The 1980s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Topics in the News
The 1980s Lifestyles and Social Trends: Topics in the NewsCONSUMERISM: THE NEW GREAT AMERICAN PASTIME
THE RISE OF THE "YUPPIES" AND DRESSING FOR SUCCESS
THE HEALTH CLUB CRAZE AND FITNESS STYLE
FROM THE PREPPY LOOK TO STREET FASHION
THE HOMELESS CRISIS
FOCUSING ON CHILD ABUSE
THE ANTINUCLEAR MOVEMENT
THE EVANGELICAL MOVEMENT AND THE WORLD OF POLITICS
THE NEW AGE MOVEMENT
CONSUMERISM: THE NEW GREAT AMERICAN PASTIME
In 1981, President Ronald Reagan (1911–) set the tone for an increase in spending by American consumers by celebrating his inauguration with eleven million dollars' worth of pageantry and balls. It was a signal to the nation that glitter was back in style. First Lady Nancy Reagan soon oversaw expensive renovations at the White House and ordered a new set of White House china that cost more than two hundred thousand dollars. Although none of these expensive projects was financed with public funds, the Reagans were criticized for an extravagance that seemed inappropriate during the economic recession (short period of economic decline) that plagued the early 1980s. Yet the "small is beautiful" philosophy that had charmed some in the 1970s was put aside for good in the decade that followed.
All across the United States there was a huge assortment of goods and services to buy. As the president reminded Americans, the only limits they had were those they imposed on themselves. "We are living in a material world, and I am a material girl," Madonna sang in her 1985 hit "Material Girl." The song served not only as her theme song that decade, but as one for American shoppers, as well. With thousands of malls, supermarkets, and restaurants to visit, everything necessary for the good life appeared to be for sale. And Americans bought.
Various observers began to assert that shopping had become Americans' favorite leisure activity. During a five-year period at mid-decade, the 91 million U.S. households purchased 62 million microwave ovens, 63 million VCRs, 57 million washers and dryers, 88 million cars and light trucks, 105 million color television sets, 31 million cordless phones, and 30 million telephone answering machines. It was the greatest spending spree in America since the boom that followed World War II (1939–45). Surveys showed that Americans were spending more time in malls than anywhere else except home, job, or school. They made seven billion trips in and out of shopping centers every year. By 1985, there were more than twenty-six thousand shopping centers in the country, with total annual purchases at those centers reaching $1 trillion.
The shopping mall was challenged by one unexpected competitor: home shopping. In a trend that began in the 1960s and increased in the 1980s, businesses both large and small moved into American homes via mail-order catalogs. Department stores, art museums, various nonprofit charitable groups, and new mail-order outlets began competing with old-time mail-order companies such as Sears, Montgomery Ward, and L. L. Bean. Another complement to home shopping was the emerging phenomenon of television channels such as Home Shopping Network and QVC Network. The home-shopping industry grew from sales of $1 million in 1982 to sales of $1.4 billion by 1989. Home shopping was made especially easy by credit cards. By the mid-1980s, the average credit card holder carried seven cards; the number of Mastercard and Visa charge cards held by American consumers was estimated to be 125 million. Credit cards were directly responsible for an explosion in consumer debt during the decade.
Perhaps the most popular toy sold in the United States in the early 1980s was Rubik's Cube. Invented in the 1970s by Ernö Rubik, a Hungarian professor of design, Rubik's Cube was the most challenging (and for many people, infuriating) puzzle ever to achieve mass-market success. The sixsided cube was composed of twenty-six smaller cubes or "cubies." Nine cubies, separated into three horizontal and three vertical rows, made up a side. When the cube was purchased, each of the nine cubies on a side was of a uniform color, different from those on the other sides. After the horizontal and vertical rows were rotated randomly, the cube would end up a jumble of colors. The point was to restore the cube to its original state, with all the colors uniform on each side. Most people had no idea how to do it. Some spent hours, if not days, rearranging the cube in dozens of the more than forty-three quintillion possible positions other than the one correct position before achieving success or giving up altogether.
