Watching It’s A Sin has unleashed a wave of unlikely 1980s nostalgia in me, and not because much of the show’s period soundtrack turns out to be surprisingly great; instead, what I was reminded of was the way in which the decade felt, at times, like the end of the world.
I remember, for example, the AIDS crisis becoming mainstream, and the panic and misinformation that brought with it — everything from the apocalyptic adverts on television and in newspapers, made by the government, that basically said, there’s this illness, we’re not sure how it’s transmitted, but don’t get it or you will die, good luck, to the rumors of how you could get it from using public toilets. There was a sense that it was an almost Biblical plague and, as such, it was incurable, so the only option was to surrender to it and accept its spread as unstoppable.
(I half-remember some of the context that It’s A Sin provides, but I wish I’d known more at the time; I was just a kid at the time, sure, but nonetheless, I wish I’d known more.)
It wasn’t just AIDS, though; I remember the free floating feeling, almost a certainly from many, that we were almost guaranteed to die in an imminent nuclear war. I remember hearing discussions about the US Navy base at Holy Loch, just across the river from my hometown, and how that was almost sure to be one of the first targets if and when war broke out. We were, I learned, pretty much assured to be vaporized when the US and Russia went to war, which I was all but assured was going to happen any moment.
Again, I was just a child during all of this; I was five when 1980 started. I never really stopped to wonder whatever that must have done to me, growing up with a background certainty that the end was nigh, but I’m sure the answer isn’t “nothing, that kind of thing is good for a developing mind.” It makes me wonder, not for the first time, what this COVID era is doing to kids today.
That might be the thing, though; maybe it’s always the end of the world for kids, and it’s just we adults that learn to tune it out.