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Question: What's With Our New 1980s Fetish? Answer: We're Going Back to Our Future

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As Tron: Legacy becomes the top grossing movie in America this weekend, we need to ask a seemingly trivial but oh-so-important question: What's with our newfound 1980s fetish? Though the original Tron has a loyal following (of which I include myself), it was a commercial disappointment. And yet it was updated in blockbuster $170-million-dollar fashion. Clearly, in light of that history, the driving force behind it being remade is the ascendant 1980s zeitgeist, especially considering that it was the latest in a series of 1980s remakes. So, again, what's with our 1980s fetish?

This is a question that I tackle in my upcoming book Back To Our Future: How the 1980s Explain The World We Live In Now. The book is due out on March 15, 2011, but you can now pre-order the book here and also read a just-released sneak-peek mini-excerpt here.

As I argue, 1980s pop culture truly defines how we think about major issues today. Indeed, as trivial as, say, Ghostbusters and G.I. Joe and Mr. T may seem, these multimedia creations/archetypes in film, sitcoms, cartoons, video games, toys, commercials, sports and music made a lasting imprint on an entire generation -- an imprint that shapes the most serious policies and political debates of the present moment.

As just one poignant example ripped from this week's headlines, you may have noticed this New York Times dispatch about Google's new word-searching tool. The Nation's Chris Hayes subsequently used the tool to show how America's "ideology of pseudo-egalitarianism began circa 1980," as evidenced by this graph tracking the use of the term "level playing field":

As you can see, it was in the 1980s that we started hearing so much about how our country is supposedly so fair -- and how we therefore don't need progressive policies like affirmative action, a minimum wage and unemployment benefits. This 1980s-created narrative, of course, defines the most pressing political debates today. Notice, for instance, conservatives' reliance on the "level playing field" idea in their constant insistence that the unemployed in America are lazy.

So, as frivolous as you think your own memories of 1980s kitsch and culture may be, they are anything but. They are, in fact, still shaping how we look at the most significant challenges. That's what Back To Our Future is all about.

On a personal level, the book was an immense challenge for me in that it was a big leap of faith. Though my newspaper columns have focused on the intersection between culture and politics, I had never attempted that kind of focus in book-length form. This is probably why the book took longer for me to write than my previous books -- and why I'm both excited and incredibly nervous in anticipation of its release.

Again, the book isn't out until March 15, 2011 - but I hope you'll give the mini-excerpt a read, pass it on to friends, and perhaps even pre-order the book. You'll not only get a trip down memory lane, you'll also get a lot to chew on as you think about our society's future.

NOTE: If you have examples of how 1980s pop culture shapes our current society/politics, please email them to me at ds[at] or Tweet them to me @davidsirota -- I'm compiling a list for the presentation I'll be giving on my book tour in the Spring!