Home » Our Grumpy Professional Designer Pleads With BMW To Stop Obsessing Over The 1980s Already

Our Grumpy Professional Designer Pleads With BMW To Stop Obsessing Over The 1980s Already

Enough80salready Top

“Let’s dance in style, let’s dance for a whileHeaven can wait we’re only watching the skiesHoping for the best, but expecting the worstAre you gonna drop the bomb or not?”

Forever Young by Alphaville, 1984

No more synthwave. No more chrome word art. No more pixels. No more neon. It’s enough. Enough, enough, enough al-fucking-ready. If I’m subjected to any more of the above, I’m going to plotz. To quote Captain Picard in First Contact, “The line must be drawn HERE. NO FURTHER!” Goddamn Millenials and Zoomers. Stop rehashing Generation X’s pop culture and go and make something new of your own.

You’re goddamn right. I did get out of bed on the wrong side. What is it that’s really put a dent in my normally sunny demeanor this morning? CES is happening in Vegas right now (our very own Patrick George is now there petting snow tigers and betting the entire Autopian mortgage on black) and overnight a new BMW concept appeared with a marketing video that leans so heavily into 1980s references it features not only the walking condom full of walnuts himself, Arnold Schwarzenegger, but hair perm in a leather jacket David Hasselhoff. Jesus Helicoptering Christ. The only thing creaking more than their ancient bodies was the video itself under the weight of all the ham that was crammed into its six and a bit minutes running time.

Before we get started on the ’80s, remember the ’90s? It was an embarrassment of cultural riches, from Grunge driving a stake through the heart of hair metal (RIP) to the reinvention of John Travolta as a heroin-addicted hitman. Technology was moving at lightspeed. Sony turned computer gaming from something boys did alone in a dark bedroom to a post-night-out living room activity with your buddies. Mobile phones were changing shape and form factor by the week. As the decade rolled on, the dirty collages of David Carson gave way to the futuristic pop art of The Designers Republic. The year 2000 was approaching and it was the fucking future, man. Translucent organic forms, bold colors and almost indecipherable graphic design showed us the shiny tech utopia we’d all be living in just a few short years’ time. It was a digital Wild West. When the calendars flipped over and the century began with the number 2, it all fell apart.

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The Baby Boomers had already planted the poisonous seeds for this earlier in the decade, but we Gen X-ers were curious enough to indulge them and they had the positions of creation. We were only in a position to consume. Hollywood began digging up the corpses of long-forgotten ’60s TV shows and splashing them on the big screen starting with The Addams Family in 1991, and following that with adaptations of all manner of boob-tube dross that don’t stand up to contemporary viewing. Lost in Space. The Fugitive. The Flintstones. Shit, they even made a Beverly Hillbillies movie.

Car manufacturers got in the act too, starting with the Prowler Concept in 1993. Chrysler shat out plenty more retro vehicles, but the man probably most singularly responsible was my old tutor J Mays, who had a fucking book written about his work: Retrofuturism: The Car Design of J Mays (coincidentally he had a brief spell at BMW in the early ’80s). As president of Volkswagen Group design, he oversaw the New Beetle, the Audi Avus Concept and the Freeman Thomas-designed Audi TT, before moving to Ford and doing it all over again with the Ford GT, Thunderbird and various Lincoln and Mercury concepts. The Nostalgia Wave of car design had truly arrived.

Prowler

I have a theory about why this happened. The year 2000 was approaching; for the Boomers, it was frightening. The kids with their internet and their PlayStations. Why didn’t they stop slacking off and get real jobs? The Boomers had grown up in the ’50s and ’60s, which very real discrimination and equality issues aside were a period of incredible economic progress and prosperity.  A decent blue-collar job would support a mortgage, a family, two cars and a college education. By the ’90s, this was a bad joke and Generation X was the butt of it, recognized as the first cohort where prospects were significantly worse than that of their parents, not better as had been the case for previous generations.

Although globalization was presented as the cure-all that ended the cold war, it had very real consequences in the gutting of whole industries as manufacturing across the western world was offshored, leaving entire communities in grinding poverty. So it’s entirely natural the Boomers wanted to look back to a more certain, familiar time when things were “better” and teenagers respected their elders rather than shrugging their shoulders at them.

For a lot of people not in the middle classes, the ’80s were utterly shit. Aside from being left behind by the wealth being generated elsewhere, those of us in the inner cities and the industrial heartlands had to contend with Reagan and Thatcher deregulating and privatizing previously publicly owned utilities and the destruction of social safety nets in the name of profit and “efficiency.” Whole working-class communities were destroyed never to recover.

