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Space Shuttle Columbia End of the Cold War Iran–Iraq War Fall of the Berlin Wall Live Aid Space Shuttle Challenger disaster Chernobyl disaster
From left, clockwise: The Space Shuttle Columbia lifting off, back in 1981; American President Ronald Reagan and Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev eased tensions between the two superpowers, leading to the end of the Cold War; The Fall of the Berlin Wall, considered to be the most momentous event of the 1980s; Space Shuttle Challenger disaster; In 1985, the Live Aid Concert was held in order to fund relief efforts for the famine in Ethiopia; Chernobyl disaster; The Iran–Iraq War leads to over a million dead and a trillion spent.
Millennium: 2nd millennium
Centuries: 19th century20th century21st century
Decades: 1950s 1960s 1970s1980s1990s 2000s 2010s
Years: 1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989
Categories: BirthsDeathsArchitecture

The 1980s, often called "the Eighties," was the decade that began on January 1, 1980 and ended on December 31, 1989 and was the ninth decade of the 20th century.

The time period saw social, economic and general change as wealth and production migrated to newly industrializing economies. As economic liberalization increased in the developed world, multiple multinational corporations associated with the manufacturing industry relocated into Thailand, Malaysia, Mexico, South Korea, Taiwan, China, and new market economies in Eastern Europe following the collapse of communism in eastern Europe. Japan and West Germany are the most notable developed countries that continued to enjoy rapid economic growth during the decade whilst other developed nations, particularly the United States and United Kingdom re-adopted laissez-faire economic policies.

Developing countries across the world faced economic and social difficulties as they suffered from multiple debt crises in the 1980s, requiring many of these countries to apply for financial assistance from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. Ethiopia witnessed widespread famine in the mid-1980s, resulting in the country having to depend on foreign aid to provide food to its population and worldwide efforts to address and raise money to help Ethiopians, such as the famous Live Aid concert in 1985.

Major civil discontent and violence occurred in the Middle East, including the Iran-Iraq War, the ongoing Soviet-Afghan War, the 1982 Lebanon War, the Bombing of Libya in 1986, and the First Intifada in the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

In the eastern world, hostility to authoritarianism and the failing command economies of communist states resulted in a wave of reformist policies by communist regimes such as the policies of perestroika and glasnost in the Soviet Union, along with the overthrows and attempted overthrows of a number of communist regimes, such as in Poland, Hungary, the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 in China, the Czechoslovak "Velvet Revolution", and the overthrow of the Nicolae Ceauşescu regime in Romania and other communist Warsaw Pact states in Central and Eastern Europe. It came to be called the late 1980s' "purple passage of the autumn of nations". By 1989, with the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, the Soviet Union announced the abandonment of political hostility toward the western world and, thus, the Cold War ended. These changes continued to be felt in the 1990s and into the 21st century.


Politics and wars

Terrorist attacks

The most notable terrorist attacks of the decade include:


The most prominent armed conflicts of the decade include:

International wars

Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, 1988.
Aftermath of Halabja poison gas attack by Saddam Hussein committed during the Iran-Iraq war.

The most notable wars of the decade include:

