The Junk Decade

The following is a transcript of an upcoming episode of Geraldo Rivera's hard-hitting TV expose series Geraldo. It's scheduled to air January 5.

Geraldo: What is it about our society that requires us to place labels on our decades? Ten years is such a long time, and so many diverse events and trends sweep through our lives in that time, it would seem impossible to capture the essence of a time period in one broad brush stroke. And yet my guest this hour claims to have done just that. Cap'n Dave, welcome.
Cap'n Dave: Thanks, bud. Great to be here.

Geraldo: They say that journalism is the first draft of history. In your role as a journalist, then, as a first-draft historian, it is your judgment that the decade we've just completed will be known to history as the "Junk Decade"?

Cap'n Dave: Yep.
Geraldo: Explain, please.
Cap'n Dave: Well, Geraldo, it's like this. I was assigned to do an end-of-the-decade story for my paper. I couldn't call the Eighties the "Me Decade"--that was the Seventies. And I couldn't call it the Roaring Twenties. Obviously. After about a half-hour of really intense concentration on the subject, I came up with the "junk" angle. For about a week after that, I became totally consumed with the "junk" idea, meaning that I thought about it during almost every waking moment when I wasn't either eating, playing pinball or watching the World Series. This idea struck me as being so original and so profound, and so loaded with commercial potential, after a while I became concerned that someone else had already come up with the idea, or that someone else was working on it at the exact same time that I was. The concept was so powerful, I was certain I'd get "scooped"--as we call it in the business--if I didn't sit right down and pound it out. So, after some really frenzied typing, the concept was born. Now I'm here talking to you, just as I expected I'd be doing the second the Junk Decade idea popped into my head. Frankly, I hope to milk this for everything it's worth. In fact, I'm already working on the Junk Decade board game and an exercise video. Geraldo: That's all well and good, my friend, but there's an audience of people waiting out there to hear the details of this grand idea. The Junk Decade. What's it all about?

Cap'n Dave: To help everybody understand what I'm talking about, I guess I should start with a definition of "junk." For the purposes of supporting my thesis, I'm defining junk, in this case, as all the stuff we prop up around our lives in the desperate, false hope of giving them meaning. Almost all junk is stuff we don't really need, but we buy it anyway because we think it will help us live more like people on TV. Everything that can be bought in your typical shopping mall is junk. Everything that is influenced in any way by marketing experts--and this includes entertainers, preachers, politicians, music--is junk. Anything that can be advertised is junk.

Geraldo: Now, wait a minute. Are you saying that your theory goes beyond mere consumer items, that some people are junk, too? That's outrageous.
Cap'n Dave: Junk people are a big part of this theory, yes, but I'll get to them in a second. First, I want to give you a better idea of what I mean by junk in general.
Geraldo: Fair enough, but first we need to take a commercial break. Were the Eighties the Junk Decade? More in a minute.
Geraldo: Where were we? Yes, junk in general.
Cap'n Dave: Right. To start with, let's look at a simple appliance that really became hugely popular during the Junk Decade: the videocassette recorder. Is there a junkier product than the VCR in all of history? I don't think so. Before the VCR, it was impossible for people to record and store episodes of Who's the Boss? Now it's possible. Man, that's junk.

Geraldo: Let me play the devil's advocate here. What about movie rentals? What about the people renting classic art films by Bergman, Fellini, Truffaut?

Cap'n Dave: I don't recall seeing a Bergman aisle at my neighborhood video-rental store. Maybe it was back there behind the Nightmare on Elm Street aisle.
Geraldo: One more thing. What about the people out there right now watching this show on video? Have you thought about that?
Cap'n Dave: Um, yeah. I'm tempted to say, "I rest my case," but only because I see all the chairs are bolted down on this set.

Geraldo: Ouch. By the way, Cap'n Dave, do you own a VCR?
Cap'n Dave: Sure. But like most VCRs, it broke down two weeks after its warranty expired. It would cost more to have the machine repaired than to buy a new one. I don't mind, though, because this process has allowed my VCR to evolve into a purer form of junk. In my eyes, it's worth more now than it was when it worked. Plus, if I leave it on the shelf, there's a chance some junkie will break into my house and steal it.
Geraldo: I get it. You're saying that you're a connoisseur of junk.
Cap'n Dave: Aren't we all? I'm not saying that junk is bad. If junk is so popular, then by definition it can't be all bad. My theory celebrates junk. As a member of this society, I want all the junk I can get. More junk than you have, in fact. Give me some of your junk, or I'll arrange a hostile takeover of your junk. Maybe I'll buy up some junk bonds first. Vivre le Junque, I say. Geraldo: Very interesting, but I'm still not getting it. Maybe we need more examples.

