Ahh the 1980s. It was a great time to be alive. Generation Xers reminisce over them; the Millennials romanticize about them. Baby Boomers are probably glad they're over. They were definitely the 'What the heck' decade. If you went to school in the 1980s you definitely remember some crazy school fads. Here are a few of the ones I remember most in no certain order.
Slap bracelets were all the rage from about 1988 or so into the early nineties, give or take a couple years. Almost every kid in class had at least one and it was hardly uncommon to see some with two or three. Some even had them going all the way up their forearm! For those that aren't aware, slap bracelets were a combination fashion accessory/toy that consisted of a stiff plastic strip with two fine metal wires down the sides. They could be straightened out and when you slapped a straightened out bracelet against your wrist the action caused it to curl up into a bracelet suddenly and remain on your wrist with a 'Thwack!' sound. They could be found at pretty much any store or in gumball machines and they came in any coloration you could imagine from solid colors to complex patterns. I remember seeing such ugly patterns as hot pink with black zigzags, paisley, imitations of tie-dye. They were EVERYWHERE and it got so you got tired of seeing them. I had one, but I got aggrevated at having it around my wrist. It wasn't comfortable so I gave it away. When I got home and it wasn't with me I got questioned and
replied that I had 'lost' it. I got a sympathetic reply with the promise of getting a replacement one. I replied that that was okay, really. The slap or snap bracelet fad finally came to an end sometime in the early 90s when it was discovered that cheaper made ones were breaking with the little wires coming through the plastic and injuring children's wrist. I personally saw kids trying to fix this with tape. More often they would crease and not work right anymore. I've seen a few of these things still out there but hopefully, like the Eldar, they never regain their numbers enough to rebuild their empire.
Funky pencils have been around for ever and were probably nothing new in the 80s but I recall that they were everywhere you looked. Each day kids brought with them in their pencil boxes all manner of unorthodox pencils. These included round pencils with no erasers, thicker than normal pencils, pencils with little critters on springs where their erasers should have been. Natural wood pencils that had no paint at all were wildly popular. Pencils in a riot of garish colors were everywhere; anything from hot pink to holographic to covered in smiley faces to gold and silver. Pencils that would make their conservative, hexagonal yellow #2 cousins moan in distress. But the most bizarre of all were the plastic ones. Made of some composite of ground up plastic these looked more or less like normal pencils but you could tell them at a glance because they were usually warped and bowed. Some clever eco friendly exec's idea to save the planet by replacing wooden pencils with ones made of a petrochemical polymer. They came in the same range of mutant colors the other Funky Pencils came in but as soon as you handled one you knew it was abnormal. It didn't feel right. They bent when you tried to write with them and often broke. The erasers also were made of some concoction of ground up plastic rather than rubber which smeared the lead more than it removed it. These harder than normal aberations could tear paper. Even the leads were made of some weird amalgamation of plastic like...something. Probably the greatest mockery these things committed was to audaciously be colored like wood! I think any child over seven instinctively sensed that these things shouldn't have been. Which leads us to our next topic:
If you were around in the eighties and you were in grade school back then you probably remember pencil fights quite well. These were routine sights in corridors and backs of classrooms. It was a kind of 'sport' in which two players tried to break each other's pencils by impact. One would hold his pencil horizontal while the other swung at it with a flicking motion of his wrist. The object was to break the horizontal pencil in two, completely if possible. The player holding the broken pencil was declared the 'loser' even though there was no lack of skill that caused it but rather mechanical nuances in the pencil itself. You could always tell a veteran fighting pencil because it had a number of large dents along its length. Hitting another player's fingers or dropping a pencil mid swing was against the 'rules' and usually incurred a free swing on the opposing player's next turn. A variation was 'pen fighting' in which the object was to knock the horizontal pen out of the opposing player's hand rather than break it. Plastic pencils were highly frowned on due to their wobbly, weak nature. Pencil Fights were roundly proscribed by teachers who deemed the activity to be disruptive and 'dangerous' (seriously??). Although teachers always tried to break up pencil fights I know that on at least one occasion I saw two teachers doing it when they thought nobody was looking. Today the city of Seattle has its own Pencil Fighting 'league'. WTF Seattle, Really??
