Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the '80s Actually Sucked, Here's Why
Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why

Trista - September 16, 2019

The hit Netflix show Stranger Things romanticized the 1980s and made many 80s kids feel nostalgic for this by-gone era. But nostalgia is always a liar. It makes us remember things differently than how things actually happened and make us think that the past was better than it was.

When we think of the 80s, we like to think of MTV when it actually played music videos, Saturday morning cartoons, and Converse chucks. However, those memories have been heavily filtered by the winds of time.

The 80s were far less awesome than Stranger Things would have us believe. While there may not have been monsters lurking in an alternate dimension who sometimes broke through, there was plenty to not enjoy about this woeful decade.


Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
This picture sums up the state of international relations at the beginning of the 80s. Photo: CNN

1. The Decade Began With An International Hostage Crisis

In November of 1979, civil unrest in Iran was boiling, as the country was still in the throes of a populist revolution that ended 2500 years of monarchy. Central to the revolution was anger at the United States, which had supported the tyrannical shah in oppressing the Iranian people.

So in November, radical students from the University of Tehran stormed the US embassy and took over four dozen embassy workers hostage. They remained in captivity for 444 days before finally being released, meaning that the first year and a half of the 1980s were infused with an international hostage crisis.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
The threat of nuclear annihilation was on everyone’s mind. Photo:

2. Cold War Paranoia Was Intense

The international crisis that began in the years following the end of World War II was spiking to intense levels during the 1980s. Ronald Reagan was making speeches in which he called the Soviet Union the “evil empire,” and you could be questioned by anyone who suspected that you might not be a full-bodied patriotic American.

There are even references to Cold War paranoia in Stranger Things. Consider the shadowy government organization that conducts top-secret experiments in a small town in Indiana. No one was safe, which is kind of the whole point of the show.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
And there you have it: a well-balanced, perfectly-portioned meal mixed with sarcasm. Photo:

3. The Unhealthy And Unappetizing Food

If you could even call it food, these TV dinners hit the scene in the 1950s, and by the 1980s; they could be found in just about every suburban home in America. Companies like Swanson were making a fortune feeding people microwavable dinners that were barely edible.

Ironically, this was also the era of the “health food craze,” so some of these abominations that food companies had the gall to call “dinners” were marketed as being healthy. Also enter companies like SnackWells, which convinced even more people that heavily processed junk food was good for you.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
This place would have been an 80s anomaly. Photo:

4. There Was No Starcourt Mall

Do you know the mall where all of the kids in Stranger Things liked to hang out? It didn’t exist. Malls were not built by small towns in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. The whole state probably had only a handful of malls at the time, and they were probably only in the biggest cities.

The creators of Stranger Things actually filmed the scenes at the Starcourt Mall in a dead mall on the outskirts of Atlanta. The place hadn’t been used in years, so it looked close enough to what malls might have looked like in the 1980s if they even existed.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
This advertising seems legit and fatal. Photo:

5. You Couldn’t Get Away From The Cigarette Smoke

The 1980s, for all their glamour that people imagine onto the decade nowadays, happened before people knew that smoking wasn’t healthy for you. Sure, there were probably some people who thought that maybe they weren’t good for you, but there were plenty of people who at least didn’t know they were harmful.

So you couldn’t really ever get out of the cloud of cigarette smoke that hung inside just about every home, park, and public building. Some of the more health-conscious smokers, probably as part of the health food craze, smoked “light cigarettes,” which were just as bad for you but left the smokers with less guilt.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
The higher the hair, the closer to God. Photo:

6. Or The Hairspray

Eleven may have had a shaved head in the first season of Stranger Things, but don’t be deceived. The 80s was the decade of hair styles that could rival those of Marie Antoinette. “The higher the hair, the closer to God!”

So in addition to being unable to stop breathing in cigarette smoke, you were unable to get away from all of the hairspray fumes. To get those hair styles as high as possible, many women opted for the fume-inducing aerosol hairsprays, which didn’t just wreak havoc on those that got too close. They nearly destroyed the ozone layer.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
A pretty typical television in an 80s home. Photo: Gizmodo

7. The TV Channels Were Awful

Most families were unable to afford cable or satellite television, and even if they could, why would the parents bother paying for it? They had grown up as baby boomers and didn’t have TV as kids. So most kids who lived during the 80s only had rabbit ears and maybe three terrible channels to watch.

