Happy 30th birthday, 1984! Prince turned the silver screen purple, the first Mac hit our living rooms, and Kevin Bacon helped a small town get its groove back. If you're turning 30 this year, you're in good company—here are 30 things that share your birth year.
1. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TMNT)
The first TMNT comic book went on sale in 1984. The pizza-eating, crime-fighting ninjas were the brainturtles of artists Peter Laird and Kevin Eastman, who began a tiny publishing company out of Laird's living room. The duo relied on mail-order to sell their comic book. Although originally intended to be a one-shot story, the book sold so well that more issues were created in 1985, ultimately leading to a cartoon, movie, video game, pizza, and comic book empire worth millions. See also: Turtlepedia, a 2,893-page wiki.
Wikipedia / tetrisconcept.net
Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov released the first version of Tetris (Те́трис in Russian) on June 6, 1984. The game featured seven tetrominos descending from the top of the screen, to form a sort of jigsaw-puzzle stack at the bottom. The game became insanely popular, spreading across the globe in a variety of versions, many of them unauthorized, on all sorts of computer hardware.
Today, the NES (Nintendo Entertainment System) version of Tetris is used in the Classic Tetris World Championships, and attracts top players from around the world—many of whom are roughly the same age as the game itself.
3. The Cosby Show
On September 20, 1984, America tuned in to see the Huxtable family in Brooklyn. The Cosby Show was a massive hit, revitalizing the sitcom genre and introducing all of us to Cosby sweaters. The show ran through 1992, and spawned the spinoff A Different World in 1987. Here are five minutes of Cosby Show bloopers, in case you've forgotten what a Cosby sweater looked like:
4. Scarlett Johansson & LeBron James
Happy 30th birthday to the following famous and/or infamous people: Kid Cudi (Jan 30), Olivia Wilde (Mar 10), Sarah Jean Underwood (Mar 26), Mandy Moore (Apr 10), America Ferrera (Apr 18), Mark Zuckerberg (May 14), Aubrey Plaza (Jun 26), Prince Harry (Sep 15), Randall Munroe (Oct 17), Katy Perry (Oct 25), Scarlett Johansson (Nov 22), Trey Songz (Nov 24), and LeBron James (Dec 30). (Whew.)
5. "Where's the Beef?"
The most memorable fast food ad of the year was created by Wendy's to emphasize the size of its hamburger patties. In the commercial, actress Clara Peller is presented with a burger from a rival chain, but finds that the bun is comically large and the hamburger patty ridiculously undersized, leading her to exclaim, "Where's the beef?!" The slogan was so catchy it was turned into a song, and appeared throughout American culture, even modestly influencing the Democratic presidential primary that year.
The ad campaign ended in 1985, though Wendy's brought it back in 2011 with the obvious tagline, "Here's the beef."
6. Ronald Reagan's Bombing Gaffe (Plus National Ice Cream Month)
During a mic check for his weekly radio address, President Reagan joked, "My fellow Americans, I'm pleased to tell you today that I've signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes." While the clip wasn't broadcast at the time, the recording was leaked. Oops.
On a lighter note, in July of 1984, President Reagan declared that July is National Ice Cream Month, with National Ice Cream Day on the third Sunday of that month. According to the International Dairy Foods Association (which, we promise, is totally a thing):
[Reagan] recognized ice cream as a fun and nutritious food that is enjoyed by a full 90 percent of the nation's population. In the proclamation, President Reagan called for all people of the United States to observe these events with "appropriate ceremonies and activities."
Get your ice cream party started, people. But keep it appropriate.
7. The Mac
Apple unveiled the Mac on January 24, 1984. At a demo event, Steve Jobs removed the Mac from a bag, inserted a 3.5" floppy disk, and booted the machine. The Chariots of Fire theme played, the Mac ran an impressive A/V demo, and finally said, "Hello, I'm Macintosh. It sure is great to get out of that bag. Unaccustomed as I am to public speaking, I'd like to share with you a maxim I thought of the first time I met an IBM mainframe: Never trust a computer that you can't lift!"
The original Mac cost $2,495, which pencils out to more than $5,600 in today's dollars. It had one floppy drive and a measly 128k of RAM, but it caused a revolution in personal computing; its designers were so proud of their creation, they signed the inside of the computer's case. Later the same year, a version with four times the memory debuted, and was promptly nicknamed Fat Mac.
After years of home-cooking lip gloss in their kitchen and selling eyeshadow from their salon, Frank Toskan and Frank Angelo launched a different kind of MAC from a single counter in a Toronto department store. The Makeup Art Cosmetics brand was born out of necessity: most commercially-available cosmetics at the time didn't hold up well under harsh lighting during photography, colors were limited, and stage makeup was fussy and difficult to work with. Originally intended just for makeup artists, MAC quickly grew popular through a perfect storm of word-of-mouth advertising, a good balance of novelty and usefulness, and a mid-range price point that made the brand accessible. (There was also a little help from Madonna, who paired the brand's Russian Red lipstick with various cone-shaped bras throughout her Blond Ambition tour a few years later.)
