A site for Gen-X men, by Gen-X men, about the stuff in life that really matters.
The Arrow Logo - SVG
Oh no!
It looks like you aren't logged in to the Arrow community. Log in to get the best user experience, save your favorite articles and quotes, and follow our authors.
Don't have an Online Account? 

15 Things We Could Get Away With in the ’80s and ’90s That We Couldn't Today

Life looked a lot different during the last century

Vintage setting of station wagon car packed with vacation gear and the kids are hanging out of the back window
Getty Images

The world has changed. Some of it for the better, some of it definitely for the worse. The march of progress isn’t always black-and-white. It is possible, believe it or not, to look back on the pre-internet age and go, “Wow, everything was so much simpler back then” and also, simultaneously, “Wow, we really acted like idiots, didn’t we?”

Both can be true. The past can be glorious, and also gloriously stupid.

Here are just a few of the things that were once culturally and socially acceptable that make us both nostalgic for an idyllic past and cringe with embarrassment that we ever thought any of it was okay.

1. Being unreachable

We weren’t all walking around with tiny supercomputers in our pockets, so it wasn’t considered unusual if we couldn’t be contacted at any time, for any reason. You could “screen your calls” and pretend you weren’t home, and then not return the call for days or even weeks if you were a big enough asshole.

2. Not knowing something and being okay with it

How much does a panda weigh? Can bald people get dandruff? Is Abe Vigoda still alive? We had so many questions. But in a Google-less world, you had to be fine not knowing. It was that or go to a library, and who had that kind of time?

3. Riding a bicycle or motorcycle without a helmet

Back then, motorists never made mistakes, and exposed human heads weren’t giant watermelons that exploded when smacking the asphalt at highway speed. At least as far as we knew.

4. Not choosing political sides in every social situation

In the world before social media, you could have conversations with your friends about the things in life that actually mattered, like both of you owning the same Nirvana record. Nobody cared who you voted for. Even bringing it up was considered kind of weird.

5. Having a designated smoking section—at your high school

Nearly every high school in America had a courtyard designated for smoking because encouraging 16-year-olds to start a case of lung cancer was only wrong if you encouraged it indoors.

6. The pop-in

The ’80s and ’90s were still the ’50s in many regards. It was not yet considered stalky to show up on a friend’s doorstep with zero notice. After all, he never returned that answering machine message you left him last week.

7. Retelling raunchy jokes

You could totally get away with telling tasteless, wildly misogynistic jokes as long as you were just repeating an Eddie Murphy or Robin Williams routine. Unless you did it in front of a teacher, nobody ever got in trouble for telling a joke that began, “Hickory dickory dock ...” 

8. Hitchhiking

Sticking your thumb out to convince a potential murderer to pull to the side of the road and let you into their car was once perceived as not entirely insane.

9. Pushing friends into pools

Someone was going in before the end of every pool party. The important question was whether it would be you or someone else. And when it finally happened and it wasn’t you, it was hysterical. And that’s because the most valuable thing in anyone’s pockets was $23 in cash, not a $1,000 iPhone.

10. Ordering just “coffee” 

Before upscale chains made ordering coffee a manifesto of $6 snobbery, you could utter two syllables and someone who knew exactly what you wanted would serve you a cup, along with change for your dollar.

11. Buying your kid a toy gun

We couldn’t imagine childhood without weekly games of cops and robbers and the ensuing arguments about whether your friend pow-pow-pow-ed you to death or not. Now kids can’t imagine it without weekly school-shooting drills.

12. Allowing children to play unsupervised until after dark

Listen, if you got into a van with the windows blacked out because some old dude with a ponytail offered you candy, that was on you.

13. Riding in the cargo bed of a pickup ⁠— on the freeway

Because nothing said freedom like when the driver gunned the gas, wind swooshed through your uncombed hair and a pothole catapulted you into oncoming traffic.

14. Flying under someone else’s airline ticket

Your airline ticket was as easy to transfer to someone else as your Bon Jovi ticket. 

15. Doing something unbelievably stupid and then denying it ever happened

You could make a gigantic ass of yourself in public and it probably wouldn’t follow you for the rest of your life. Because the entire world wasn’t walking around with tiny cameras, ready to make your bad decisions go viral. Stupidity could still be lost to history.