Remember when getting your ear pierced was cool? If you’re a woman you’ve probably said, “No, it’s practically expected,” and if you’re a guy, well, it largely depends on your age and where you grew up, and while it was popular during the Renaissance very few people from that time are still alive. So let me be clear that I’m referring to the fad that, in North America, spiked in the ’80’s, although it spilled, or rather dripped, over, into the twenty-first century since I’ve known a few older men who’ve gotten an ear pierced. And, like leg warmers and head bands, it seems unlikely to come back, even as shoulder pads, high tops, denim skirts, off-the-shoulder tops, perms, and fanny packs are making an unwelcome return, something we should have known it was inevitable. As a child of the ‘80’s—or rather someone who was a teen during the ‘80’s—I remember it as the era that, in addition to its dubious cultural contributions, packaged and sold nostalgia for an era most of us had never lived through. At least half my graduating class had t-shirts that said “If You Remember The ‘60’s Then You Weren’t There”, unaware of the irony that most of us had been born at least a decade after the day the music died. The first person I knew to get a CD player invested heavily in bands who were older than he was, and sometimes I think our motto was “Don’t trust anyone over thirty unless they appeared on Top Of The Pops.” This was partly marketing and also, I think, the fact that there was the threat of nuclear immolation, which seemed to be brought about by people who fondly remembered the Cuban missile crisis, but, like many reboots, was an overextended rehash of the original with an unnecessary batch of new characters and the feeling that the original had been so much better. There were also famines in Africa and the rising specter of AIDS, so it’s not surprising that the ’80’s were a time when black was the new black, and it’s why I sometimes say that if you fondly remember the ’80’s then you weren’t there.
The ‘80’s didn’t invent nostalgia, although some people like to remember it as the decade that did, but it did popularize it and reboots and sequels, so it’s fitting that the decade should get its own reboot. And I can’t completely knock it. For one thing a decade is a really long time so there’s inevitably some wheat among the teased-up and ripped-denim chaff, and, to reboot Philip Larkin, it was also the time of my own Annus Mirabilis, between the hearings on Iran and Nirvana’s first CD, but that’s another story.
I know I’ve harped on the ’80’s before, but I’m producing this sequel because there seems to be a new wave of nostalgia for the Dayglo decade but it’s interesting to me that, as I said, of all the ’80’s things that are coming back earrings for men aren’t, and that annoys me a little. It’s not because I’ve ever thought about getting an earring myself. It worked for some guys, but it never seemed to be my style, and I learned to be cool with that even though it’s never been hip to be square, not even in the ’80’s. No, it bothers me because a couple of my high school chums got their ears pierced on a whim and showed up at my house after they’d gotten it done.
Yeah, they didn’t think to invite me to go with them to the mall, although the after party was kind of fun. They proudly showed me their shiny new ear studs which were really metallic balls, although somehow even then teenage boys, a group not usually known for self-awareness or deep insight on matters of gender, knew better than to say that getting an ear pierced took balls.
And then they left and I started to go back to what I’d been doing, which was probably either watching a rerun of The Twilight Zone, or possibly a broadcast of The Twilight Zone, the 1985 reboot, when my father came into my room.
He closed the door and said, very quietly, “I’m only going to say this once. You’re not going to get your ear pierced as long as you live in this house.” Then he turned around and left.
At the time I resented it but now I feel a strange fondness for that moment, for the irony that I was in trouble for something I hadn’t done, for something that had happened when I wasn’t even there.
Isn’t it strange how parents fear the imagined dire consequences or meaning of something as harmless as getting a teeny hole put in your ear lobe! I can just imagine a father doing what you describe, fuelled by the fear of what he believed an ear-ring on a male represented at that time. In the 70s when men began getting their ears pierced, it was whispered amongst us teens that depending on which ear a male had pierced, it was a subtle indication of whether they were straight or gay. Some men that I knew had both ears done just to confuse people. How attitudes have changed and thank heavens! Not sure who got the worst deal, those of us who were teens on the 70s or those who grew up in the 80s. All I know is, when Millenials have fancy dress parties with a 70s theme I do feel like they are mocking the clothes that we took very seriously! But the 80s – that hair!
It is strange and kind of funny how parents imagined–and I assume some still imagine–dire consequences from something harmless, although earrings are probably universally considered harmless now. And I also remember the question of one ear or the other indicating whether one was straight or gay. It’s funny to me though that even some Millenials embrace the fashions of those earlier decades and even say they wish they’d lived through them. But the ’60’s weren’t all hippies, the ’70’s weren’t all bellbottoms, and the ’80’s weren’t all…well, there was a lot of that awful hair.
Thank you for the video – and especially the one following it! It brought back memories (I was a child of the 60’s) and explained one or two things that I hadn’t ‘gotten’ at the time.
It’s funny how some things we assume everyone knew when we look back weren’t necessarily common knowledge. I’m a child of the ’80’s and I still learn new things about that decade.
I was part of an underground club scene in the 80s, and when my mother told me I couldn’t get the top of my ear pierced, I did it myself. The look on her face was even better than it was when I dyed my hair black. She just kind of gave up. Of course, now I’m a perfectly respectable middle-aged woman. Or so people think…
Your secret underground life is safe with me, although it’s kind of funny to think that now if you got the top of your ear pierced most people wouldn’t give it a second thought. Funny enough just last night I was reading a book published in the ’80’s and the author mentioned that over time the cultural underground gets absorbed into the overground. The more things change the more they stay the same.
I remember the 80s AND the 60s, Chris, and I was there. I’ll remember this post because I was here.
Your comments are always memorable, and while your focus is usually on the present I’m glad you sometimes share some of your remarkable memories.
I also remember the earring in the left ear = straight and one in the right = gay. If you wore them in both ears you were just weird. Surprised I didn’t. Probably because my Dad would have forbidden it so I didn’t even try. When I was in the Navy in the late 80’s I did get my left one pierced. However, the military would not allow men to have pierced ears whether in uniform or not. So I was constantly having to take it out to hide it and the hole eventually closed on me. Later on in the mid 90’s my girlfriend wanted me to get it pierced again but I was kind of hesitant. She secretly bought one of those plastic piercing guns and came up behind me at a bar and “click” she deposited a stud in my left ear. I wore that earring until around 2009 when the back came off and actually got lost in my earlobe. I had to go to the doctor so he could fish around in there and get it out. After that I figured I was done with the look.
That’s so hilarious I don’t know when to start. When you were in the Navy did you never hear of the tradition that sailors used to have to get an ear pierced to mark crossing the Equator? That might be exclusively British or European navies though. And I remember once a guy with an earring in his left one coming to our church one Sunday when I was a kid and my mother quietly said to me, “He’s got it in his left ear. That means he’s not…you know…right?”
And here’s a funny story I heard about Jim Carrey and Ewan MacGregor back when they were making the film I Love You Philip Morris about a gay couple. One night they were at a gay bar researching their characters and MacGregor decided he’d get his ear pierced for the movie. He came back a short time later and all the guys in the bar yelled “WRONG EAR!”
Ha! That’s funny. Guess he should have done better research. The U.S. Navy parted ways with several British Navy traditions after independence. Sadly, having grog onboard was also one of those.