Today the company is a subsidiary of the $3.7 billion Estée Lauder juggernaut and one of the most popular brands of cosmetics for both professional and personal use. And they're still making those amazing lipsticks, which currently come in more than 160 shades.
9. Doug Flutie's Hail Mary
In what may be college football's most famous play (at least until Auburn's improbable last-second win over Alabama in 2013), Doug Flutie's miracle heave lifted Boston College over powerhouse Miami 47-45. Flutie went on to win the Heisman Trophy. The play has been credited with a rise in applications to Boston College, though the "Flutie Factor" may be overblown.
10. This is Spinal Tap
Image via cinemasquid
Rob Reiner directed the watershed mockumentary This is Spinal Tap, released on March 2, 1984. Chronicling the fictional comeback tour of British heavy metal rockers Spinal Tap, the film became a cult classic. It proudly bore the tagline: "Does for rock and roll what 'The Sound of Music' did for hills." Here's a clip:
But of course, this list goes to 11...and beyond. Moving right along....
11. Legal Taping of TV
Wikimedia Commons / Tomasz Sienicki
The Supreme Court decided a crucial case in January, 1984. Known as the "Betamax case," the court considered whether home VCR users could legally record TV shows for the purpose of watching them later, a practice known as "time-shifting." The court decided that recording episodes of The Cosby Show was just fine, and use of VCRs continued to take off. In an ironic twist, movie studios (who had brought the case in the first place) raked in tons of money selling home video copies of movies using the same technology they had tried to kill.
12. The Video Music Awards
The VMAs began in 1984. Cyndi Lauper won "Best Female Video" for "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"; Madonna performed "Like a Virgin" while crawling around on the floor, wearing a provocative pseudo-wedding gown; and Michael Jackson took home a pile of awards for Thriller. The VMAs were just as scandalous then as they are now.
The full two-and-a-half-hour show is on YouTube. At least for now.
13. The Print Shop
The Internet Archive
Brøderbund's desktop publishing package The Print Shop epitomized 80s-era computing. It allowed users to make cards, signs, and banners. Before printing, it showed a colorful "THINKING" screen as it computed the graphics necessary to print. According to the Internet Archive, "In 1988 Brøderbund announced that it had sold more than one million copies, and that sales of The Print Shop comprised 4% of the entire United States software market in 1987." You can run The Print Shop online in your browser...but you'll need a classic PC and dot-matrix printer to get the full experience.
14. The Trebek Era of Jeopardy!
"Who is an awesome game show host?" Canadian quizmaster Alex Trebek ushered in a new era of Jeopardy! in 1984. Although the show had run with Art Fleming in the 1960s and 70s, Trebek brought Jeopardy! firmly into the 80s. Trebek plans to retire in 2016, thus marking a 32-year run on the show.
15. The "Press Your Luck" Incident
In 1984, ice cream truck driver Michael Larson set a record by winning $110,237 (a combined total of cash and non-cash prizes) in one appearance on the game show Press Your Luck—and he did it by gaming the system. (His appearance aired in June, one month before Reagan's National Ice Cream Month could have sent his day job's income soaring...slightly.)
Larson recorded episodes of the show on his VCR (thank you, Supreme Court!) and noticed that the patterns on the board repeated. So he memorized them, went on the show, and won a pile of money. You can read more about his feat here on mental_floss.
16. Law on the Moon (Sort Of)
The Agreement Governing the Activities of States on the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies, better known as the "Moon Treaty," took effect in July 1984, though it had been grinding through international legal processes since the early 1970s. The idea was to have all the Earth's countries agree that the Moon and other such places would be used for peaceful purposes, and not, say, to create a Death Star.
Although the treaty went into effect and 15 countries ultimately ratified it, none of those countries are actively involved in manned space exploration. So hey, while you're on the Moon, go nuts! (Within the limits of the Outer Space Treaty, that is.)
17. The "Death Star" Hypothesis
Image via Wookieepedia
Seven years after a different Death Star destroyed Alderaan on the silver screen, the journal Nature published a pair of hypotheses from two teams of astronomers who posited that mass extinctions on Earth are caused by an undetected companion star to our Sun. According to the hypothesis, Nemesis, a brown dwarf star, orbits the Sun outside of the Oort cloud, disrupting the paths of comets and asteroids to send them pummeling toward the planets. One such object could have wiped out the dinosaurs, and other events are believed to happen on a roughly regular timeframe of 26-28 million years. The hypothesis was enormously popular in the 80s and early 90s, but Nemesis's existence has been largely discredited; we haven't seen it with any instruments or methods despite its apparent proximity. Nearly 2000 brown dwarf stars have been discovered, but none inside our solar system.
