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More! A Nostalgic Snapshot of 80’s Consumer Culture

As I was sifting through the magazine rack at my local thrift store – searching for “stimulus” for an innovation ideation (say THAT ten times fast) session – I came across the type of rare gem that made my narcissistic anthropologist day. It was this issue of Soap Opera Digest from July of 1984.

20140303-192651.jpg

I was 7 years old that summer. I remember my child and tween days well. Lots of neon “fashions”, hair crimping, after school specials like the one featuring A “roid rage”-afflicted young Ben Afflec or PCP-crazed Helen Hunt and the mall – for both conspicuous-consumption-oriented shopping at stores like The Limited and touring pop stars like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

Madonna may have been the up-and-coming “Material Girl”, but my Mother was THE ultimate perpetuator of the 80’s consumer lifestyle and the ideal marketing target.

Mom, I know you are going to read this. Please know that my objective (and potentially mildly offensive)
analysis also comes with “with love”.

Caveats aside, I came to this conclusion when I flipped to the back page and saw the following ad for More Red 100’s – my Mom’s brand of cigarettes (which she was loyal to until she quit smoking in the early 2000’s) – which explained EVERYTHING!

Just look. I will tell you what I see but would love to hear other interpretations and anecdotes from my generational-bubble brethren:

20140303-192156.jpg

Here is what I see: elegant brunette beauty (she’s serious about her career-driven affluence- she doesn’t just want to “have more fun”…she’s earning it), wearing all white (because she doesn’t get dirty when she’s working it and she vacations where it’s very warm and sunny- notice the tan complexion and pantyhose), waiting with two snifters of brandy (because it’s the classy way to get drunk) at an outdoor cafe table (because she’s been to Paris).

She is long and lean and lovely like her cigarette – which with it’s cigar-like appeal, along with the aforementioned brown liquor, also demonstrates a certain masculine “carnivore” vibe that was the instigator of the rampant capitalism that made the 80’s so much “more”.

It reminds me of making my mom vodka and tab (we learned young back then) while she lounged in the sun on a plastic lawn chair in the back yard, slathered in Johnson&Johnson baby oil.

I remember spending week-nights before going to sleep at the foot of my parent’s bed watching Dynasty and Dallas and Knott’s Landing.

I remember our suburban duplex McMansion neighborhood, our leased Cadillacs, knock-off Eames lounge chairs, shag carpeting, walls filled with Joan Miro prints from the “Art of the Month” club and Formica dining room table.

I remember my parents, who had both been born to working class recent immigrant Jewish families in the Bronx, jet-setting off to their lucrative wholesale garment rep jobs in the city every day. They often came home late at night in Stockton limo rentals after having entertained clients. They spent every penny they had on stuff and on house parties (as well as “partying”) and a live-in nanny/ maid to take care of their young children while they earned and enjoyed their newfound middle-class living.

Then the 80’s ended and excess gave way to recession. My parents started experiencing theirs a little prematurely but the rest of the nation was to catch up in a couple of decades.

Their consumer lifestyle was a tale from the movies filled with characters from American Hustle. It was a grand party and everyone wanted “more”.

I have been known to say that I might have rather been a “Huxtable” instead. But truth be told I am glad I had my parents. It enabled me to get grounded in my anthropological roots and develop a love/hate relationship for consumer culture that would be my passion and career for years to come…and counting.As I was sifting through the magazine rack at my local thrift store – searching for “stimulus” for an innovation ideation (say THAT ten times fast) session – I came across the type of rare gem that made my narcissistic anthropologist day. It was this issue of Soap Opera Digest from July of 1984.

20140303-192651.jpg

I was 7 years old that summer. I remember my child and tween days well. Lots of neon “fashions”, hair crimping, after school specials like the one featuring A “roid rage”-afflicted young Ben Afflec or PCP-crazed Helen Hunt and the mall – for both conspicuous-consumption-oriented shopping at stores like The Limited and touring pop stars like Tiffany and Debbie Gibson.

Madonna may have been the up-and-coming “Material Girl”, but my Mother was THE ultimate perpetuator of the 80’s consumer lifestyle and the ideal marketing target.

Mom, I know you are going to read this. Please know that my objective (and potentially mildly offensive)
analysis also comes with “with love”.

Caveats aside, I came to this conclusion when I flipped to the back page and saw the following ad for More Red 100’s – my Mom’s brand of cigarettes (which she was loyal to until she quit smoking in the early 2000’s) – which explained EVERYTHING!

Just look. I will tell you what I see but would love to hear other interpretations and anecdotes from my generational-bubble brethren:

20140303-192156.jpg

Here is what I see: elegant brunette beauty (she’s serious about her career-driven affluence- she doesn’t just want to “have more fun”…she’s earning it), wearing all white (because she doesn’t get dirty when she’s working it and she vacations where it’s very warm and sunny- notice the tan complexion and pantyhose), waiting with two snifters of brandy (because it’s the classy way to get drunk) at an outdoor cafe table (because she’s been to Paris).

She is long and lean and lovely like her cigarette – which with it’s cigar-like appeal, along with the aforementioned brown liquor, also demonstrates a certain masculine “carnivore” vibe that was the instigator of the rampant capitalism that made the 80’s so much “more”.

It reminds me of making my mom vodka and tab (we learned young back then) while she lounged in the sun on a plastic lawn chair in the back yard, slathered in Johnson&Johnson baby oil.

I remember spending week-nights before going to sleep at the foot of my parent’s bed watching Dynasty and Dallas and Knott’s Landing.

I remember our suburban duplex McMansion neighborhood, our leased Cadillacs, knock-off Eames lounge chairs, shag carpeting, walls filled with Joan Miro prints from the “Art of the Month” club and Formica dining room table.

I remember my parents, who had both been born to working class recent immigrant Jewish families in the Bronx, jet-setting off to their lucrative wholesale garment rep jobs in the city every day. They often came home late at night in limousines after having entertained clients. They spent every penny they had on stuff and on house parties (as well as “partying”) and a live-in nanny/ maid to take care of their young children while they earned and enjoyed their newfound middle-class living.

Then the 80’s ended and excess gave way to recession. My parents started experiencing theirs a little prematurely but the rest of the nation was to catch up in a couple of decades.

Their consumer lifestyle was a tale from the movies filled with characters from American Hustle. It was a grand party and everyone wanted “more”.

I have been known to say that I might have rather been a “Huxtable” instead. But truth be told I am glad I had my parents. It enabled me to get grounded in my anthropological roots and develop a love/hate relationship for consumer culture that would be my passion and career for years to come…and counting.

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Categories: American Culture, Anthropology, Consumer Anthropology, Consumer Culture, Ethnography, Marketing, middle class, pop culture, Suburban Living, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , | Leave a comment

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