There were several on the nose comparisons in 2022 to 1982, chiefly because it was forty years prior. Like multiple emails to Acorns subscribers on how investing in ’82 was similar to today according to the “greed” index. Or Natasha visiting her own birth on her fortieth birthday to save her Jewish family’s inheritance from groups of greedy thieves in Russian Doll Season 2.
But there was a plethora of veiled examples from pop culture of 2022 mirroring the values of greed and giving in 1982. Some instances of greed came from sources we would expect, like governments and corporations, but examples of giving came from unexpected places too, like individuals and… corporations.
A good summation of the year said: “Ok so let me get this straight. The #1 movie in the country is Top Gun, the #1 song is Kate Bush “Running up The Hill”, and America is in a proxy war with Russia? So we’re just like “f*** it, let’s give 1986 another go then?” Granted, ’86 was summarized instead of ’82, but the spirit of ’80s nostalgia and history in perpetuity is tangible. Stranger Things Season 4 breathed new life into Bush’s song, while breaking many records and creating indirect impacts. And memes like this point back to fun pop culture (and humorous hair and wardrobe) while allowing for frustration (really, Russia? Again?).
Politics: Land Grab Greed & Federal Fundraising with Weapons of Past Construction
Unprovoked, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022 at president Vladimir Putin’s command. Putin justified the invasion using UN Charter Article 51 (incorrectly), although when the U.S. suggested the identical “preventative self-defense” as an interpretation of the Article in the early 2000s, Russia opposed the addition. Many have seen Putin’s motives as a greedy land grab, which some believe contrasts Yuri Andropov’s rise to power in 1982.¹ But no one would argue that President Reagan didn’t initially prize peacemaking diplomacy with Andropov.
James Carden says, “The similarities between the early Biden years and the very early Reagan years are therefore hard to miss. Under President Biden, Russia hardliners dominate every high national-security office but one…” Carden suggests Biden appoint a diplomacy-minded representative as Reagan eventually did. But changing tactics can be difficult when long-time politicians are set in their ways.
Professor Vladislav M. Zubok warns the U.S. federal government’s current gerontocracy (“a governing body consisting of old people”) was a major contributing factor to the U.S.S.R.’s collapse. The Soviet leaders of the early ’80s “clung to power” and because Congress doesn’t have term limits, Zubok blames the “pernicious role of money” for keeping incumbents in office past their shelf life. Consolidating power and fundraising greed (often from corporations) means senior politicians are incentivized to sustain their lifestyle above representing the people. But 2022 witnessed the first Gen Z politician, twenty-five-year-old Maxwell Frost, elected to Congress. One of Frost’s many differences from his contemporaries was his willingness to raise campaign funds by driving for Uber. Regardless of his political party or ideologies, hopefully Frost is the precursor politician denying money a “pernicious role” in government.
Movie Money Making: The FunAmblinism of Quality and Taking to Give
Money also had a chokehold on the film industry, as William Goldman’s 1982 book Adventures in the Screen Trade described. The screenwriter was concerned that films with minimal substance (“comic-book movies”) were prioritized for profit. He joked, “[F]or the present, I think we may as well prepare ourselves for seven more Star Wars sequels and a half a dozen quests involving Indiana Jones. By the end of the decade, we may well be seeing E.T. Meets Luke Skywalker.” This hilariously shocking property prophecy underlines his deeper point: the studio system was “radically changing” and forever altered in 1982. For better or worse, this may be the reason we find ourselves with more media than we could ever watch and much of it a high percentage of crap.
Goldman wasn’t only speaking of true comic book movies like 1982’s enjoyably campy Swamp Thing but of, in his opinion, sci-fi like Blade Runner, Tron, and E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial. The incongruity of E.T. was that it surpassed Star Wars as the highest grossing film of all time ($619 million globally), but also garnered fifty-two awards, including four Oscars (and thirty-three additional nominations). Spielberg did become very rich, making half a million a day at E.T.’s height (with merch weirdness like Marty Merchant’s “E.T.’s Helping Santa”).
The ’80s phenomenon of paying to call 1–900 numbers made news in 1982 when one million people listened to NASA’s communication with space shuttle Columbia. As a taxpayer funded program, NASA must constantly prove its worth. So it was smart marketing to build the 2003 Mars rover “Opportunity” to look relatably human. And the 2022 Spielberg-produced documentary Good Night Oppy about the rover was surprisingly intriguing.