  • Soviet war in Afghanistan (1979–1989) - a war fought between the Soviet Union and the Islamist Mujahideen Resistance in Afghanistan. The mujahideen found other support from a variety of sources including the United States, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and other Muslim nations through the context of the Cold War and the regional India-Pakistan conflict.
  • Invasion of Grenada (1983) - a 1983 U.S.-led invasion of Grenada, triggered by a military coup which ousted a brief revolutionary government. The successful invasion led to a change of government but was controversial due to charges of American imperialism, Cold War politics, the involvement of Cuba, the unstable state of the Grenadian government, and Grenada's status as a Commonwealth realm.
  • 1982 Lebanon War - The Government of Israel ordered the invasion as a response to the assassination attempt against Israel's ambassador to the United Kingdom, Shlomo Argov by the Abu Nidal Organization and due to the constant terror attacks on northern Israel made by the terrorist organizations which resided in Lebanon. After attacking the PLO, as well as Syrian, leftist and Muslim Lebanese forces, Israel occupied southern Lebanon and eventually surrounded the PLO in west Beirut and subjected to heavy bombardment, they negotiated passage from Lebanon.
  • The Iran-Iraq war took place from 1980 to 1988. Iraq was accused of using illegal chemical weapons to kill Iranian forces and against its own dissident Kurdish populations. Both sides suffered enormous casualties, but the poorly equipped Iranian armies suffered worse for it, being forced to use boys as young as 15 in human-wave attacks. Iran finally agreed to an armistice in 1988.
  • Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands, sparking the Falklands War. It occurred from 2 April 1982 – 14 July 1982 between the United Kingdom and Argentina as British forces fought to liberate the Falkland Islands. Britain emerged victorious and its stance in international affairs and its reputation as a great power increased substantially. Argentina, on the other hand, was left humiliated by the defeat; its dictator Leopoldo Galtieri was deposed three days after the end of the war.
  • The United States launched an aerial bombardment of Libya in 1986 in retaliation for Libyan support of terrorism and attacks on US personnel in Germany and Turkey.
  • The South African Border War between South Africa and the alliance of Angola, Namibia, and Zambia ended in 1989, ending over thirty years of conflict.
  • The United States engaged in significant direct and indirect conflict in the decade via alliances with various groups in a number of Central and South American countries claiming that the U.S. was acting to oppose the spread of communism and end illicit drug trade. The U.S. government supported the government of Colombia's attempts to destroy its large illicit cocaine-trafficking industry and provided support for right-wing rebels in El Salvador which became controversial after the El Mozote massacre on December 11, 1981 in which U.S.-trained Salvadoran paramilitaries killed 1000 Salvadoran civilians. The United States, along with members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States, invaded Grenada in 1983. The Iran-Contra affair erupted which involvee U.S. interventionism in Nicaragua, resulting in members of the U.S. government being indicted in 1986. U.S. military action began against Panama in December 1989 to overthrow its president, Manuel Noriega.
  • Battle of Cuito Cuanavale took place as part of the Angolan civil war and South African Border War from 1987 to 1988. The battle involved the largest fighting in Africa since World War II between military forces from Angola, Cuba (expeditionary forces), and Namibia versus military forces from South Africa and the dissident Angolan UNITA organization.

Civil wars and Guerrilla wars

The most notable Internal conflicts of the decade include:

Nuclear threats

The Israeli Air Force F-16A Netz '243' which was flown by Colonel Ilan Ramon during Operation Opera.

Decolonization and Independence

  • In 1986 Australia and the United Kingdom fully separated Australia's governments from the influence of the British Parliament, resulting in Australia's independence.
  • In 1986 New Zealand and the United Kingdom fully separated New Zealand's governments from the influence of the British Parliament, resulting in New Zealand's full independence with the Constitution Act 1986 which also reorganised the government of New Zealand.
  • Canada gained official independence from the United Kingdom with a new Constitution on April 17, 1982, authorized by the signature by Queen Elizabeth II. This act severed all political dependencies of the United Kingdom in Canada (although the queen remained the titular head of state).
  • Independence was granted to Vanuatu from the British/French condonimum (1980), Kiribati from joint US-British government (1981) and Palau from the United States (1986).
  • Zimbabwe becomes independent from official colonial rule of the United Kingdom in 1980.
  • Independence was awarded to Antigua and Barbuda, Belize (both 1981), and Saint Kitts and Nevis (1983) of the Caribbean; and Brunei of Southeast Asia in 1984.

Prominent political events


U.S. President Reagan and Soviet General Secretary Gorbachev signing the INF Treaty, 1987.
  • Ronald Reagan was elected U.S. President in 1980. In international affairs, Reagan pursued a hardline policy towards preventing the spread of communism, initiating a considerable buildup of U.S. military power to challenge the Soviet Union. He further directly challenges the Iron Curtain by demanding that the Soviet Union dismantle the Berlin Wall.
  • The Reagan Administration accelerated the War on Drugs, publicized through anti-drug campaigns including the Just Say No campaign of First Lady Nancy Reagan. Drugs became a serious problem beginning in the '80s. Cocaine was popular among celebrities and the young, sophisticated "yuppies" (a trend that also had started in the '70s), while crack, a cheaper and more potent offshoot of the drug, turned the inner cities into war zones.
  • Political unrest in the province of Quebec, which, due to the many differences between the dominant francophone population and the anglophone minority, and also to francophone rights in the predominantly English-speaking Canada, came to a head in 1980 when the provincial government called a public referendum on partial separation from the rest of Canada. The referendum ended with the "no" side winning majority (59.56% no, 40.44% yes).
  • Military dictatorships give way to democracy in Argentina (1983), Uruguay (1984–5), Brazil (1985–8) and Chile (1988–9).


Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan were the leaders of the UK and the USA. Both leaders led the revival of conservative politics. These policies eventually became known as Thatcherism and Reaganomics respectively in their home countries.
The fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 marked the beginning of German reunification.
  • The European Community's enlargement continued with the accession of Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986.
  • Significant political reforms occurred in a number of communist countries in eastern Europe as the populations of these countries grew increasingly hostile and politically active in opposing communist governments. These reforms included attempts to increase individual liberties and market liberalization, and promises of democratic renewal. The collapse of communism in eastern Europe was generally peaceful, the exception being Romania, who's leader Nicolae Ceaucescu tried to keep the people isolated from the events happening outside the country. While making a speech in Bucharest in December 1989, he was booed and shouted down by the crowd, and then tried to flee the city with his wife Elena. Two days later, they were captured, charged with genocide, and shot on Christmas.
  • In Yugoslavia, following the death of communist leader Josip Broz Tito in May 1980, the trend of political reform of the communist system occurred along with a trend towards ethnic nationalism and inter-ethnic hostility, especially in Serbia, beginning with the 1986 Memorandum of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and Arts followed by the agenda of Serbian communist leader Slobodan Milošević who aggressively pushed for increased political influence of Serbs in the late 1980s, condemning non-Serb Yugoslav politicians who challenged his agenda as being enemies of Serbs.
  • There was continuing civil strife in Northern Ireland, including the adoption of hunger strikes by Irish Republican Army prisoners seeking the reintroduction of political status.
  • Mikhail Gorbachev became leader of the Soviet Union in 1985, and initiated major reforms to the Soviet Union's government through increasing the rights of expressing political dissent and allowing some democratic elections (though maintaining Communist dominance). Gorbachev pursued negotiation with the United States to decrease tensions and eventually end the Cold War.
  • The European Community's enlargement continued with the accession of Greece in 1981 and Spain and Portugal in 1986.
  • At the end of the decade, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 would be followed in 1990 by the German reunification. During the course of 1989, most of the communist governments in Eastern Europe collapsed.
  • The United Kingdom was governed by the Conservative Party under Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, the first female leader of a western country. Under her Premiership, the party introduced widespread economic reforms including the privatisation of industries and the de-regulation of stock markets echoing similar reforms of U.S. President Ronald Reagan. She was also a staunch opponent of communism earning her the nickname 'The Iron Lady'.
  • In November 1982, Leonid Brezhnev, who had led the Soviet Union since 1964, died. He was followed in quick succession by Yuri Andropov, the former KGB chief, and Konstantin Chernenko, both of whom were in poor health during their short tenures in office.


  • South Korean president Chun Doo Hwan came to power at the end of 1979 and ruled as a dictator until his presidential term expired in 1987. He was responsible for the Kwangju Massacre in May 1980 when police and soldiers battled armed protesters. Relations with North Korea showed little sign of improvement during the 1980s. In 1983, when Chun was in Burma, a bomb apparently planted by North Korean agents killed a number of South Korean government officials. After leaving office, he was succeeded by Roh Tae Woo, the first democratic ruler of the country, which saw its international prestige greatly rise with hosting the Olympics in 1988. Roh pursued a policy of normalizing relations with China and the Soviet Union, but had to face militant left-wing student groups who demanded reunification with North Korea and the withdrawal of US troops.
  • In the Philippines, after almost 20 years of dictatorship, Philippine president Ferdinand Marcos left his presidency and was replaced by Corazon Aquino through a peaceful revolution called the "People Power Revolution" from February 22 to 26, 1986. This has been considered by some a peaceful revolution despite the fact that the Armed Forces of the Philippines issued an order to disperse the crowds on EDSA (the main thoroughfare in Metro Manila).


