The Year You Were Born:
In the US: The first American “test-tube baby”, Elizabeth Jordan Carr, was born on December 28th.
In the White House: President Ronald Reagan nominated the first woman, Sandra Day O’Connor, to the United States Supreme Court.
In Immunology: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report the first recognized cases of AIDS; 5 homosexual males in Los Angeles, California.
Also Born in 1981: Elijah Wood (January 28), Justin Timberlake (January 31), Paris Hilton (February 17), Josh Groban (February 27), Hayden Cristensen (April 19), Jessica Alba (April 28), Natalie Portman (June 9), Chris Evans (June 13), Beyonce Knowles (September 4), Serena Williams (September 26), Britney Spears (December 2)
Your Childhood: 1980s
The 80s contributed a very unique take on the archetypal girl’s toy: Cabbage Patch Dolls. These individually named and crafted dolls were a welcome change from the mass-produced uniform dolls girls were used to, and so they almost instantly exploded in popularity. They were so popular, in fact, that there was a hysteria-inducing shortage of them in the winter of 1983.
The classic boys’ counterpart of the doll also boomed in popularity in the 80s. Action figures became bigger than ever before, and favorite characters even gained TV show adaptations. Examples include the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Transformers, and He-Man.
In addition to giving new popularity to classic toys, the 80s spawned countless new toys made possible by new electronic technology. Perhaps the most impressive was the Nintendo Entertainment System, which began the phenomenon of home video game consoles that persists to this day.
Best-selling children’s books of the decade included Martin Handford’s Where’s Waldo?, Stan and Jan Berenstain’s Berenstein Bears series, Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and Judy Blume’s Superfudge.
Halfway through the 80s, the comic book world transitioned from the Bronze Age to the Modern Age. This change was marked by comics becoming increasingly dark and psychologically complex, and perhaps less kid-friendly.
There were plenty of TV shows for kids to choose from in the 1980s, both animated and not. Some of the most popular non-animated shows included Fraggle Rock, Punky Brewster, You Can’t Do That on Television, and Saved by the Bell. Popular cartoons included Thundercats, He-Man, Inspector Gadget, The Smurfs, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and Transformers.
The Teen Years: 1990s
Several genres experienced newfound popularity among teens in the 90s. There was the alternative rock scene, led by Nirvana and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and also including Counting Crows, R.E.M., Third Eye Blind, Beck, and Pearl Jam, to name a few. Pop-Punk, a fusion of two already popular genres, included the likes of Blink 182 and Green Day. Hip-Hop crept into the mainstream spotlight with the aid of artists like 2Pac, Notorious B.I.G., Snoop Dogg, Wu-Tang Clan, and MC Hammer. But the most archetypically recognized music of the 90s was its teen pop, exemplified by the Backstreet Boys, NSync, Hanson, Christina Aguilera, and Britney Spears.
Teen movies of the 90s paled in comparison to those of the preceding decade, but they still maintained a fairly strong presence. Popular films among teens included American Pie, Clueless, Dazed and Confused, 10 Things I Hate About You, and Cruel Intentions.
Female sex symbols of the ‘90s included Cindy Crawford, Jenny McCarthy, Claudia Schiffer, Sarah Michelle Gellar, and of course, Pamela Anderson. Some top male sex symbols were Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Denzel Washington.
While video games technically started to become popular in the 80s, they didn’t really take off until the 90s. This new rise of video games gave teens an all new way to spend their free time and their money. Several of the most popular franchises and single games of all time came from the 90s, including Doom, Diablo, Starcraft, Metal Gear Solid, Pokemon, and Final Fantasy.
The 90s was a decade of blue jeans, t-shirts, and straight hairstyles. The ‘grunge’ style also became quite popular, and consisted of acid-wash jeans, tye-dye colors, and black leather biker jackets. Tattoos and piercings also became increasingly popular during this decade.
Slang of the 90s included “bling-bling” (jewelry) “da bomb” (cool), “hella” (very) “phat” (cool or hip), and “psyche!” (just kidding!). Some often-used phrases were “all that and a bag of chips”, meaning very impressive; “get a room”, which was used to call attention to a public display of affection; and “talk to the hand”, which was a generic comeback used to indicate that you weren’t listening.
Early Adulthood: 2000s
The new millennium kicked off with the Y2K bug scare. People thought that this changeover of the date would cause catastrophic computer errors that could wreck havoc on our way of life. Fortunately, while the change did cause some minor bugs and glitches, it wasn’t nearly as disastrous as predicted.
On September 11th, 2001, members of the al-Qaeda terrorist group hijacked four airplanes and crashed them into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. This day would go down in infamy as one of the nation’s greatest tragedies, and was a direct influence in the start of the United States’ declaration of war on the middle east. This war, which started in Afghanistan but spread to other middle eastern countries, came to be known as the War on Terror.
Technology continued to expand, to the benefit of nations as well as individuals. The internet allowed for economic globalization like never before, which was a major boon to developing countries as well as superpowers. Individual consumers also reaped the benefits of technological advancement as innovative new products, such as the Apple iPod, flooded the market.
In 2001, the Netherlands became the first country to legalize same-sex marriage. By the decade’s end, it was also legal in 10 other countries, although in Mexico and the United States the legalization was not nationwide.
The decade was dotted with health scares spawning from various animal-borne diseases: mad cow disease in 2003, the bird flu in 2007, and the swine flu in 2009.
Young adults helped elect George W. Bush, son of former president George H. W. Bush, in 2000, and re-elect him in 2004. Then, in an historic event in 2008, they helped elect Barack Obama, the first black president in the history of the United States.