Director Ryan White joined the project because Spielberg was involved, but also out of love for a certain Reese’s Pieces loving alien. “We were always saying it’s like ‘E.T.’ meets ‘Wall-E’ meets ‘Her,’ because of the human-machine connection,” said White. The film acknowledges the engineers (not a faceless agency) designed Opportunity as a humanoid (i.e. E.T.) to curry public favor, but contrasts that manipulation with NASA’s project goal of gathering Mars data to prevent a similar cataclysmic end to Earth.
Interestingly, individuals like Spielberg and White are unearthing truths about a government agency engaging in manipulation in order to save the planet, while making money for film corporations and themselves. Yet, Spielberg has been extremely charitable, donating one million dollars to Ukrainian refugees earlier this year. In many ways, this documentary captures a complex gift to the public that Goldman could never have fathomed.
Moon Knight vs. Moon Knight vs. Moon Knight
I’m not sure what Goldman would have thought about the MCU, given his disparaging remark about “comic-book movies” having unsubstantial storylines. Greed has been a shallow but plentiful well for comic book writers, as seen in the villain’s motivations in both 1982’s “Moon Knight” and 2022’s Moon Night: The Midnight Mission. Although greed was indeed a focal point, the new Moon Night T.V. show was well written.
Moon Knight is the story of a man with a split personality who is given superpowers by the god Khonshu to protect and avenge others. The theme of fear of the Other (mentioned in 1980 vs. 2020) pops up repeatedly in the comic series collected as Moon Knight (1980-1984). But in the untitled 1982 Issue # 16, the mastermind villain, Alexander Latimer, compounds his xenophobia with greed. In a furthering-the-plot-monologue, Latimer explains his scheme: “I hardly believed that I would actually agree with a foreign power when they suggested I put up funds for a new building only to hide the fact that there is a nuclear bomb in a tunnel below… Leaving the U.S. ripe for a disastrous attack while we head West with a promise of a billion in gold!”
By 1982 American propaganda covered the shame of the Vietnam War and brought patriotism back.² So Latimer was portrayed as the worst scum because he was persuaded to be a turncoat. But the audience didn’t have to suspend disbelief about the allure of riches—anyone is susceptible to greed. Initially it’s written as the predictable condemnation of greed as a villain’s vice, but eighties ethics says greed is evil or virtuous depending on the motive.
In 1982, Moon Knight creator Doug Moench explained creating the character’s billionaire personality (Steven Grant): “I figured [Marc] Spector had to do something with all the loot he’d earned or acquired as a mercenary. Why not invent a new persona, a financier, and parlay the money into a fortune?”
I understand the wealthy crimefighter motif, but the methodology speaks volumes about the 1980s. Moench said that this new persona wasn’t created just to take ill-gotten gains and fund crime fighting, but was the character’s attempt to redeem and rebrand himself while exploiting others to amass wealth (“parlay”).³ But by 2022, Knight’s alter ego Steven Grant had evolved to believe his religious obligations were more important than love of money.
In 2022’s The Midnight Mission comic, villain Stuart Clarke hacks into Steven Grant’s bank account, deleting funds in an attempt to control Moon Knight. When confronted, Clarke gives the hero an ultimatum, “It’s all going! Everything! You’ll have nothing!” to which Moon Knight responds, “Nothing. Exactly. It means nothing to me. I am a priest. And no wealthy priest has ever been good.” Twenty-twenty-two has continued to expose the epidemic of American church leadership corruption as seen in “The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill” podcast and the SBC sexual abuse scandal—both of which are rooted in a desire to stay in power and keep pockets lined.
Initially good intentions often can’t overcome the allure of riches. In the 2022 Disney+ series, Marc explains his mercenary partner “got greedy” and killed everyone involved with their score. Mortally wounded, Marc was confronted by the god Khonshu who promised to make him the protector and avenger of the night traveler. But Marc isn’t the only avatar for a deity: the goddess Ammit inhabits Arthur Darrow in order to judge people before they’ve committed crimes.
It’s clear Darrow believes Ammit’s judgment is a gift to humanity, a cleansing of evil. But Ammit’s true motivation is a desire for power. How often we mistake an influential person (or entity) as a philanthropist when, sometimes even unbeknownst to themselves, it’s merely a greedy grab for power.
Music: Authenticity or Authoritarianism?
Predictably, record labels weren’t pleased in 1982 when sales dropped and the music industry changed in three major ways that didn’t (initially) add to their power. Writing for Rolling Stone, Christopher Connelly pointed out, “1982 was a bad year for the music business…Nevertheless, [t]elevision, adventurous radio formats and dance clubs helped bolster many unknown bands into considerable success, as consumers responded to the acts’ exposure and bought their records.” And one album, still the best-selling album of all time, Michael Jackson’s Thriller, perfectly encapsulated all three changes.
