10 Things We Love to Hate About the '70s and '80s

By: Carrie Whitney, Ph.D.  | 
Judas Priest
Nothing says 1980s like British heavy metal group Judas Priest in roller skates in New York's Central Park. Members of the band are, from left: guitarist Glenn Tipton, guitarist KK Downing, drummer Dave Holland, singer Rob Halford and bassist Ian Hill.  Michael Putland/Getty Images

The 1970s and 1980s have been the stars of numerous throwback films and television shows with good reason. The two decades have a lot to celebrate — Saturday morning cartoons, "Schoolhouse Rock," roller skating and Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" — to name a few highlights.

But nostalgia be damned, there was plenty to dislike about the '70s and '80s too. The pair of decades kicked off at the height of the Vietnam War and included the Watergate scandal, a gas shortage, a hostage crisis, the emergence of the AIDS epidemic (and the injurious response from the government) and then capped off with the Exxon Valdez oil spill.


While GenX will proudly keep listening to our Duran Duran records and can still enjoy solving a Rubik's Cube, here are 10 features of the '70s and '80s we're rejoicing got left in the past (in no specific order).

1. Food and Drink Fails

Tang advertisements
Tang was touted as tasting great in space, but on Earth it tasted pretty gross. Public Domain

Organic what? Preservatives and food additives are not new innovations. Consider the popularity of Tang during the 1970s. It may have tasted great in space, but Tang, which was invented in 1957, left much to be desired on Earth. Yet thanks to its promotion as a "space-age drink" and 1968 sponsorship of NASA's Apollo mission to the moon, it became one of the bestselling drinks of its day. Space can have it, and '70s hors d'oeuvre staple Easy Cheese and the '80s favorite "spritzer," wine coolers, too.


2. Interior Design Disasters

Ettore Sottsass design
Italian architect Ettore Sottsass started the Memphis Group design movement (seen here) in 1981 with a group of young designers who wanted to challenge the established notions of good design at the time.  Wikimedia/(CC BY-SA 3.0)

Although the era has plenty to recommend stylewise, the '70s and '80s included a few decorating fads they can keep. How about LEGO-like interiors, not-so-groovy waterbeds, too much '80s mauve and wall-to-wall shag carpet?


3. Dot Matrix Printers

dot matrix printer
Dot matrix printers were noisy and a pain to use.  chanonnat srisura/Shutterstock

Today printers are cheaper than their ink cartridges. And in the digital age, we don't really have to print at all, which means nobody misses the lack of nuance in dot matrix printing. For one, the noise was unbearable, but not as painful and challenging as lining up those dang holes in the paper and printer rollers.


4. 8-Track Tapes

8 track cartridges
Eight-track cartridges must have seemed revolutionary at the time. But given the streaming music of today, they seem useless and antiquated. Viktorus/Shutterstock

Admittedly, it must have seemed like quite a leap forward when car manufacturers first installed 8-track players in cars in the mid-1960s. The modern technology gave drivers the freedom to listen to music of their choice. The tapes, which often got tangled and could not be rewound, remained popular during the 1970s but were quickly replaced by the introduction of the more efficient cassette tape.


5. 1-900 Numbers

900 number
What teenage girl in the 1980s didn't want to dial up the New Kids On The Block?  Public Domain

In the 1980s, we got to call our favorite celebs and boy bands on the phone using a number with a 900 area code. Pretty impressive, right? These, of course, were pay-per-call experiences (recorded just for you) that also offered informational options, as well as more nefarious activities like lottery games and sex lines. The practice was still going strong into the 1990s (remember psychic Miss Cleo?), but now we have the internet and social media to satisfy these types of needs.


6. Leaded Gasoline

leaded gasoline
The EPA began phasing out lead from gasoline in the 1970s.  Joe Sohm/Visions of America/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

Since the 1920s, companies had been adding lead to gasoline, with the automobile industry and oil companies claiming the low levels were not harmful. It turned out that they were and in 1973, the Environmental Protection Agency started an effort to phase out leaded gasoline. The phase-out continued through the 1980s, although the EPA didn't fully ban leaded gasoline for passenger cars until the next decade.


7. Fashion Fads

Parachute-brand fashion
Models pose in Parachute fashion, the brand of choice for '80s icons like Madonna, Duran Duran, Lionel Ritchie, Blondie and David Bowie. "Miami Vice" also chose Parachute as its principal wardrobe supplier. Allan Tannenbaum/Getty Images

We can't consider the '70s and '80s without casting an eye to fashion and there are plenty of retro styles we still love. There are also plenty more that are better off buried in the past, including leisure suits, parachute pants, acid wash jeans and big '80s shoulder pads. Thankfully, men exposing their hairy chests and wearing their shirts unbuttoned to their navels is totally passé too. What was that all about, guys?


8. Awful Family Photos

Awful family photo
What family doesn't have a seriously awkward photo like this one? We wouldn't shame an unknowing family, of course, so one of our own editors (gladly?) shared this 1980-something classic of her own.  Courtesy Anne Escobedo

Who doesn't love a bad family photo meme? Entire websites are built on the premise. We have the '70s and '80s to thank for many of them. What family didn't have a photo taken at Olan Mills? And count your lucky stars if you have an awkward school photo or a 1980s Glamour Shots misadventure. Big hair was totally a must.


9. Cabbage Patch Kids Craze

Cabbage Patch Kids
Kids went crazy for Cabbage Patch Kids, a line of soft sculptured dolls invented by Xavier Roberts. And we mean so crazy there was a black market for the dolls in the '80s. Barbara Alper/Getty Images

It was 1983 and riots were said to have broken out over the sighting of, not Michael Jackson or Princess Diana, but dolls. Not just any dolls, though. Cabbage Patch Dolls. These adoptable, yarn-haired kids "became the most popular toy fad of the year," according to Antique Trader. That meant there were not enough to go around, quickly leading to black market trading. For dolls.


10. Indoor Smoking

indoor smoking
A diner smokes a cigarette with a cup of coffee at the counter of a Duluth, Minnesota, restaurant, before a total indoor smoking went into effect.   MARLIN LEVISON/Star Tribune via Getty Images

We now know the dangers of secondhand smoke, but it wasn't until 1964 that the Surgeon General first issued a report linking smoking with lung cancer. In the 1970s, there was a big move to divide interior public spaces into smoking and non-smoking sections, and it was only in 1986 that studies officially noted the cancer risk of second-hand smoke. Even so, indoor smoking bans still vary state to state.