By Maysoon Zayid
This year TED says goodbye to its roaring twenties and hello to the big 3-O. To celebrate TED’s thirtieth birthday, I’m hopping in my DeLorean to take a look back in time. Has the world become a better place since we were introduced to the Sony Compact Disc at the first TED three decades ago, or does 2014 make us yearn for a simpler time when we possessed music, pictures, and books you could actually hold, that existed in reality and not in a Cloud?
When TED was born, I was 9 years old. The year was 1984, Princess Diana gave birth to the spare to the heir, TV sets in America were shouting, “Where’s the beef?” and Ronald Reagan was campaigning to win his second term as President of the USA. Reagan would go on to crush his opponent, Walter Mondale, who had made the epic mistake of trying to use “Where’s the beef?” in a debate with Gary Hart that was not about hamburgers. Co-headlining the losing Mondale ticket, in the role of Vice Presidential nominee, was the legendary Geraldine Ferraro. She made history that year as the first female candidate on a major party Presidential ticket. I was in the fourth grade in Mrs. Corsano’s class at Public School Number 6 in Cliffside Park, NJ, on that Election Day. In the ’80s, schools in my neck of the woods required 2 feet of snow to call a snow day and cancel. I used to walk 7 blocks in a foot of snow to get to school, and I have cerebral palsy. Now if there is a snow flurry, school is closed. This makes for happier kids and parents on the brink of bankruptcy as they are forced to call out from work or scramble for childcare. Unlike 1984, it is now illegal to keep your kids in the car with the windows cracked or your 5-year-old home alone with a choking-hazard key tied around their neck so they can let themselves in. I remember being crushed that the first female Vice Presidential candidate and the man who looked like Sam the Eagle from The Muppet Show had managed to win only one state and Washington DC. Thirty years later, Americans have yet to elect a female president or vice president. We have not come a long way, baby, when it comes to the highest office in America.
I also remember racing home from school every day that year to watch General Hospital. At the time, Anthony Geary was the leading man of daytime television. His character’s, Luke Spencer’s, claim to fame was marrying the girl he raped. Luke and Laura’s wedding was watched by over 30 million people. This was my first introduction to rape culture. Thirty years later, I still love General Hospital and I still watch it every day. but instead of running home I DVR it or catch up on YouTube. In 1984, The Cosby Show debuted and changed the face of TV. Three decades later, Hollywood still has a ways to go when it comes to diversity and positive images of people of color; but thanks to shows like Scandal, Switched at Birth, and The Amazing Race it has come a long way since the Cosby days.
The year TED made its debut was a golden year for film. Shirley MacLaine won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role as an overbearing mother in the tearjerker Terms of Endearment. Today, Shirley is still one of the best actresses in the game and is stealing the show in her role as an overbearing mother on the tearjerker Downton Abbey. In 1984, I learned the importance of waxing on and waxing off from Mr. Miyagi and the Karate Kid. I also thanked God that I spent my summer vacations in the war-torn Middle East instead of that horrible small town in Oklahoma that forbid Ren McCormack to dance in Footloose. I even named my Cabbage Patch Kid Ren, and made him dance in defiance to “Karma Chameleon.” My dad scored me and my sisters each a Cabbage Patch orphan off the black market. They were the Xbox One in my day and there was no Amazon or eBay. There was Tillie who sold the coveted Kids out of a suitcase in the parents’ holding pen at Teri’s School of Dance in my hometown and she always delivered the goods.
The very first MTV Video Music Awards were broadcast live from New York City’s Radio City Music Hall in ’84. I remember rolling around on the floor imitating Madonna’s legendary “Like a Virgin” routine from the VMA’s and wondering why this infuriated my dad. He was like the Hype Man for abstinence but for some reason he loathed that song. Now, as an adult, I have been introduced to Miley Cyrus and I understand why my mom banned me from watching the VMAs ever again. I wish I had listened because all the brain bleach in the world can’t erase the image of Miley, Beetlejuice and tongues from the movie in my mind. Miley may be the new Madonna, but the real Madonna, like TED, is still here and she is still controversial. 1984 was an epic year for music. Prince made Doves Cry and Tina Turner asked, “What’s Love Got to Do With It?” Turner had endured years of abuse at the hands of her ex-husband, Ike, and this was her comeback after a lengthy absence from the Billboard charts. Today, Beyoncé, who was heavily influence by Tina, is topping the charts with “Drunk in Love.” In the duet, her husband Jay-Z references the domestic abuse Tina endured; but with a whole different not-safe-for-work subtext. Prince is still making doves cry; but not as often as Justin Bieber makes the world weep.