Jackson and most other musicians were attempting to break away from record label greed by being creative. This came in at least two ways: sound and lyrics. The characteristic ’80s synth sound took hold across every genre in 1982. Still emulated today, the main synth riff of Harry Styles’ 2022 “As It Was” is very ’82. In fact, musician Thomas CH remixed it “as if it had been produced in 1982 in L.A. studios.”⁴
That year’s other search for creativity was in lyrical authenticity. Granted, every year has fun anthems with ultimately meaningless lyrics. In 1982 it was “Shake it Up” by The Cars, “We Got the Beat” by The Go-Go’s and “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” by Joan Jett and the Blackhearts. In 2022 it’s been those like Kim Petras and Sam Smith’s “Unholy” (requiring eight songwriters) and “B.O.T.A. (Baddest Of Them All)” by Eliza Rose and Interplanetary Criminal.
But some artists also searched for deeper emotions. On “Baby Be Mine” Michael Jackson proclaimed, “I don’t need no dreams when I’m by your side; Every moment takes me to paradise.” But Charlene’s “I’ve Never Been to Me” was a confession to a discontented homemaker that striving after all the riches and travel and fame in the world also leaves one discontent. Charlene’s motivation to advise her friend to be satisfied is noble, albeit while talking about herself and her accomplishments a little too much. But the renouncement of greed and envy is clouded by lyrics like “Hey, you know what paradise is? It’s a lie,” which makes unhappiness seem more like bitterness.
When we contrast the two views of paradise, we may ask if paradise can be produced by a combination of Charlene’s advice to find contentment in our regular lives and Jackson’s promise of having the right person by our side? Either way, both examples show the artists attempting to give of themselves emotionally.
But even Jackson, with all his clout, almost wasn’t able to give Thriller its signature sound because record executives tried to rush the release to capitalize on Christmas sales. Thankfully Jackson and Producer Quincy Jones stuck to their guns and remastered each song prior to the release. Confidence in convictions is key. This isn’t a shallow takeaway that if you push back against corporate greed you’ll receive untold riches. Instead, we can see that each of us needs to know where to draw our line in the sand.
But, as Questlove said earlier this year, verbalizing our honesty around these emotions is equally important. “I think that before 2020, maybe 1969 was probably the banner year that people will remember most in history… I feel like this entire decade will be a paradigm shift and a redefining of what is expressed. Just the fact that [Maggie Rogers] feels free enough to be honest about her emotions. I know we’ve had the term emo or whatever in music or whatnot, but normally it’s almost like a way to ridicule.” I’ll revisit Questlove’s decade prophecy in 2029, but for now, he’s not wrong about authenticity in artistry.
Artists seem to be gaining more freedom in giving honest lyrics and songwriting, but the industry presses them to do more and more self-promotion. The video app Tik Tok has reshaped music, especially in 2022. Record labels say Tik Tok wouldn’t survive without their bands’ videos and Tik Tok says their platform is so important that labels can’t afford to ignore them. The dependency on videos originated in 1982 when MTV had tripled their subscriptions over their first year in business (i.e. the “television” Connelly mentioned).Others, like a Senior VP at Universal Music, embrace Tik Tok, saying it’s critical to artistic storytelling, while “[a]rtists like Halsey and Charli XCX have recently posted videos expressing frustration at being asked to make TikToks by their labels.” To Questlove’s point, artists have fought for freedom to express themselves lyrically (even if it doesn’t sell more records), but maybe we’re also witnessing their freedom to share their emotions publicly when labels are driving them too hard.
Library of Congress: Christians Can Change What Governments Can’t
Wayne Watts’ short but insightful book The Gift of Giving explains how to give back to God joyfully. Tithing continues to drop in American churches year after year as fund allocation, church attendance, and separation between personal and spiritual lives are questioned. And on the surface, Texas oil businessman Watts seems unrelatable, but his honest stories and humility are the perfect way to end this article.
Just because governments, corporations, and industries are prone to greed doesn’t mean Jesus can’t help individuals enact change through giving. Watts tells a story about letting his business partner set the price for his shares, and when the shares went from three dollars per barrel to thirty, friends expressed their condolences, yet he was at peace. Refreshingly, the author doesn’t have a follow up story of getting rich immediately because of his faithfulness. Instead, he just continued to tithe at church and help people, because he had learned to be content with the resources God was loaning him.
