple runways.
While fashion, television, and music are clear examples of how the ‘80s has impacted modern culture, it is this decade’s influence upon our contemporary attitudes that is the most striking and curious factor at play. We have seemingly evoked this period, not just for its aesthetic value, but for its almost magical ability to conjure an optimistic feeling, in which both our culture and economy were thriving.
Although at the beginning of the pandemic, this sense of nostalgia may have simply functioned as hopeful escapism, its effects have been even more profound. For in our attempt to circumvent reality we have, in quite a memetic fashion, considered what our existence might look like in the future.
Whether this future will mimic the trends of the ‘80s is, however, still up for debate. Will we return to a past filled with optimism, hope, creativity, wealth, and freedom? Or is this simply just fanciful thinking?
While our dreams of big hair and power dressing may have, at one stage, provided us with the courage to keep pushing forward, this positive attitude may wane if the British populous continues to be confined to their quarters. The national mood is changing and as the forecast for the trends of 2021 come in, we may start to see a shift towards people favouring other decades that better suit the contemporary attitude.
People will almost inevitably start to feel fed-up with the constant reminder of how indulgent the ‘80’s were and therefore attempt to look to a period that is more relatable to their stark situation; what was once inspirational, has ultimately just become a kick in the teeth. As the world progressively darkens and freedoms feel increasingly out of reach, who, what, and when will we look too for inspiration?
With many feeling that the government has failed them, an anti-establishment demeanour has begun to fill the room. Nearly a year from the UK’s first lockdown, we have found ourselves in our third and have become more frustrated than ever. The neon-coloured daydream of 1980’s is now slowly turning into the angst-driven nightmares of the ‘60s and ‘70s.
The counterculture movements of these periods would shun traditional Western values and institutions – rebelling against established modes of authority. From music to fashion, this revolutionary way of thinking birthed a new culture: the ‘60s would be characterised by its alternative ‘hippie’ philosophy, anti-fashion silhouettes, and free love protests; whereas the punk rock scene of the ‘70s held a mirror to society and dared to ask if it had the gumption to dismantle the ‘progress’ it had made.
Grounded in the civil rights movement, the feel of these decades, in part, mirrors our own. People are questioning the inequities of our society, whether this be politically, racially, financially, environmentally, medically, or generationally.
Where in previous decades anti-establishment beliefs may have been in the minority, individuals within the mainstream are starting to become more cynical and have begun to question the integrity of those in power. The pandemic is prompting a cultural shift, although how this might transpire only time will tell.
After being trapped inside for so long, many may begin to reject domesticity, as those in the ‘60s and ‘70s did. Our lack of socialisation could lead to the rekindling of a punk-like attitude to authority figures, society, and people in general. This frustration may be channelled in teenage angst-like fashion to begin with, however, as Hunter S. Thompson would remark, ‘when the going gets weird the weird turn pro’.
Whether this will be seen through a revival in the punk rock scene, filled with anti-establishment lyrics and low-cost production, or that people are left with no other option than to turn into a professional rebel with (or without) a cause remains to be seen. We may simply witness an aesthetic shift, in which people’s attitudes are communicated creatively, or, if things get progressively worse, see a more tangible change in how individuals decide to express their anger and frustration.
The search for an alternative approach to living, particularly in relation to how we maintain our health, has, and will almost certainly continue to be a point of contention moving forward. In the 1960s many would question Western conceptions of medicine and turn to “natural” cures as a substitute. As Big Pharma continues to be accused of capitalist exploitation and is shrouded in conspiracy, will we too begin to look for alternative solutions to solve our medical issues during the pandemic?
Today, in 2021, distrust in health authorities and those who supply drugs to them has never been higher. People are beginning to shun vaccinations due to a lack of trust in its efficacy or safety. This has disconcerted a significant proportion of society who fear that misinformation may jeopardise a route out of the pandemic. While those practicing alternative medicine in the ‘60s where among the minority, vaccine anxiety is now being voiced en masse.
However, this is perhaps all too pessimistic – we may still emerge, not angry and mobilised, but with a renewed passion for life – carpe diem at its fullest.
Among younger generations there is a feeling of making up for lost time, a determination to “come back stronger” and reclaim the year of a wasted youth gone by. Indeed, we might see a different timeline where, instead of a revival in anti-establishment sentiment, the upcoming trends will reflect the “peace and love” aspect of the ‘60s, or other more “positive” decades such as the 1920s.
Instead of holding our government to account we may simply be grateful for our freedom, regardless of how delayed it was. We may return to our lives with renewed vigour and turn a blind eye to the powers that prevented it for so long, choosing to forget the casualties in lieu of the beginning of a new chapter.
Social epidemiologist Dr Nicholas Christakis concurs with this viewpoint, optimistically predicting a second “roaring twenties”, which coincidentally came after the flu epidemic of 1918. He argues that, although there is not a generation alive that has recovered from a pandemic, the phenomenon is not new to our species, and as such we can judge our cultural response based on past reactions.
Christakis’ has claimed that economic strain, as a result of a pandemic, is inevitable and that government intervention can do little to change this (a rather cynical view on governments capacity to enact change at times of crisis)
When the pandemic finally ends, people will spend more, abandon any religiosity adopted during the pandemic, and be more sexually free than ever, as they celebrate their long-awaited freedom. If Christakis’ is correct, we may not see a revival in anti-establishment sentiments, but trends inspired by the debauchery of the 1920s.
However, if one considers 2020 as a year of social change, this proposition seems highly unlikely.
Thanks to the internet, the average citizen in 2021 is significantly more informed and politically engaged than 100 years ago. Never before has a majority of the population been so politically aware or empowered to motivate change – the contemporary citizen understands the repercussions of government actions and want to hold them to account (or at least that’s what we hope).
Christakis’ argument that economic collapse could not have been prevented by the UK government fails to hold up when we look at the responses of other countries, such as Singapore and Vietnam, where their rapid response allowed businesses to operate as normal with minimal damages in a short period of time. Furthermore, differences in mortality rates also evidence our government’s ineptitude, in which other nations, with a similar population density, have not experienced the overwhelming losses that England has.
Due to financial restrictions, many will not have the money necessary to splash out on the products or services which could reignite the economy. People have lost their jobs and many businesses have folded due to prolonged lockdown and a lack of support from the government.
While this optimistic projection of the future may have been plausible one-hundred years ago, today, in the twenty-first century, with a population that is the most educated that it has ever been, it seems unlikely that people will allow for these ‘mistakes’ to be simply brushed under the carpet.
We are now removed from the cycle of seasons and have reached a time unprecedented in humanities history. While we will always look back to the past in an effort to move forward – we hold in our hands a destiny, as of yet unravelled. Although the government has and continues to fail in its efforts to manifest its own vision, we may take refuge and inspiration from those that have come before us, to seek their courage in our own effort to rise once again. As to who we may look to, and what decade precisely, can only be speculated upon.
We may indeed still have a roaring ‘20s… But it won’t look the same second time around.
Written by Poppy Male.
Illustrated by Hollie Joiner.