Aerobics: Aerobics was a major part of the fitness craze that swept the western world in the 80s. Stars like Jane Fonda, Olivia Newton-John and Victoria Principal from Dallas led the charge in neon Lycra, sweatbands and legwarmers – Fonda’s workout book and video were bestsellers while Newton-John’s pumping music video for Let’s Get Physical reminded everyone that fitness equated with sexiness and improved your chances of getting laid. Principal’s intentional pun in the title of her exercise video, The Body Principal, put the emphasis for sexiness where it would remain for the following decades – on the body. While exercise is still a priority for many people, the aerobics craze eventually suffered the malady that hit many of its devoted followers – burn out.

Brat Pack: When movies in the 80s zeroed in on youth, a new generation of actors sprang up almost overnight. The hottest young stars were a group of inspired performers known as the Brat Pack (harking back to Sinatra and friends, who were known as the Rat Pack). They included Emilio Estevez, Judd Nelson, Molly Ringwald, Ally Sheedy, Rob Lowe and Demi Moore. The movies that brought them fame included St Elmo’s Fire, Breakfast Club and Pretty in Pink. The Brat Pack dominated Hollywood and the gossip columns through the 80s, but many had careers that burned out as fast as their movie characters.

Chernobyl: On April 26, 1986 at 1.23pm, the nuclear power plant at Chernobyl in the Ukraine exploded, shedding radioactive fallout over the Soviet Union, Europe, Scandinavia and the British Isles. The disaster was so immense that radioactive fallout even contaminated the eastern cost of North America. Chernobyl released 300 times more fallout than the atomic bomb that fell on Hiroshima. While 47 workers died directly from the accident, the actual number of victims may never be known, because deaths will continue to occur from exposure to the radioactive fallout.

Dallas: Larry Hagman, who had a huge hit on his hands in the 60s with I Dream of Jeannie, made a spectacular comeback in this legendary soap as the evil JR Ewing, one of the three sons of wildcat oil squillionaire Jock Ewing. The series also starred former merman Patrick Duffy as his honorable brother Bobby. The show’s biggest rival was Dallas, starring former British `it’ girl Joan Collins. Glitzy soaps about the rich and shameless were big in the 80s, until reality TV came along and proved they are just as boring as the rest of us.

Exxon Valdez: The second biggest environment story of the 80s (Chernobyl was the first) started around midnight on March 23, 1989, when the supertanker Exxon Valdez ran aground on Blight Reef in Prince William Sound, spewing 10 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters. It was the worst environmental oil disaster in history, and it was compounded by the oil cartel’s inefficient response. The resulting oil slick spread over an area of 1800 square miles, terminating the 1989 Alaskan fishing season and killing thousands of sea life and birds. Exxon Valdez’ Captain Hazelwood took the fall for the disaster and was jailed, but was later exonerated of all charges save one.

Fashion:  The 80s look was big – big hair, big shoulder pads and really big bushy eyebrows, as exemplified by 80s `it’ girl Brooke Shields. This was the decade that saw exercise gear turn into a fashion statement, and the hottest ticket item was sure to be made of Lycra. Workout clothes came in bright neon colors or mouth watering fruity pastels and could be seen everywhere besides the gym. Thick wooly legwarmers and sweatbands were important fashion items, along with other exercise essentials such as wristbands and leotards. In street and evening wear, the ubiquitous V shape, caused by immensely wide shoulder pads and narrow hips, was strangely elegant. Hollywood style leaders like Madonna popularized lacy socks with high heel shoes, lacy gloves, lots of bling and frilly frou frou skirts, an eclectic and girly look that basically said `anything goes’. The cute bubble skirt, with its bouffant gathered hem was a prized item.

Greed is Good: Stock broker Walter Gekko, in the 1987 film Wall Street, exemplified the successful Alpha male of the 80s, mentoring Charlie Sheen with the philosophy `greed is good’. You didn’t have to look far to find the real Walter Gekkos. The 80s was a time of great fortunes and impending bankruptcy, both financial and, many said, moral. It was a stark contrast to the `summer of love’ of the hippies. The popular sitcom Family Ties traded successfully on the theme of liberal aging hippie parents faced with a materialistic new generation.

Headroom, Max: Billed as the first computer generated superstar, Max Headroom was actually the head of actor Matt Frewer manipulated to look like a computer generated image. He debuted in 1985 as the announcer for a music video show in Britain’s Channel 4.  Max went on to star in Coke commercials, a talk show and even a music video by the group Art of Noise. His story was told in a TV movie called 20 Minutes into the Future which spun off a TV series in 1987. The wise cracking Max got his name from a traffic sign advising high vehicles of clearance. His popularity died with the 80s, his TV show only lasting two seasons.

Iran Contra Scandal: The biggest political news story of the 80s kept America and the world glued to the TV when it was revealed that members of the Reagan Administration had sold arms to Iran, an enemy of the United States, and used the money to fund the Contras, a right wing Nicaraguan guerrila organisation. Two key figures in the scandal were Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North and his secretary Fawn Hall, who shredded vital documents.

