With Watchmen, GI Joe, Transformers and now V, American pop culture seems stuck in a particular part of its past. Why are we so fascinated with taking things from the 80's and making them our own?
Written by David Grossman
Everyone gets nostalgic. What's odd is when an entire society wants to relive a specific moment in its history. Where we want to go says a lot about us as a society. In the 70's, the 1950's suddenly became big with Grease and Happy Days- it seemed like a friendlier time when Americans could worry more about jumping over buses in motorcycles than crises in the Middle East. Here in the 21st Century, America has been dreaming of the 80's. It's a trend that's taking on a very different tone then the 50's craze. Rather than re-imagining an idealistic version of the time period, we have taken the liberty of re-appropriating the time period's stories for ourselves. But why?
Maybe because so many parts of the current decade look familiar. Culture in the 80's was, in general, based on the concept of dehumanization. It's no coincidence that electronica and synth first really became popular during the 80's- it's also when the computer first started becoming at least somewhat commonplace. Machinery was becoming more of a factor in day-to-day lives and in some cases, like cell phones, changing the way people interacted. Neuromancer captures the moment and its fears with its black organ clinics and razors popping out under fingernails, but William Gibson didn't have to be that inventive to describe what was happening. The spectacle of hair metal, the androgyny of David Bowie and Prince, big shoulders- people were interested in looking and being more than, or at least different than, humans.
The 2000's have had a similar transformation. Rather than turn our bodies into machines, we've placed ourselves inside them. We've trusted our personalities to Facebook, clever hashtags and ironic avatar pictures. Our knowledge of people is increasingly becoming second-hand, told through online arbiters. It's not necessarily a bad thing, of course- a Facebook page can show off intelligence and humor in a non-threatening fashion, the same is true of Twitter or online comments. It's just that we're not deciding the parameters of our conversation- someone else is.
Enter V. The original and the new one version share the same basic story- aliens trapping humanity under false pretense. It's a story that's been told before, but never with the specific V uses. The aliens sought first to change human society by maligning the scientific community, and eventually destory nearly all of it, reducing humanity to slaves, cannon fodder and food. The Visitors and the technology they use are undoubtedly evil, except when we use them:
It's not hard to take this idea and expand it to a larger theme- technology is evil, but only when it is out of our control. Outside forces will try to deceive, but we- as humans, and specifically Americans- can use it properly.
While the new V hasn't focused on technology or a total shakeup of societal structure yet, it has looked at the importance of visual deception. There are sleeper Vs, but they aren't like Boomer in Battlestar Galactica, who had no idea of her true origin until later on. They willingly mislead humanity with their good looks and calm demeanor. In "There Is No Normal Anymore," Anna shuffles through outfits in which to present herself to different countries. This isn't that different from sifting through pictures for the perfect Facebook profile shot, the one that really brings your smile out. Sure, Anna's also hiding a hideous reptilian skin, but the core principle is the same.
And this is why the 80's keep coming up in pop culture. Unlike the 70's and the 50's, where nostalgia was key, the 2000's and 80's have a common robotic bond. Dehumanization is back in vogue- we don't have synth, we have autotune. As long as we continue to mix our personalities with internet coding (it looks to be a long time), stories about the non-human becoming like us will continue to fascinate. And where better to take stories from then the decade where it all began?