Archaeology, History & History of Art

We All Fall Down The Eighties The Age Of Polarisation And Extremes

All CategoriesArchaeology, History & History of Art

Course synopsis

The Eighties was a period of flux and change in which the tensions in society and politics tested everything to breaking point.

This saw the rise of new leaders such as Thatcher and Reagan who were in themselves divisive as well unique and transformative. Their self-confidence and political conviction mirrored the strains in the Eastern Bloc which saw the eventual collapse of the Iron Curtain countries.

The wind of change had long since blown out in Africa leaving power vacuums that would create instability against a background of natural disasters and political immaturity.

In the world of music there were no clear paths to glory with significant trends moving in opposite directions. Whilst some young enthusiasts greeted some of the innovations, others took great exception and followed their own paths, and older generations stood by mystified. This was demonstrated in the clash of opposites such as Rappers versus New Romantics and Synth Pop versus Roots Music/World Music. And yet there were unique moments when the Music World came together to the rescue, with an iconic moment in the twentieth century in the form of Live Aid.

But again, in Africa and other parts of the developing world there was the tragedy of poverty and starvation compared with developed cultures, where the acquisitive consumer society plunged on sewing the seeds of its own future destruction. Whilst the Middle East continued with an instability born out of the twentieth century Imperialism of the European Powers.

On the horizon was the dawn of exponential technological innovation in the form of the World Wide Web, revolutionising the way we would live our lives but ushering in a brave new world in which the solution would become part of the problem challenging our privacy and harvesting our behavioural patterns to influence both our thinking and our purchasing. 

Perhaps 1984 had come and we had not noticed it!

Tuesdays 10-12 spring term 2023

Week one 10 January

Synth I Met You - The New Romantics + synth-pop.  with Steve Millward

The quintessential prog-rock instrument, synthesiser made a comeback in the early 1980s as the percussive driving force behind the fun and frivolous music of the New Romantics. It was also  perfectly suited to the glossy brand of corporate pop music inspired by the market-driven policies of the Thatcher government. But it played a central part in the darker brand of pop which evolved in the early-mid-decade.

There is no Alternative - The Age of Thatcher with Frank Vigon

TINA - At the end of the Seventies British Politics had collapsed heralding in a new era with the arrival of the first woman Prime Minister. What followed was a seismic change in governance by a conviction politician who was a phenomenon in her own right. Things were never going to be the same again as consensus politics ended and Thatcherism shaped the political outlook even to the present day

Week two 17 January

Just Another Brick in the Wall - the collapse of Iron Curtain Countries FV

As the Thatcher Regan partnership blossomed, in the East the Communist grip withered and a new breed of politician emerged in the shape of Mikhail Gorbachev. Glasnost and Perestroika presented a new friendly face to the world, whilst the Berlin Wall came down and Capitalism disorientated the ex-Soviet Bloc – and it all happened too quickly.


Imagination is more important than knowledge - The Explosion of Technology FV

As space technology developed, cross pollination innovation took place between the stars and the everyday world. Spin off technology revolutionised the home and technology took off almost as fast an exploratory rocket. In a short space of time there was an exponential development in the evolution of television, videos, portable telephones and the birth of the World Wide Web – a social revolution was under way.

Week three 24 January 

We Are The World - Live Aid and other fundraising epics + the World Music boom SM

No-one could have failed to be moved by the reports from Ethiopia in 1984.  Bob Geldof certainly was, and in response organised an epic two-centre concert, Live Aid, to help relieve the horrendous famine in that war-torn country. For a moment the world seemed to be united, though the motives of the participants, and the use of the funds raised, were eventually questioned. Meanwhile the music industry was discovering indigenous music around the globe.

Week four 31 January

Coming Out Of The Blue - gay lib and pop music SM

The gay liberation movement of the 1980s was strongly reflected in pop music Leading artists felt sufficiently confident to come out and/or expresses solidarity with LGBT organisations and events. At the same time songs became far more explicit and their accompanying videos more extreme.  Some singers built a career on their ability to shock.  The spread of HIV/AIDS could not be ignored but listening and dancing to pop music remained the perfect distraction.

Sitcoms, Soaps and Parlour games - The Age of Family Favourites FV

The Eighties ushered in a period of reassurance and calm in the world of entertainment. The soap became both a reflection of ‘real’ life and the antidote to an overdose of rapid social change. Coronation Street and East Enders brought a new wave of social drama replacing the staider Crossroads of a previous era. Sitcoms provided innocent laughter whilst Panel games and quizzes deflected attention from agonies of a convulsing world.

Week five 7 February

Fade To Black - black music in the 80s - hip hop, rap, sampling. . . and Michael Jackson. SM

As in the whole history of pop, the cutting-edge trends were to be found in black music. In this case, hip-hop and the DJ culture in which mixing, and sampling were crucial features. Rappers painted a grim and graphic picture of inner-city life, and their legacy is still being felt today, when hip-hop has become the most popular music on the planet. But there was room too for the more orthodox black superstar - one of whom released an album which sold 70 million copies – a figure that is still to be surpassed.

The Eye of the Storm – Disasters, Assassinations and the Middle East FV

Technology and politics collided, and disasters occurred as planes dropped out of the air over Lockerbie, a nuclear plant melted down in Russia, a spaceship exploded on take-off and fell back to earth and a large super tanker spilled 750,000 barrels of crude oil into the Gulf of Alaska. Meanwhile across the world, political change and lunatic protest took the lives of famous musicians and well-known politicians. And somewhere in the Middle East, countries were riven with terrorism and war…it was indeed “interesting times”……….

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About the teacher

Frank Vigon

Frank Vigon has been a headteacher of an...

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