Jeffersons, the: The white Anglo-Saxon domination of TV sitcoms lost its hold in 1975 when the Jeffersons spun off from All in the Family. By the 80s, this had become one of the most popular sitcoms on air. Basically a turnaround on the original All in the Family premise, with George Jefferson as the loudmouthed, bigoted head of the Jefferson family, The Jeffersons helped pave the way for black sitcoms.
Karate Kid: It was understood in the 80s that if anyone said `wax on, wax off” you would know what they were talking about. This phrase was just one of the enigmatic bits of advice passed on by Mr Miyagi, surely the most beloved martial arts mentor ever to grace the screen. Veteran Asian-American actor Pat Morita won a best supporting actor Oscar for his performance in the first Karate Kid movie released in 1984. Ralph Macchio played Daniel, the lonely young boy befriended by Miyagi and taught martial arts by the Way of the Handyman and Part Time Mechanic. The final scene, in which Daniel takes the crane pose to defeat his nemesis, is still a stunner.

Live Aid:  It started out as Band Aid in November 1984, with 36 British record artists gathered together by Boomtown Rats frontman Bob Geldof to record the single Do They Know It’s Christmas? to raise money for Ethiopian famine relief. Among the bands and artists taking part were U2, Annie Lennox, Sting, Phil Collins and George Michael. The single hit #1 in the UK and went gold in the US, where American musicians and singers followed suit with We Are the World. Band Aid raised $8 million to feed the hungry in Africa. Geldof’s next plan was to bring 60 performers from around the world to London and Philadelphia to take part in two fund raising concerts called Live Aid. Among the stars raking part were Madonna, Tina Turner, Paul McCartney, Black Sabbath, the Beach Boys and 60s folk legend Joan Baez. The 16 hour concerts were performed simultaneously and beamed live to 150 countries around the globe, and raised more than $70 million. Geldof’s promise that 100 per cent of the money raised would go to Africa was kept, and he was knighted by the Queen of England in 1986. The band Aid Trust that he formed shut down in 1992, having raised more than $144 million for African famine relief.

Material Girl: Madonna Louise Ciccone epitomized the look and feel of the 80s, a street smart, savvy young woman who produced a string of hits and starred in a couple of hit movies. A natural shape shifter, Madonna morphed her way through many image changes, always keeping a step ahead of the trend – in fact, she was the trend. She first appeared as a cute, girly `boy toy’, an image that was essential to the plot of her first film Desperately Seeking Susan. When that palled, she reinvented herself as the Material Girl, a sleek, sexy Marilyn Monroe clone, wiggling in satin and diamonds. Almost everything Madonna touched turned to gold – even her extraordinarily self indulgent coffee table book, in which she appeared nude, did nothing to harm her popularity. The only place she failed to really make her mark was in movies. After Desperately Seeking Susan and Who’s That Girl? her movie career went downhill fast and never recovered.

New Age: Hippies faded from the scene after the 70s, but some of the trappings of hippiedom remained and exploded into the new materialistic consciousness of the 80s. Dubbed `New Age’, the vague leanings towards astrology, tarot and crystals of the 70s became a full fledged movement toward self discovery, and less attractively, self absorption. The New Age movement was centered in California, where a mind boggling array of `therapies’ was unleashed on the world, from primal and rebirthing, to immersion tanks and zero gravity. New Age practitioners like astrologer Linda Goodman and Primal Scream guru Arthur Janov got rich quick and New Age shops proliferated, selling tarot cards, crystals, wind chimes, incense and other essential paraphernalia. New Age music was steadfastly ignored by radio but sold like hot cakes from the speciality shops. This twittering trend is still around, but has slowed into a steady market for self improvement books.

O’Connor, Sandra Day: After the consciousness-raising of the 70s, women’s liberation got off to a good start in the new decade with the appointment of America’s first female associate justice of the Supreme Court in 1981. Ms O’Connor was dubbed by Forbes Magazine the fourth most powerful woman in the USA and the sixth most powerful woman in the world. Ms O’Connor retired in 2005 after 24 years on the Supreme Courth Bench.

Prince: The Artist Formerly Known as Prince was born Prince Rogers Nelson in 1958. He burst on the scene in 1984 with a hit album called Purple Rain, scooping up three Grammies for his outrageous originality. His dandified appearance and sexy videos successfully concealed the fact that he was, in fact, a multi talented artist who originally taught himself to play guitar, piano and drums. In the 90s, Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and so became the Artist Formerly Known as Prince. It stopped his records selling in a heartbeat, something his detractors through the 80s had been unable to do.

