Retro Creepiness

The return of leggings, asymmetrical haircuts, and the donning of the keffiyeh as fashion and not Palestinian solidarity—ah, the 1980s are back and show no signs of abating (at least on this side of the pond in London’s East End and Topshop). I won’t be caught dead revisiting my ’80s hairdo (a juicy jheri curl for the early 80s, if you must know), but 1980s music is the music of my youth and I refuse to forsake it.

But, then, forsaking is entirely different from revisiting some tunes, singing along, and then <<screeech of brake>> WTF?!

Herewith, a 1980s pre-feminist awareness trip down memory lane. Or more like a tiptoe down creepy Memory Alley.

Oingo Boingo, “Little Girls”

In all honesty, I’d never blocked out this song by Oingo Boingo. It’s (gross) meaning was clear and Danny Elfman’s nauseating leer skitters through my brain like a crab whenever I encounter someone with that certain…erm…pedo-vibe. I think Oingo Boingo was supposed to be punk, but their consistent presence on MTV would indicate that they were merely trying to provoke-for-profit.


Grown women dressed as schoolgirls had a history in Britain before Britney’s “Hit Me Baby One More Time.”  “School Disco” is an unfortunate, persistent theme night for parties and bars.

Rick Springfield, “Don’t Talk to Strangers”

This one may seem like the ultimate betrayal to anyone who knew me as a teen when I inserted Rick’s last name into mine with some clever parentheses (“Spring(field)er”—postmodern at 13!) and had a football jersey printed with “Springfied” on the back in Rick’s favorite color (purple, duh).

However, the fatted calf must be slain. Upon reflection, most of Rick’s songs have a stalker edge to them, but “Don’t Talk to Strangers” wins hands down. The admonishment not to talk to strangers shifts from urgings to preserve one’s sexy ladyness for the ex-boyfriend mooching around the shadows to menacing invitations to bed en Francais. The stalker element is in full force in the video.

The end of the video’s police cars and flashing lights would seem to indicate that either a) Rick committed a crime against fashion with all those ring-pull zippers on his jumpsuit (!) or b) Stalker Rick killed Effette French Girlfriend Stealer. Whatever the case, while my teen self might’ve boasted that, “Rick so fine I creamed my jeans,” older feminist self says, “Teen self, your language is foul, you don’t even know what “creamed your jeans” means, and you’re pining for a reprobate.”

While we’re on stalker songs, and before I get overwhelmed with the urge to hear Synchronicity, The Police’s “Every Breath You Take” is surely a picking-through-your-garbage, steal-your-password-and-check-your-email ode to relationship dysfunction. And, yet, it gets played at weddings and included on many a mellow love songs station playlist.

My final ’80s ick also involves Sting. I’m pretty sure this was in his hot, rising star phase and not his competing with Bono for the crown of thorns self-righteousness bid. In the Dennis Potter television play, Brimstone & Treacle, Sting plays a young man who ingratiates himself with a couple whose daughter lies on the sofa, having been paralyzed in a hit-and-run accident. The parents, exhausted from caring for their invalid daughter, let this seemingly charming man into their lives and he soon rapes their paralyzed daughter. Ick. Double ick. The BBC banned the Potter TV version in 1976, but somehow the 1982 film with Sting made its way to Michigan on VHS.

Sting’s character, Martin, has got all kinds of sinister overtones and breaking of the fourth wall that lead the audience to believe that he’s the devil incarnate. Nonetheless, to my chagrin, I recall whole packs of us Michigan girls watching the film and oohing and ahhing over Sting’s “strong” performance and thespian creds. Did we just ignore the rape? Were were turned on by it? Disturbed by it? Diary excavation must ensue.

On the one hand, there’s a lot of be ashamed of about the 1980s, such as sartorial choices like legwarmers and Units. And, yes, there’re probably many more examples of music that was sexist, homophobic, and racist. But rather than being a misery guts about it I wanted to remind myself, when I question young sisters’ sanity for enjoying music that degrades them, that I know from whence they came. With any luck, they’ll find feminism or feminism will find them, and they’ll create their own beats to dance to.

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Filed under feminism, girls, music, sexism, sexuality, women

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