Can you survive the 80's?

Brendan Halpin
7 min readApr 25, 2023

Take this quiz and find out!

You’ve just become a teenager in the 1980s. Answer the following questions to the best of your ability.

1.What are you going to watch on TV tonight?

2. What shows can you put your little sibling in front of to keep them occupied?

3. How do you send a fax?

4. You’ve got a project for class and you need to get five pages into everyone’s hands. Explain how you do this.

5. It’s 1 AM. You’re drunk in an unfamiliar part of town. You got separated from your ride when the cops broke up the party. You have twenty-five cents in your pocket. What are you going to do?

6.You and your friend are arguing about the lyrics to an REM song. How will you settle this dispute?

7. You lost your copy of a classic novel you were assigned in English class, and there’s a quiz tomorrow! Assuming you’re the kind of person who cares about failing a quiz, what can you do?

8. Explain the process of writing, proofreading, and turning in a typed paper.

9. You’d like to have some sex, and either you or your partner has a penis. Explain how you get condoms!

10. You’re 15 and so horny you can’t think straight. Some porn sure would be handy right about now! How are you going to access it?

11. You suffer from crippling anxiety and/or depression. How will you get it treated?

12. You’re queer, neurodivergent, or otherwise outside the mainstream in some way. Explain how you find a community for yourself!

13. You use a wheelchair. Explain how you access school, stores, etc.

ANSWERS

1.Whatever is on. If it’s the late 80’s and your parents have money, you might have cable, in which case you may have as many as 30 channels. But most likely you have 3 or 4. So you’ll watch what they tell you to watch.

2. Unless it’s Saturday morning, there are no cartoons or kids shows on for them to watch. In the afternoon, you can probably find reruns of The Brady Bunch or Gilligan’s Island. At night? Forget it.

3. Put the paper you want to fax into the feeder. Either face up or face down! It depends! There is probably a very confusing icon etched into the feeder tray to let you know. Now use the number pad to dial the number, which you have to have written down somewhere. Remember to dial 9 if you’re sending from a business (which you probably are because nobody has a fax machine at home in the 80s), and remember to dial a 9 plus a 1 plus the area code if you’re sending it long distance! Press send. Watch the paper go through the machine, listen to the horrible electronic screaming, and then wait for the fax machine to print a confirmation page. If it doesn’t print a confirmation page, start over.

4. Some copiers will copy, collate, and staple for you. For instructions on how to use a photocopier, see instructions on faxing above. Just don’t dial a phone number, but rather choose your options from a bewildering array of menu options. Or don’t! Fancy copiers like that won’t hit places like schools until the 90’s. You might be able to get a copier that collates, but you’ll have to staple it yourself. Oh, and make sure to budget in time to clear the inevitable paper jams, and once you’ve removed the jammed paper, good luck trying to figure out which collated set it was supposed to go into! Just imagine a printer that is even more finicky and prone to jamming and breaking, and you’ve got a photocopier.

5. Start walking. If you have any memory of how you got to the party, try to retrace your steps. Go until you reach some kind of main road. Nothing will be open, but there should be a payphone outside of one of the stores, or just on the street. Use your 25 cents to call your home number, which you have memorized. If your parents don’t answer, hang up, get your 25 cents back from the phone (probably!), and call friends whose numbers you have memorized, remembering that you are going to wake up their parents with this call. Unless your friends are rich and have their own lines. If nobody answers the phone, well, you’re walking home. Hope you can navigate by the stars!

6. You cannot. REM does not print lyric sheets until the 90’s. Unless you or your friend are close personal friends with Michael Stipe and can call him up, this conflict will never be resolved. It may come to blows. (REM is far from the only example, but they’re a particularly vivid one because, you know, that album is called Murmur for a reason)

7. Well, you can’t just get a copy on the internet. If your local library is still open, they may have a copy. Otherwise you can start calling your friends (whose numbers, I remind you, you have memorized) and see if anyone is willing to lend you a copy for the evening, but they’ve probably got the same quiz, so..