Cap'n Dave: As far as the acquisition of junk goes in this decade, the most profound junk expression has become the process of having children.
Geraldo: You can't be serious.
Cap'n Dave: We're talking the ultimate in appliances here. It starts out as a little food processor, then grows into an excellent yard tool, then it graduates into full-blown consumerhood, by which time it has become interested in acquiring junk of its own. Of course, most of the kids born in the Junk Decade will grow up to be hopelessly addicted to--here comes that word again--junk food, junk TV and heavy-metal music.
Geraldo: Whoa. Slow down a minute there.
Cap'n Dave: Junk is everywhere, Geraldo. Junk is everything. Movies, music, literature, philosophy, politics, religion. You know what the best-selling nonfiction book of 1984 and 1985 was? Iacocca. The ghostwritten autobiography of a guy who makes junk cars. The era's most dominant media creation? USA Today, a newspaper for people whose attention span has been eliminated by watching junk TV news. And the Junk Decade's most influential entertainment trend on TV? Prime-time soap operas, like Dallas and Dynasty.
Geraldo: Very interesting.
Cap'n Dave: In music, the decade overwhelmed us with junk. The most popular form of music right now is disco, which I thought we killed off during the last decade. But this music is worse than disco because they don't call it disco. But it is disco, believe me. And speaking of junk, how about the synthesizer, an appliance that now totally dominates popular music? Bruce Springsteen, a musician whose pre-Junk Decade albums were pretty good, didn't become wildly popular until he put synthesizers in his songs. That was in 1984. Today, there aren't more than one or two songs on the radio right now that aren't created completely on synthesizers. It's funky junk, and I personally love every junk quarter note of it.
Geraldo: Let's see what our audience has to say about that. You, you look like a music lover. Stand up here and tell us what you think.
Audience member: Um, what about classic-rock stations?
Cap'n Dave: Classic rock is a format designed specifically for the generation who for the first time realized during the Junk Decade that it is not immortal. It's an overreaction to junk, designed to comfort and console aging Baby Boomers who are overwhelmed by and unable to adapt to all the cultural junk that's passing them by. But when a station plays the same 100 old songs over and over because their market testing tells them that those are the most popular songs of all time, the mere act of endless repetition turns those songs into junk. I never, ever want to hear "Old Time Rock 'n' Roll" by Bob Seger again, you know what I'm saying? Most of those classic rock songs were recorded during the Seventies, the only decade with worse music than the Junk Decade.
Geraldo: Now we're getting somewhere. Tell me more.

Cap'n Dave: To us junkophiles, the most amazing form of music that became popular during the Junk Decade was heavy-metal, the ultimate form of junk entertainment. Any single heavy-metal record you care to choose is funnier than any single comedy record, I guarantee it.
Geraldo: We're getting into an area I know something about here. You're saying that the heavy-metal, which is known to encourage Satan worship, suicide, body lice . . .
Cap'n Dave: Hey, I'm the guest here, pal. Let me do the jokes.
Geraldo: Sorry.
Cap'n Dave: See, heavy-metal really isn't music at all, it just looks like music, because the people who "play" heavy-metal look and act like musicians, up to and including using musical instruments. I love it when heavy-metal musicians wince in fake pain and agony while they are moving their little fingers so profoundly on their guitars. It's such hard work to play bass in a rock band. You can tell these guys got their first inspiration to be artists by strumming pool cues in front of a mirror in the basement. One funny thing to me about metal is, a whole new generation has come along to believe that their music is the first and only true form of social rebellion. What heavy-metal teaches is that it's okay to be stupid, inarticulate, drunk, drugged-up, irresponsible--

Geraldo: All the same things that our generation's music said it was okay to be . . .
Cap'n Dave: --that it's okay to get kicked out of school for calling your guidance counselor a dick.
Geraldo: Watch it, there, we're a family show.
Cap'n Dave: I love to watch heavy- metal videos. With the sound off, I usually can sit through several in a row. Haven't these guys seen This Is Spinal Tap?