Most towns didn’t have movie theaters, either, and VCRs weren’t all that popular until the end of the decade. What this means is that the only way to watch movies was to see the censored versions on television. If you had to get up to pee during a commercial, you had to hope that you got back before the movie restarted, because there was no rewinding.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
The kids in Stranger Things had pretty glamorous lifestyles by 80s standards. Photo: News18

8. If You Didn’t Live In A Big City, There Was Nothing To Do

The kids in Stranger Things have no shortage of things to do after they got out of school. They had cool bikes that they rode around town, went to the video arcade, and fought an extra-dimensional monster that people in a top-secret government laboratory accidentally unleashed on the city.

But, if you lived in a small town during the 1980s, there was nothing to do after school. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Zero. Zilch. Oh wait, you could ride your bike down to the junkyard with friends to see if there was any cool stuff to smash, but that’s about it.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
These things weren’t very much fun to play. Photo:

9. Video Game Pixels Were Huge

Nowadays, retro video games can fetch a fortune. However, only a small, minuscule fraction of video games from the 1980s was even worth saving, much less spending money on. The only reason to spend money on video games was that they would ease your after-school boredom, but only a bit.

Unless your parents were rich enough to afford a Nintendo Entertainment System or Sega, the graphics and sound were terrible. You had a different character run through a track and jump on or over various things. Also, he probably did everything against an olive green background that covered the entire screen.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
This scene could be a pretty typical after-school fight. Photo:

10. Bullies Carried Knives

The 1980s were before Columbine before people realized just how violent schools could become. So bullies carried knives and would threaten kids in the hallways, and there was no one to complain to because the teachers grew up in the Great Depression, the principal served in World War II, and the PE coach was a Vietnam vet.

Everyone assumed that a healthy dose of trauma was good for child development, and the best advice you could get was that boys would be boys. So the bullying was on a whole different level than what it is today, and you really could get beat up for wearing a shirt that was the wrong color.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Bono was the exception, not the rule. Photo:

11. The Music

Nothing says nostalgia quite like the 80s music channel on satellite radio. Michael Jackson, Radio Head, Prince, REO Speedwagon, U2, Queen. So then there’s Will’s favorite song in Stranger Things, “Should I Stay Or Should I Go?” The 80s were the heyday for rock and left an indelible mark on all music since then except that the decade’s music was awful.

There were some great artists, such as those listed above. But that’s about it. They weren’t touring everywhere so that raving fans across the country could jam out to their hair-rocking concerts. Most of the music that came over the radio was pretty awful techno garbage.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
The whole Transformers empire began in the 1980s. Photo: Pinterest

12. Toy Commercials

President Reagan signed legislation affecting the number of ads that could be shown in children’s programming. While this might sound like a perfect move on his part – a responsible way of preventing companies from targeting children and encouraging them to whine to their parents for more stuff – it also led to horrible programming.

The television shows of the era were 23-minute-long ads for toys. So many people who didn’t grow up in the 80s don’t realize that the whole Transformers series is based on an 80s-era cartoon show, which was invented to sell the toys.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Homelessness and drug crime skyrocketed in the 80s. Photo:

13. Drugs Continued

The 1980s saw the rise of inner-city crime and drugs, especially crack and cocaine. With so many kids bored out of their minds and their brains rotting from the terrible music and movies, plenty were eager to get their hands on white powder.

Nancy Reagan, the first lady, had an excellent response for how kids should deal with the drug crisis: Just Say No. So you had the rise of programs like DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) that were really nothing more than pitiful attempts of local police departments to connect with local kids. To make sure that no one forgets that they were in the 1980s, DARE even had its own theme song. It was pretty awful.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
These things were pieces of high technology. Photo:

14. Communication Was Lacking

How do you maintain relationships when someone doesn’t text you back right away? Imagine having friends who don’t even use texting. Imagine that you don’t use texting, and it doesn’t even exist. That’s what 80s kids had to deal with regularly.