In 1984, the Olympics had not broken up yet. Back in the day, the Winter and Summer Olympics were held in the same year. The ’84 Winter Olympics were held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia. This was before the break-up of Yugoslavia and before the Kosovo Olympic Stadium became a prime target for bombings. Sarajevo is now the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and the Olympic Stadium has been restored, but the rest of the Olympic Village still bears the scars of war. The ’84 Summer Olympics were held in Los Angeles in the good ol’ USA and boycotted by the now disbanded USSR. The Soviets skipped the Summer Games as payback for the USA refusing to play in Moscow during the 1980 Games. The United States boycotted the 1980 Summer Olympics because we objected to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. Flash forward to 2014: The United States has been in combat in Afghanistan for 13 years, and although there was buzz of a boycott by Team USA due to Putin’s codified hatred for the LGBTQ community, America went to the Russian-hosted Sochi Games anyway. Rather than skip the games, the USA chose to shame the host country on social media with #sochiproblems. One of the saddest stories to come from Sochi was the tale of the extermination of stray dogs and cats strolling the Olympic Village. The silver lining to the slaughter in Sochi was Johnny Weir, NBC’s Olympic correspondent, who showed Vladimir Putin just how beautiful gay can be with his gold headbands and bouffant hairdos. Give that guy the gold, not the gulag.
In 2014, the United States of America’s 44th President, Barack Hussein Obama, entered the homestretch of his second term. In 1984, Jesse Jackson became the first African American male to run for the Democratic Presidential Nomination. Shirley Chisholm had beat him to the punch twelve years earlier as the first African American to toss her hat in the ring. Unlike Obama, Jackson failed to clinch the Democratic nomination, which went instead to Walter Mondale. President Reagan, who beat the stuffing out of Walter, failed to recall much of his second term as POTUS. President Obama has no fear of forgetting his final four because everything he says or does is recorded by the fine folks at the National Security Agency.
In 1984, Apple introduced the world to Macintosh, the first mass-market personal computer, through an epic Super Bowl ad. The ad channeled the gray world of George Orwell’s book 1984 and is disrupted by a woman who seems to be wearing a Hooters uniform, shattering the screen with a mallet to symbolically destroy that world. The tag line states, “On January 24, Apple Computer will introduce Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like1984.” It is true that Apple did change the scene and that the USA in 1984 was nothing like the book of the same name, but 2014 sure is. Big Brother is watching us from box seats in Utah, and Macintosh is aiding and abetting this criminal, whether they like it or not. Cameras on our computers and voluntary disclosure on social media gives those watching and listening a bird’s-eye view into our private lives. The NSA gathers information from emails to Skype as oblivious Americans type away on their tablets. There are cameras on every corner so Big Brother can know who killed you even though they can’t stop you from being killed. Big Brother can also extra-judicially kill you using drones. In 1984, there were two school shooting in America. In 2014, there were 13 school shootings in the first 40 days of the year.
While privacy is a thing of the past, the personal computer has not been all evil. Thirty years after Mac and TED made their debuts, the world is a far more connected place, thanks in part to both. The Internet has allowed folks from every corner of the globe to watch and listen to the messages shared at TED. Much has changed, but surprisingly some things are still exactly the same. Bruce Springsteen was the Boss in 1984 when his butt debuted on the cover of the iconic Born in the USA album, and he proved he was still The Boss in 2014 when he performed on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon. Bruce joined Jimmy to perform a parody of his hit “Born to Run” and mercilessly mock newly re-elected New Jersey Governor Chris Christie. Christie, embroiled in a scandal, was also publicly scolded by the man who was Governor of NJ in 1984, Tom Kean. Luke Spencer is still the leading man on General Hospital and his character is still a rapist, reinforcing rape culture on daytime television. On the bright side, Alex Trebek celebrated 30 years as the host of Jeopardy! and is still phrasing answers in the form of a question to this day.
The thing I miss the most about 1984, that would make me chose it over present day, is feeling safe. At the age of nine, I was allowed to walk to my friend’s house alone. My family and I lived within a stone’s throw of New York City and there was no fear. I do not know exactly when that changed, but now the idea of letting a nine year-old roam the streets of our New Jersey suburb alone is unthinkable. America is obsessed with security. We traded in the Cold War of the Eighties for the bloody wars of the modern day, all in the name of security. We have cameras everywhere, but we are more insecure than ever. The government is openly spying on us and there are millions of guns owned in American households. All of these things are meant to keep us safe, or are deemed necessary for our protection; yet here we are, unable to let our children play in the front yard. Not to worry — most kids today don’t want to go outside to play anyway. They’d much rather stare at the screen of whatever platform Big Brother is watching them from than be out in the sun.