Back to Our Future
How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now--Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything
By David Sirota
(Ballantine Books, Hardcover, 9780345518781, 304pp.)
Publication Date: March 15, 2011
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Wall Street scandals. Fights over taxes. Racial resentments. A Lakers-Celtics championship. The Karate Kid topping the box-office charts. Bon Jovi touring the country. These words could describe our current moment—or the vaunted iconography of three decades past.
In this wide-ranging and wickedly entertaining book, New York Times bestselling journalist David Sirota takes readers on a rollicking DeLorean ride back in time to reveal how so many of our present-day conflicts are rooted in the larger-than-life pop culture of the 1980s—from the “Greed is good” ethos of Gordon Gekko (and Bernie Madoff) to the “Make my day” foreign policy of Ronald Reagan (and George W. Bush) to the “transcendence” of Cliff Huxtable (and Barack Obama).
Today’s mindless militarism and hypernarcissism, Sirota argues, first became the norm when an ’80s generation weaned on Rambo one-liners and “Just Do It” exhortations embraced a new religion—with comic books, cartoons, sneaker commercials, videogames, and even children’s toys serving as the key instruments of cultural indoctrination. Meanwhile, in productions such as Back to the Future, Family Ties, and The Big Chill, a campaign was launched to reimagine the 1950s as America’s lost golden age and vilify the 1960s as the source of all our troubles. That 1980s revisionism, Sirota shows, still rages today, with Barack Obama cast as the 60s hippie being assailed by Alex P. Keaton–esque Republicans who long for a return to Eisenhower-era conservatism.
“The past is never dead,” William Faulkner wrote. “It’s not even past.” The 1980s—even more so. With the native dexterity only a child of the Atari Age could possess, David Sirota twists and turns this multicolored Rubik’s Cube of a decade, exposing it as a warning for our own troubled present—and possible future.
David Sirota is a journalist, nationally syndicated weekly newspaper columnist, and radio host. His weekly column is based at The Denver Post, San Francisco Chronicle, Portland Oregonian, and The Seattle Times and now appears in newspapers with a combined daily circulation of more than 1.6 million readers. He has contributed to The New York Times Magazine and The Nation and hosts an award-winning daily talk show on Denver’s Clear Channel affiliate, KKZN-AM760. He is a senior editor at In These Times magazine and a Huffington Post contributor and appears periodically on CNN, The Colbert Report, PBS, and NPR. He received a degree in journalism and political science from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. He lives in Denver with his wife, Emily, and their dog, Monty.
"Sirota makes a compelling case that 1980s culture and politics have an outsized influence on how we think now. To build his case, he apparently hacked my brain and downloaded my entire age-7-to-age-17 cultural intake. From Rerun Stubbs on ‘What's Happening’ to the ‘Missile Command’ videogame, the roots of how we think now are there. Scary. Wildly entertaining -- and scary."—Rachel Maddow, host The Rachel Maddow Show
"I went into Back to Our Future thinking that I had grown up in an era of endearingly mindless pop-culture entertainments, and came out of it convinced that from my childhood on I had been fed an almost endless stream of ruthless mind-bending propaganda of a sort that would have made the Soviets sick with jealousy. David's book is simultaneously hilarious and horrifying. The part that freaked me out was how at the end of reading this thing you feel (and here I'm using a metaphor pertinent to the subject matter) like Sean Young's replicant character in Blade Runner, sick to discover that the harmless memories you thought were your own were actually planted there by some sick committee of totalitarian bureaucrats. You'll never think of Mr. T the same way. " –Matt Taibbi, author of Griftopia: Bubble Machines, Vampire Squids, and the Long Con That Is Breaking America
“An irreverent, astute and provocative look at the ways in which the culture of the Me decade shaped three decades of me first politics. People may think we live in the age of Reagan, but really it's the age of Alex P Keaton.”—Christopher Hayes, editor of The Nation
"Max Headroom, Ferris Bueler and Alex Keaton... Self centered capitalistic narcissists or fun pop culture icons? David Sirota cracks this mystery. Well not really a mystery.... Just read the book."—Adam McKay, director and writer of Anchorman