You got out of school for the summer and didn’t see your friends for the next three months unless they happened to live on the same block. Only the wealthiest kids had walkie talkies like Mike used to talk to his friends in Stranger Things, and walkie talkies only worked over short distances.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
This library was to be drooled over. Photo:

15. No One Really Had Quick Access To Information

You don’t know the meaning of living in an information desert until you watch The Breakfast Club with your friends and wonder out loud about the palatial school library that the kids had. Most likely, if you had the nerve to ride your bike to the local library, it didn’t have the book that you were looking for.

There were some magazines available, but they were along the lines of Guns and Ammo, Sports Illustrated, and Playboy. Not kid-friendly, like the magazines that started coming out in the 90s. Nineties kids have no idea how good they had it.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
President Reagan incited fear among the populace. Photo: Wikipedia

16. Ronald Reagan’s Presidency

Ronald Reagan, who resided in the White House throughout the 1980s, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s just six years after he left the office. He was frequently confused in public, so much so that his wife actually invited an astrologer to the White House to provide advice on, um, running the country.

Under Reagan, who had a grand vision for creating a space-based missile defense system, the national debt more than tripled. It has continued to grow ever since then, so basically, all of our political problems have some grounding in the eight-year reign of President Reagan. If you think Trump is bad, imagine him getting re-elected and then his vice president taking office after him. That’s 80s politics.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Trickle-down economics didn’t work out that great. Photo:

17. The Economy Was Awful For Most People

High-paying jobs today may be scarce today, but unemployment in the 80s was worse than it is today, thanks to Ronald Reagan’s economic theories. He destroyed labor unions and set multinational companies on a track that would allow them to conquer the world within a decade.

Meanwhile, plenty of families were about as unfortunate as Will’s, whose mom works as a cashier. The toilet leaked, and there wasn’t any money to fix them. All of the money and jobs were either going to Japan or vanishing as part of Reagan’s trickle-down economic policies.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
George Orwell’s dystopian classic was spot-on. Photo:

18. The Year 1984 Wasn’t Much Better Than The Book

In 1949, George Orwell wrote a book called 1984 that depicts what he thought the world would be like in that year, should humanity survive for that long. It has since become a classic dystopian novel that many people believe describes the world today.

What dystopian enthusiasts today don’t realize is how close the actual year 1984 was to the book. Everyone was terrified of nuclear destruction, and a president with dementia nearly sparked atomic war on more than one occasion. Kids who grew up in the 80s are still breathing massive sighs of relief that humanity survived so long into the 21st century.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
The ozone hole over Antarctica. Photo:

19. We Blew A Hole In The Ozone Layer

The Environmental Protection Agency was created as part of the tree-hugging movement of the 1970s because people were starting to realize that we were, quite literally, destroying our planet. People were throwing old microwaves and nail polish bottles into the ocean and using entire cans of Aquanet hairspray to set their massively high hairstyles.

The 1980s were such a negative decade for the environment that we managed to create a massive hole in the ozone layer that pretty much covered the entire continent of Antarctica. Aggressive environmental-friendly policies, such as the banning of the toxic chemicals in those cans of hairspray, finally caused the hole to close.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
We have Ziggy Stardust to thank for the most atrocious hairstyle of all time. Photo:

20. People Had Mullets

David Bowie invented the mullet hairstyle back in the 1970s when he must have been so high that he wouldn’t come down for days. He somehow decided that cutting only the front part of his hair while leaving the back to grow long actually looked good. The style didn’t take off for a decade, but when it took off, it took off.

Both men and women began cutting their hair into mullets, somehow convinced that the style looked good. Women also supplemented their mullets with copious amounts of hairspray and shoulder pads akin to those that football players wear. The result was a decade-long fashion disaster.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
In retrospect, Reaganomics was a pretty bad idea. Photo:

21. Poverty Rates Rose

Thanks to Reaganomics, the 80s was a decade when the rich got richer, and the poor got poorer. Poverty rates skyrocketed, along with the national debt, while corporate bosses found themselves so inundated with money that they didn’t know what to do with all of it.