Natural disasters

Non-natural disasters

The space shuttle Challenger disintegrates on January 28, 1986.
  • In 1984 the Bhopal disaster resulted from a toxic MIC gas leak at the Union Carbide plant in Bhopal, India, killing 3,000 immediately and ultimately claiming 15,000–20,000 lives.
  • On September 1, 1983, the Soviet Union shot down Korean Air Lines Flight 007, which was carrying 269 people including a sitting U.S. congressman, Larry McDonald.
  • Japan Air Lines Flight 123, carrying 524 people, crashed on August 12, 1985 while on a flight from Tokyo to Osaka killing 520 of the people on board. This was the worst ever single-plane crash.
  • In 1986, the NASA Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated after launch, killing all of the crew onboard. This was the first disaster involving the destruction of a NASA space shuttle. A faulty O-ring was the cause of the accident.
  • In 1986, the Chernobyl disaster, a large-scale nuclear meltdown in the Ukrainian SSR, Soviet Union, spread a large amount of radioactive material across Europe, killing 47 people, dooming countless others to future radiation-related cancer, and causing the displacement of 300,000 people.
  • In 1989 the Exxon Valdez oil spill occurred in Alaska. Although not among the largest oil spills in history, its remote and sensitive location made it one of the most devastating ecological disasters ever.


The 1980s were marked by several notable assassinations and assassination attempts:

  • Egyptian president Anwar Sadat was assassinated at a military parade in Cairo on October 6, 1981.
  • Famous former Beatles musician John Lennon was assassinated in 1980 in the United States.
  • Ronald Reagan was shot in Washington, D.C. on March 30, 1981 by John Hinckley, a mentally disturbed young man who also stalked Jodie Foster. Reagan's press secretary James Brady was also shot, along with a police officer and a Secret Service agent. The latter two recovered, along with Reagan himself, but Brady used a wheelchair thereafter and would become an advocate of gun control.
  • Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi was assassinated on October 31, 1984 by her own bodyyguards in response to the Indian Army's attack on Golden Temple to destroy Sikh Militant stronghold in Amritsar earlier in the decade.
  • In 1984 there was an assassination attempt on the British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher and the Conservative Government by the IRA.
  • Swedish prime minister Olof Palme was assassinated in February 1986. The assassin has never been identified.
  • In May 1981, there was an assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in Saint Peter's Square. The assassin was a Turkish man named Mehmet Ali Agca, who was subsequently sentenced to life in prison, but would be pardoned in 2000. At the time, it was widely believed that he was an agent of the Soviet Union or Bulgaria, due to the Pope's vocal anti-communist stance. Agca himself told dozens of conflicting stories over the years, and his motive remains unclear.


Electronics and computers

IBM 5150 as of 1981. The first model of the IBM PC, the personal computer whose successors would fill the world.

Arcade games and video games had been growing in popularity since the 1970s, and by 1982 were a major industry. But a variety of factors, including a glut of low-quality games and the rise of home computers caused a tremendous crash in late 1983. For the next three years, the video game market practically ceased to exist in the US. But in the second half of the decade, it would be revived by Nintendo, whose Famicom console had been enjoying considerable success in Japan since 1983. Renamed the Nintendo Entertainment System, it would claim 90% of the American video game market by 1989.

Computers experienced explosive growth in the '80s, going from being a toy for electronics hobbyists to a full-fledged industry. The IBM PC, launched in 1981, become the dominant computer for professional users. Commodore created the most popular home computers of both 8-bit and 16-bit generations. MSX standard was the dominant computer platform in Japan. Apple was committed to resisting the tide of IBM PC clones. Graphical user interface and mouse started to become general features in computers after the middle of the decade.

Space exploration

The Space Shuttle Columbia seconds after engine ignition, 1981

After a five-year hiatus, manned American space flights resumed with the launch of the space shuttle Columbia in April 1981. The shuttle program progressed smoothly from there, with three more orbiters entering service in 1983–1985. But that all came to an end with the tragic loss of the Challenger on January 28, 1986, taking with it seven astronauts, including Christia McAuliffe, who was to have been the first teacher in space. In full view of the world, a faulty O-ring on the right solid rocket booster burned through the external fuel tank and caused it to explode, destroying the shuttle in the process. Extensive efforts were made to improve NASA's increasingly careless management practices, and to make the shuttle safer. Flights resumed with the launch of Discovery in September 1988.

The Soviet manned program went well during the decade, experiencing only minor setbacks. The Salyut 6 space station, launched in 1977, was replaced by Salyut 7 in 1982. Then came Mir in 1986, which ended up operating more than a decade, and was destined to be the last in the line of Soviet space stations that had begun in 1971. One of the Soviet Union's last "superprojects" was the Buran space shuttle; it was only used once, in 1988.

