Aussie exhibition evokes yearning for 'simpler' 1980s

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The Independent Online

The decade which produced Rubik's Cube and the Sony Walkman may seem old-hat, but a new Australian exhibition dedicated to the 1980s is riding a wave of nostalgia for pre-digital days, its curator says.

Peter Cox, who has put together 'The 80s are back' at Sydney's Powerhouse Museum, says the generation that grew up watching "Dallas", playing Pac-Man and listening to INXS and Wham! holds a fondness for those day-glo days.

"It was a simpler time," he told AFP as the show opened.

"It was pre-9/11. While there was a kind of shadow of Cold War and impending nuclear apocalypse, at least you knew where the enemy was.

"It was before the digital era really."

Hundreds of keen time-travellers have flocked to the exhibition since it opened this month, peering into screens playing pioneering video clips while Pat Benatar's "Love is a "Battlefield" or Salt 'n Pepa's "Push It" is pumped into the room.

On display are the diversions of the time - arcade classics such as Galaga, Donkey Kong and Frogger - as the exhibition tracks gaming from Pac-Man to Space Invaders to Atari and Nintendo 'Game & Watch'.

Costumes worn by Boy George, Kylie Minogue and Split Enz are on display, while a window into 1980s fashion features acid wash jeans, fluorescent aerobics leotards and shoulder-padded powersuits.

Cox said he wanted to create an exhibition of the popular culture - the television shows, music, movies, clothes and toys - of the time when Ronald Reagan was US president, AIDS was first recognised and the Berlin Wall fell.

"It was a time when Australian culture really flourished. There was a period there around the time of the America's Cup (won by Australia) in '83 when a lot seemed to be happening for Australia on the overseas front," he said.

The biggest grossing Australian movie of all-time, "Crocodile Dundee", was a worldwide smash, INXS and Men at Work enjoyed big hits and an unassuming soap opera called "Neighbours" took off in Britain, he said.

But Cox said it would be wrong to categorise the 1980s by the economic boom times portrayed in the movie "Wall Street" or the lavish opulence of American television shows such as "Dynasty" and "Dallas".

"The 80s get stereotyped a bit as one big party and of course life wasn't like that for most people. There were tough times for people in the 80s as well - there was severe recession in 81-82," he said.

Meanwhile youth unemployment was high, stock markets around the world crashed in 1987 and by 1989 in Australia interest rates had topped 17 percent, creating hardship for home-owners struggling to meet mortgage payments.

"In the 90s, the 80s were way out of fashion. People in the 90s sneered at the 80s a bit, they seemed embarrassed by its excesses," Cox said.

"But it's clear that in the last few years a new generation of young people... have been looking to the 1980s for fashion styles and musical styles. It's apparent in the way that people are dressing on the street."