’80s throwback: What life looked like when Crossfire first aired

Posted at 8:02 AM, Sep 06, 2013
and last updated 2013-09-06 08:02:19-04

By Daphne Sashin


(CNN) — “Crossfire” is back, and just look how much life has changed since that first show in 1982. The clothes. The hair. The music.

Yeah, we love the ’80s, too.

In the early years, the political debate show was all about the Cold War, Reagan administration, death penalty, sex education — and bow-ties, big glasses and tweed blazers with diagonally striped ties. The first show on June 25, 1982, focused on Alexander Haig’s resignation as secretary of state.

“Crossfire” Classic: ’88 comments on Middle East, Syria ring true today

These days, 31 years later, we’re just as diverse on the daily commentary. Syria is weighing heavily on our minds, but then we just can’t seem to stop talking about Miley Cyrus’ over-the-top twerking performance at the MTV Video Music Awards.

Culturally so much has changed.

With “Crossfire’s” return, we invited CNN readers to dish on life in the ’80s. Many readers talked about coming of age and finding themselves during that era, with a little help from heavy metal, hairspray and MTV. These are some of our favorite takeaways:

Early ’80s fashions were “simply outrageous.” Stripes and polka dots combined, frilly dresses with leggings topped with leg warmers and tennis shoes, were just a few of the styles, wrote Yvonne Coverdale. “My favorite clothing at that time to relax in public was a pair of black pants with a white or red stripe down the sides, a double breasted white or black tunic blouse and knee-high black leather boots; two-inch black leather belt optional.”

Music defined us. T. Ray Verteramo fell in love with heavy metal, which was under heavy fire at the time by Tipper Gore and those of the self-proclaimed moral majority. It was a topic of discussion on “Crossfire” when Frank Zappa was a guest. Verteramo believed it to be an issue of free speech. The experience shaped her. “When you’re judged so readily, so quickly, and so harshly for so long, it’s hard not to become more empathetic. My tastes haven’t changed and I’ll never use hairspray again. But my appreciation and gratitude to be able to enjoy and share the music I love freely has definitely grown.”

Music was also a unifying force. Growing up in Illinois, Janee Blackwell Cifuentes was transcending race and making friends from all different cultures. “People may not like you on the outside, but they soften up when you sing them a song they can relate to,” she said. “I remember white kids in my neighborhood … being amazed when they found out Journey was one of my all-time favorite groups and I could sing all of their songs.”

There was a time before business casual and dress down Fridays. Corporate attire involved scarves tied in bows, dress pants, blazers and pumps. Marjorie Zien dug up this gem of the IT team at Morgan Guaranty Trust Company in New York in 1985. “When I look at the photo, it all seems so formal to me. It was as if we were wearing a uniform, which I guess in some ways, we were.”

We were divided on Reagan. Ronald Reagan took office as president in 1981, wrote Janie Lambert, and “within minutes, the Iran hostages were released. I was relieved and happy that he had been elected, having very high hopes for the next four years.”

During that same time, Hilary Ohm was protesting against nuclear weapons, America’s involvement in Central America and Reagan’s economic policies, which she believed were “cruel and would hurt the poor and give the rich more wealth.”

Cliff Olney voted for Reagan the first time around, but switched parties after Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers in 1981. Olney is now a progressive Democrat “thanks to Reagan’s ‘trickle-down economics’ that never trickled down,” he said.

Life was simpler. At least, that’s how we remember those times, “when we weren’t always so plugged in or bombarded with data,” wrote Ellen Jo Roberts, now 41. It also seemed easier to pursue your dreams, said Marie Sager, who was a recently divorced mom of two boys in 1981. She found work as a “helicopter hooker” and later started her own helicopter company. “Today that’s not so, most people have to take whatever comes their way,” Sager wrote. “For me, the ’80s were great. Even being a single parent, we managed to do OK.”

But it wasn’t all sunshine and roses. Generation X grew up “with the threat of global thermal nuclear war and under the specter of AIDS,” Roberts wrote. “I like to joke now that the freewheeling baby boomers, with their sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, got to have all the fun, leaving us with “Just Say No” and songs like Jermaine Stewart’s ‘We Don’t Have to Take Our Clothes Off (to Have a Good Time).’ However, we were lucky to be witness to new wave, the early days of beatbox and hip-hop and the earliest inkling of an environmental movement.”

And we wished E.T. was real. After the Steven Spielberg movie came out in 1982, Lambert’s 5-year-old daughter, Jennie, was enthralled. “She thought having an E.T. would be such a fun thing. She even invented a pretend E.T. of her own and would play for hours.” If there was a full or almost-full moon, she would watch out the window to see if she could spot the alien. Jennie was thrilled to get a giant blow-up E.T. doll that Christmas. Wouldn’t you be?

What did you care about in the 1980s? What did you look like? Share a photo here or join the conversation in the comments below.

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