The puzzle could be solved, of course, as Rubik and many others demonstrated. People who had figured out a system for solving the puzzle wrote best-selling books on how to do it. Contests with lubricated cubes were held around the world to see who could solve it in the fastest time. In 1982, in a world championship contest in Budapest, Hungary, a high-school student from Los Angeles solved the puzzle in 22.95 seconds.
With international sales of the cube in the millions, Rubik soon became the richest person in Hungary.
THE RISE OF THE "YUPPIES" AND DRESSING FOR SUCCESS
Inspired by a victory in World War II (1939–45) and increasing economic prosperity, America experienced a boom in the birth of babies following the war. The millions of Americans born between the years 1946 and 1964 have been labeled by the media and others as baby boomers. When they came of age in the 1960s and 1970s, they were faced with an unpopular war in Vietnam, rising social unrest, rights movements by minorities and women, governmental scandals, energy crises, and a poor economy.
As the recession (short period of economic decline) of the early 1980s gave way to economic prosperity in America, many baby boomers responded enthusiastically to the call of President Ronald Reagan (1911–) to invest in the American economy. A concern for social justice was soon replaced by a need for success in the minds of many baby boomers. Very materialistic, they focused on careers and the good life promised by the American Dream. By mid-decade, these young, educated, city-dwelling baby boomers were called "yuppies" (y oung u rban p rofessionals), and the name stuck.
The women's liberation movement (also referred to as feminism or the women's rights movement) in the 1970s had been marked by two triumphs: The 1973 Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which protected a woman's right to choose an abortion, and the congressional approval of the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) in 1972. Both these victories came under heated attack in the 1980s. A decisive sign of the power of the backlash against the women's movement was the defeat of the ERA in 1982.
The ERA, which stated that "equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex," needed the approval of three-fourths of the states before it could become an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The deadline for approval or ratification was June 1982. Its supporters argued there were many forms of discrimination against women, which could be stopped only by an explicit constitutional guarantee of women's equality. Public-opinion polls showed that the majority of women and men favored the measure, and by 1977, thirty-five of the thirty-eight states required for its ratification had already given their approval.
Yet by the late 1970s, the ERA campaign had lost momentum, and partly because a determined opposition had arisen. Opponents of the amendment argued that women's rights were already protected by laws. Passing the ERA, they asserted, would give far too much power to the federal government. In addition, it would further serve to blur gender roles already challenged by the feminist movement. In the end, despite broad public support, the ERA failed to gain approval in the three final state legislatures necessary for its ratification.
The defeat of the ERA, the rising influence of antiabortion groups, and a growing criticism of feminism in general soon led many to believe that the women's liberation movement was on the decline. Despite this, polls at the end of the decade showed a large majority of Americans still supported the principles of equal rights for women and of a woman's right to choose abortion. At the same time, most women also believed that feminism had significantly improved their lives.
Defined by one research group as people between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-nine, with incomes of at least forty thousand dollars from a professional or management job, yuppies were estimated to total four million in 1984. By less restrictive definitions, estimates of the number of yuppies in the United States reached twenty million. Whatever their number, they became highly visible and much discussed. Many considered them to be the trendsetters of their generation. Celebrating their increasingly high profile in American life, Newsweek magazine dubbed 1984 "The Year of the Yuppie."
During the 1980s, many yuppies enrolled in business schools and pursued an M.B.A. (master's of business administration). Declared the yuppie degree, the M.B.A. was seen as a passport to high pay and rapid advancement in corporate America. Enrollment in business schools increased dramatically in each year in the decade. In 1984 alone, an estimated two hundred thousand students were pursuing an M.B.A. At least one-third of those were women.
Not all yuppies earned M.B.A. degrees, but they did tend to share a fairly identifiable lifestyle. Most yuppies lived and worked in metropolitan areas, the centers for the high-paying jobs they usually sought. They seemed to be hard-driving overachievers who thought little of working late at the office, bringing work home, and working weekends if necessary. Yuppies placed a high importance on appearance. Living by the motto "dress for success," men were frequently seen wearing business suits from upscale stores such as Brooks Brothers, carrying shiny leather briefcases, and checking the Rolex watches on their wrists. Women wore conservative navy or black blazers, knee-covering skirts, unadorned white blouses closed at the neck with a tied bow, and conservative low heels.