18. Canadians in Space
Marc Garneau is currently a Member of Parliament in Canada. But 30 years ago, he was aboard the space shuttle Challenger, becoming the first Canadian in outer space. After the initial mission, he flew two more, logging over 677 hours in space.
Garneau paved the way for future Canadians in space, including our favorite, Commander Chris Hadfield.
While technology, entertainment, and design are everlasting, the first TED conference was a one-off event held in Monterey, California, organized by graphic designer Richard Saul Wurman. Features included Sony's new-but-unreleased "compact disc," an early demo of Apple's Macintosh computer, presentations from Nicholas Negroponte (future founder of One Laptop Per Child) and mathematician Benoît Mandlebrot (discoverer of the Mandelbrot set), and exciting new 3D graphics from LucasFilm. Despite the awesomeness of 1984's event, TED lost a lot of money—so much that another conference wouldn't be held until 1990. Since then, TED has been an annual event.
Today, those of us who aren't in possession of TED invites can watch the presentations via TEDTalks, free online videos, and podcasts launched in 2006, which are arguably one of the most fascinating and binge-able series of videos on the Internet. Speakers include all the people you'd expect—Al Gore, Jane Goodall, Elon Musk, Bill Gates, Bono—but the best moments seem to come from unexpected sources. Take, for instance, neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor's talk, which details the experience of having a massive stroke when you just happen to be a brain scientist.
Transformers rolled out in the U.S. 30 years ago, after Hasbro bought distribution rights for the Diaclone and Microman toy molds from Japanese company Takara. Generation One (Series 1) launched with 28 figures—18 Autobots, 10 Decepticons—including the infamous Megatron figure that transformed into a gun ("more than meets the eye," indeed).
In September 1984, a three-episode miniseries introduced American children to the classic Autobots and Decepticons and their ongoing battle for the resources necessary to return to their home planet of Cybertron, as well as the Tranformers' human allies, Spike and Sparkplug Witwicky. The series launched soon after, with the first season running through December. During this time, the Dinobots, Insecticons, and Constructicons were introduced, as well as Chip Chase, new Decepticons, new Autobots, and all in time for 1985, when 76 new Transformers toys were released in Series 2.
21. Movies: The Karate Kid, Footloose, Purple Rain, Revenge of the Nerds, and More
It was a banner year for movies. With box-office hits like Footloose, Splash, Revenge of the Nerds, and Ghostbusters we saw a clear theme of underdog heroes overcoming the odds in often bizarre circumstances.
Other notables from that year: Beverly Hills Cop, Police Academy, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Gremlins, The Karate Kid, Dune, and Purple Rain. In a feat of rapid movie-making, both Breakin' and Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo were released in the same year. We were also treated to the Coen brothers' first film, Blood Simple...and Joel Coen married leading lady Frances McDormand in 1984 (they're still together).
Despite all that action in popular movies, 1984's Amadeus pretty much swept the Academy Awards the following year, taking home awards for Best Actor, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Picture, Best Director, and a pile of others. Prince took home the Oscar for Best Original Song for "Purple Rain."
22. BOOKS! (Other Than 1984)
While the world was discussing the dystopian present portrayed in Winston Smith's fictional journal, which began 30 years ago on a cold bright day in April, actual books were being published in the real 1984, including: The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy, The Talisman by Stephen King and Peter Straub, Pulitzer-winning Glengarry Glen Ross by David Mamet, Dr. Seuss's The Butter Battle Book, Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy, King's Thinner, The House on Mango Street (which was almost instantly placed on the AP Readers list; if you were in high school in the 90s, you've probably read it), the 1984 Nebula Award-winning Neuromancerby William Gibson, John Updike's The Witches of Eastwick, and Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being.
23. Born in the U.S.A.
Bruce Springsteen released his best-selling album, a twelve-track masterpiece in which seven songs were released as singles, including the mega-hits "Dancing in the Dark," "Born in the U.S.A.," "I'm on Fire," and "Glory Days." Rolling Stone called Springsteen the "voice of a decade," and wrote, "It's as if Springsteen were saying that life is made to endure and that we all make peace with private suffering and shared sorrow as best we can."
Although the song "Born in the U.S.A." had a cultural impact, the most lasting legacy of the album might be "Dancing in the Dark," an upbeat pop song with oddly grim lyrics, and a classic video featuring a young Courteney Cox dancing onstage. Yes, in 1984 we all danced that way—at least those of us who were born in the U.S.A.
While the pop landscape of 1984 featured bands like Springsteen, Prince, and Wham!, 1984 also saw the formation of Primus, Warrant, Gwar, Soundgarden, Big Audio Dynamite, Fine Young Cannibals, and...wait for it...New Kids on the Block.