As I meditated on this story, I realized from Watts’ partner’s perspective the increase was a blessing. So often we’re focused on whether an experience is a blessing or trial based on our self-focused perspective. But many times, our costly trials can be blessings to others (although we are rarely privy to that view).
Amy Sherman’s epically-titled 2022 book Agents of Flourishing offers a framework to participate in God’s redemptive mission in six spheres of civilized life. She has very challenging words on greed and money management, then tells a beautiful true story. Philanthropy Roundtable’s “Culture of Freedom Initiative” was an experiment which reduced Jacksonville, Florida’s divorce rate by an astounding 24 percent. But it cost $5 million. When we think of the long-term devastating effects divorce has,⁵ especially on children,⁶ we are apt to say the project was very costly but seems worth it.
The often quoted line “half of all marriages end in divorce” is no longer correct.⁷ The highest surge of divorce in the United States was in the early ’80s with 1982 having a fifty-one percent divorce rate whereas now, in the early 2020s, the divorce rate is around forty percent. But more in line with our theme of greed and giving, Sherman says, “…research estimated that divorce and unwed parenting cost taxpayers some $112 billion annually.” Is it possible for Christians to lead the way, showing taxpayers that investing in proactive marriage programs can ultimately save much unhappiness, the need for some therapy, and…well, $112 billion annually?
It’s easy to quickly agree that we should help others, but it’s harder to swallow if we consider the cost to us personally. Haruki Murakami’s really weird 1982 book A Wild Sheep Chase explores this when the unnamed protagonist is asked to find a special sheep. The antagonist explains how he will be charitable if the hero takes the job but threatens him if he doesn’t accept. When charity is exploited by greed, giving becomes a cheap prop/tactic to get what one wants. Greed can have any number of drivers (such as power, wealth, or love) but true giving can only have one motivation: the betterment of others.
Giving it All We Got
The motivations behind examples of greed and giving in 1982 and 2022 may have met our expectations. And, in other cases, we may never comprehend the complexity behind the decisions that organizations and individuals have made. That idea of true giving being about the betterment of others goes against human nature, but may also be the only way the human race can survive.
E.T.’s story of a government that wanted to harness a living being for their own ends influenced a real agency to create a robot to collect data to save humanity. But maybe the problem was actually back on the green planet. What if the human race’s survival depended on conglomerates and individuals shirking their greed tendencies and leaning into habitual giving mindsets?
In 1982, the era hadn’t decided to be known as the decade of greed yet (that discussion will be in this series, years from now). There was still a choice open to the culture—and, by extension, pop culture’s proactive propaganda and reactive messaging. The choice was to either better the world by giving and supporting others, or to greedily make oneself rich. So the choice for 2023 is how to mold the decade of the 2020’s—but in what direction?
1. Andropov’s reign was short-lived, thus ’80s Russian leadership is typified by Mikhail Gorbachev (who died this year). At the time some said Andropov desired military retreats and no open wars; conversely, others compare Putin’s antagonistic foreign policy to Andropov (with Russians saying “Putin is Andropov today”).
2. As one Hasbro consultant said about the newly rebranded G.I. Joe, “In the sixties, we went too far. We can [now] take pride in America—that’s what this toy says: that we are Americans and we are going to protect ourselves” (David Sirota, Back to Our Future, p. 164). First Blood (1982), the first film in the Rambo franchise, is a perfect example.
3. To be fair, Moench goes on to say Spector finds his fantasy of wealth to be “less interest[ing] than he’d imagined.” But that’s not a recognition that greedily amassing wealth regardless of the end-goal is wrong: that’s just saying he ended up bored by the riches.
4. I mean, the song “Grapejuice” off Styles’ same 2022 album even has the lyric “nineteen-eighty-two.”
5. Pastor Miles Hansen gave a balanced sermon on divorce from Mark 10 (and one of the best sermons I heard in 2022).
6. Children in intact homes are physically and emotionally healthier, less likely to use drugs, alcohol, or commit delinquent acts, have (or cause) teenage pregnancy, or become impoverished, etc. See W. Bradford Wilcox, Why Marriage Matters: 26 Conclusions from the Social Sciences, New York: Institute for American Values, 2005, pp. 10-11.
7. Agents of Flourishing isn’t the only book to dispel misinformation propagated from the early ’80s: Superabundance: The Story of Population Growth, Innovation, and Human Flourishing on an Infinitely Bountiful Planet uses economic proofs to explain why the planet is thriving while the world population grows (as opposed to doomsayers like Bill Gates).