For more-relaxed occasions and on weekends, yuppie men and women wore trendy and fashionable Nike and Adidas running shoes and bought clothing from stores such as Banana Republic or catalogues such as L. L. Bean. They tended to dress as though they were off on a great outdoor adventure even while just running errands around the city.
THE HEALTH CLUB CRAZE AND FITNESS STYLE
A healthy escape from the demands of a busy professional life, exercise became the new pastime for both men and women in the 1980s. Yuppies in particular were health conscious. Some jogged, continuing the trend from the 1970s, while many others joined health spas or clubs. Capitalizing on the yuppies' interest in their physical appearance, the upscale health clubs offered high-tech, computerized equipment and all the latest exercise machinery. In addition, they offered personal trainers, aerobics classes, racquetball courts, squash courts, swimming pools, steam rooms, saunas, and masseurs and masseuses. Many featured fresh juice bars as well, satisfying the yuppies' desire for natural foods and nutrition. Since many clubs were coed, the management often played up the social possibilities of membership. Indeed, for many yuppies, health clubs seemed nearly to replace singles' bars as prime places to meet members of the opposite sex.
Trying to prove their competence in the professional world, women transferred this sense of competition into improving their appearance. They became immersed in body improvements that began with aerobic dance classes and sometimes led to surgical changes such as cellulite removal, tummy tucks, and face peels. Clothes of the decade were greatly influenced by this obsession. The exercise gear that women (and men) wore to aerobics classes was soon seen on the street as well. The new fabrics were comfortable, breathable knits: cotton fleece and shimmering spandex that hugged the skin, showing off newly formed arm muscles and lean legs. The fabrics were used in everything from stirrup pants, leggings, tights, tank tops, midriff-baring tops, bicycle shorts, and jogging suits. One-piece bodysuits or other body-hugging items were layered with loose sweatshirts or T-shirts ripped to reveal a shoulder, as seen in the 1983 movie Flashdance.
FROM THE PREPPY LOOK TO STREET FASHION
While many women in the 1980s opted for an athletic look on weekends, many men dressed in what was called a "preppy" style. Like their weekday business attire, this style of clothes reflected the conservative values and the importance of appearing to be wealthy that many sought in the decade. With classically styled jeans, khakis, or long shorts, men sported the typical preppy shirt: the polo shirt (also called a tennis shirt) with a three-button placket, ribbed collar, and a small logo (polo player, alligator, or royal crest) on the left breast. The ever-present logo, which altered depending on the brand of shirt, became one of the many status symbols of Americans. People were so concerned with emblems of their financial success that a plain shirt was often difficult to find.
The preppy style recalled the clothes traditionally worn by students in Eastern collegiate or preparatory schools (hence the name preppy): tan khakis; rugby shirts; turtlenecks; white, pink, or pale blue button-down oxford shirts; navy blue blazers; and penny loafers, often worn without socks as The Official Preppy Handbook (1980) suggested. The look also included the popular tennis sweater (a white V-neck with blue-and-burgundy
trim on the waist and neck) and leather moccasins called "docksiders."
The style suggested wealth, echoing leisure activities of the rich such as sailing, golf, and tennis. Because it became accessible to almost any consumer in mall stores such as J.C. Penney or The Gap, it lost some of its impact. Shopping by mail was common in the 1980s, and catalogues such as those of J. Crew and L. L. Bean also stocked preppy clothes for those who could not or did not want to spend the money on an "authentic" polo shirt from American fashion designer Ralph Lauren's collection.
The Cocaine Crisis
In the 1980s, few subjects were in the news as much as cocaine. There were two main stages to the growing problem of cocaine use in the United States. During the early part of the decade, many people considered cocaine a harmless, even glamorous, "recreational" drug that was nonaddictive. It was the drug of choice of the famous and successful: professional athletes, celebrities in the arts and entertainment, lawyers, university professors, and Wall Street brokers. They were among the few who could afford the high-priced drug. Sometimes called the "champagne of drugs," the white powder became a status symbol at yuppie parties.
