12 Pop Culture Things Turning 40 in 2023
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12 Things Turning 40 in 2023

Your pop culture memories are getting older, just like the rest of us

Photo illustration of pop culture icons
Selman Hoşgör

Pop culture anniversaries can be depressing. I remember in 1987 when everybody got excited that it’d been 20 years since Paul McCartney sang “It was 20 years ago today” on the Sgt. Pepper’s record, and thinking, Wow, my parents are old. But then the baby from Nirvana’s Nevermind cover turned 20 years old, the exact age I was when I bought the album, and I was like, “Math is just mean.”

But celebrating pop culture anniversaries is still worth it. It gives context to the passage of time, in a less depressing way than just realizing it’s time to schedule a colonoscopy. Also, it gives us another opportunity to daydream about a time when life was simpler and without hashtags. It’s jarring to be reminded that 1983 was 40 years ago. But more importantly, how awesome was 1983?

Here are 12 cultural touchstones turning 40 this year.

The Thriller video

Michael Jackson was inarguably huge in 1983. But even those who weren’t especially fond of his dance-pop hits found something to enjoy in the Thriller video, a 14-minute masterpiece with funkier zombies than any George A. Romero film. It was the last time Jackson was universally beloved, even among the hipster kids.

CDs

Choices were limited if you wanted to buy one of the first compact discs, released in March of 1983. You had your pick of albums by Bryan Adams, Herb Alpert, the Carpenters or Styx. And that’s assuming you could even find them. Only 75 stores in the entire country sold CDs, and listening to them meant shelling out $900 for a Sony or Magnavox CD player.

Princess Leia’s golden bikini

Listen, we know Carrie Fisher's skimpy outfit in Return of the Jedi is problematic. It’s not something a man in 2023 is supposed to show too much enthusiasm for. But in 1983, if you were a young heterosexual boy, it was everything. The Holy Grail. Our every prepubescent science fiction fantasy come to life. Do we find it difficult to focus when celebs like Amy Schumer, Melissa Joan Hart and Olivia Munn don the bikini that launched a million Gen X libidos? You’re damn right we do.

The Day After

There isn’t a Gen Xer alive who doesn’t remember exactly where they were and what they were feeling when they first watched this ABC movie about the grim realities of nuclear war. Did you remember that Steve Guttenberg and John Lithgow were in the cast? We didn’t either! Did you know that the director is the same guy who did Wrath of Khan? We had no clue! But we do remember having nightmares for months.

Mister T cartoon

You’ll probably hear more this year about the 40th anniversary of The A-Team, the show that made Mr. T a star. But many Gen Xers are more wistful for Mister T, the NBC cartoon that introduced ‘80s kids to the bejeweled man with a mohawk and endless wisdom for fools. Mr. T played a gymnastics coach to a scrappy gang of kids who solved mysteries, like the Scooby-Doo gang if they didn’t have time for jibba jabba.

Peak new wave

1983 belonged to the Police, and specifically their album Synchronicity. If you didn’t slow dance to “Every Breath You Take” while thinking the song was romantic and missing the creepy subtext, you definitely didn’t grow up in the ‘80s. But the Police were just one head of the 1983 new wave Hydra. From the Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This)” to the Talking Heads’ “Speaking in Tongues,” new wave was everywhere. It was the year we discovered Violent Femmes, some of us discovered U2 (thanks to War), and R.E.M.'s Murmur prepared us for college rock years before we made it to college.

Chicken McNuggets

The chickenesque clumps that your kids — and you, circa 1983 — thought were poultry delicacies probably weren’t made from pink slime, as some accounts insisted. But even so, McNuggets maybe weren’t the best nutritional choice. Yes, fine, they were ostensibly created as another option to red meat, a response to the national epidemic of heart disease. But that never made them a “good” idea. That’d be like saying, “Hey, instead of getting punched in the nuts, what if we punched you in the face?” An improvement, sure. But still … too much punching.

Tom Cruise dancing in his tighty-whities

1983 was a very, very good year for Tom Cruise. It was the year he broke through to the mainstream, with roles in The Outsiders, Losin' It and All the Right Moves. But most significantly, it was the year of Risky Business, and specifically the scene where Cruise dances alone in his family’s house, wearing nothing but a button-down shirt, his iconic sunglasses and tighty-whities. He made dancing in regrettable underwear feel like rebellion.

Minivans

The New York Times called them “the hot cars coming out of Detroit,” but minivans were neither hot nor cars. The Dodge Caravan and the Plymouth Voyager were unleashed on an unsuspecting public in 1983, costing between $8,000 and $10,000 (about $18,000 to $23,000 today), and almost immediately seemed like a suburban coffin on wheels. Our opinions about minivans have evolved, but for some guys, they’ll always feel like a match thrown onto the gasoline of a midlife crisis.

Hooters

Of course you’ve never been there! Neither have we. But if you’re curious about the history, the chain started back in 1983 in Clearwater, Florida, founded by six businessmen looking to open a restaurant “they couldn't get kicked out of” (according to the chain’s official history). The first location was in a dilapidated former nightclub, one of the cofounders tried to attract customers by wearing a giant chicken costume, and the first Hooters waitress was a former bikini model and telephone operator. Also, apparently their wings are pretty good. We wouldn’t know! That’s just what we’ve heard.

Mario Bros.

It wasn't our introduction to Mario—that happened a few years earlier, in 1981's Donkey Kong, back when he was still called “Jumpman”—but this was the first time Mario had top billing. It’s also where we met Luigi, his more cardio-inclined brother, and soon-to-be Nintendo tropes like sewer pipes, collecting coins, fireballs and aggressive turtles. It was a touchstone between the past and the future, a video game with the simplicity of the Pong era and a taste of what was yet to come.

Mobile phones

That thing you can’t leave the house without, that you’re constantly checking your pocket to make sure you haven’t left in the car, was something nobody was aware existed before 1983. But then Motorola introduced the DynaTAC, the first commercially available cellphone, which weighed 2 pounds, offered (at the time) an exorbitant 30 minutes of talk time and required at least ten hours to charge. Oh, and it cost $3,995, equivalent to around $12,000 today.

Credits (L-R): Alamy (2), Getty Images (2), Shutterstock, Everett Collection, Alamy

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