Course Instructor Days Times Room

Topics Title
The 1980s

In our present moment, no previous decade of US history is being more aggressively mined for its music, fashion, games and movies than the 1980s. Indeed, throwbacks to this decade, across many media and genres, are now so common that we might as well call the twenty-first century “the long 80s.” Thus, a serious study of the decade—one that goes beyond shallow references to Dungeons & Dragons and Marty McFly—is in order.

Also, it’s never a bad time to listen to Purple Rain.

This course has four main goals. The first is explore the broader political and cultural currents of the decade well enough to put its literature, film and music in context. The second is to learn about some streams of 80s pop culture that have been less noticed by culture today (or at least haven’t been included in Ready Player One or referenced in Stranger Things), from post-punk to rap to, say, some major works of print literature. The third is to come to a deeper understanding of some very well-known 80s artifacts, so that we can see more clearly how and why, for instance, E.T. has remained one of the most loved and influential films on the planet. The fourth is to gain some understanding of a word that helped define the 80s and has recently, once again, become a talking point in the culture wars: postmodernism.

These four pursuits will hopefully enhance one another so that we can get a fuller sense of how and why pop culture today seems to have inherited the 80s in such a pressing (and partial) way—and what one might choose to remember about the decade going forward in order to understand our present and future better.


Quizzes will be constant.

Short essays will be required during the term.

There will be a final exam.


Students will be allowed five absences. Additional absences will damage the final grade; the more absences there are, the worse the damage will be. If some absences are excused, the damage can be reduced but not erased. Students should be aware that this policy is never altered, and that it has been the primary factor in drops and failures in previous terms. Take this into consideration before deciding to register for the course.