By 1985, twelve million people in the United States were estimated to be frequent cocaine users. Statistics began to appear that showed an increase in cocaine-related crimes. Drug gangs, which controlled the trafficking of cocaine in the country, fought each other for control of territories. Drug-related homicides skyrocketed and hospital emergency rooms were filled with the maimed victims of the drug wars.
That same year, a sinister new form of cocaine appeared on the streets of American cites: crack. Crack was an easily made, smokable form of cocaine that was much cheaper and far more addictive than powder cocaine. It spread quickly and disastrously through inner-city neighborhoods. Young, poor minority males saw dealing the drug as a means to escape the ghetto. Crack was seen as the aggravating cause in the rise of domestic violence, child abuse, homelessness, school violence, and dropout rates across America.
In response to the growing drug crisis in the country, President Ronald Reagan established the Office of National Drug Control Policy in 1988. Its director became known as the nation's "drug czar." Nationwide, the "war on drugs" became a principal topic of discussion and concern. The U.S. Congress passed stiffer drug laws, and the federal government tried harder to prevent the smuggling of cocaine into the country. Eventually, U.S. military forces were sent to capture Colombian "drug lords" and to destroy their coca crops (cocaine is extracted from the leaves of the coca plant).
Far removed from the preppy style was the fashion trend of taking clothes worn by America's youth and adding a designer touch. Street fashion became high fashion. Oversized clothing, stone-washed and acid-washed jeans, T-shirts, leather, and multiple ear piercings, once limited to youth, were in the mainstream of adult fashion by the end of the decade. Women began to combine the street-inspired look of ripped jeans or gelspiked hair with the more elegant yuppie style of a blazer and Chanel bag (or other such combinations) in a merging of the styles characteristic of the late 1980s.
Inspired by the musical styles of punk and rap, this fashion attitude was in direct opposition to that of wearing a certain style of clothes in an effort to show off one's wealth. The objective with street fashion was to look as if one did not have money to spend on clothes or just did not care how one looked. Oversized clothes were part of the trend that included old jeans, men's undershirts, thrift-shop overcoats, and dark sunglasses. Young people purposely tore their shirts or treated their jeans with bleach or acid to give them a lived-in or old look.
Eventually this ragged, low-cost look caught on and entered the mainstream and became a sign of spendable income, as demonstrated by the widespread popularity of acid-washed jeans. These worn-looking jeans sold in catalogues and mall stores for as much as, and in many cases far more than, newlooking jeans. Faded denim in pants, skirts, and jackets became stylish and even chic as American designers began to offer this look in their collections.
THE HOMELESS CRISIS
After the Great Society social programs of President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908–1973) in the 1960s, many Americans believed that homelessness was no longer a serious problem in the United States. In the 1980s, however, the number of homeless Americans grew dramatically, and their plight came to be recognized as one of the leading social problems of the decade. Homeless people, often called street people, became an increasingly frequent sight in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., and many other major cities.
Men and women of all ages, individuals and families from varied backgrounds and circumstances, shabbily dressed and hungry, began roaming city streets, sleeping on benches in summer and on heating grates or in crowded public shelters in winter. Estimates of the number of homeless people ranged from three hundred thousand to as many as three million. Because, by definition, the homeless had no permanent addresses at which they could be contacted and counted, statistics were never reliable. Most social observers believed that the number of homeless individuals grew in the decade by almost 25 percent per year.
Homelessness has been a problem throughout American history, particularly after the rise of industrialization in the nineteenth century. Experts who grappled with the problem in the early 1980s found it hard to
explain why the homeless population in America had grown so large and why it had grown so suddenly. The debate about the causes of this homelessness was politically charged and never fully resolved. Almost all participants agreed, however, that no single cause lay behind the crisis.
Most supporters of the homeless were fierce critics of the administration of President Ronald Reagan (1911–). They believed his economic and social policies were one of the main reasons for the rising crisis. They blamed cuts in social-welfare programs such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) for pushing many individuals into the position of being unable to make rent payments. Critics of the Republican administration also condemned dramatic cuts in federal assistance for subsidized low-income housing.