Planetary probes continued in the '80s, the Voyager duo being the most famous. After making a flyby of Jupiter in 1979, they visited Saturn in 1980–1981. Voyager 2 reached Uranus in 1986 (just a few days before the Challenger disaster), and Neptune in 1989 before the probes exited the solar system.

No American probes were launched to Mars in the 1980s, and the Viking probes, launched there in 1975, completed their operations by 1982. The Soviets launched two Mars probes in 1988, but they failed ignominiously.

The arrival of Halley's Comet in 1986 was met by a series of American, Soviet, Japanese, and ESA probes.


The American auto industry began the 1980s in a thoroughly grim situation, faced with poor quality control, rising import competition, and a severe economic downturn. Chrysler and American Motors (AMC) were near bankruptcy, and Ford was little better off. Only GM continued with business as usual. But the auto makers recovered with the economy by 1983, and in 1985 auto sales in the United States hit a new record. However, the Japanese were now a major presence, and would begin manufacturing cars in the US to get around tariffs. In 1986, Hyundai became the first Korean auto maker to enter the American market. In the same year, the Yugoslavian-built Yugo was brought to the US, but the car was so small and cheap, that it became the subject of countless jokes. It was sold up to 1991, when economic sanctions against Yugoslavia forced its withdrawal from the American market.

Cars were generally straight and boxy in the 1980s, but Ford set a trend starting in 1983 with the arrival of new designers who favored aerodynamic styling. By the end of the decade, Ford was the number one American make, with sales winners such as the Taurus and the most efficient corporate structure in the industry. GM began suffering significant losses in the late-1980s, partially the result of chairman Roger Smith's restructuring attempts, and partially because of increasingly stale and unappealing cars. For example, "yuppies" increasingly favored European luxury cars to Cadillac. In 1985, GM started Saturn (the first new American make since the Edsel), with the goal of producing high-quality import fighters. Production would not begin until 1990, however.

Chrysler introduced its new compact, front-wheel drive K-cars in 1981. Under the leadership of Lee Iacocca, the company turned a profit again the following year, and by 1983 paid off its government loans. A seemingly endless succession of K-cars followed. But the biggest success was the arrival of the minivans in 1984. These proved a huge hit, and despite competition, they would dominate the van market for more than a decade. And in 1987, Chrysler purchased the Italian makes of Lamborghini and Maserati. In the same year, Chrysler bought AMC from Renault laying to rest the last significant independent U.S. automaker, but acquiring the hugely profitable Jeep line and continuing the Eagle brand until the late 1990s.

The DeLorean DMC-12 was the brainchild of John DeLorean, a flamboyant former GM executive. Production of the gull-winged sports car began in Northern Ireland in 1981. John DeLorean was arrested in October 1982 in a sting operation where he was attempting to sell cocaine to save his struggling company. He was acquitted of all charges in 1984, but too late for the DeLorean Motor Company, which closed down in 1983. The DMC-12 gained renewed fame afterwards as the time machine in the Back to the Future motion picture trilogy.

The imposition of CAFE fuel-mileage standards in 1979 spelled the end of big-block engines, but performance cars and convertibles reemerged in the 1980s. Turbochargers were widely used to boost the performance of small cars, and fuel injection began to take over from carburetors. Front-wheel drive also became dominant.

The eighties marked the decline of European brands by the end of the decade. Renault, Citroen, and Peugeot ceased importation by the end of the decade. Alfa Romeo would continue until 1993. Fiat also ceased imports in the eighties.