As life online re-emerged from the ashes of the dot-com bust, it began to pervade our everyday existence. No longer was it a place for tedious fandoms to argue about which imaginary character could take another imaginary character in a fight; it became a place for Generation X to start storing and discussing their cultural childhoods. I’m not entirely blaming Ernest Cline for this, as he came along much later. But he made it official and codified it. How cool you were was not now defined by how up-to-date your clothes were — it was how many Glen A Larson television shows you could name.

As mentioned in my piece about the Hyundai N Vision 74 (still a shit name), I was born in 1973. Without looking for sympathy, my childhood was a miserable disaster. Poverty and abuse aside, I had a lot of behavioral problems due to undiagnosed autism. The (dubious) solution the local council came up with was to send me away to a private boarding school. I went from being the smartest kid in a local school to the poorest kid in a rich kids’ school. It was hell.

ThreadsChildrenofthedust

While I was there probably half of my classmates had parents in the British military stationed all over the world, but mainly in what was then West Germany. Until the Berlin wall came down in 1989 (the year I left school) the very real threat of armed conflict was EVERYWHERE.

Threads was a nuclear apocalypse war drama created by the BBC and shown in 1984. It’s so disturbing in its depiction of society’s collapse after a nuclear exchange (I honestly have never had the balls to watch it) that not only did it prompt Reagan to pursue peace with the Soviet Union, it was not broadcast on British television again for EIGHTEEN years. [Editor’s Note: The analogue for us Americans I think has to be The Day After, from 1983. It was just as grim. – JT]

In English Literature class, not only did we read Brit-lit staples like 1984, Cider with Rosie and Shakespeare. Oh no. We had to read, discuss and write essays about a novel called Children of the Dust. Take a wild stab in the dark at what the subject matter was.

Nelson Piquet Brabham 1983 Can Yuppiese30

Let’s circle back to cars, since that’s the ostensible reason you’re all here.

BMW basically defined its whole brand in the ’80s. In the UK, an E30 became a de rigueur fashion accessory for newly minted City of London banker boys as much as a pair of red braces or a Motorola DynaTAC. F1 engines running rocket fuel making 1500bhp in qualifying and DTM racers trading paint every other weekend established BMWs credentials as a thrusting, upmarket macho brand.

P90490987 Lowres Bmw I Vision Dee 01

Forget old BMW. It’s a dead baby. If you watch the film accompanying the I Vision DEE (what the actual cocking fuck) it’s puzzling because it’s taking a steaming dump from altitude on its past models while using a version of the past to sell the future. The I Vision DEE (for Digital Emotional Experience) is a precursor to the new Neue Klasse electric saloons that are coming. And given their recent visual abominations it surprisingly doesn’t make me want to blind myself by chugging a quart of Torch Oil.

In the side view the line of the fender as it bends down towards the front is a little severe, making me think it could use a bit more dash to axle so that curve has more room to work. The shark nose, Hofmeister kink and kidney grille are once again all present and correct, but halle-fucking-luiah they’re been kept crisp and modern.

The most noticeable improvement is the calmness of the surfacing and the absence of tortured direction changes in the sheet metal that have characterized recent BMW concepts (and production cars). There’s no fighting of graphical elements here. It’s serene, yet subtly aggressive like the best BMWs of the past have been.

Bmw I Vision Dee Concept 2023 1280 3f Aliasscreenshot

The exterior panels are made up of color-changing screens, which is some concept car hand-wavy magic bullshit. It’s probably appealing to stereotypical BMW owners because they could park illegally and then make their car blend into its surroundings so it becomes invisible and they don’t get a ticket. If you look closely past the seizure-inducing color patterns you can see faint lines fanning out from the wheel arches and where the bodywork wraps around the corners of the car – probably because there’s a limit to the amount of curvature those e-ink panels can achieve.

The overall effect looks a bit like Autodesk Alias’s surface diagnostic tools – probably not the effect they were aiming for. The only real complaint is that it’s a little plain – it could use some trim to fancy it up a bit, but that would get in the way of the chameleon gimmick so it’s understandable they’ve kept the surfaces as uncluttered as possible.

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My suspicion is that Adrian van Honkytonk is one of those designers who thinks he needs to be bleeding edge at all costs to have any credibility. Which is, of course, bullshit.

A good designer shouldn’t be tied to the past but neither should they neglect it. There are lessons and meanings back there if we look past the surface and understand the intention. I’m not one for wallowing in nostalgia. I think hoarding roomfuls of plastic crap because it’s associated with something that made you feel happy in the past is pointless. We live in the now. But that’s not to say I don’t appreciate the past. I have a B&O Beolit 600 radio from 1970, and it’s delightful. Its appeal to me is very much rooted in the present – its built quality and thoughtful design are as relevant today as they were when it was new. Also, it still works faultlessly, and I have a love affair with radio as a medium.