At the same time, most people agreed that other economic forces also contributed to the homeless problem. For example, some of the homeless were working people whose low wages, frequently from minimum-wage jobs, did not allow them to keep up with the rising cost of living, much less the rising price of housing. Experts also pointed to a continuing nationwide decline in manufacturing jobs, which in many cases forced displaced workers to take lower-wage positions.
Hands Across America
In a human chain stretching from New York City to Long Beach, California, more than five million people grasped hands on May 25, 1986, to focus the nation's attention on and raise money for poverty, hunger, and homelessness. Hands Across America stretched more than four thousand miles across sixteen states and through five hundred cities. Celebrities such as comedian and actor Bill Cosby, filmmaker Steven Spielberg, and singer Frank Sinatra took part in the event as both planners and participants. Although organizers hoped to raise fifty million dollars, only thirty-three million was donated. After expenses, only sixteen million dollars remained for distribution to groups aiding the poor and the homeless.
As homelessness grew in the 1980s, many groups worked on behalf of the homeless, urging federal officials to take measures to ease their burden. The U.S. Congress held hearings about the homeless crisis and passed several pieces of legislation. The most significant act authorized the spending of $1 billion in 1987 and 1988 (only six hundred million dollars was actually set aside) and included twenty provisions for homeless aid, including emergency-shelter funds, health care, and job training. President Reagan reluctantly signed this bill into law in 1987.
As the decade progressed, though, so did the crisis. Despite increased national awareness of the problem and various legislative and charitable efforts, the number of homeless people remained large. By decade's end, while the nature of the crisis and its possible solutions continued to be debated, public interest in the issue began to diminish.
FOCUSING ON CHILD ABUSE
Child abuse arose as a serious social issue in the 1980s. It generated intense media attention, heightened public concern, congressional hearings, numerous books and articles, and increased workloads for child-protective-service (CPS) agencies. In 1984, the American Humane Association (AHA) estimated that there were 1.7 million abused or neglected children in the United States. Although experts disagreed about the total numbers of abused children, there was broad agreement among professionals that the problem in America was widespread and probably growing.
One factor that helped to account for the increase in reported cases was that nearly all states at the beginning of the decade required social-service professionals who had contact with children to report any case of suspected child abuse. Among reported cases of child mistreatment, neglect was found to be the largest problem, representing 63 percent of all cases. This was followed closely by cases of physical abuse and sexual abuse.
Public concern about the issue of child abuse was inflamed by news of sexual-abuse charges against adults in the Boy Scouts of America organization and against the clergy of various religious groups. Several highly publicized cases, including the McMartin Preschool sexual-abuse case, increased nationwide concern about the safety of nursery schools and day-care centers.
In 1984, teachers at the McMartin Preschool, a well-known, highly respected preschool in the upscale community of Manhattan Beach, not far from Los Angeles, were accused of sexually abusing children in their care. According to the criminal charges brought against seven teachers at the school, during a period of years, hundreds of three-, four-, and five-year-old children had been sexually abused, sometimes in bizarre rituals. Shortly after these allegations became public, claims surfaced that similar abuse had occurred at other preschools in the area. The shocking charges in the McMartin trial made national headlines, and the case became a national obsession. Seven years after it started, the McMartin trial, the longest in U.S. history, ended with the acquittal (found not guilty) of all the defendants. Despite the verdict, many people believed sexual abuse had occurred at the preschool.
To help stem the tide of child abuse, efforts were made to educate children to the signs and dangers of possible abuse. Board games such as Strangers and Dangers and Safe City, U.S.A., as well as various flashcards and coloring books flooded the market. Saturday-morning cartoon shows featured public service announcements warning children not to get into strangers' cars. At some schools, children attended classes instructing them what to do if someone tried to fondle them sexually. Some psychologists thought these methods were useful to educate children and their parents about important issues, but some disagreed, believing the methods only terrified many children.
