Why we still look back on the 80s: lost innocence

Hot Tub Time Machine has come out. This is how it (should have) started.

  • Writer: Hot tub time machine.
  • Friend A: What?
  • Writer: Nothing. It just popped into my head.
  • Friend A: Sounds lame but funny. What are you going to do with it?
  • Writer: I don’t know. Maybe I can pitch it around.
  • ——— 4 weeks later ———-
  • Writer: I got feedback. We can make it into a movie about four losers in a Jacuzzi tub going back in time to the 80s.
  • Producer A: Are you out of your fxxking mind? Who is saying that?
  • Writer: John Cusack. He also wants to be in it.
  • Producer A: That’s a brilliant concept! Secure the rights and deliver the final script in two weeks. We’re gonna shoot it in six months.

When a movie goes out of the safe-bet zone, probably there is someone in the background with power and lunacy (this time, in a logical way). The logical lunacy here is not why the time machine has to be a Jacuzzi tub, or why the protagonists have to be middle-aged losers, or why the movie has to be “Hot Tub Time Machine” at all. It’s the 80s. Why not the 70s or 90s?

The answer: to be nostalgic about our lost innocence. As a Gen-X who has witnessed four decades starting from the 70s, I remember the 80s as the only decade in which we indulged in materialistic pleasure without seriously worrying whether our future or world was going to turn upside down. After going through the social upheavals and experiments in the 60s and the 70s, we started to hallucinate (again), as if we had forgotten all the lessons learned. We had done our homework,  why not indulge for a moment decade?

Enjoy the moment; it is going to last forever. That was our unspoken motto, until the crash of the Berlin Wall brought us a new era of political freedom—and also an alarm clock. Time to wake up, boys; the party is over.

What follows a decade-long party? Answer: withdrawal that lasts for two decades. By singing “Hello, hello, how low?” Kurt Cobain wasn’t trying to be provocative, as many critics said then; he was merely describing the world as it was. Kids adored him and adults frowned upon him for the same reason: Nirvana opened a Pandora’s box by making the audience realize they were socially sick. And at the turn of the 21st century, our frustration and sickness turned into collective anger: I don’t need to restate what happened there. Our memory is still fresh (and raw).

No wonder we want to remember the last glory days of our lives, even knowing that they were partially built on delusion. I overheard a friend of mine saying, “Somehow the 80s never die.” They do not, because what the decade represents—lost innocence—is a timeless theme that gets reinforced as we grow older. We can never “undo” knowledge. In this sense, ignorance is truly bliss.

Hot Tub Time Machine is not doing well in the box office, which is a good sign. No matter how fun it might be, nostalgia is nostalgia and we don’t need it more than once—especially when it involves watching grown-up men taking a Jacuzzi together. John Cusack, himself an 80s icon, seems to get this point and that’s why we still love him:

I think being self-referential is really narcissistic. Who’s to say anybody’s even thinking of you that much? But some of these movies that I’ve done, people still recite lines to me, even 20 years later. And “Say Anything” seemed to become a big touchstone film for people. I was in one of the first John Hughes movies, and then I made “Better Off Dead” which people still remember so fondly, so I thought there was something delicious about a grown man having to get trapped in that. And then the joke’s on me.

We have just started the new decade (no, we won’t die in a few years). So we should go watch this film, say good-bye to our innocent days, and prepare to shape the next ten years. 

P.S. I typed “innocence” as “innocense” seven times and the spell checker punished me with red ink each time. Somehow my brain cannot compute the logic behind having three ns, two cs, and two ces in a single word; two many. I am so sorry.