I grew up in a house that was too small for secrets. There were no secluded hiding spots or private spaces. Time alone was so rare that it almost felt uncomfortable. And even when you thought you were having a private conversation, someone was always within earshot. Usually, that person was your little brother.
There wasn’t much the four of us didn’t know about each other.
So I was surprised when, on a crisp November day while my boys and I were visiting my parents, my dad revealed a treasure box that had been covertly concealed in a closet. Even in our teeny tiny house, he’d kept a secret – a stash of yellowed newspapers and vintage magazines that he had squirreled away over the years for their historical or personal significance, including several Sports Illustrated magazines from my childhood.
You guys, MARY LOU RETTON.
My memories of the spring and summer of 1984 are limited. I had just turned eight years old. My second grade teacher had been creative and unconventional, and she would remain one of my favorites forever. (She played the guitar, produced a play every season, and sang “Puff the Magic Dragon.” Standardized tests weren’t holding us hostage yet.) I owned a Michael Jackson t-shirt that I vaguely remember wearing often. Probably too often. I honestly don’t remember much more that that.
But I DO remember watching Mary Lou Retton win gold in the summer Olympics, right here in America. I remember seeing her on the Wheaties boxes at the store. (She was the first woman on the front of the box, by the way.) She was smiley and spunky, and she grew up just a couple of hours away from me, which in Appalachia means that you might as well be neighbors. We claimed her, and she would become one of the most beloved athletes of all time.
So when my dad pulled out his treasures, I went straight for the Sports Illustrated dated August 13, 1984 to read the articles about Mary Lou. But I didn’t even read them. I still haven’t read them, actually. (I’m so sorry, Mary Lou. I will. I promise!) When I opened the cover and saw the first advertisement, I quickly became engrossed in what this relic from the past reveals about the American experience just a few decades ago. Is this really what life was like when I was a child? Whoa. Apparently, growing up requires so much concentration that we don’t even notice the changes of life swirling around us.
It does surprise me how much some areas of our lives have been transformed. And it’s equally amazing how much some things that need to change really haven’t changed so much at all. See for yourself! Check out this walk down Memory Lane courtesy of Sports Illustrated magazine, August 1984.
The Marlboro Man was to 1984 what The Most Interesting Man in the World is to 2018. He was cool. He persuaded us to believe that indulging in unhealthy habits isn’t immature or irresponsible; it’s manly. (We are all still recovering from the devastation this myth creates in our society…) In the 80s, kids loved their candy cigarettes, and there were women who could not resist a man who smelled like a campfire and sounded like he was coughing up a lung. But the Marlboro man wasn’t lonely in Sports Illustrated. There were almost as many cigarette ads as articles.
There was this one, which makes a pool party look like a lot more fun than smoking, but whatever. I guess the ladies only came when they heard there would be cigarettes?
And there was this guy. He had no idea how to ride a motorcycle until he smoked a Kool. I bet he didn’t have hair like that B.K. (Before Kool), either. I might even consider smoking a Kool to grow thick hair and have deep thoughts like that . . .
And there were these. Hey, at least they are low tar. A lot of tar sounds gross, but a little tar, well, that’s perfect.
You guys, there were SO MANY tobacco ads in this Sports Illustrated.
Interestingly, according to this article on nbcnews.com dated May 24, 2016, “roughly 42 percent of U.S. adults smoked” about fifty years ago, down to around 15% today. Which suggests that maybe, just maybe, sometimes government regulations imposed on profitable industries that care more about money than actual Americans can be the catalyst for significant and positive shifts in our society.
Or maybe I’m misunderstanding the statistics.
Remember when Kmart was king of the department stores and Walmart was just invading the Midwest? Really, did anyone who banked on the success of Velcro shoes get ahead?
Yes, there was a time when everybody wanted a Commodore 64. Who thought technology would expand beyond THIS? Just look at those graphics!
What?!? AT&T made personal computers? Based on the ABSOLUTELY HORRIBLE customer service I experienced with them recently, I’m not surprised they’ve experienced some failures.
Even with the advancing technology, in the 1980s computers still seemed unnecessary to most of us. As if every family would need its own computer! Please! That would be as crazy as having phones that weren’t attached to the wall! Or computers that would fit in our pockets! Just the idea was hilarious. Electronic typewriters were the perfect middle ground for most of middle America. We liked change. But not THAT much change.
Rolls of film? My kids would have no idea what this even means . . .
Friends, here’s a true story: I almost surrendered while trying to open a package of Tide pods yesterday to wash our clothes. I’m not even joking. The childproofing was so advanced and creative that it took me several minutes to figure it out. In 2018, we live in our own personal prisons to keep our children safe. But in 1984, I was eight years old, and I was sitting in the front seat, probably on my knees, without a safety belt. Really, I might as well have been driving. According to this ad, only 15% of Americans were buckling up in 1984, so I was in good company – and my parents were perfectly wonderful – and totally normal to allow this. I remember people protesting when seatbelt laws were first introduced, but those regulations have saved a whole lot of lives.
A few things I found in this SI issue did disturb me. I’m not sure this ad campaign would fly today. I’m pretty sure that secretaries have other things to type at work . . .
And I’m confident that the photographers at the Olympics could have shared a more appropriate photo of the Romanian women’s gymnastics team than this. REALLY?
And I’d love to tell you that thirty years since this letter to the editor, at least one woman has qualified to officiate a regular season game for major league baseball, but as far as I can tell, that hasn’t happened. It’s been THIRTY YEARS!
And this guy wrote an editorial about how, in his opinion, Americans weren’t the most hospitable hosts of the Olympics because, well, maybe our culture is generally kind of selfish and maybe we think that America should always be the center of attention. Maybe we weren’t as welcoming and open minded toward people from other countries in 1984 as we thought we were.
Whew. Thank goodness those attitudes have changed, right? (*sigh*)
So everything wasn’t perfect in 1984. There were problems, some that we’ve almost extinguished and some that we have not.
But we did have Velcro shoes.
And Mary Lou Retton.
And that alone makes up for a lot.