THE ANTINUCLEAR MOVEMENT
In the early 1980s, the idea of a nuclear war with the Soviet Union began to haunt the American public more forcefully than at any time since the Cuban missile crisis of October 1962 (a thirteen-day period when the United States and Russia came to the brink of nuclear war over the placement of Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba). Warning of a threat by the Soviet military and calling the Soviet Union "the focus of evil in the world," President Ronald Reagan (1911–) oversaw a military buildup of over $1 trillion that specifically included new generations of nuclear weapons. At the same time, the Soviet Union continued to add aggressively to its own nuclear arsenal.
In the United States, defense officials spoke of fighting a "protracted" nuclear war, while military strategists suggested nuclear war was "winnable." In a 1983 Gallup poll, 40 percent of those Americans questioned thought it likely a nuclear war would occur within ten years. In November of the same year, when ABC broadcast The Day After, a fictional dramatization of a nuclear attack on Kansas City, one hundred million Americans tuned in.
Angered by the accelerating arms race in a world where fifty thousand nuclear warheads already existed, many people began to protest the military policies of the Reagan administration and the Soviet leadership. Spearheaded by existing groups such as the Committee for a Sane Nuclear Policy (SANE), the growing antinuclear movement brought together new peace organizations at local and state levels. The movement won the support of activists and volunteers from all walks of life and in all areas of the country.
One popular proposal of these groups called for an immediate halt to the arms race, a "freeze" on all nuclear weapons testing, production, and deployment. Once the freezing of arms levels was achieved by both super-powers, proponents called for determined arms-control negotiations. In 1982, public-opinion polls showed that a weapons freeze was supported by 70 percent of Americans. Freeze propositions were placed on many state ballots and approved in some states. The freeze movement also won the support members of the U.S. Congress, as well as distinguished diplomats.
Antinuclear activists held rallies, lobbied Congress, supported profreeze candidates for public office, sponsored public seminars, published books and articles, and spoke on television and radio. Prominent in the movement were such well-known peace activists as pediatrician Benjamin Spock (1903–1998) and physicist Linus Pauling (1901–1994). Members of the antinuclear movement also opposed the building of new nuclear power plants in the United States.
The Reagan administration paid little attention to the antinuclear movement, except to suggest it was wrong. The administration never supported the idea of a nuclear freeze, arguing that it would lock the Soviet Union in a position of nuclear superiority. Reagan believed the only way to achieve serious arms control with the Soviet Union was to show an unwavering determination to continue the U.S. nuclear buildup. After Mikhail Gorbachev (1931–) came to power in the Soviet Union in 1985, tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union lessened. Subsequent negotiations between Gorbachev and Reagan produced nuclear-arms treaties, substantially reducing the threat of nuclear war.
THE EVANGELICAL MOVEMENT AND THE WORLD OF POLITICS
The growth of evangelicalism and fundamentalism in the 1980s was a religious phenomenon that extended into American culture and politics. Known by many names (born-again Christians, evangelicals, Pentecostals, the New Religious Right) these Christians, mostly Protestants, grew in numbers like no single Protestant denomination.
Evangelicals are Protestants actively involved in converting others to their religious beliefs. They have conservative beliefs toward religion and issues of morality, they may or may not interpret the Bible literally, and they are not opposed to interacting with other Christian churches. A survey taken in 1986 showed that 31 percent of Americans identified themselves as evangelicals. The leading evangelical preachers of the era were Jimmy Swaggart, Jim Bakker, Oral Roberts, and Robert Schuller.
Fundamentalists are militant evangelicals. They believe modern society is sinful, interpret the Bible literally, and separate themselves from other Christian groups that do not completely share their beliefs. The premier fundamentalist preachers of the era were Jerry Falwell, James Robison, and Marion "Pat" Robertson.
Fundamentalists actively pursued an entrance into the world of American politics in the 1980s. In 1979, televangelist (television preacher) and fundamentalist Jerry Falwell had founded the Moral Majority, a religious organization whose goal was to mobilize Christian believers for conservative political purposes. The Moral Majority formed chapters and local affiliates in all fifty states and sought to register conservative or Republican voters. Its aim was to influence elections, support conservative candidates, and combat liberal or Democratic groups whom, it believed, had come to dominate the nation.