8. Probably you’ll write it by hand and then type it on an electric typewriter. If you’ve got a new, fancy one, you can get it to type in white over your mistakes automatically. Otherwise you’ll have to stop typing when you make a mistake, roll the paper up, paint a dab of Liquid Paper on it, wait for it to dry, and then type over the mistake. Oh, yeah, and there’s no parenthetical citation for papers yet, so you’ll have to manually do a superscript number by rolling the paper up a fraction, typing the number, and rolling it back down. Even if you’re a good typist, which you’re probably not because you didn’t grow up using computer keyboards, it’s gonna take a while.

9.Get this–they’re behind the counter at the drugstore. You literally have to ask someone (typically an old person, as seemingly all pharmacy employees were in the 1980s) to get them for you. And if you live in a small town or this is your neighborhood pharmacy, this pharmacist knows you and your family! Good luck! (Also, if you don’t have a penis, you’ll need ovaries of steel to ask for condoms and face the inevitable slut shaming that follows. Probably you’ll need to ask a penis-having person to buy them for you instead.)

10. Well, if you’re lucky, maybe you found some old Playboys and Penthouses in a garbage bag in the woods. (This, strangely, was not as unusual an occurrence as it might sound.) If you’re not lucky…well, some cable channels show soft porn. Sometimes if you switch back and forth between scrambled channels you can catch a distorted glimpse of a nipple and convince yourself it belongs to a person you might find attractive. There are places that sell porn, of course, but you have to be 18 to get in and they are populated with unsavory characters. Maybe if you’re lucky you can rent a rated R VHS without the video store clerk carding you. Or maybe your dad has some porn stashed away. Have fun unpacking that in therapy!

11. Treated? Really you should just try to cheer up and realize things aren’t so bad. SSRI’s don’t exist yet, and insurance typically doesn’t cover therapy. So, I dunno, go listen to the Smiths or something.

12. If you live in a medium- to large-sized city, there’s probably a community of artists and/or musicians that you can find, though they tend to be in parts of town that your parents probably don’t want you going to alone at night. Or maybe you can find a midnight showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show and find your people there! Maybe you can play D&D with a small group of friends, but not if you’re female because the boys who play probably want to incorporate some puerile fantasy about buxom elven maidens in chainmail bikinis into their game. (Oh yeah, BTW, you’re either male or female. Don’t feel like you fit into the gender binary? Too bad! There literally isn’t even a term for that yet!) But, sadly, with no internet, a lot of people simply won’t find the community they need to sustain them as teens and will get bullied and leave home to seek it out later. Bronski Beat’s “Smalltown Boy” is a heartrending song about this phenomenon.

13. For the most part, you don’t. The Americans with Disabilities Act hasn’t been passed yet. So, like, there aren’t even ramps on curbs. America literally does not make allowances for you to get across the street, much less get into and around in most buildings.

CONCLUSION

If you answered every question correctly, congratulations! You survived the 80’s! If not…well, that probably means you’re too young to remember any of this stuff, and so I leave you with two thoughts.

1.People who did survive the 80’s have dealt with a lot of very daunting logistical challenges. The fact that they may not know TikTok from Venmo does not make them idiots. Mind you, this does not excuse anyone who grew up in this era for holding on to outdated attitudes. Being a bigot and not changing with the times is an active choice people make, and they deserve no sympathy for that. But do just perhaps give the over-50 set a bit of a break when it comes to technology.

2. No matter what your age, it can feel a lot like the world is going to shit right now. And yeah, a lot of things are bad. But a lot of things have gotten better in the last 40 years. Yes, it’s easier to find your way home, and you probably don’t have to fight a photocopier at work, but, more importantly, groups of people that were formerly silent and/or invisible are no longer either. The internet has made it easier to form communities with people you don’t live next door to and to realize you’re not alone. So yes, things are bad right now. But they’re not hopeless. Many things are better than they used to be, which implies that things can get better. I hope they will!

--

--