Popular culture typically reflects the fears, ideologies and social, behavioral reinforcements of its unique time window.

Many 80s shows dealt with Cold War politics, macro and micro terrorism and even self-referential pulls between violence and action. Each series is something of a time capsule presenting a slanted view of topics that raised social concern or voyeuristic fascination. Drug lords, revolutionaries, Guerillas, crooked ambassadors, self-motivated heroes and quick resolutions peppered action-dramas (still do, really, only the cast of characters has changed a bit), providing the viewing public with a safe, centralized space to work out cultural anxieties.

As with today, general viewership in the 80s was concerned with what was perceived to be a rise in sex and violence on broadcast television. It’s a never-ending concern and often blown out of proportion.

Though shows like The A Team and MacGyver dealt almost explicitly with gritty political topics, both were curiously sterile in terms of serious violence, blood and body count. The A Team creators purposefully omitted the use of blood and made sure even riotous “gun fights” tore up the ground more than their marks. Thus, the appointed heroes could solve Cold War problems without really shedding a drop of blood on either side, the bad guys rounded up in the end for proper admission into the justice system. Oddly, a more sensitive audience still felt The A Team was still too violent for television, though good and bad guys alike were generally terrible shots and the heroes had to collaboratively solve problems using their varied range of physical and mental skills.

MacGyver also puzzled his way through fear ideologies, refusing to use guns himself at all. Armed with a clever mind, he becomes a new (or re-imagined) kind of hero–the ou-thinker, the science guy, the college-survivor-military man, eschewing bloodshed for justice, trapping criminals and thwarting computer systems with a Zen-like ability to use the enemy against itself: our cultural hopes pinned on a single Renaissance man capable of solving the nuclear crisis and deforestation in a single swoop of duct tape.

The cultural mythology folded into television is fascinating–worthy of much longer research.



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