Joining Falwell in his crusade to change the moral views of American politics was Marion "Pat" Robertson. A televangelist and head of the Christian Broadcasting Network, Robertson announced in October 1987 his intention to run for the Republican presidential nomination the following year. Although he garnered some support, mostly from conservative Christians, Robertson was labeled an extremist by his opponents for his religious solutions to the cultural problems of the nation. He failed to win the nomination, but did help strengthen the conservative religious forces in the Republican Party.
As televangelists and fundamentalists assumed higher public roles, they also came under greater public scrutiny. Many were criticized for their million-dollar empires and lavish lifestyles. Some, like Jim Bakker, head of the PTL (Praise the Lord or People That Love) empire, were forced to resign when news of their adulterous affairs and theft were revealed. In 1989, Bakker was sent to prison for having defrauded his followers of more than $158 million.
THE NEW AGE MOVEMENT
The New Age movement was not a religion as much as it was a blend of several Eastern philosophies. Initially somewhat of a fringe movement, New Age broke into the mainstream in the mid-1980s and soon found its way into contemporary society in several ways. New Age music, speakers, and books became readily available across the United States as stores selling New Age materials multiplied. New Age became an immensely profitable endeavor, as well as a somewhat contradictory one. The contradictions arose because the movement's teachings of individuality, oneness with nature, and simple lifestyles clashed with its commercial obsession and use of the media and celebrities. Curiously, the movement was easily accepted by Americans, many of whom either already belonged to an established church or professed no religious belief at all.
The Harmonic Convergence
No single event symbolized the New Age movement of the 1980s more than the Harmonic Convergence. The Convergence was marked by a gathering of 144,000 people at more than 350 so-called sacred locations around the planet on August 16 and 17, 1987. Its goal was to generate a universal energy that would help create world peace and harmony. The rituals of dance, prayer, and prophecy were expected to reach out to the stars and attract extraterrestrial powers that would help people on Earth achieve peace.
The Convergence was organized by José Argüelles, an art historian from Colorado, who came up with the idea for the event after studying ancient Mayan and Aztec calendars. He claimed to have found patterns, or "great cycles," that occurred throughout the ages where Earth sent out a beacon to the stars and rejuvenated itself. He calculated that the time had come for another one of these great cycles. The Convergence drew media attention as well as ridicule from people in and out of the movement. In the end, no extraterrestrials were spotted at the Convergence, but followers still believed the power that they had unleashed in the two-day event would benefit the world.
The New Age movement avoided specific religious beliefs, but some of its basic principles included a belief in reincarnation, spiritual healing, out-of-body experiences, meditation, yoga, astrology, and some belief in the supernatural or extraterrestrial. The movement was not truly new in many senses because it borrowed from several earlier mystical or occult teachings. Native American Shamanism, early Christianity, and the counterculture or youth culture of the 1960s all played prominent roles in the movement.
Its largest influence, however, stemmed from Eastern religious traditions. Buddhism and Hinduism provided much of the structure of the new movement. Early New Age pioneers, such as Marilyn Ferguson, presented these various spiritual approaches in a simplified form to an American audience. Ferguson's 1980 book, The Aquarian Conspiracy, touched a chord in the American public because it gave a modern interpretation to ideas and mystic concepts that people had believed in for centuries. Surveys done in the late 1980s showed that about thirty million, or one in four, American adults believed in the idea of reincarnation. The movement exploded in 1987 when actress Shirley Maclaine brought her own story of New Age reincarnation to television in a miniseries.
Humanity acting as its own god was the core New Age belief. Preaching a message of self-love, New Age gurus stressed that every man, woman, and child was a spiritual entity and was interconnected with one another. They went so far as to claim that all people and nations, past and present, were interconnected in the cosmos. New Agers held political views that were primarily liberal to radical. A call to end nationalism (excessive devotion to a particular nation), opposition to nuclear weapons, and expansion of environmental awareness formed the core politics of believers.
The New Age movement was not a cult or an organized church because it possessed few temples or official places of worship. Instead, the movement was unified by an optimistic, simple message that appealed to millions of Americans in one version or another. The appeal of nonthreatening rituals, such as meditation and yoga, as well as celebrity endorsements drew in hundreds of eager participants.