Inside America: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

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During the Eighties Americans shopped till they dropped. Shopping malls continued to spread and banks were eager to distribute credit cards to consumers. By the mid-Eighties, the average American credit-card holder carried at least seven cards. Plastic money was everywhere. The easy credit, of course resulted in an explosion of consumer debt. People flocked to stores and malls more than ever.

In one six year period, American consumers bought 62 million micro-wave ovens, 63 million VCRs, 57 million washers and dryers, 105 million television sets, 31 million cordless phones, and 30 million telephone answering machines. Americans also bought 88 million cars and light trucks. Many of these consumer items were not even made in America.

Going to the mall became the favorite leisure-time activity of many Americans. But shopping did not stop at the mall. When they got home, Americans turned on their televisions and went shopping on TV as well. Now Americans didn't have to leave home to buy the products they wanted. They could call in and purchase items they saw on television using their credit cards. Credit cards were popular even with unemployed college students and poor working class people. Also retired seniors. The credit card industry was determined to make every American citizen, a militant consumer of goods and services, even if they had to pay high interest rates to keep using their credit cards. Personal bankruptcies began to sky-rocket, but the stigma of being bankrupt was becoming less and less as American economic values began to change dramatically.

The 1980's was a turning point for the American economy. It was a time were the massive use of credit and the accumulation of individual, corporate, and government debt took off to unprecedented levels never seen before in American history. More and more Americans used their credit cards simply to survive between unstable jobs, illnesses, and other personal accidents. A hidden form of digital welfare began to enter American society as plastic money became more and more available to anyone. The Third Wave was riding on this new form of plastic money which would soon become hooked up to digital computers.

The beginning of the personal computer age had started in the 1970's with the birth of the Apple II personal computer, but it was in the 1980's that the personal computer industry finally reached its full maturity. When IBM entered this new and growing market in 1981, the personal computer became a household item for many Americans. As more Americans bought computers the price of personal computers dropped sharply. By 1990, the personal computer industry was worth over 70 billion dollars. Demand for central processors, modems, monitors, and printers created many kinds of businesses and jobs, but the pace of innovation was so rapid that many computer companies could not manage the explosive growth easily. Rapid business booms and busts made life for many computer employees hard as they struggled to keep up with changes in the new digital industries with their faster and faster product cycles.

Soon the demand for new kinds of software also became explosive. Computers needed more and more programs to help them do more and more things. In 1980, an unknown software company, Microsoft obtained a computer operating system that had been developed by IBM for only $50,000. Microsoft made some adjustments and changed the software's name to MS-DOS. Unfortunately, IBM failed to retain the exclusive rights to the licensing of their DOS system, and by the early 1990's, Microsoft had become the computer industry's richest company, with almost 90 percent of
the world's personal computers running on MS-DOS. Soon, Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft quickly became the richest man in the world

With the arrival of the internet later in the Nineties, the stage was then set for users of personal computers to finally start talking to one another. This was a dramatic acceleration of a new kind of civilization with unknown rules that were still evolving on a day by day basis. Yet, even the development of this new cyberspace was seen by most American business as simply, yet another opportunity for increased consumption and for credit cards to make new inroads into newer kinds of buying and selling. The American consumption machine kept right on going.


It was the decade of the Yuppie. In order to keep buying, Americans in the Eighties became more focused than ever on making money. Many Americans went to college in order to get masters of business degrees so that they could get good jobs at big companies.

The YUPPIE lifestyle involved total dedication to one's career and a willingness to work many long hours in order to stay ahead. As more women entered the workplace, two-career families became common. The goal of making money replaced the ideals of social justice that had driven many young people in the Sixties and Seventies.

In 1985, Madonna released a song called " Material Girl. " It seemed to represent the desire of many Americans to acquire more and more things. Madonna was one of MTV's first big super-stars. But many others followed. Michael Jackson became one of MTV's hottest stars with the release of his music video " Thriller. " Break dancing on MTV made Michael Jackson a world icon. Pop Rock became a big money maker not only in America, but all over the world.

The Yuppie wore dark-colored business suits to work, these came to be called " power suits. " A typical power suit consisted of a white dress shirt, a silk tie, a tailored jacket, and leather wing-tipped shoes. Women also wore tailored jackets along with below-knee-length skirts and white blouses. It was important to Yuppies that others recognized their success at first glance. Therefore they wore expensive and noticeable items like Rolex watches and they carried their new cellular phones in fancy leather briefcases.

For men Ralph Lauren shirts and Calvin Klein underwear were popular. All Yuppies were great believers in physical fitness. Many felt that keeping physically fit would help them compete more effectively in the business world. Working out in gyms became part of the Yuppie culture.

While the Yuppies were busy building their careers and trying to impress people with their clean-cut, affluent style of dress, young generation X Americans were heading in a different fashion direction. Teen clothing styles in the Eighties reflected several influences. The Punk style which originated in the Seventies featured black clothing, leather jackets, and ripped jeans. American punks, male and female, wore earrings, sometimes several in one ear. They also pierced their noses and other body parts. They also dyed their hair in bright colors.

Yet, another teen fashion featured over-size clothes; and clothes that looked old. Faded denim became popular as did the practice of wearing torn shirts. This ragged, second-hand look known as Grunge was the opposite of the neat style worn by the older Yuppies. African American singers called Rappers added to this new fashion when they then began to wear brand-name sneakers without laces, and baseball caps turned sideways or backwards along with colorful sweat-suits.

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