  • International debt crisis in developing countries, reliance of these countries on aid from the International Monetary Fund.
  • Spread of neoliberal economics in developed world.
  • Mexico suffers from a debt crisis starting in 1982. Economic problems worsened in 1985 by resignation of most officials of the Mexican government after a failed response of emergency aid in the Mexico City earthquake (September 19) just after the 175th anniversary of Independence holiday (September 16). In 1988, Carlos Salinas de Gortari won a controversial presidential election amid charges of voter fraud, bribery, corruption and other abuses of power.
  • Enactment of the Canada-United States Free Trade Agreement in 1989 to further establish a strong economic bond between the two prosperous neighbor countries of North America.
  • Under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping, China embarked on extensive reforms in the 1980s, introducing market economics and downgrading ideology. Increasing demands for political freedom culminated in the Tiananmen Square Massacre in June 1989, when tanks and troops of the People's Liberation Army crushed student protesters who were camped in the square, killing or injuring 3000 or more people. Hardliners took over the government afterwards, and China ended the '80s as an international pariah.
  • The Solidarity movement began in Poland in 1980, involving workers demanding political liberalization and democracy in Poland. Attempts by the communist government to crush the Solidarity movement failed and negotiations between the movement and the government took place. Solidarity would be instrumental in encouraging people in other communist states to demand political reform.
  • The 1980s saw a revival of capitalism and laissez-faire economics. Consumers became more sophisticated in their tastes (a trend begun in the '70s), and things such as European cars and designer clothing became fashionable in the US.
  • The financial world and the stock market were glamorized in a way they had not been since the 1920s, and figures like Donald Trump and Michael Milken were widely seen as symbols of the decade. Widespread fear of Japanese economic strength would grip the United States in the '80s.
  • During the 1980s, for the first time in world history, transpacific trade (with East Asia, such as China, and Latin America, primarily with Mexico) equaled that of transatlantic trade (with Western Europe or with neighboring Canada).[1], solidifying American economic power.[2]


  • The 1980s was also an era of tremendous population growth around the world, surpassing even the 1970s and 1990s, thus arguably being the largest in human history. Population growth was particularly rapid in a number of African, Middle Eastern, and South Asian countries during this decade, with rates of natural increase close to or exceeding 4% annually.

Additional significant world-wide events


During the 1980s AIDS started spreading though the world
Titanic's bow, with the forestay shackle fallen forwards, as seen from the Russian MIR I submersible.
  • Beginning of the AIDS pandemic.
  • There were numerous protests demanding that the government take action against AIDS, which were fueled by the AIDS-related deaths of celebrities such as Rock Hudson and Liberace, and by the case of Ryan White, a child who became infected by the HIV virus through contaminated blood supplies.
  • National safety campaigns raised awareness of seat belt usage to save lives in automobile accidents, helping to make the measure mandatory in most parts of the world by 1990. Similar efforts arose to push child safety seats and bike helmet use, already mandatory in a number of regions.
  • Rejection of smoking based on health concerns increased throughout the western world.
  • Political correctness in the 1980s & increasingly in the following 1990s, was a trend of opposing, condemning, fighting and preventing racism, discrimination or other forms of prejudice against minority groups in societies like the United States, Canada, Western Europe and Australia/New Zealand.
  • The role of women in the workplace increased greatly. Continuing the 1970s' trend, more and more women in the English-speaking world took to calling themselves "Ms.", rather than "Mrs." or "Miss." A similar change occurred in Germany, with women choosing "Frau" instead of "Fräulein" in an effort to disassociate marital status from title. In most western countries, women began to exercise the option of keeping their maiden names after marriage; in Canada, legislation was enacted to end the practice of automatically changing a woman's last name upon marriage.
  • Opposition to nuclear power plants grew, especially after the catastrophic 1986 Chernobyl accident.
  • Environmental concerns intensified. In the United Kingdom, environmentally friendly domestic products surged in popularity. Western European countries adopted "greener" policies to cut back on oil use, recycle most of their nations' waste, and increase focus on water and energy conservation efforts. Similar "eco-activist" trends appeared in the U.S. in the late 1980s.
  • Increased awareness and opposition to white-minority apartheid rule in South Africa occurred in the western world.
  • Counterculture in the eastern world revolved around "pro-democracy" stances in opposition to multiple communist states perceived as authoritarian.
  • Gay rights became more widely accepted in the Western world, particularly with suspected gay figures such as Boy George and Holly Johnson of Frankie Goes to Hollywood. The discovery of AIDS however, allowed the Christian Right to condemn homosexuals, claiming AIDS was brought about by homosexuals' "loose morals".
  • Militance against communist governments in Europe and Asia, collapse of the Warsaw Pact precipitates the end of the Cold War.
  • A joint American-French expedition discoveres the wreck of the Titanic on 1 September 1985 at a depth of 2.5 miles (4 km) at 41°43′55″N 49°56′45″W / 41.73194°N 49.94583°W / 41.73194; -49.94583.