Quilt: The meteoric rise of AIDS devastated the gay community, who were enjoying the freedom of being `out’ after centuries of oppression. In 1987 a group of San Franciscans started a moving memorial to those who died in the first wave of the epidemic in the form of a quilt. The project began in June 1987 using volunteers and donated sewing machines. The result was bigger than a football field and was put on display in Washington’s National Mall in October 1987. When the quilt went on tour, it raised more than $500,000 for AIDS research. The largest community art project in the world, the quilt continues to grow through local US chapters and world wide affiliates.

Rubik’s Cube: This maddening fad actually made its first appearance in Hungary in 1974 but it wasn’t until 1980 that Ideal Toys launched it on an unsuspecting world. Invented by Hungarian Erno Rubik, the cube is an ingenious square puzzle that can be manipulated in all directions – the trick is to get the colored squares in a particular order, so that each side of the cube is a different color. At first considered too esoteric and intellectual to market, the Cube became the biggest selling fad of the 80s.

Strawberry Shortcake: The discovery of the Inner Child in the 80s led to a mass marketing of toys destined to become collectors’ items. My Little Ponies, Cabbage Patch dolls and Care Bears all hit the shelves, but one of the most successful toy stories of the 80s was American Greetings’ Strawberry Shortcake, launched in 1980. The cute strawberry scented doll and her companions have chalked up more than $1.2 billion in sales, from the toys themselves and related products, such as books, records, cards and clothing. Strawberry Shortcake continues to sell to collectors worldwide on Ebay, but new products are also available since Bandai America reintroduced the line in 2002.

Turtles: Mutant Teenage Ninja Turtles, to be more precise. Donnatello, Michaelangelo, Leonardo and Raphael were the most popular comic characters of the 80s, and the brain children of young artists Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird. Born in the sewers of Manhattan, the four mutate into crime fighting ninjas mentored by their sensai, a rat called Splinter. Journalist April O’Neill added the human touch. The pizza munching, wise cracking foursome even made it to the big screen in 1990.

Urban legends: These have always been around, but they got a huge spike in popularity in the 80s. An urban legend may or may not have basis in fact, but it differs from a rumor in that it has a clearly defined plot and is something of a cautionary tale. Some spring from the ecological concerns of the decade, like the belief people had been flushing pet crocodiles down the toilets of New York, leading to a giant crocodile infestation of the sewers. Others seemed to borrow more on the hair-raising-tale-round-the-campfire tradition, while some are more paranoid in origin, such as the man who wakes up without a kidney, and subversive ways of getting kids hooked on drugs. Urban legends continue to proliferate, although in these strange times, people can’t be blamed for whole heartedly believing them.

VHS v Beta: Back in the day, just being able to play movie cassettes and record your favorite shows was enough of a buzz, without being faced with the marketing nightmare of VCRs being sold in two different formats. The only difference the average consumer could see was that VHS tapes were bigger. This wasn’t why that format eventually sent Sony’s Betamax to the wall, though. It was because VHS technology was openly shared on the market and more companies chose to use it. VHS became the standard, especially for the rapidly proliferating video rental stores, and those who had gone the Beta route had to buy new VCRs as their stock of playable movies shrank. Sony finally dumped Beta in 1988 and more stuff went into the landfill.
Where in the World is Carmen San Diego?: And where on earth did she go? This top selling video game didn’t have anything to do with stealing cars, furious driving or creating fountains of blood with a samurai sword, it *gasp!* taught you about geography. Well, sort of – mainly it was the one game you could persuade your parents to buy, because it sort of taught you about geography.

X, Generation: The trend for tagging generations started with the Baby Boomers, those born after WWII and largely responsible for the hedonism of the 60s and 70s. But what to call the young generation of the 80s, who threw aside what Homer Simpson might call their Hippie Heritage in favor of material benefits? Generation X is now an agreed demographic, with a clear influence on marketing and trends in the 80s and Nineties. Generation X has drawn a line in the sand separating it from the Boomers and previous generations, who it sees as selfish and indulgent, leaving little for coming generations to look forward to – and a really big ecological mess to clean up.

Yuppies: A marketing term, Yuppie stands for young upwardly mobile professional. Yuppies took over the malls in the 80s, with a passion for name brands, exclusive labels and imported trends. With plenty of disposable income and plenty of new technology to splurge it on, Yuppies were a Madison venue wet dream. Newsweek dubbed 1984 the Year of the Yuppie but it all came crashing down in 1987 when the stock market crashed. Yuppies didn’t throw themselves out of windows on Wall St, as in the Great Depression, but there was a lot of sobbing into lattes.

ZX80: If you can remember what this means, you were definitely a child of the 80s. The Sinclair ZX80 was the first computer to be sold for under $200 (only $1 under that, but still..) and it enjoyed quite a bit of popularity, in spite of having no sound or color, and an irritating membrane keyboard with the keys printed on a plastic coversheet. The 80s were the time when geeks bought computers as kits and built their own, when having a Commodore 64 made your computing State of the Art, and clip art was king, through programs like NewsRoom and PrintShop. Computing magazines had pages of data to type in so you could make a word processor and a cool game. Ah, those were the days…