A true child of the Eighties

By skepticlawyer

You’re always told that being a true child of the eighties means saying things like ‘bright light, bright light’ or knowing what ‘Cavey Wavey’ stood for or fessing up to owning one of those ridiculous pastel skirts… but I reckon the following marks you out just as definitively:

I’ve been researching (strictly for novelistic purposes, you understand) what a really impressive military parade looks like, and I have to admit — after long consideration and time spent trawling around on YouTube — that these guys win. Yes the Nazi ones are more famous, and Ridley Scott did a great Nazi parade rip-off/Leni Riefenstahl homage in Gladiator, but the Nazis were long gone by the time I was enduring my adolescence. 

The Soviets, by contrast, were very much in evidence. The passage of time in my youth was marked by annual Soviet military parades with their massed choirs and massed missiles and tanks and pictures of Lenin. Remember those old civil defence instructional videos from the 60s? The ones where you were supposed to get under your desk in the event of a nuclear attack, stick your head between your legs and kiss your arse goodbye? Well, we never had to do that in the 80s, but I do remember ‘the Evil Empire’ and ‘tear down this wall’ and Checkpoint Charlie. I remember watching news stories on the Soviet Union with a kind of fascinated horror, because the marches were dead cool and dead scary at the same time, and I wasn’t an ignorant child. I knew how many people (insofar as it’s possible to know this stuff) they’d killed in the name of turning politics into a form of religion.

It’s the marching straight ahead while looking to the side — all those heads snapping around to face whoever it is taking the salute from the battlements — that gets me. You try marching one way while looking another and see how far you get. It’s bloody difficult. You’ll be flat on your face in no time.

Searching around for Soviet era marches on YouTube also alerted me to something else: we seem to be engaging in an act of willful forgetting when it comes to even the most memorable aspects of the Soviet Union. Nearly all of the videos on YouTube are outtakes from various military computer games that have a ‘Soviet’ player option or setting. There are a couple of the famous 1945 WWII Victory Parade that feature Joe Stalin that are detached from gamedom, but on the whole, these sequences are there because some game designer thought them worth preserving. And that’s kind of sad.

I also found myself indulging in a sort of perverse nostalgia when I was tripping down memory lane, something I slapped down, and hard. My privileged Cold War memories of Sovietsky Soyuz are as straw set beside the mountain of corpses their system bestrode. And yet. Somehow they struck me — and still strike me — as a worthy enemy, an enemy far more impressive than contemporary Islamists and their primitive, atavistic backwardness. Perhaps that exposes me not only as a true child of the eighties, but also a true child of the Enlightenment. In their own utterly twisted way, the Soviets wanted to make the world a better place. They believed in progress. They were prepared to kill anyone who didn’t buy their version but still… they weren’t holding out their banners for the Seventh Century AD way of doing things…

Reminisce away, people.

/anticipating incoming


  1. Posted August 24, 2009 at 9:37 pm | Permalink

    I hope the Russians love their children too…

  2. Posted August 24, 2009 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Space Gohsssst! (no, no … we can’t go there, it’ll turn into an 80s nostalgia thread and I’ll have people who read this blog wanting to firebomb my college).

    Good pick with the Sting, DEM… I remember that one, too.

  3. DeusExMacintosh
    Posted August 24, 2009 at 10:29 pm | Permalink

    Airwolf. Just saying.

    (And yes, I still want to learn to fly a helicopter.)

  4. Posted August 24, 2009 at 10:30 pm | Permalink

    (1) For some reason I can only ever remember having to do “Eyes…….Right!”, never left. But we never had to do that goose-step thing, or worse, half-time goose-stepping.

    (2) Noughties children can always look at N.Korean versions…. which have a lot of cheesy extras typical of Olympics opening ceremonies.

    (3) And here’s your incoming (hang on while I start “The Internationale” at max volume and light a big fat Cuban cigar to wave around)… “Dr Karl” Marx would have said that Stalin (like Dear Leader Kim) were far from communist, but sociopathic autocrats, and probably would have likened them to an absolute monarch of a feudal system, as they treat an entire country and it’s people as their personal private property. (Thank goodness for Operation Barbarossa, otherwise we’d have lost WW2 to a tag team of the two worst megalomaniacs of C20)

    (4) I cannot remember the Russians (or Chinese) doing that stupid rifle juggling drill that seems to go down so well in the USA. (Do they use bayonets fixed?)

    (5) “Seventh Century AD”…. Oh SL, wash your mouth out with soap and unholy water! CE! CE! CE! (Gotta get more people used to Common Era and BCE or we merely validate delusions).

    (6) On the radical Islamist zealotry… yeah… pity they don’t practice the drill of the Crack Suicide Squad from Life of Brian.