What exactly was Reaganomics? It was an ill-informed economic theory that said that governments should give big tax breaks to the largest corporations because they would use that money to benefit their employees and supercharge the economy. Even though the idea proved to be a complete failure, it is still the foundation of many economic policies today.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Trickle down economics enabled the culture of greed. Photo:

22. The Culture of Greed Was Real

Poverty rates rose, houses fell apart, and cities became riddled with crime and drugs, all while corrupt CEOs were giving themselves raises. They used the tax breaks that Reagan gave them to provide themselves with bonuses, so they had more money than they could spend.

Large corporations had previously invested in their employees through things like skills training, education and housing benefits, and family leave. But with the de-regulation that came with Reaganomics and the greed that became rampant in the upper echelons, many of these programs were gutted.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
The stigma surrounding AIDS was the primary reason there was no funding for it. Photo: Flickr

23. The AIDS Crisis

Just as the decade began, a new disease began spreading in America, one that was initially referred to as GRID: gay-related immune deficiency. It was so-called for how it initially spread almost exclusively among gay men, but it came to be known more broadly as AIDS. It quickly spread outside of the LGBTQ community, especially among drug users and people who needed drug transfusions.

Reagan didn’t take the disease seriously, even though it killed every single person who contracted it. There wasn’t any funding for AIDS research until the end of the decade, by which time it had infected about 100,000 Americans.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
The AIDS crisis went hand in hand with the rise of the Religious Right. Photo: NBC

24. There Was A Moral Crisis Everywhere

The 1980s saw the rise of the Religious Right, and adherents to this ideology saw moral filth and decay everywhere they looked. Books, music, or movies with questionable morals for young people? Ban them, ban them all. For that matter, shut down the arcades and movie theaters, because it’s all filth.

Worse yet was crazy religious leaders who partnered with local law enforcement to prove that people were partnering with Satan to sacrifice babies, molest children, and have public orgies. If you were playing Dungeons and Dragons, then you were undoubtedly complicit.

So basically everything was questioned, and kids learned to be really secretive about how they were spending their free time. They hid the shows that they were watching on television and kept magazines under their mattresses. Everywhere there was a moral crisis, and heaven helps you if you should be caught in it.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Throwing insults, 80s style. Photo: Pinterest/

25. People Were Always Insulting Others

Your high school teacher might have openly derided the f-word and told kids that homosexuals were abominations. Your PE coach might have called the kids in his class “retard,” with no reprisal from the school administration. Moreover, the racist phrases that people used against African Americans and Asian Americans were too much to repeat.

People weren’t just insensitive then. They didn’t just lack cultural awareness and training. They were straight-up cruel and had no reservations about saying the meanest things that they could come up with. Also, instead of being reprimanded, people met their insults with equally insulting phrases.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Your parents probably drove something like this, not a DeLorean. Photo:

26. The Terrible Transportation

Car collectors who appreciate the 80s tend to jump for DeLoreans and Firebirds, the cars that we like to think of as emblematic of that decade. But most cars were giant, boxy land boats that no self-respecting collector would spend a quarter on today. Only the wealthiest CEOs had DeLoreans.

Not only did they look awful, but they were gas guzzlers. For that, we can thank the environmental protections that President Reagan rolled back, including regulations on emissions from vehicles. Today’s cars really are better than the ones that people drove in the 1980s.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
People left the house looking like this. Photo:

27. Call The Fashion Police

Stranger Things did a pretty good job of documenting the atrocious styles of the decade, but still, the things that we remember about a decade tend to be its best parts. We like to think of the 80s as a decade of glitzy gold and bright neon shirts that had lots of sparkles on them. However, the reality was much, much worse.

Parachute pants were that bad, and the shoulder pads that came pre-sewn into just about all women’s shirts and jackets made them look like football players. Acid-wash jeans may appear fun in retrospect, but nobody looked good in them.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
These things could be more trouble than they were worth. Photo:

28. Video And Cassette Tapes

When VCRs began to catch on and could be found in more American homes (even though most kids had just one friend who had a VCR), they brought a considerable boon: kids could actually watch videos that had some degree of quality, as opposed to the censored garbage that might occasionally come on one of the three television stations.

