Bringing It All Back Home, 1980s-Style

Trump. Trade wars and real wars, green screens and blue Smurfs. The more things change the more they stay the same, as the 1980s seem to beckon 30 years on, with only a bit of irony.

The 1980s are back, bringing with them across the span of three decades a whole slew of echoes, some amusing and some not.

Like the hollow crack of a synthesizer’s drum track, the hits keep on coming.

First, consider two hits from the arts, before we get into some of the heavier stuff.

The Smurfs are back. This statement is not meant to prod joy, nor is it meant to provoke gnashing of teeth or rending of garments. It is simply a statement of fact. Yesterday marked the release of Smurfs: The Lost Village with a cast that includes the voices of Demi Lovato and Julia Roberts, among others. The larger question begged here is why the franchise is getting a reboot.

If you’re cynical, you see dollar signs. The movie cost a reputed $60 million to make, and we’ll know how it opens in rather quick time. But never underestimate the power of a brand, especially one that is getting a reboot — the last two entries in this series grossed hundreds of millions of dollars globally.

If you’re less cynical you see warmhearted messages of individuals finding their own purpose in life. And if you are hopeful, you’ll note that these are characters — yes, computer-generated where once they were drawn by hand — that aren’t being hawked as Smurfmojis.

Here’s another bit of the ’80s. That hit single “We Are the World,” the single that brought Africa, famine and humanitarian efforts in focus across the globe via a supergroup that included Ray Charles, Michael Jackson and just about everyone else, just turned 32 this past week. Wanna hear something, well, awesome? Check out the video, which you no doubt saw a million times back then. Best to go and make it a million and one. Check out Cyndi Lauper. She comes out of nowhere in the crowd and in the song, literally, and just tears it apart and stitches it back together in about five seconds. Some underrated pipes, sadly, in a rivalry with Madonna that should never have been. Just sayin’. The material girl may have dominated, but it is the girl who just wanted to have fun who leaves you with a song percolating in your head (you’re remembering the synth part to that one? The one that sounds like bubbles popping and Cyndi is hiccupping like she’s swallowed those bubbles? You are? You’re welcome. And sorry.)

Trump Redux

One figure looms large on the world stage, where once he loomed large on the New York real estate stage in the 1980s.

(Quick digression: One hallmark of the 1980s that is apparently not coming back, in New York real estate or anywhere: malls. Sorry, retail.)

The deal maker whose deal making has gone from gilded halls to marbled ones. That’s Donald Trump, of course, and gravitas may come with the launch this week of missiles in Syria tied to unspeakable aggression and tragedy in that nation.

But closer to home, trade wars beckon, again an echo of the 1980s. Trump signed an executive order at the end of last month that gave officials three months to disclose the trading partners with which we’ve incurred significant trading deficits last year. China tops that list, and while there’s no official blowback on the table signaled by the administration, all signs point to trade wars with Japan, which marked the 1980s, spurred by an imbalance in car imports and semiconductors. Should we gird for higher prices on everything from wheels to steel to the smartphones that power our daily lives? To quote the Valley girls and boys of old (and now they are old): like, totally.

Green Screens And Blue Screens Of Death

Want another throwback? Shall we play a game?

Really: “Shall we play a game?”

These were the very words delivered by Joshua, the computer in War Games, a movie that seems laughable now in its crude technology and references to it. But the message is clear: The machines take over and bring us dangerously close to war, in this case. Reality and game playing collide, and which is which?

This is chillingly, perhaps in a way too close for comfort, akin to what may be happening now. A morality tale in a movie can be left in the theater with the stale popcorn. But headlines have been popping up in recent weeks and months that the battlefields of the past, between nations, are being shifted to the ether of the internet. Admiral Jim Stavridis pointed out as much last month in presentations that covered ground across the battles we’ve seen and will see. Witness the biggest bank robbery on U.S. soil, which siphoned $81 million from Bangladesh via its New York–based accounts with the Fed.

They’ll be battles that lay waste to bank accounts and, perhaps in time, infrastructure as far-flung as electric grids, refineries and railways. Unless we make a concerted effort to prepare for the attacks and repair the gaps in technology.

The screens are no longer green. They are no longer large. The war may in fact fit in the palms of our collective hands. It’s enough to make you wish for a DeLorean and flux capacitor, with a way back to the … past?