I hear you now. “But Adrian, you identify with a sub-culture that’s rooted in the past! Aren’t you contradicting yourself?”

Well, again here’s the thing: While goth grew out of punk, the look has adapted and evolved over time to take into account changing tastes and fashions. The attitudes, sensibilities and outlook are as relevant today as they always were. I listen to two podcasts a week containing completely new “goth” music, despite the fact The Sisters of Mercy haven’t released a studio album of new music since 1990.

So yeah, my view of the ’80s is considerably less neon-tinted than that of those who never experienced it firsthand by dint of not having popped out of the womb in time. And this is what dicks me. The ’80s weren’t just a few visual shorthand cliches, it’s not even one aesthetic: It’s a whole bunch of generational circumstances and events that forged a unique decade.

Millennials only think it’s cool because the internet told them so, and they’re so used to living online that they don’t realize there’s a whole load of context and history they’re missing out on. I regularly have to implore my students to go to the library when doing their research. The fact that the entire history of everything isn’t contained online is a completely alien concept to them.

[Editor’s Note: I believe Mr.Clarke would like everyone to get the hell of his lawn now, please. – JT]

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128 Responses

  1. Adrian,
    I would like to pick my first fight with you sir.

    First point: ostalgie, the east German nostalgic desire for the simpler childhood they experienced prior to the wall falling is a solidly gen-x trait and is one of the biggest mindfucks of nostalgia I have ever seen. But each generation has it’s nostalgic call back it wants remembered always. boomers are chasing Christmas of ’53. I’m quite partial to 97 myself being an elder millennial. I think many xers chase the release of a new hope, or maybe it’s just the nerds I know. The music of the revolution will be used to sell you life insurance.

    Second: what makes you think the person who made the call on the bmw idabomination was a millennial? I would figure it was a department head and I’m too lazy to look it up but I would figure it’s someone over 40.

    Third: if they are your current students they would probably be gen-z/alpha.

    1. On the subject of being partial to Christmas of ’97, for me, ’97 was a special Christmas, because I got a PS1 with a copy of Final Fantasy 7. Probably one of the highlights of my childhood, because most of it sucked. That same Playstation later introduced me to Gran Turismo.

      1. So many great games released in 97 and 98. Tons of concerts came to town that I wish I had been allowed to go to, I recall Lilith fair as being the one I fought hardest for. But I assume I will always look on my life before 9/11 with rose colored glasses.

        1. Imagine the ball of twine and chewing gum that weighs as much as a moped with a Tesla EV swap. So ill advised that I want to see garage 54 build it.

          1. A Trabant fitted with a roll cage, Tesla Model S PLAID drivetrain, and reinforced to handle the torque, coupled with a red paintjob with a yellow hammer and sickle on the hood and a portrait of Nikita Kruchev on the dashboard with a bumper sticker showing a portrait of Joseph Stalin and the phrase “DARK HUMOR IS LIKE FOOD. NOT EVERYONE GETS IT.”, would be the ULTIMATE drag strip troll. Those all-American gas-guzzling Mustangs, Camaros, Corvettes, Vipers, Hellcats, and the like, would end up very embarrassed.

              1. In 2009, we could have gotten a Trabant nT, but it was never given the funding for production.

                2,313 lbs, 63 horsepower electric drive system, seating for 4 adults, 100 miles range, 80 mph top speed… Not a performance machine, but it would get one around for cheap.

      1. And Wartburgs. I remember a time when the Hungarian classified ads websites were littered with examples that cost about as much as a 1/18 scale model. Those are all long gone, sadly (and importing a car from Hungary seems like a royal pain in the ass, anyway).

    2. My point is the millennials and zoo ears are obsessed with the eighties and designers and marketers are pandering to it. The design of the car is fine, I quite like it, but the advertising and presentation is totally cringe.
      The people making the decisions are undoubtedly over forty (as you’d need to be that age to be in that position of authority, but I guarantee you some youngster in marketing came up with the idea. It’s worth noting the design of the car, and how it’s marketed and sold are two separate things. The design studio doesn’t get involved in that.

      1. Adrian, I pick a fight with you and you don’t even call me a knobgobbler once? I am disappointed sir, highly disappointed.

        I am a *huge* fan of boxy wide-bodies ala the e30 m3 or golf Rallye. I also unironically love the Conan the Barbarian films. Most of my current cars were from the 80s so I am directly in the sights of this marketing campaign. The Hyundai n74 concept was the first time I really looked at Hyundai and wanted to buy a car they made. But yes, I agree the campaign and anything like it can fuck right off. I feel like a few car companies need to fire their marketing firms because of the level of cringe they bring, but cringe brings clicks too.