  5. Posted August 25, 2009 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    I think they completely lacked the democidal urge as a stated policy position, if I can put it that way, even though in practice in many cases they slaughtered many people.

    It’s also easy to conflate the hyper-evil of Stalin with the more mixed bag that followed, with varying degrees of thaw and tolerance waxing and waning depending on the influence of hardliners within, etc.

  6. Jacques Chester
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 12:01 pm | Permalink


    The conservative-liberal analysis is that Stalin was more or less inevitable. In times of revolutionary chaos, the worst of the worst rise to the top because they are prepared to go to any length to get there.

    In a stable society, Stalin would probably not get further than gangster. In a time of revolution, war and chaos, he was able to commit democide on a vast scale.

  7. Posted August 25, 2009 at 1:28 pm | Permalink

    I was wondering the other day whether it was the alliance with Stalinist Russia in the second world war, and the decades of compromise and international passive-aggression – the Cold War – that has caused us to have this kind of nostalgia for communism.

    Despite the genocide, the gulags, the dictatorship, the build up of nuclear weapons, the years of military expansionism, the Soviets never seemed to be as dramatically, and as savagely evil as the Nazis.

    My first decade – largely growing up in the eighties – always had Soviet Russia hovering there in the background, as a potential evil. Though they never directly had an effect on me – I remember Dad fondly talking about the lighthearted movie ‘The Russians are coming’, for instance.

  8. Posted August 25, 2009 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    DEM – Beat me to it.
    I remember thinking the world would be crispy black before I saw my 20th birthday. Until around ’86 or so it seemed a real possibility.
    The tune for “Russians” was pinched from Prokoviev who was one of many artists put under pressure for doing different stuff in Russia. In Prokoviev’s case it was for ‘formalism’ meaning, I suppose, refusing to go along with the Party’s idea that socialist progress would obtain in the arts if you forever condemned people to doing late 19th century stuff forever.
    Prokoviev got off lightly. Others got shot.
    Prokoviev emigrated to the States and came back. But most of the really brilliant Russian artists split: Chagall and Kandinsky. It’s interesting that anyone would think much good would come of the ruthless repression of the outstanding and endless hours of effort getting masses of people to point in the same direction.

  9. Posted August 25, 2009 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    For those interested in various arguments about who won the Cold War, hows and whys, there’s a book called The Age of the Unthinkable by Joshua Ramo. In part of it he questions the wisdom of what I call the Reagan Myth – the idea that boosted US spending led to the Sov collapse. Part of the explanation is that the nomenklatura the Sov elite saw the writing on the wall and abandoned the SU in order to preserve their power. Given the results it’s worth considering.

    I haven’t read the whole thing so I’m not vouching for it.

  10. su
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 6:08 pm | Permalink

    I can remember not being able to sleep much in 1980 because we were reading On the Beach at school and I developed a kind of pre-traumatic stress reaction about the bomb. That was a strange year. Azaria Chamberlain, Lech Walesa, Ronnie Raygun.

    Oh DEM, that song is awful. I love Jennifer Saunders’ running jokes about Sting. “We were having a lovely evening until, of course, Sting played the Lute”

  11. Posted August 25, 2009 at 6:54 pm | Permalink

    Sting is a wanker. The Dream of the Blut Turtles was his last decent record and then he just turned into one of those mid-80s corporate rock types with the odious ‘save the world’ add-on.
    He shoulda known that without really class accompaniment like Andy Summers or Branford Marselis he’s just a mediocre writer of pop schlock.
    But “Russians” was written by Sergei. And Sergei was class.

  12. su
    Posted August 25, 2009 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    There’s nothing wrong with the music, Adrien, but I give myself whiplash cringeing at the lyrics.

    Wow a trip to Sydney at ten how cool, LE. I think I may have won a Little Golden Book once *sob*. Ronnie was great value for comedians : cue Kenny Everett

  13. Posted August 25, 2009 at 10:02 pm | Permalink

    He was probably trying to be poetic, and unless you’re Bob Dylan or Joan Baez, that’s really hard to do well.

  14. su
    Posted August 26, 2009 at 4:03 pm | Permalink

    Yes, no doubt, and sometimes I could do with being a little less cynical. : /

  15. Posted August 26, 2009 at 5:56 pm | Permalink

    He was probably trying to be poetic

    Yes he does that a lot. Sting’s a bit of a, say, pretentious wanker. And he’s been voted worst lyricist of all time. Altho’ I think the worst lyrics were written by whoever wrote:

    I’m afraid of a ghost
    It’s the sight that I fear most
    Rather have a piece of toast
    Watch the evening news..


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