Here begins my list of my personal ranking of the Top 50 Pop Culture Items of the Past 50 Years. It was a fascinating processing gathering ideas, grouping them, splitting them and finally ranking them. And I uncovered some interesting details about the past fifty years as well. What started as a personal project for fun became a real education.
Before I share the list, I thought I’d give a few noteworthy stats about the past decades. In 1963, minimum wage was $1.25, and the National Debt was $286 billion. In the early 70s, the average cost for a loaf of bread was 24 cents, and the life expectancy for men was 67. By 1980 the population of America had reached 226 million people, and 20 million each week went to the movie theater. The World Wide Web was born in 1992 and the percent of home PC ownership jumped from 15% to 51% over the decade. The minimum wage in 2000 was $5.15, and the last Census counted 307 million people in America.
Well, I hope you found that as curious as I did. However, without any further ado, here is my list:
|#50||The Macarena||This dance song by Los del Río about a woman of the same name took the nation by storm in 1994. Love it or hate it, no one could escape seeing people of all ages grooving these Latin moves on and off the dancefloor.|
|#49||Elvis||The King of Rock and Roll is no doubt an icon of American culture. Although rising to popularity prior to the timetable of this list, his recognition extended to (and beyond) his death in 1977. His “comeback” in the last 60s is a rarity in the music industry, proving his icon status. His posthumous fame was so strong that Graceland became open to the public in 1982.|
|#48||Polyester||In the mid 70s, it was everywhere. Fashion latched on to this chemical fabric and suddenly there was nearly no clothing item not made of it. Men wore leisure suits. Women donned polyester slacks (also giving way for the need of the “Underalls” product). And kids were wearing jersey-like shirts which would have melted to their skin if the temperatures in those days weren’t historically cold.|
|#47||Satuday Night Live||Lorne Michaels comedy show that changed late-night weekend television. From the skits of the show spun off recognizable characters and in some cases feature films, like the Blues Brothers and Wayne’s World.|
|#46||The End of Smoking||Although the Surgeon General warned of the dangers of smoking in 1964, smoking was still a relatively acceptable social habit. However, since the late 90s a major shift in attitude, backed by state and local laws, has created a near hatred for the habit.|
|#45||Motown Sound||Berry Gordy created the recording company in 1960 and for the next ten to twelve years the sound produced several number one hits. The tambourine back-beat, melodic chords and call-response singing style was uniquely identifiable and loved.|
|#44||Gilligan’s Island||Lasting only three seasons, Gilligan’s Island, featuring the seven castaways living on an uncharted isle and unsuccessfully finding a way to return home, is still one of the most recognizable sitcoms. Its release to syndication in the 70s and 80s rekindled its popularity, and the catchy theme song helped as mnemonic aid for the show.|
|#43||The Space Race||There are few government projects or news stories that could even be considered as Pop Culture for this list. However, on July 20, 1969, an unprecedented number of Americans watched or listened as Neil Armstrong put the first human footprint on the moon. However, it was not just the lunar landing but the whole ideology of space exploration of the 60s that encompasses this item. There was a strong fear and pride about the space program. Also, NASA’s success bred a backlash by some who sharply believed the event was faked. The conspiracy was strong enough to promote Capricorn One, a movie based on governmental deception in the space race.|
|#42||Scooby Doo||Saturday morning cartoons became a staple for kids in the 70s and 80s; however, few characters are more recognizable than those meddling kids. The continuation of the series in odd incarnations continued with original scripts being written until 1991. That’s 22 years, a longer running character than Frasier Crane. In 2002, a feature film was released, continuing the recognition and fame of this talking dog. Notably, the kids’ wardrobe (save Shaggy’s) was updated. Sorry, the orange ascot had to go!|
|#41||Handheld Electronic Games||Rain-Day Recess 1978: School kids didn’t play board games like they did the year before. Now, one of the boys pulled out the white case Mattel handheld football, commanding the red blips across the screen, while the entourage of freckled faces gathered around to watch. Soon, “Simon” would be stocked by schools themselves. The small electronic game device changed not only the boredom factor, but also created every day to be “Show and Tell.” Until this time, schools discouraged personal items being brought to school, but these items were so popular, administrators could no longer hold back the floodgates.|
|#40||Dungeons & Dragons||In 1974, Gary Gygax released a game with little precedent. It left the “commander” position of other wargaming style recreations and individualized the setting by allowing a player to be a single character in a larger fantasy world. While remaining a cultish pastime for years, with the introduction of computers, home gaming systems and eventually massive multiplayer online games like World of Warcraft, D&D led the way for the first-person game style that is nearly universally recognized by entertainment seekers today.|
|#39||Beanie Babies||Collectable items have been around for a long time; however, few times have there been mass appeal to collect the same product line as happened with the Beanie Baby craze. And it wasn’t the style; it had to be the authentic product itself. Although short lived, the fad was more trendy than Furbies, Chia Pets or even comic books.|
|#38||Streaking||The history of streaking dates back to a wager in 1799 London. However, in the 70s at the height of the sexual revolution, streaking became a very popular form of civil disobedience. However, national attention for streaking peaked at the 46th Academy Awards when Robert Opel flashed across the stage (and on live television) in 1974. Due to its popularity, Ray Steven released a humorous song about the topic, which made the act more laughable than an act of protest. Its renown fell significantly thereafter.|
|#37||Hating the Metric System||The American National Metric Council was established in 1973, and Congress passed laws forcing the use of the metric system in 1975. School books started printing story problems with metric units and even radio stations had to give the temperature in Celsius. However, Americans just didn’t want to change. Industry had too much legacy and retooling would have been extremely expensive, which would have been passed onto the consumer. The fear of change created a public backlash and it was quite in style to hate metric and be a rebel against such “governmental oppression.” The anti-progressive sentiment died out shortly after but the system never caught on. Once Reagan took office in 1981, he proposed measures to rescind the legislation.|
|#36||MTv||Video Killed the Radio Star. Prior to MTv, there were a few music video songs, mainly filling time between movies on HBO or appeared only on failed concepts like PopClips and obscure NZ Radio with Pictures. However, the concept caught on and became highly desired as MTv launched in 1981. Although having a rough start, it is undeniable that this broadcast station changed how music became promoted in the 80s and what we now consider entertainment.|
Okay, that’s the first fifteen items of the list. Tomorrow, I’ll release the next set. Who knew I was a tease?