Second Decade Off Topic: The ’80s (Jake’s 88 Special, Part III)

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This is a bonus episode which goes outside the parameters of the main Second Decade show.

This bonus episode, the third one released in conjunction with Sean Munger’s newly-released novel Jake’s 88 (which is set in the 80s), examines how the 1980s ended and the transition to a new decade. In the immediate aftermath of the collapse of Soviet satellite states in Eastern Europe, the year 1990 begins with an invasion of Panama by the United States to terminate the troublesome narco-dictator Manuel Noriega, an episode that serves as a sort of dress rehearsal for a much more consequential conflict that develops when another dictator, Saddam Hussein, invades Kuwait later in the year. In the meantime, American pop culture begins to change as the era of Cyndi Lauper and Madonna segues into a darker and seemingly less innocent time. In this episode you’ll learn how AC/DC and Guns N’ Roses helped topple a dictator, why Saddam viewed Kuwait as his personal ATM machine, how Bart Simpson and Al Bundy killed the family sitcom, and you’ll encounter guys in Ninja Turtle suits, vengeful Dignity Battalions, an overconfident Prime Minister, a movie with only four colors in it, and much more about the end of the century’s strangest decade.

Jake’s 88 is a coming-of-age romance set in the year 1988. It’s deeply steeped in the curious head space of the decade and loaded with pop culture references. It’s available here on Amazon Kindle and in paperback.

Additional Materials About This Episode

[Above] Chaos reigns in the streets of Panama City during the American invasion of December 1989. About 300 Panamanian military personnel and perhaps as many as 500 civilians were killed; U.S. losses were officially 23 dead and 325 wounded. The United Nations and the Organization of American States condemned the invasion, but many Panamanians welcomed the ouster of Noriega.

[Above] This iconic photo, taken by photojournalist Ron Haviv, shows Panama’s Vice-President Elect, Guillermo Ford, being savagely beaten at the hands of Noriega’s Dignity Battalions during the rigged elections of May 1989. This photo wound up reproduced all over the world and ignited outrage against Noriega. Read Ron Haviv’s own story about the genesis of this photo, here.

[Above] The most famous photo of Manuel Noriega, taken by the U.S. Marshal Service on January 5, 1990. Panamanians mocked Noriega’s scarred appearance by referring to him as “Pineapple Face.” If you look closely you can see he’s wearing a string of rosary beads. He was almost never photographed after this, and died in prison in 2017.

[Above] President George H.W. Bush meets with his advisers, left to right: Dick Cheney (Secretary of Defense), Colin Powell (in uniform), and John Sununu. The triumvirate of Bush-Cheney-Powell forged their military and political strategy during the Panama invasion, then deployed it again in the Persian Gulf in 1990. Cheney was instrumental in the decision by Bush’s son to attack Iraq again in 2003, in part because of a perception that the 1990-91 conflict did not “finish the job” by removing Saddam Hussein from power.

[Above] Margaret Thatcher meets with Bush in Aspen, Colorado. Thatcher was Bush’s most important confidante in the early days following Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait. Her insistence at drawing a “line in the sand” appealed to Bush’s instincts; he tended to see the invasion in moral, World War II-like terms. Thatcher was deposed in November 1990 during the run-up to the Persian Gulf War. Her successor, John Major, inherited the crisis.


The very first appearance of The Simpsons was as a series of cartoon shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show beginning in 1987. Note the odd appearance of the characters, which was refined in later iterations. After The Simpsons premiered in December 1989, the traditional form of the “family sitcom,” which dated from the 1950s, was almost instantly dead. The Simpsons was also the progenitor of numerous other satirical black-comedy cartoons that came out of the 1990s, marking the rise of animation that was no longer aimed solely at children.

[Above] Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles was crassly toyetic and bombed with critics, but it was a surprise hit upon its release at the end of March 1990, ultimately reaching #9 on the list of top grossing films of that year. It was one of Jim Henson’s final projects and, according to him, the most challenging. Two sequels and various reboots have followed the original picture, marking one of the early “tent pole franchises” of the 1990s. The studio that distributed it, New Line Cinema, reached its zenith in the early 2000s with the Lord of the Rings films, but then foundered in waves of litigation related to shady accounting practices that supposedly rendered even the highest-grossing films of all time as (technically) money-losers. What was left of the company was bought by Warner Brothers in 2008.

[Above] Warren Beatty’s bloated Dick Tracy was imagined, at least for marketing purposes, as “Batman 2.0,” and its distributor, Disney’s Touchstone division, clearly thought (or hoped) it would be just as big. It wasn’t. Though artful and creative, Dick Tracy was simply too bizarre to make the same sort of mark as Tim Burton’s 1989 blockbuster. Cinematographer Vittorio Storaro found shooting the picture extraordinarily challenging due to its deliberately limited color palette, which Beatty hoped would evoke the original 1930s comic strip. Dick Tracy made back its money but wasn’t the runaway hit that Touchstone had hoped. It was Beatty’s last commercially successful film.

[Above] An undisputed classic of American cinema, Martin Scorsese’s GoodFellas was released fairly quietly in September 1990 and did reasonably well at the box office before the onslaught of Kevin Costner’s Dances With Wolves, which did not find the same cultural resonance as GoodFellas despite being much more financially successful. GoodFellas is now regarded as one of the greatest motion pictures ever made and marked career high points for Scorsese, Robert De Niro, Joe Pesci (who won an Oscar), Ray Liotta and Lorraine Bracco. The podcast History by Hollywood has a wonderful episode examining the historical basis of the movie, here.

[Above] Trailer for my book, Jake’s 88.

All photos with the exception of the photo by Ron Haviv are believed to be in the public domain. I am not the uploader of any of the YouTube clips embedded here except the Jake’s 88 trailer. The cover of Jake’s 88 is copyright © 2018 by Sean Munger, all rights reserved.

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