24. George Michael Started Being a Big Deal
Singer George Michael had a huge year. As part of the band Wham!, the infectious dance single "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go" became a #1 hit in the United States and the UK. Then came the sultry, saxophone-driven "Careless Whisper," which was technically a George Michael solo effort, but was credited to Wham! in some countries. Michael rounded out the year with two more hits: "Freedom" and "Everything She Wants"; and he performed with the supergroup Band Aid on "Do They Know It's Christmas?"
25. Band Aid
After BBC aired a report by Michael Buerk about the devastating and ongoing famine in Ethiopia, singers Bob Geldof and Midge Ure (pictured) teamed up to raise relief funds. Together, the pair wrote "Do They Know It's Christmas?" then rallied members for the supergroup Band Aid. The final lineup included the members of Duran Duran, Spandau Ballet, Bananarama, Culture Club, Kool and the Gang, U2, Chris Cross, Paul Young, George Michael, Glenn Gregory, Martyn Ware, Phil Collins, Paul Weller, Status Quo, Jody Watley of Shalamar, Marilyn, and the Boomtown Rats.
The single sold a million copies in the first week, and went on to become the UK's highest-selling single of all time... until Elton John's "Candle in the Wind 1997" tribute to the late Princess Diana.
In all, Band Aid raised £5 million for famine relief. The following year's Live Aid, 1989's Band Aid II, 2004's Band Aid 20, and Live 8 in 2005 raised a total of £150 million, and still earns around £2 million per year through the Band Aid Trust, which spends that money for relief efforts in Ethiopia, Uganda, Sudan, and other impoverished African countries.
26. The Quagga's Second Life (Sort of)
Once upon a time, there was an animal called the quagga. It was something of an animal kingdom reverse-mullet, which is to say it was zebra in the front, regular-looking horse in the back. The last captive specimen died in 1883, but it was gone from the wild for nearly a decade before that, thanks to being easy to hunt, having an interesting hide, and not being very good at competing with domesticated livestock for areas to forage.
Aside from its weird appearance, the interesting thing about the quagga came after it was wiped from the planet. In 1984, a team of scientists at the University of California at Berkely cloned fragments of the quagga's DNA taken from a 140-year-old sample. It was the first successful attempt to clone DNA from an extinct species, and the first step in the ongoing pursuit of technology that will give the world wooly mammoths and velociraptors again.
We may not have to wait for that technology, though: As it turns out, the mitochondrial DNA used in that quagga-cloning project revealed that the species was actually a subspecies of the still-living plains zebra. Through selective breeding, the Quagga Project hopes to create a living population of quaggas. In 2005, the first quagga-like foal was born; she was considered a successful first step toward quagganess because her striping was visibly fainter than that of her parents.
27. Dude, You're Getting a Dell
Michael Dell started his computing empire while studying at the University of Texas. He made low-cost PCs from off-the-shelf components, though his company was initially called PC's Limited. One early customer told The Smithsonian, "[The computer] always sounded as if it were coming apart. I never did figure out why."
Thirty years later, Dell is still selling customizable PCs. Need tons of RAM? Looking for a student discount? Want a keyboard but not a mouse? Dude, you're getting a Dell!
28. Muppet Babies
In 1984, Jim Henson gave us a window into the animated childhoods of our favorite Muppets. The Muppet Babies debuted in a fantasy sequence in The Muppets Take Manhattan, and their own TV series premiered in the fall. Kermit, Miss Piggy, and the gang gave us their interpretations of Star Wars, Star Trek, Indiana Jones, The Twilight Zone, The Jetsons, I Love Lucy, and more.
29. The "Baby Bell" Telephone System
Wikimedia Commons / Badmachine
On January 1, 1984, AT&T was broken into seven independent "Regional Holding Companies," which became known popularly as the "Baby Bells." This was the end of a long saga of anti-trust litigation against AT&T, which had held a monopoly on the U.S. telephone market before then. The birth of the Baby Bells led to competition in the phone market, which drove down long-distance pricing and generally shook up the phone system through the 80s and 90s. Today, three big phone carriers can trace their roots to those Baby Bells: AT&T Inc., CenturyLink, and Verizon.
In 2008, Network World asked Does the AT&T breakup still matter 25 years on? The answer is complex, and boils down to "maybe."
The first Ghostbusters movie introduced us to a trio of failed Columbia University professors whose post-collegiate careers involved clearing New York City of various paranormal infestations. Bill Murray stole the show as Dr. Peter Venkman, a character originally intended for the (then-deceased) John Belushi. Film critic Roger Ebert gave the movie 3.5 out of 4 stars, writing "Ghostbusters is one of those rare movies where the original, fragile comic vision has survived a multimillion-dollar production."
Ghostbusters launched a second film, two TV shows, various video games and comic books, and of course this epic single by Ray Parker, Jr.:
Images via Getty unless noted.