The ’80s: When ‘Cosby’ ruled TV, and we had Pac-Man fever

Trying to deny that you remember the 1980s? Here’s a very select list of some pop culture touchstones of the decade — just to jog your memory.


It’s hard to overestimate the effect MTV had on the decade and the generation that tuned in after the launch of the cable network in 1981. Without it there would be no Madonna, no thrashing preening hair metal bands, no Filipino prisoners re-enacting “Thriller” dance routines, no “VJs.” Simply put, it changed the music industry as profoundly in that decade as Apple’s iPod would two decades later.

Michael Jackson

Although he released only two of his albums during the period, the youngest member of the Jackson 5 moonwalked all over the ’80s. His 1982 album “Thriller” took advantage of the fledgling MTV and set the bar for all music videos to come. Janet Jackson kicked off Sunday night’s MTV Video Music Awards with a tribute to her late brother.

‘The Cosby Show’

Premiering in 1984, the series about obstetrician Cliff Huxtable (Bill Cosby) and his attorney wife Claire (Phylicia Rashad) living in New York with their adorable kids became one of the most popular shows of the decade.

Cabbage Patch Kids

Xavier Roberts’ cherubic soft sculpture dolls — with the signature on the backside and a birth certificate (from Babyland General Hospital) in hand — sold millions and made the cover of Newsweek.


Nothing swept the nation like Pac-Man fever, triggered by the 1980 introduction of the yellow, dot-munching happy face and the pursuing ghosts we came to fear as Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde.

Rubik’s Cube

It was the sudoku puzzle of its day, only a gazillion times harder. Hungarian architecture professor Erno Rubik invented the colorful torture device in 1974, but America was at the height of cube craziness in the mid-’80s. The simplicity, color scheme and checkerboard pattern of his creation made it the perfect time-waster.

Shoulder pads

The excesses of the ’80s meant big everything, from hair to shoulder pads. Combine that with the idea of power dressing in the workplace and by the time the decade ended, ladies and linebackers shared a similar silhouette.

‘Where’s the Beef?’

One of the most annoying ’80s catchphrases began life as a line in an ad for the Wendy’s hamburger chain, which showed an old lady (played by the late Clara Peller) at a (fictitious) rival joint squinting at her hamburger bun. Throughout the campaign, she repeated the phrase: “Where’s the beef?”