  • Opposition against Apartheid in South Africa and worldwide grows to a mass international condemnation of racial segregatory policies comes to a peak by December 1989 in the Springbok summit when SA President de Klerk grants clemency to ANC activist turned prison inmate Nelson Mandela who was released in Feb. 1990.
  • The 1984–1985 famine in Ethiopia occurred, resulting in international efforts to help the Ethiopian people, including the famous Live Aid concert in July 1985.


  • Ten thousand Cubans stormed the Peruvian embassy in Havana seeking political asylum on April 6, 1980. On April 7 the Cuban government granted permission for the emigration of Cubans seeking refuge in the Peruvian embassy.
  • The 1986 World's Fair, Expo 86, was held in Vancouver, Canada. It was the last fair held in North America and was considered a great success in comparison to the then-recent American Expositions.


  • Vietnam continued to occupy Cambodia and battle the Khmer Rouge throughout the entire decade. Relations with China remained hostile, and there were frequent border skirmishes, although none were comparable to the 1979 conflict. The country remained one of Asia's poorest and was totally dependent on Soviet economic assistance. Mikhail Gorbachev began reducing foreign aid to the communist bloc in the late '80s, and this combined with the deaths of elderly Vietnamese leaders such as Le Duan brought about the gradual adoption of a free market system similar to that of China.
  • Benigno "Ninoy" Aquino, husband of the 11th and the first female president of the Philippines was shot dead at the Manila International Airport on August 21, 1983. The killers were never identified.

Popular Culture

The most prominent events and trends in popular culture of the decade include:


See also 1980s in music, Timeline of musical events#1980s
Stage view of Live Aid concert at Philadelphia's JFK Stadium in the United States in 1985. The concert was a major global international effort by musicians and activists to sponsor action to send aid to the people of Ethiopia who were suffering from a major famine.
  • On the night of 8 December 1980, John Lennon was shot in the back four times outside of Lennon's home in New York City and died.
  • On May 11, 1981 Bob Marley died from a lentiginous skin melanoma.
  • The decade began with an anti-disco backlash in the US, and '80s music would be characterized by the widespread use of synthesizers and keyboards.
  • In the United States, MTV was launched and music videos began to have a huge effect on the record industry. Pop artists such as Michael Jackson, Duran Duran, Prince, Madonna, and Queen mastered the format and helped turned this new product into a profitable business.
  • New Wave and Synthpop were developed by many British and American artists, and became popular phenomena throughout the decade, especially in the early and mid eighties.
  • Hard rock, heavy metal, and glam metal experienced extreme popularity in 1980s, becoming one of the most dominant music genres of the 1980s.
  • Continuing on from the 70's, Joan Jett continued to challenge gender bias in the Rock genre and founded the Blackhearts.
  • 1985's Live Aid concert, featuring many artists, promoted attention and action to send food aid to Ethiopia whose people were suffering from a major famine.
  • The hip hop scene continued to evolve, gaining recognition and exhibiting a stronger influence on the music industry.
  • Punk rock continued to make strides in the musical community; it gave birth to many sub-genres like hardcore, which has continued to be moderately successful, giving birth in turn to a few counterculture movements, most notably the Straight Edge movement which began in the early era of this decade.
  • Techno is a form of electronic dance music that emerged in Detroit, Michigan, USA during the mid to late 1980s.
  • House music is a style of electronic dance music that originated in Chicago, Illinois, USA in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was initially popularized in mid-1980s discothèques catering to the African-American, Latino and gay communities, first in Chicago, then in New York City and Detroit. It eventually reached Europe before becoming infused in mainstream pop & dance music worldwide.
  • College Rock caught on in the underground scene of the 1980s in a nationwide movement with a distinct D.I.Y approach. Bands like the Pixies, R.E.M., The Replacements, Sonic Youth, etc. experienced success in this genre.
  • The keyboard synthesizer and drum machine, introduced in the 1970s, were among the most popular in music in the 1980s, especially in New Wave music. After the 1980s, electronic instruments were no longer popular in rock but continued to be the main component of mainstream pop.
  • Michael Jackson was a popular entertainer of the 1980s and his leather jacket, glove and Moonwalk dance were often imitated.
  • Madonna was regarded as the most ground breaking female artist of the decade, she was noted for her many fashion incarnations including wearing her hair in a haystack, multiple bracelets pointed bras and more.


