“Science!” It’s not just a declaration from your favorite Thomas Dolby song… And believe it or not, the pictures above are not from your high school science textbook. They come from the movies and music videos of the 1980s, a decade in which science took center stage in the realm of entertainment.
Scientific visuals and themes exploded in the ’80s. From the 1985 Martha Coolidge Film Real Genius to music videos for A Flock of Seagulls, Nik Kershaw and Thomas Dolby, ’80s media featured images of flashing buttons, laboratory displays of equipment, and a slew of references to the scientific past, from Victorian-era curiosities to ’50s sci-fi.
Why this sudden interest in science and technology? For one thing, the ’80s boasted its share of breakthroughs in, well–science and technology. From the rise of the personal computer to Reagan’s “Star Wars” program, there were plenty of new developments to talk about… And entertainment media reflected our excitement and concerns about them.
Take Real Genius, a film about a group of gifted students at a Cal-Tech-ish university who are duped by their professor into inadvertently creating a precise laser that can wipe out human targets. While the film is a comedy (one that holds up extremely well over time), it’s no coincidence that it came from a decade when the Cold War was still a reality and the Strategic Defense Initiative/”Star Wars” was born!
Science Themes in ’80s Music Video
There were equally noteworthy breakthroughs in the realm of music. The synthesizer became affordable, and bands began utilizing it, as well as other electronic instruments. The look and sound of these new musical tools evoked a futuristic vibe that groups were quick to convey with futuristic images in music video.
Some musicians intentionally adopted an eccentric scientist or “nerd-like” appearance that complemented the technology surrounding them on stage. Rather than becoming geeky targets, their fashion choices were emulated. Yes, it was cool to be nerdy.
Then there was the nostalgia factor. The ’80s scientific aesthetic wasn’t specifically ’80s! Musicians like Thomas Dolby looked to both the future and the past for inspiration. From ’20s-style gramophones to Victorian goggles, Dolby’s visual and personal style had a quirky mad-scientist element that even included facets of steampunk (picture visuals inspired by Victorian science fiction). Videos for “It’s Not Me Talking” by A Flock of Seagulls and “Wouldn’t It Be Good” by Nik Kershaw evoked the feel of retro science fiction movies, complete with vintage gadgets and classic cars.
It was inevitable that a decade filled with technological breakthroughs would inspire a celebration of science in the media. The visuals speak for themselves, but in the context of the ’80s, they take on a whole new meaning. Enjoy observing them…