Now&Laters are little squares of a tough, fruity flavored candy that come individually wrapped in wax paper in a little cellophane wrapper. It's a kind of hard taffy. Back in the 80s it seemed EVERY kid had a pack of these things at any given time, at least in my school. I'm not sure why this was so popular; maybe it was a regional fad. I don't know. These little things were confectionary hard tack. When you first put one of the pieces in your mouth, whether it was flavored with some funky artifical orange, banana or cherry flavor, or some other, it would be hard and tough and might even break; the more you chewed it the softer it got. It seemed any kid that was anybody had at least one pack of these things in his or her pocket each day. Some hyper-cool kids even had TWO. Strangely they were never called Now&Laters but kids almost always called them 'Nialators' (like annihilate, minus the A), or sometimes 'Nowalaters'. If you tried to correct somebody on the right way to pronounce it you got ragged hard for it. I finally gave in and started calling them nialators myself. Interestingly the little pieces of fruit flavored incisor-epoxy are still around. A couple coworkers of mine said you could find them in convenience stores with large candy sections. I was never fond of them personally. Evidently they've fallen into obscurity. I'll never understand why these little iron rations of the candy universe were ever so popular. Chalk it up to clever marketing maybe.
Swatch is a brand of Swiss watch which has been popular since the 1970s. If I recall correctly they were cheap-they were an alternative to finely crafted high dollar watches and this is probably why they were popular with students. That and the fact that they were made of ugly, garish plastic. I remember that all the 'cool' kids (for values of cool) had one of these ugly things lashed around his wrist. They would come in and show it off and it always drew a crowd. You'd come in and see three or four kids huddled together in the hall and ask 'What are you guys looking at?' and the kid would reply 'My new Swatch!'. Swatch Watches had practically any color or color pattern on them you could imagine. And they always seemed to be tasteless. I never owned a Swatch Watch and I never will. Swatch Watches are far from out of fashion and they continue to this day; it seems there's a whole cult following for these things. No doubt many of these loyal converts were won over in the halls of education of the 1980s.
Velcro Strap Shoes
Velcro strap shoes are hardly a new thing nor are they hardly passe now. They weren't new in the 80s if I recall. But they were very popular with kids and adults alike in those days. I saw teachers wearing them right along with the students and it seems velcro straps came as an option on both cheap and expensive shoes. The fashion back in the day was to cross the straps over in an X pattern. In fact, years later when I ended up with a pair of strap shoes in highschool (I asked for a pair of cheap shoes of any kind and got the velcro kind'-) it drew a fondly nostalgic comment from one of my classmates. "I remember when we used to cross 'em over like this', he said making an X motion with his finger. "That was the style'. That may have been the style; nowadays if you're older than oh, let's say eight, they get you picked on. From now on I'll stick to laces.
The Chuck Taylor shoe is still around though I haven't seen too many of them lately. The last pair I saw was an expensive custom made pair my friend ordered directly from the company. Back in the 80s they enjoyed a pretty good share of the tennis shoe market doing decent competition with Nike. They were affordable; decent quality and came in a variety of styles in both high and low top designs. Often they came in various stylish color patterns which were mostly aimed at children. I had a couple pairs myself and they were probably my favorite shoe back then. They even marketed a glow in the dark model called 'Kid Glows' that were marketed towards, unsurprisingly, kids. The uppers were covered with plastic impregnated with glow powder and glowed green in the dark. They came in three or four styles. I had a pair when I was in maybe second grade. Say what you will about the gaudiness of glowing sneakers; at least they weren't dangerous like those roller skate hybrid things out there now. About the greatest threat they posed was getting you ragged by older kids. Actually you unsurprisingly saw lots of them out on Halloween night the year they came out. Converse also came in velcro strap varieties.