Geraldo: On that note, I think we'll take a break.
Geraldo: You were talking about . . .
Cap'n Dave: Another funny thing about heavy-metal is that its practitioners are so smug, which in my opinion is the most junk attitude a person can have, especially at this point in history. These bands are smug because they make a lot of money and have access to unlimited pliant sex partners despite the fact that they have no talent, no brains and no future. If you're an eighteen-year-old kid anywhere near or below your ideal weight, the quickest legal way to get rich in America today is to copy licks off old Led Zeppelin records. Then you can be smug. If that isn't a totally Eighties attitude--a totally junk attitude-- I don't know what is.
Geraldo: Does that about wrap it up as far as junk music?
Cap'n Dave: No, but if you get me started on New Age music, we won't have time to talk about anything else.
Audience member: You mentioned Junk Religion. What are you talking about there?
Cap'n Dave: As long as we're in the neighborhood, let's start with New Age. It's among our hottest new religions. Everybody knows someone who claims he's now getting energy from a rock in his pocket. And almost everybody knows someone who occasionally visits a past life. All that movement needs is someone with as much charisma as Tammy Faye Bakker to come forward, then its commercial potential will really get cranking. New Age needs its own theme park, Blissland or something.
Geraldo: Ah, Jim and Tammy. I knew we'd be hearing about them.
Cap'n Dave: They are true icons of the Junk Decade. Everybody who gave them money should be forced to listen to New Age music several hours a day for the rest of their lives.
Geraldo: I need to take another commercial break here, but when we come back, I want the members of our audience to help me in a word-association game with you.

Cap'n Dave: "Name That Junk?" Sounds great.
Geraldo: Please stay tuned.
Geraldo: We're in New York, talking with Cap'n Dave of Phoenix, who is promoting his idea that the 1980s should be called the Junk Decade. In your opinion, we've just completed the Junk Decade. It's your claim that every part of life has been turned into junk. Well, what about sports? Baseball, apple pie . . .
Cap'n Dave: The biggest sports trend of the Eighties was the reemergence of pro wrestling. If I had any spare cash, I'd be investing heavily at this point in roller derby.
Audience member: Cable TV?
Cap'n Dave: In addition to the trends I've already mentioned, the most influential junk addition to our viewing choices has been the proliferation of shopping channels. That is very highly evolved junk.

Audience member: Economics? Cap'n Dave: Supply-side, trickle-down, deficit-building Reaganomics. Before the Age of Junk, the homeless were called hoboes. Now they've got their own lobbyists in Washington, D.C.

Geraldo: Fashion?
Cap'n Dave: The hottest fashion trend in the last half of the Junk Decade is to encourage everybody to dress like junkies. Lots of black clothing, torn jeans, fake jewelry, pale faces, unlikely hair colors.
Audience member: Health and medicine?
Cap'n Dave: Of course the war on drugs is junk, because several generations in a row have been raised on the belief that drugs are sometimes a lot of fun. Without drugs, the incredible advances in salesmanship made during the Junk Decade would not have been possible. Without drugs, we wouldn't need cable TV. The war on drugs has become such a big deal because of the vast popularity of crack. Talk about a junk drug. It's cheap, widely available and instantly addicting. I'm convinced that a team of dope marketing experts invented crack.
Geraldo: At the top of the show, you promised to explain to me how certain people can be junk. Dave, who are the junk people?
Cap'n Dave: When you talk about kings and queens of the Junk Era, there's no point in working your way up from the bottom. If there was one person who perfectly characterizes our times, it's Ronald Reagan, the Junk President himself. His glamour- enslaved wife was our leading junkette.
Geraldo: Oh, come on now. You're saying that the most popular president of modern times, a man who survived an assassination attempt to make America proud of itself again, was junk?
Cap'n Dave: The key word there, Geraldo, is "popular."
Geraldo: Hmmm.
Cap'n Dave: For me, the most prominent visual image of the Reagan era is the President of the United States standing under helicopter blades with his hand to his ear, mouthing the words "What? Huh?" Without a TelePrompTer, this man stood naked.

Geraldo: That's not much in the way of evidence.
Cap'n Dave: How about Grenada then? Was that not a Junk War? Or the Junk First Lady, whose astrologer was allowed to run the country? It was Reagan who gave us Ollie North, the definitive Junk Hero. It was Reagan who made the Oval Office a real possibility for someone like Dan Quayle, the Baby Boom's first presidential candidate.
Geraldo: Okay. Who else?
Cap'n Dave: You want a list?
Geraldo: We're running short of time.
Cap'n Dave: Vanna. Vanessa. Imelda. Brooke.
Geraldo: All women?
Cap'n Dave: Arnold. Morton. Sylvester. Hulk.
Geraldo: That's it?
Cap'n Dave: I left a few out because I thought we were running short of time.
Geraldo: As indeed we are. Thank you for coming down today, Cap'n Dave.
Cap'n Dave: Hey, thanks for having me. This was the perfect place to discuss this topic.


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