Kernis interviewed the Huffington Post contributor about his new book, "Back to Our Future: How the 1980s Explain the World We Live in Now-Our Culture, Our Politics, Our Everything" in an item on his program's blog on CNN.com on Monday . The producer first asked about the writer's hypothesis that "the political and cultural references from the 1980s have not only become cool again, but may be a way to explain our present-day issues and conflicts, and even influencing our thinking today."
Sirota, who once attacked Glenn Beck as a "right wing political terrorist " and labeled opponents of President Obama "a bunch of psychopaths ," cited an apparent connection with the current Tea Party movement:
Consider, for instance, the Tea Party - a revival of what the New York Times called "modern Boston Tea Party" revolts against taxes on the eve of the 1980s. Notably, today's iteration of this uprising regularly laces its rhetoric with revivalist paeans to the Eisenhower Era. Summarizing the sentiment, one Tea Partier said: "Things we had in the fifties were better."One glaring weakness in his cultural examples is the fact that Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley are not 80s programs. They began in the mid-1970s and were past their prime when they ended their runs in the early 80s (the famous phrase "jump the shark" comes from a later-season Happy Days episode). Also, Sirota would have us believe that Tea Partiers regularly harken back to 50s (which, of course, he cast in the worst light possible) based on an extrapolation from his one anecdote.
This rhetoric has resonated because for many, it no longer stirs memories of the actual 1950s of Jim Crow laws, gender inequality and religious bigotry. Instead, it evokes the sanitized idea of "The Fifties" that was originally created in the 1980s through movies like Back to the Future, Stand By Me and Hoosiers, television shows like Happy Days and Laverne & Shirley, and rockabilly greaser bands like the Stray Cats.
Same thing for the Tea Party's use of red-baiting language that suggests the individual is more important than the common good. Though the Cold War ended years ago and though Ayn Rand is long dead, the bromides elicit Red Dawn fears and Michael Jordan dreams from a generation that grew up being taught to see ourselves as both Soviet-oppressed Wolverines and the next superstars singularly soaring to MVP awards - as long as we will ourselves to just do it.
The Huffington Post writer then held up Michael J. Fox and his characters in Back to the Future and Family Ties as influences: "Those two characters perfectly represent exactly how the 1980s was revising and reimagining contemporary American history on ideological lines. Think about it: Marty McFly was a suburban teen fleeing the cartoonized dangers of modern life...into an idyllic Fifties of unity and safety. Alex P. Keaton, by contrast, spends his life lambasting his parents Sixties idealism." However, as the MRC's recent report "Rewriting Reagan" pointed out, Family Ties actually worked in anti-Reagan jokes  into the dialogue.
In the process of singling out Fox, Sirota returned to his 50s talking point:
This "Back to the Future"-versus-"Family Ties" war between the 1980s version of "The Fifties" (supposedly 100% unified, universally happy, optimistic, safe, etc.) and the 1980s version of "The Sixties" (supposedly 100% violent, chaotic, overly idealistic, etc.) defines our politics today.When Kernis asked about the journalist's thesis about The A-Team's supposed influence on "how a generation views our government," the left-of-center narrative reached a new level:
We are, for instance, supposed to forget that America in the actual 1950s was basically an apartheid state, and also had a 90% top tax bracket. Likewise, we are supposed to forget that the 1960s saw great progress on civil rights and that liberals in the 1960s ultimately helped end the Vietnam War.
The dominant political narrative today - whether through the Tea Party or through criticisms of President Obama as a supposed "socialist" - tells us that if we only go back to "The Fifties" (ie. the 1980s-revised memory of the 1950s) and shun "The Sixties" (ie. the 1980s-revised memories of the 1960s) then our problems will be solved. It's the replay of a bad 1980s movie - but it keeps playing.