Koosh Balls were largish rubber balls covered in hundreds of fine elastic strands. They were pretty popular and cost about eight dollars which was pretty costly for a toy back in the day. I'm not really sure what their purpose was. They didn't belong to any game. They resembled some weird cilliate alien microbe more than any piece of sports equipment. They felt funky in your hand and it was fun to toss them back and forth. I wanted one for a while but never got one. It was common to see some kid bouncing one up and down yo-yo fashion by one of the little strands or pulling on one. Eventually the strands would always snap off eliciting some response like "Aw, man!". These kids never seemed to be deterred by this however and would grab another strand and keep going. You could always tell an older Koosh Ball by the 'bald spots' it had in two or three places.
Action Figures. The boys' answer to dolls. These plastic soldiers, mutants, or other fanciful warriors were conceived by a forward thinking mattel exec back in the seventies to try to get boys into the doll market. It worked. I don't know if kids still play with them; I can't imagine they've fallen out of favor. The eighties saw an explosion in popularity of action figures. Every kid's cartoon had an action figure line to go with it. There were the ones you're familiar with like He-Man, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thunder Cats and G.I Joe. But there were several that you aren't, like Sectaurs, Dino Riders, Vector Command, Power Lords, Inhumanoids and Rocklords. Just as every cartoon had its own action figure line, example: Ghostbusters and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, so too did most action figure lines spawn a cartoon. The idea was obviously to sell more figures to kids who would make up their own scenarios based on ow THEY thought the show should go; like maybe Skeletor would defeat He-Man and go dig on the Sorceress. Skeletor must have a huge 'bone' after all, you know. (Shh. I didn't just say that.) One of the most interesting and unusual of the action figure universe were the Power Lords. These were essentially a bizarre medley of alien monsters with different powers. They were manufactured from hard styrene plastic by Revell. One of the most prominent aspects of this toy line was that almost all of the various characters were villains and there were only three heroes. It was more or less a cosmic free-for-all for universal domination. The weird looking creatures and craft were cool looking but also kind of creepy; They gave you the willies if you played with them for too long. Alot of parents were hesitant to buy them for their kids because they were just so downright ugly; some said 'satanic' looking. A big thing about action figures was collecting them.. Nobody ever had just one unless they were pretty poor. It seems I always remember some friend of ours having whole collections of these things. They got two or three every week and we got one or two every couple months. Blech. It was always a big deal to bring your figures to a friend's house and play.
The Drug Awareness and Resistance Education program was not really a fad but a government run propaganda program that ran from the 1980s into the early 1990s. It was part of our lives back then though and deserves an honorable mention. This was part of the extensive and ultimately failed 'war on drugs' campaign of those days. Anti-drug slogans were everywhere, and included such iconic phrases like 'Just Say No', and "Winners Don't Use Drugs', and 'DARE to keep kids off drugs'. Everyone was on the bandwagon. Antidrug messages popped up in places as diverse as one of Robert R. Mccammon's horror novels. There was even one whole Nintendo game dedicated to the anti-drug gospel: Wrath of the Black Manta. Despite being a piece of government instigated propaganda it actually was quite well done and was very fun. It featured a cool justice-dealing ninja with mystic powers...but I digress. Back to D.A.R.E. The program usually consisted of a police officer or officers coming into the classroom and teaching kids about the various drugs, why they were bad, how you might encounter them, ways to avoid them, et cetera, et cetera. The participating precincts were always careful to select kid-friendly cops who knew how not to bore their audiences to sleep. They always interacted using jokes, art, stories, what have you. Most importantly they were never scary. At the end of the class which lasted about an hour a worksheet was passed around. We usually looked forward to D.A.R.E because it meant an hour with no school work. Interestingly right at the time the failed 'war on drugs' was going on the US government was highly involved in various state sanctioned covert drug trafficking activities in various parts of the world. The money was used to help various political and military issues favored by the American government around the world such as funding rebel groups who desired to remove some leader Uncle Sam also happened to want gone. A little earlier on the CIA was supposed to have been involved in opium smuggling in Laos as part of 'Air America'. Uncle Sam says: Do as I say, not as I do, kids......
Ahh..the 80s. Those were the days. It was a wild time to be a kid. Had I been able to choose any decade in which to be born I'd still have chosen the 1980s. You just had to be there... You just...had..to be there.
6 February 2017 at 01:18:33 MST