Reagan as a Catalyst for Great Pop Culture in the 1980s

While Ronald Reagan is not typically viewed as a “great” president who promoted a time of prosperity and free speech, it must be said that in many ways, his oppressive regime fostered an atmosphere of frantic, rebellious creativity that made the 1980s one of the greatest, most signature decades for pop culture.

Totally natural
Totally natural
From the moment Reagan took office, everything surrounding his presidency was characterized by pomp and circumstance–as though he (or Nancy) carefully curated the decade that was to come. The release of the American hostages aside, Reagan was far more adept at invoking the creativeness of others through his conservative politics. Perhaps Reagan’s strange, beautiful dynamic with the entertainment world didn’t just stem from the fact that he himself was an actor (a B-rate one, as it were), but that he started out in politics as a Democrat, making him naturally amenable to the liberal cause when it proved convenient (see: Reagan adopting “Born in the U.S.A.” as his campaign song not realizing that it was about the trauma of Vietnam veterans).

With a series of “tax reforms” and deregulations, Reagan’s focus on big business and economic recovery left him no room for focusing on other, more humane concerns like, say, for instance, the AIDS pandemic. While death was knocking on so may gay men’s doors (Freddie Mercury, Liberace, Keith Haring, etc.), Reagan was too busy being senile and letting Nancy do uncomfortable and unreal drug PSAs. But while death was all around everyone in the 80s, so, too, was a wall of decadence to help numb the pain.
The excess and love of good times at NYC's Danceteria was a by-product of Reaganism
The excess and love of good times at NYC’s Danceteria was a by-product of Reaganism
Even Reagan’s assassination attempt was fraught with pop culture motivation. John Hinckley Jr.’s entire reasoning behind trying to off Reagan was to impress Jodie Foster by becoming as famous as her. This was yet another event that occurred early in Reagan’s presidency, sixty-nine days in, in fact–once again establishing him as a political leader who would set the tone for the entire decade, and a dramatic, grandiose one at that.

And so, while those on the more liberal side of the spectrum may condemn Reagan for the after effects of his legislation in the 80s, it is quite possible that without his mildly despotic reign, we might never have witnessed the iconic moments displayed by the likes of Madonna (whose “Dress You Up” was on Tipper Gore’s “Filthy Fifteen” list), Prince, Michael Jackson, Cyndi Lauper, The Go-Gos, Joan Jett and every sexually one-hit wonder in between. Even his presence in the world of art and film could be felt through the frantic, frenetic work of Jean-Michel Basquiat and the release of Fatal Attraction (a cautionary tale about adultery) and Wall Street (a cautionary tale about greed). Everyone was affected by Reagan’s vibe, whether they knew it or not.


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