          1. That is better. I feel seen now, thank you. If I ever find myself back in the UK I’ll buy you a pint in whatever hybrid motorcycle repair shop and coffee shop/taillight pub/post industrial warehouse converted to a indie knitting studio you frequent.

  2. “Millennials only think it’s cool because the internet told them so, and they’re so used to living online that they don’t realize there’s a whole load of context and history they’re missing out on. I regularly have to implore my students to go to the library when doing their research. The fact that the entire history of everything isn’t contained online is a completely alien concept to them.”

    This quote reminds me of a similar one from Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hr Bookstore. The main character is speaking with a Google employee about how OK (old knowledge) is more valuable and there is considerably more of it than what’s online. Pretty cool book if anyone hasn’t read it!

        1. RSA is more electronic than Communion, but that’s where the genre is at the moment. There are others, but they don’t update as often or only feature older stuff.

  3. Yeah, KAL007. Fucking Soviet pilots shot it down without so much as a visual confirmation.
    No matter what crap the USSR pulled with it’s aircraft testing our air defenses, our guys were under strict orders to get a visual before launching. ( See F-15 “Eagle Eye”).
    Petrov should have gotten the Nobel Peace Prize for his actions. But, no, they would rather give it to a moronic politician who never did ANYTHING.

  4. I love the Adrian Clarke hot takes, please make these a regular column.

    Having already taken my username from one of your previous articles or maybe it was from a comment, could someone please register as Jesus Helicoptering Christ!
    I’m going to have start using Clarkeisms in my everyday vocabulary.

  5. Dear Adrian, this is gold! Thank you so much.

    That I should be sitting here in my sofa in january and reading this generational manifest statement.. I feel very lucky I followed Jason and David to this new corner of the internet!

    Yes, I was also born in 1973, but my life if this here gated community smallest scandinavian country was always easy, only having to choose between being a rock musician and a dedicated art school student, and then making loads of cool stuff and design money from the late nineties to well past ten years into the next millenium. For me the 90ies was just so wonderful, they completely wiped all the 80ies grimness from my mind.

    Two years ago, when all you could do was staying home, I actually watched Threads. It’s much like Cannibal Holocaust actually: It’s really great, but your life will probably be better, if you don’t watch it.

    Thanks again. Keep being you, we love it!

  6. I wonder if it’s a bad childhood that breeds a rejection of nostalgia (would make sense). Mine sucked, too, and I have never suffered from the insipid, often expensive disease. Friends I had with good childhoods have shelves of childhood toys (or ones they wanted, but didn’t have at the time) that sit around collecting dust like regretful reminders that life requires evolution. Personally, I hated being a kid—I was too small to protect people and I couldn’t wait to drive and get a job so as to not be dependent on my mother, leaving her feeling free enough to leave my POS father. I like the aesthetics of old things (I’m 1976, so older than that), but understand their limitations. My grandfather (1913-2016 and a truly terrible childhood) would talk about the happier times of his past going to speakeasies and making bathtub gin, but if I expressed too much interest in something from those times, he’d ask why I wanted that old junk. It took me a few years to understand what he meant, but he was right. It’s nice to remember the good things in the past, but not lose sight of the bad, like the TB nurse who I think was the love of his life—not my grandmother—dying of TB, because to do otherwise locks us into a stasis in regards to personal growth instead of understanding the more important things we overcame to become what we are now in the present, which is where we live (in my case, when I had PTSD, I was too much stuck in the past in the other direction with only thinking about the negative and where I could have done more or better, which is worse than rose-colored reverence of what we call nostalgia today and closer to its original use pertaining to soldiers who missed being at war, though “missed” is overly simplistic).

  7. Ha.I’m of the same era as you and have the same overall feeling about the 80s. Hell I made a comment about parachute pants here and got schooled by someone saying they are back in school.

    It’s fine. The younger generation cherry picked what they liked about the 80s. I suppose we may have cherry picked what we liked about the 50s (bubble gum rock, poodle skirts, huge tail fins, ???) when living thru them probably sucked for most people.

    1. I see highschool kids walking around wearing jncos and gothy stuff and all that early 90s crap and I just fucking laugh. Good on em, but back in my day we just bought too big work clothes and hacked the cuffs off because baggy pants cost too much.

  8. “…following that with adaptations of all manner of boob-tube dross that don’t stand up to contemporary viewing. … The Fugitive…”

    Scene – dam overflow pipe

    Maymar – “THE FUGITIVE WAS GOOD!”

    Adrian – “I DON’T CARE!”

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