But have you ever used a ballpoint pen to try to rewind the tape into a VHS or cassette? The struggle was real for kids in the 80s, and 90s, for that matter. However, by the second half of the 90s, we were moving on to DVDs and CDs, which had the tendency to scratch but didn’t have to be wound up any time they malfunctioned.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
If your family had this computer, you were living large. Photo:

29. Technology Was Slow And Super Expensive

A full decade before computers could be found in most homes, purchasing a PC could quickly run you $4000 or $5000. Also, those PCs couldn’t do very much. They usually ran on DOS, a system that required you to type in coded commands to access any of the programs on the computer.

You may laugh at the cell phones that people had in the 90s, but they were nonexistent in the 80s. If you wanted to talk to someone who lived in another city, you had to pay long-distance charges. And of course, widespread public access to the Internet was a decade away.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
These things didn’t leave much room for privacy. Photo:

30. Corded Phones Were Fun to Play With, But Not Talk On

It’s an upgrade from the rotary phone, right? For the uninitiated, corded phones were screwed into the wall. The receiver was bound to the telephone box with a cord, so you couldn’t go very far to talk to people. So if you wanted to talk with your boyfriend or girlfriend without your family listening in, your best bet was to go into the hallway closet and hope no one was tuning into the conversation.

The cord was fun to wrap around your finger, but that is about it. Oh, and banging the receiver as you hang up was certainly satisfying. However, there was also no caller ID, so you had no idea who was calling, and again, no privacy ever.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Crimped hair, 80s style. Photo:

31. You Burned Your Hair While Styling It

Girls who grew up in the 80s damaged their hair so severely that they didn’t recover until the 90s. After spraying it down with copious amounts of AquaNet before running a crimper through it, you could literally hear your hair sizzle.

For those who don’t know, a crimper is like a hair straightener, except it makes your hair look like you just took out hundreds of minuscule little braids. Those things were heated to upwards of 400 degrees before you ran them through your hair. However, the result was (not) worth it: sky-high bangs and hair fluffier than a sheep’s.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
This movie was all-around terrible for kids. Photo:

32. Disney Looked At Things Differently

Disney’s golden age of animation was the 1990s when animators produced classics like The Lion King and Beauty and the Beast. Disney movies from the decade before are the ones that keep popping up in Netflix feeds because they aren’t worth anything.

Consider The Secret Of NIMH, a modern fable about the National Institute of Mental Health. Then there are the atrocities of All Dogs Go To Heaven, An American Tail, and The Land Before Time (the original one, not the franchise that came after the golden age). Plenty of parents today wouldn’t consider showing those movies to their kids.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Latchkey kids came home to an empty house. Photo:

33. There Were Latchkey Kids

Kids in the 80s were pretty much forgotten by their parents. Even the name that was given to that decade – Generation X – suggests that nobody knows what to do with them. The epitome of this paradigm is the latchkey kids, who carried their keys on a necklace so that when they got home to an empty house after school, they could let themselves in.

Today, parents could lose custody of their kids for the neglect that was so common in the 80s. However, both parents worked, because the economy was tanking and no one had any money, and they didn’t know what to do with the kids anyway.

Despite Your Love for Stranger Things, the ’80s Actually Sucked, Here’s Why
Imagine starting your day by being reminded of how quickly you could go missing. Photo:

34. Missing Kids Were On The Milk Cartons

Have you heard stories about how kids who were missing were featured on the side of milk cartons? Those stories are true. Which means that if you were a kid in the 80s, pouring milk over your cereal or drinking a carton of milk with your lunch would leave you with a reminder that you weren’t safe.

The black-and-white photos of missing kids started showing up on milk cartons in 1982 because parents were so desperate to find their children that they wanted to put the message out everywhere they could. However, even though the intention was undoubtedly noble, the effect it left on kids was a bit deleterious.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Here Are Our Sources:

“Reminder For ‘Stranger Things’ Fans: The Eighties Sucked,” by Jason Pargin. Cracked. July 18, 2019.

“Top Five Reasons the 80’s Sucked.” The Luxury Spot.

“Forget the Nostalgia; 7 Things About the 1980s That Sucked,” by Chris Lane. Houston Press. August 4, 2016.

“9 Reasons The ’80s Kind Of Sucked,” by Elizabeth Broadbent. Scary Mommy.