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20 Things All '80s Kids Remember

From the moonwalk to Betamax, these throwbacks will have you feeling '80s nostalgia.

People can be too quick to dismiss the '80s: They associate it with synth-pop and parachute pants, as if everybody alive during that decade behaved like they were extras in an MTV music video. But for those of us who grew up during the go-go '80s, it felt more significant. The music that others find so cheesy still manages to bring a tear to our eye, and we remember the decade's milestones like they were the most important benchmarks in world history. Hey, the '80s gave civilization the moonwalk and the fall of the Berlin Wall. For all the significant things '80s kids remember that other people seem to forget when dismissing this tubular decade, read on.

Tuning into the final episode of M.A.S.H.

M*A*S*H (1972) final episode
20th Television

Even if you weren't a fan of the show, everyone tuned in on Feb. 28, 1983 to watch the historic final episode of this classic sitcom. Along with more than 106 million other people, we teared up during the last scene—when Hawkeye looked down from his helicopter and realized that B.J. had spelled out "GOODBYE" to him with rocks on the helipad.

Being riveted by the rescue of Baby Jessica

President George H. W. Bush meeting Baby Jessica McClure at the White House in 1989
Courtesy of the National Archives and Records Administration

When an 18-month old baby fell down a well in her aunt's backyard in 1987, the world was transfixed by efforts to save her. It took 56 hours to pull her out, and CNN broadcasted every nail-biting second of the rescue. It got so intense that President Ronald Reagan claimed, "Everybody in America became godmothers and godfathers of Jessica while this was going on." It sure did feel like that for all of us who lived through it.

Learning to "Just Say No!"

nancy reagan giving a speech with her just say no button

This anti-drug campaign, created and championed by First Lady Nancy Reagan during her husband's presidency, was a big part of the decade. Regardless of its efficacy, the first lady's campaign around the country and guest appearances on shows like Diff'rent Strokes is something every '80s kid will remember.

Hanging out with the Smurfs

screenshot from the original smurfs show
Image via Warner Bros. Television Distribution

If your only memory of the Smurfs is a computer-animated movie starring Neil Patrick Harris, you know nothing about the shirtless blue creatures that mesmerized so many kids in the '80s. It was through a strange Saturday morning cartoon in the early '80s that we first learned about the tiny commune who used "Smurf" as a noun, verb, adjective, and species identifier. We watched all of this while eating Smurf-Berry Crunch cereal and playing with our Smurf dolls. It was a Smurfy world!

Trying to learn the moonwalk

michael jackson at a concert in 1988
MARKA / Alamy Stock Photo

When Michael Jackson did the moonwalk for the first time in 1983 while singing "Billie Jean" during a Motown television special, it didn't just become his signature move. It was also the moment when every kid in the United States decided they wanted to be a pop superstar. If you didn't practice the backward glide—which looked deceptively easy when Jackson did it—then it's debatable whether you were actually a kid during the '80s.

Listening to music on a Walkman for the first time


Thanks to smartphones, we take portable music listening for granted. But in the '80s, trying out a Walkman for the first time felt like nothing short of a revolution. You could listen to your favorite songs while out in the world? And you could do it privately—without forcing your musical tastes on the general public? Robot maids and jetpacks would have been less life-changing.

Learning that Darth Vader was Luke's father

the empire strikes back star wars screenshot
Walt Disney Pictures

It's become one of the most well-known lines in pop culture history, but nothing compares to hearing it for the first time in a movie theater—and not knowing for sure if Darth Vader was telling the truth. Remember, this was at a time when the internet didn't exist. The excitement of not knowing the exact lineage between Darth Vader and Luke Skywalker is something future generations will never understand.

Feeling inspired by Hands Across America

demi moore and emilio estevez at hands across america
MediaPunch Inc / Alamy Stock Photo

For one day in 1986, 6.5 million people held hands to recognize hunger and homelessness, creating a human chain across the United States. Or at least that's what we remember being told. Most of us never actually figured out where to go to be part of the historic event. But it definitely happened, and we definitely bragged that we were a "part" of it.

Being horrified by the Challenger explosion

Science History Images / Alamy Stock Photo

The heartbreaking moment when the Space Shuttle Challenger exploded just 73 seconds after its takeoff, killing all seven crew members—including civilian school teacher Christa McAuliffe—will forever be seared in our memories. It's a horror that didn't seem real even as it was happening in front of our eyes on live TV, and it's something many of us still have not been able to make sense of to this day.