The highest-grossing film of the decade was "E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial" (1982)

The majority of Hollywood movies in this decade were made for mass audiences. The 1980's tended to consolidate the gains made in the seventies rather than to initiate any new trends equal to the large number of disaster and buddy films that characterized the previous decade. [4]

This was the period when the 'high concept' films were introduced. The movies were supposed to be easily marketable and understandable, and, therefore, they had short cinematic plots that could be summarized in one or two sentences. The modern Hollywood blockbuster is the most popular film from the 1980s. The one who was credited with the creation of the high-concept picture of the modern Hollywood blockbuster was the producer Don Simpson. [5]


The first images shown on MTV were a montage of the Apollo 11 moon landing.

The very popular British Soap Opera Eastenders aired for the first time on BBC1 on 19 February 1985.

The 1980s was the decade of transformation in television. Cable television became more accessible and therefore, more popular. By the middle of the decade, almost 70% of the American population had cable television and over 85% were paying for cable services such as HBO or Showtime. [6]

The 1980s was also the period of glory for primetime soap operas such as Dallas and Dynasty. The Cosby Show, Cheers and Married... with Children were only some of the most popular series available on TV in the early 1980s. The popular animated sitcom The Simpsons debuted in 1989. There were also the TV talk shows that were increasing in popularity and some of the most viewed were the ones hosted by Geraldo Rivera or David Letterman. [7]


  • The 1980 Summer Olympics in Moscow were disrupted by a boycott led by the United States and 64 other countries in protest of the 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
  • The 1980 Winter Olympics are forever remembered for the Miracle on Ice, where a young United States hockey team defeated the heavily favored Soviet team and went on to win the gold medal.
  • The 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles were boycotted by the Soviet Union and most of the communist world (China, Romania, and Yugoslavia participated in the games) in retaliation for the 1980 boycott.
  • The 1984 Winter Olympics are held in Sarajevo, Yugoslavia (now Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina). Yugoslavia becomes the second communist country to host the Olympic Games, but unlike the Soviet Union in 1980, there were no boycotts of the Games by western countries.
  • The Jamaica national bobsled team received major media attention and stunned the world at the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Canada for its unexpected good performance. It overcame the stereotype that northern countries were the only efficient competitors in winter Olympic Games due to their experiencing an actual winter. The events surrounding the Jamaica bobsled team in 1988 would lead to the creation of the Disney movie Cool Runnings five years later which was based on Jamaica's 1988 bobsled team.
  • The 1988 Summer Olympics are held in Seoul, South Korea. Attempts to include North Korea in the games were unsuccessful, and it boycotted along with six other countries, but with 160 nations participating, it had the highest attendance of any Olympics to date.
  • FIA bans Group B rallying after a series of deaths and injuries take place in the 1986 season.
  • Canadian hockey player Wayne Gretzky rises to fame as a dominant player in the North American National Hockey League (NHL) during the 1980s.
  • In the US, basketball player Michael Jordan bursts onto the scene in the 1980s, bringing a surge in popularity for the sport and becoming one of American culture's most beloved icons.
  • On November 26, 1986 Mike Tyson became the Youngest Heavyweight Champion of the world.

Video games

Pac-Man (1980)
The Nintendo Entertainment System was released in the mid 1980s and became the best-selling gaming console of its time


Ray-Ban sunglasses
  • The kitsch of the 1970s, while itself rejected, influenced the fashion of the 1980s – in the beginning of the decade marked by the New Romantic movement and later by fashion inspired by heavy metal bands, including teased hair, ripped jeans and neon clothing.

Significant fashion trends of the 1980s include:


  • BMX bicycles gained popularity amongst the youth in the early 1980s.
  • The Yo-yo gained popularity amongst the youth in the beginning of the decade as well.
  • Fast food chain restaurants such as McDonald's and Burger King experienced a strong increase circulation.
  • Rubik's cube, became a popular fad throughout the decade.


World leaders



Sports figures

Film makers


  1. ^ "The Next Hundred Years", George Friedman, 2009, pg 4
  2. ^ "The Next Hundred Years", George Friedman, 2009, pg 45
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Film History of the 1980s FilmSite. Retrieved on 2010-03-09
  5. ^ Fleming, Charles (1998). High concept: Don Simpson and the Hollywood culture of excess. Doubleday. ISBN 9780385486941. 
  6. ^ The Politics and Pop Culture of the 1980s The Eighties Club. Retrieved on 2010-03-08
  7. ^ An overview on 80's Television Retrieved on 2010-03-08

External links

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