1) Theater Artist
That’s Stephen Colbert ten years after he graduated with a degree in Theater Arts from Chicago’s Northwestern University and ten years before Time Magazine included him among the 100 most influential people in the world.
2006 was also the year he killed unforgettably at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner, sparing no-one his lashings of ironic praise, George W included: “The greatest thing about this man is he’s steady. You know where he stands. He believes the same thing Wednesday that he believed on Monday, no matter what happened Tuesday. Events can change, this man’s beliefs never will…” Ballsy.
2) A Zoo Parrot In A Mortar Board That Has Been Trained To Say ‘Congratulations’
This month Stephen Colbert — the man, not the character — delivered a very funny, self-mocking commencement speech to the graduating class of his Alma Mater. Under no circumstances wear white jeans, he advised them.
Stephen Colbert, “Commencement Speech at Northwestern University” (June, 2011)
3) We Can Take What Was Wrong And Make It Right
Somehow it’s not all that difficult to picture the Stephen Colbert of 1985/6 — a bearded 22 year-old student wearing black and delivering unsolicited Shakespearean monologues, plugged into his Sony Walkman and earnestly singing along to Mr. Mister’s “Broken Wings.”
4) Which One Would You Rather Take Home?
Even back then he had to decide if he was a PC man or a Mac user, back when Macs cost less and ran more software… No joke, that Apple IIC has 128 KB RAM built-in and a microprocessor running at 1.023 MHz!
“Commercial For Apple IIC” (1984)
5) One Disc, Interesting. Six Discs, Fantastic
The world population in 1986 — two billion fewer than today — was 4.83 billion, give or take a few. That year Cary Grant passed away, along with Simone de Beauvoir and Jorge Luis Borges. Meanwhile, Rafael Nadal and Usain Bolt made their first appearance on earth. Lady Gaga was born that year too, though not her look.
Pioneer, “6-disc CD Player Commercial” (1986)
6) Living In A Material World
Yes, CDs were only just taking the place of cassettes in the mid 80s. In fact, Dire Straits were the first band ever to sell a million CDs with “Brothers in Arms,” in 1985 (goodbye Maxell Tape Guy). Madonna was not far behind, the most material girl in the most material decade.
7) We Were The World
The other American music superstars of the 80s, meanwhile, made an appeal for Africa. The song was written by Lionel Richie and Michael Jackson (particularly otherworldly at the time), but the high points of the recording come from Bruce Springsteen, Cyndi Lauper, and most hilariously, Bob Dylan.
8) The Ones Who Make A Better Place
In Geneva, General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met up with President Ronald Reagan to get acquainted by the hearth fire. Their first moments together in front of the Maison de Saussure are quite dramatic, Reagan in his impeccable blue suit, Gorbachev immediately self-conscious about his scarf, hat and overcoat, and perhaps even his height: Gorbachev hurries up the stairs as if to restore his advantage, and to avoid the President’s back patting.
The two men had good chemistry and the summit led to other summits and significant agreements on cultural exchanges and nuclear weapon reductions. “A nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought.” The Cold War would be officially over by December, 1989. Hurrah!
9) Take These Broken Wings
The sticking point through all the Reagan-Gorbachev talks was Reagan’s insistence on continuing to develop his Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), meant to protect the United States from attack by nuclear ballistic missiles. Gorbachev didn’t see the point if they were agreeing to build down their nuclear programs. The Soviets began to realize the whole SDI thing would never come to pass anyway, perhaps even more so after the Challenger explosion. During these headiest days of space research, shuttles were turning into test platforms for weapons testing under SDI.
Among the seven crew members on the Challenger was Christa McAuliffe, an American teacher from Concord, New Hampshire, and the winning candidate in NASA’s Teacher-In-Space Project, designed to inspire students and spur interest in mathematics, science, and space exploration. Across America, televisions were wheeled into classrooms so that school kids could watch the launch live on CNN. This is what they saw.
CNN, “Challenger Disaster Live On CNN” (28 January, 1986)
NASA had been warned repeatedly by Richard C. Cook, one of NASA’s lead resource analysts, that the O-ring seals in solid rocket boosters could cause a “catastrophic” failure. His warnings, and those of booster contractor Morton Thiokol, were ignored. Post-accident investigations revealed an autocratic, closed-door management culture at NASA, profoundly influenced by political and corporate imperatives and career ambition, and hostile to perceived “whistleblowers.” In fact, the Challenger disaster is used as a case study for engineering students to demonstrate the dangers of groupthink.
10) A World Of Cowboys And Princesses
In 2003, seven astronauts died aboard the Columbia shuttle when it disintegrated upon re-entry to Earth due to a damaged heat shield. Once again it was apparent safety took a back seat to commercial and political pressures.
Let’s see, what other big industry has a good record of disregarding and even covering up safety concerns for the sake of private profit? The one that was very much in the news in the spring of 1986.
Vladimir Shevchenko, “Chernobyl: A Chronicle of Difficult Weeks” (May, 1986)
And yet, it does feel artificial to fly back after 25 years to tell our former humanity how to navigate the waters ahead. “Break up with her you idiot!” This month Germany announced its decision to phase out nuclear power by 2022. The Fukishima crisis also prompted China to put a freeze on all new nuclear reactors until further safety reviews. And yet… Generation of 2011, be great. Please.