Nine Reasons Why 1987 Was the Worst Year in Pop Culture

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While any given 12-month period will have its share of good and bad movies, songs, and other cultural touchstones, I grimly recall one particular year in which almost everything was really, really bad. Worthless, unmemorable, cynically made... just bad. And that year was 1987. Behold:

  1. Movies: Apart from cult favorites like RoboCop, Full Metal Jacket, The Princess Bride, and The Untouchables, 1987 was filled with insipid hits that insulted even the lowest common denominator: Three Men and a Baby was the box office champ, followed by embarrassments such as Mannequin, Beverly Hills Cop II, Harry and the Hendersons, The Secret of My Success, and Dirty Dancing. And Cher was the year's most popular actor.
  2. Television: Along with many terrible sitcoms at their peak of popularity (Growing Pains, Webster, Who's the Boss, Mr. Belvedere - must I go on?), once-respectable shows like Moonlighting, Miami Vice, Magnum P.I., Cagney & Lacey, Family Ties, and St. Elsewhere had jumped the shark and were limping to a close. The only notable series to debut in 1987 were on the brand new Fox network (Married with Children, 21 Jump Street, Tracey Ullman... not exactly cherished today). True, Star Trek: The Next Generation first aired this year, but even Trekkies agree that its '87-'88 season sucked.
  3. Music: There remains respectability associated with the year's top seller, U2's The Joshua Tree (though I'm sick of it; aren't you?), along with two divisive but still classic albums (George Michael's Faith and Guns 'n' Roses' Appetite for Destruction, neither of which hit big until 1988), but 1987 was a bleak year for pop, one in which Tiffany, Whitney Houston, Bon Jovi, Whitesnake, a defanged Pink Floyd, Michael Jackson's Bad, and the Dirty Dancing soundtrack were all top sellers.
  4. Literature: Bill Cosby and his sweater had the #1 nonfiction bestseller, Fatherhood, which is as inessential as you would imagine. At the top of the fiction charts: Stephen King, as usual (with The Tommyknockers - not quite up there with The Stand), along with Reaganite warmonger Tom Clancy and his first two novels. This was also the year that Shirley MacLaine sold a lot of books about her past lives. And Danielle Steele was big. The only classic novel from 1987 was Toni Morrison's Beloved, with Tom Wolfe's overrated The Bonfire of the Vanities a distant second.
  5. News and politics: Nothing good happened this year. As for the bad: Oliver North took the fifth in the Iran-Contra hearings, Reagan escaped all blame by saying "I do not recall," we had to endure Robert Bork's doomed nomination to the Supreme Court, Gary Hart dropped out of the presidental race after being caught cheating on his wife (1987 will go down as the year of the frizzy-haired, scandal-associated bimbo: remember the trifecta of Fawn Hall, Donna Rice, and Jessica Hahn - televangelist Jim Bakker's "indiscretion"?), and the stock market took its biggest dive in history on "Black Monday".
  6. Animation: Awful, pre-Cartoon Network offerings included ALF (the cartoon), G.I. Joe, He-Man, Jem, Transformers, and Thundercats. I know that some of you currently aged 25 to 35 will have some nostalgia for these programs. But they were badly written, artlessly designed, and very, very poorly animated. And with Disney in the dumps and short-lived competitor Don Bluth between films, there was nothing at the theaters. It would be two more years before The Little Mermaid would rejuvenate the animated feature film, and two more before Ren & Stimpy changed the face of TV cartoons.
  7. Toys: I might as well just copy and paste what I wrote for "animation", except adding the repulsive Garbage Pail Kids. Otherwise you've got your Care Bears, your Garfield tie-ins, your My Little Pony... total junk.
  8. Video games: The golden age of the arcade was over. Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, Space Invaders... all relics of the past. And none of the post-Atari home video game systems had come out yet. 1987 did see the debuts for Street Fighter, Double Dragon, and The Legend of Zelda - big developments for the industry, I suppose, but meaningless to me.
  9. Fashion: Where do I start? Mullets on men? Big shaggy manes on women? Acid-washed jeans on everybody? None of these has been revived even as other, slightly less regrettable 1980s fashions have come back in vogue. Good riddance.