“’Cause we are living in a material world, and I am a material girl.” Madonna, 1984
From hair to defense budgets, shoulder pads to tax cuts, the 1980s were BIG.
After a defeat in war, disillusionment, advances in civil rights in the 1950s and 1960s, and disco, Americans became status seekers and shopaholics—the “Me Generation” was born and Madonna’s “Material Girl” was their anthem. The Eighties are remembered by many as a time of excess and extremes. But this materialism was not embraced or experienced by all Americans, and many pushed the boundaries of what was conventional.
The photographs from the Richmond Times-Dispatch that are featured in the A Material World: Photographs of the 1980s exhibition were important when they appeared in the 1980s as evidence of news being reported at the time. Today, they make real what has become legend to a generation who know the events of the decade were important without knowing why. They also help us understand today’s culture, which is being shaped by ’80s kids who are bringing that decade’s values, worldviews, and attitudes back.