Doing the Super Bowl Shuffle

Super Bowl Shuffle album cover featuring Chicago Bears
Red Label Music Publishing

You didn't need to love football to memorize every lyric to this iconic and utterly ridiculous one-hit wonder by 1985 Super Bowl champs, the Chicago Bears. It was the kind of song that was unafraid to make rhymes like "I'm the rookie" and "no dumb cookie." Never have professional athletes been so willing to make complete fools of themselves—we were mesmerized.

Watching after school specials

BCI / Eclipse

The ABC after school special is how we learned—with the help of famous people who weren't quite famous yet—that drunk driving is bad (thanks, Michelle Pfeiffer), that teenage boys can have complicated emotions (Ben Affleck), and that depression is a disease (Matthew Modine and Meg Ryan). Seriously, where else were we going to learn these things?

Seeing Greg Louganis hit his head on the diving board at the 1988 Olympics

greg louganis, GARY09 Diving - Seoul Olympic Games, biggest male icon

This guy was one of the best divers on the planet, with two gold medals under his belt from the '84 Olympics. Nobody expected anything but perfection. And then, at the '88 Olympic games in Seoul, he hit his head on the diving board during a reverse somersault dive and gave himself a concussion! Today, it would be like seeing LeBron James trip over a basketball and fall flat on his face—it just doesn't happen. Louganis eventually got five stitches, but not before getting back on the board with a bloody scalp, and trying the dive again. He won a gold medal and cemented his place in Olympic history.

Getting a little frightened when a computer was named "Man of the Year"

time magazine machine of the year 1983
Time Inc.

In 1982, a personal computer became the first non-human to be celebrated on Time magazine's annual "Man of the Year" cover. They called it "Machine of the Year," and even those of us who had never touched a computer knew this was significant. At the same time, it was kind of scary. Did this mean robots were finally poised to conquer human civilization and turn us into their minions? Thankfully, the machines haven't taken over… yet.

Opening Trapper Keepers

trapper keeper coolest school accessory every year
Flickr/Jeremy Reding

There was something refreshing about the riiiiiiip of a Trapper Keeper velcro sleeve being opened. It felt like your personal papers were the most protected things in the universe. Nobody could break into a Trapper Keeper without alerting everyone in a one-mile radius.

Watching President Reagan say "Tear down this wall!"

Ronald Reagan Craziest U.S. Presidents

Even if you were too young to understand what the Berlin Wall was or why it was important, we all knew it was a big deal. So when our president declared, during a West Berlin speech in 1987, "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall," the entire world took notice. Just two years later, in Nov. 1989, the Berlin Wall finally came down, and it felt like democracy would never be the same.

Rocking out to the Live Aid concert

Freddie Mercury on stage and triumphant at Live Aid concert in July 1985

Every '80s rock star played at this historic benefit concert in 1985, designed to raise money to stop Ethiopian famine. More than 1 billion people watched the performance, which was broadcast in 110 countries. If you weren't glued to your seat for the Led Zeppelin reunion or to watch Freddie Mercury and the rest of Queen command the crowd at Wembley Stadium, you missed something truly spectacular.

Spending the morning at Pee-wee's Playhouse

paul reubens in pee wee's playhouse
Shout! Factory

Spanning five seasons in the late '80s, Pee-wee's Playhouse was the most creative, surreal, hilarious, wall-to-wall absurd show on Saturday mornings. It somehow managed to feel both innocent and subversive, a safe fantasyland that seemed vaguely dangerous. It was the perfect escape for any kid who felt different and needed a reminder that he wasn't alone.

Watching movies on a Betamax

betamax mechine from the

Kids today just don't know the pain of going to a video store, finding the video you've been waiting for weeks to see, and realizing with horror that it's only available on VHS, and your family has a Betamax player. The injustice!

Having nightmares about Teddy Ruxpin

teddy ruxpin doll sitting on a counter
Flickr/Colin Way

It might seem like old-fashioned technology to today's tech-savvy kids, but for those of us who'd never seen a teddy bear talk and blink, Teddy Ruxpin was downright horrifying.

Identifying with characters in John Hughes movies

The Breakfast Club Movie scene
Universal Pictures

From The Breakfast Club to Sixteen Candles, we didn't watch these John Hughes-helmed movies as a diversion from the real world. They were blueprints to our personal identities as teenagers. Were you a Blane or a Duckie? If that reference makes no sense, your youth wasn't defined by Pretty in Pink—and we can't relate.

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