Movies in the 1980s treated messages like M. Night Shyamalan treats plot twists: Even if you had to shoehorn that shit in there, even if it completely ruined everything that came before it, no film was complete without some kind of moral slapping around in your face like a dying fish. If Aesop were alive in 1985, he would have directed the touching story of Jeanine Turtle and Michael Hare, two competing instructors at ski camp who learn that it's not the race that matters, but who you fall in love with along the way. But there are only so many ways you can cram "give love a chance" into your movies before you start reaching for a message that hasn't been sent a million times before. That's how we wound up with several films that bizarrely insisted ...
4Your Hobby Will Save the World Someday
We didn't have hobbies in the '80s. We had important, potentially life-saving skill sets that just hadn't had a chance to shine yet. Regardless of your interests, at some point they would inevitably become vital to the continued existence of humanity. Some dark and stormy night, the Emergency Broadcast System would announce a flash flood and you would have no choice but to roller disco your parents to safety, hula hoop some kittens out of a house fire or just stoically accept a new kind of prototype Lego that a mysterious spy, with his dying breath, pressed into your capable hands. We just couldn't stand the idea that things we did for fun were trivial or stupid, so we made a bunch of trivial and stupid movies about how important they were.
This Logic Gave Us:
Wherein Christian Slater fights injustice with skateboarding. Surprise! Skateboarding wins.
Wherein the guy from ER (no, not that guy; the other guy) stops the Cold War with the power of paintball.
But the Most Ridiculous Example Was ...
In Rad, the entire town -- not just the kids, or the parents, or the school, but every aspect of an official township, from local government to manufacturing to the restaurant owners -- revolves around BMX racing events.
Everything about this clip -- the hastily be-shoulderpadded dresses, the skintight white pants, the entire brigade of hyperblonde douche-villains -- is the most '80s thing you have ever, or will ever, witness in your life, until the almighty hand of God reaches down to take you into his embrace forever and ever, amen.
For example: Not only is the touching last dance of this high school's prom performed via an intricate series of bunny hops but, according to the DJ, Bicycle Boogie is a normal thing that happens so often that they have a fucking name for it. And he's right. Watch the kids when Bicycle Boogie is announced: It's like a fire drill to them. The entire school is so prepared for this moment that they instantly cease all irrelevant activities and clear the dance floor with a terrifying, Germanic efficiency. They're not smiling about it, or feigning mock disbelief, either. Nobody's looking around and laughing, like "Can you believe we're doing this?" No, they stoically march into their places around the school's official Rad-Dancing Ring, the DJ starts spinning "Send Me an Angel," somebody turns on the Slow Motion and Lens Flare Machine and Uncle Jesse's girlfriend from Full House mounts her trusty Huffy and does this without a hint of irony:
And the two dancers not only are not instantly beaten within an inch of their lives by bullies who would only be doing what nature demands of them, but are actually greeted with swarming cheers. Those heartfelt nollies and barspins were executed so tenderly that they mended the sundered relationships of any townsfolk who witnessed their ethereal beauty. The '80s actually put all this shit forward with a straight face, and we bought it -- all so we could defiantly shout that, no, we weren't building a ramp in the driveway out of plywood and cinder blocks to play on; we were constructing a shrine to touch people's hearts, mom.
3Self-Esteem Comes from Magical Powers
The '80s gave us Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Big, approximately 72 X-Men spinoffs and a whole host of sci-fi/coming-of-age films, all with the exact same lesson: Magic is like an STD. If you're not careful, it's not a matter of if, but when you contract it. Luckily, no matter how many high school football games your inadvertent genie powers destroyed, the only lasting consequences were a renewed sense of self-worth and possibly a bitchin' Camaro (if the Wishlord was feeling generous).
This Logic Gave Us:
Back in the '80s when people literally thought computers were powered by lightning and wizardry, two nerds programmed up an impossibly sexy, competent and accommodating woman who still wouldn't bang them, but that's OK, because she showed them how to bang themselves ... in the heart.
One of the guys from Weekend at Bernie's sculpts a mannequin so perfect that it can't help but come to life. Together, they learn how to design the perfect window displays. Which is like, what he wanted all along, I guess?
Charles in Charge accidentally sciences up a psychic potion, and the ensuing antics teach everybody a little lesson about life, love and telekinetic upskirts.
But the Most Ridiculous Example Was ...
An unpopular girl at school discovers she's a witch and immediately starts witchin' the holy shit out of her hometown. Eventually, she learns that magic powers aren't a substitute for fair play, and to accept -- nay, treasure -- the flaws that make her unique. Like all emotional crises involving pubescent suburban white girls in the 1980s, this was all accomplished via enchanted rap battle, of course:
The scene starts with our heroines giggling and cooing inanely to each other, which is what Hollywood informs me all women do right before you point a camera at them. And everything was all merry paisley and carefree spandex ... until they stumbled into the closest thing Connecticut will ever have to gang territory.
It's laughable now to think that this was how the '80s depicted bad boys, but if there was any dictum governing cultural philosophy in that decade, it was thus: If something is worth doing, it's worth doing as wrong as possible and as loudly as you can. You can't hold the complete and total abortion of hip-hop against Teen Witch. What you can hold against the movie is this guy:
Nobody in history has had such a punchable face. What you are looking at here is not merely a giant penis that inexplicably learned how to lace up hightops; this man is incontrovertible proof of intelligent design. Only a careful and studious engineer of a god could refine the angles of the jawline like that, could sculpt them so flawlessly, could mold them to so perfectly cradle a human fist. Look at his face: Every second he isn't being punched in the mouth, a distant star flares into life just to balance the amount of wasted potential in the universe. But where we can only look upon his visage and finally recognize the piece our fists have always been missing, one of our heroines gazes on that flailing cacophony of assholes and dreamily murmurs: "Look at how funky he is."
"I said fucking look at it! LOOK AT IT."
That's right. This guy is not the villain of Teen Witch. This is one of the love interests. What you thought was the best casting of "hateable prick" outside of that unfortunate kid who plays Joffrey in Game of Thrones was actually supposed to be a desirable human specimen. And then, impossibly, it gets worse: Thanks to a little magic, Teen Witch's dumpy friend musters up the courage to battle-rap evolution's most perfect target. Along the way, she manages to rhyme "that" with "that" no less than 30 times, and the resulting black mark on rap's street cred required another 20 years of drive-by shootings to erase. But that's OK, because a little Jewish girl in the suburbs finally lived her dream of giving a douchebag a handjob in the back of a rusted out Buick.