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How did the ’80s become a punchline?

How did the ’80s become a punchline? (photo)

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Give anything 20 years and it’ll start to look like the makings of a joke. And so — welcome back to the ’80s, or, as LCD Soundsystem’s “Losing My Edge” put it, “borrowed nostalgia for the unremembered ’80s.” You don’t even need to have had first-hand experience with the decade to make fun of it.

Today’s opening of “MacGruber” — which Karina Longworth’s review clusters alongside “Hot Tub Time Machine” and “Cop Out” as movies whose primary subject is a decade’s worth of pop culture rather than actual people — confirms what we already knew: VH1’s “I Love The 80s” was far, far more insidious than we figured.

Compare and contrast — the trailers for “MacGruber” and “Hot Tub Time Machine” are below:

The ’70s didn’t suddenly see a big spate of films mocking the ’50s, nor the ’80s the ’60s and so forth. There is a joke in “Dazed and Confused” — the only one that really guns for the low-hanging fruit — where a character speculates on the rule of how every other decade is awesome, and figures out since the ’70s suck, maybe the ’80s will be totally awesome. But that’s about it.

05212010_hottubtimemachine.jpgThat an entire decade’s worth of pop culture is, in and of itself, a punchline, is new and unnerving. It’s different from the numerous films taking old TV franchises as a starting point for a movie. The idea isn’t playing with an established brand and resurrecting familiar images; it’s toying with passed-down imagery as a joke whose currency is already established.

The idea that changes in fashion (accessories, clothing, music, so on) automatically constitute hilarity, then, is a special rule we’ve come up with for the ’80s. Familiarity breeds contemptuous affection for a decade that’s just stupid, which was VH1’s whole premise — mention just a title or name, then laugh away. What’s unclear is whether thirtysomethings now getting to make their own movies will be able to sell that to kids too young to directly remember the ’80s, those for whom the below montage conjures no nostalgia.

What really gives me pause is wondering whether this is a one-off or a harbinger of something more sinister. 20 years hence, will we be deluged with movies portraying the aughts as a time of toxic smart-phone abuse, American Apparel and people writing their own Wikipedia entries? It’s easy to reduce a decade to its pop-culture sound-bites and trend topics when you have no memory of being complicit with them. Sneering is easy, compassion is hard.

[Photos: “MacGruber,” Universal, 2010; “Hot Tub Time Machine,” MGM, 2010]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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