On August 19, 2020

The boys are back in town


By Dom Cioffi

Many memorable events occurred in the year 1986 – both good and bad – whose effects continue to resonate today.

During the late morning of Jan. 28, 1986, I was heading to the school cafeteria to grab an early lunch. I was standing in line making conversation with some friends when I noticed a commotion off to the side. Several students were piling on top of one another to get a view of a television the school had placed in the corner.

It was obvious that something major had occurred by the way people were acting. And then I heard another student’s voice blurt out, “The space shuttle just blew up!”

I wandered over to the TV and watched as the news station replayed footage from that horrible event. I remember how eerie it was to stand around so many students with no one saying a word.

The Challenger disaster felt like a punch to the gut. Even if you knew nothing about NASA or space exploration, that event cast a dark shadow on the country’s mass consciousness.

A little later in the year, another epic disaster took place when the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Station exploded in the Ukraine.

During testing, a series of human errors and computer malfunctions combined to unleash massive amounts of radiation into the environment.  Some 120,000 people were ultimately evacuated from surrounding areas. It was determined that it would take decades before the region could sustain life again. And while death tolls are difficult to calculate, it is estimated that between 9,000-16,000 people ultimately died as a result of the accident.

I remember scouting around my grandmother’s pond a year or two after the explosion and finding countless frogs that were missing limbs. Reports had said that fallout from the Chernobyl disaster floated over the polar ice caps and into New England and could have caused the deformations.

The year 1986 also saw the discovery of the pathogen bovine spongiform encephalopathy or Mad Cow Disease in the UK. Long before anyone had heard of coronavirus, Mad Cow was causing epic concern in Europe since infected cattle could pass the disease on to humans who ate beef products.

People did die, but not to a level that caused the kind of concern that we’re seeing with the Covid pandemic. And some good came of it, as farming practices were drastically altered.

A few other ugly events occurred in 1986 including the exposure of the Iran-Contra affair and the U.S. bombing of Libya. But some great things happened that year too.

For one thing, the Internet Mail Access Protocol was defined, which opened up the way for email.

In 1986, very few students had personal computers, which forced the majority of us into computer labs where we had to reserve time in order to get our work done. The idea of communicating from one computer to another via a mail system wasn’t even on our radar as a possibility.

Another positive event that began in 1986 was the launch of the Human Genome Project. This international scientific research project was tasked with identifying and mapping all of the genes of the human genome from both a physical and functional standpoint. Ultimately, at its completion (which happened in 2003), the venture started to allow scientists to fully understand diseases and thus develop more precise cures.

To this day, it remains the world’s largest collaborative biological project.

But of all these events, I hate to admit that the one thing that I remember most from 1986, is a party in my dorm.

It was a cold November night and one of my friends came running in with a new CD. He walked over to the stereo, took off what was playing, and launched what would become the party anthem for the rest of the year.

The song was “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)” by the Beastie Boys. Admittedly, I wasn’t a fan at first, but the beat and delivery were infectious, and it was only a matter of time before I was throwing beer and jumping on top of people while it played.

The Beastie Boys would go on to have an interesting and diverse career, which is highlighted in the new documentary “Beastie Boys Story,” directed by Spike Jonze.

This is an interesting film, which will undoubtedly have most viewers wishing they paid closer attention to what initially seemed like a group of drunk teenagers. There’s depth and purpose to their work, all of which is featured in this uplifting reprise.

An unruly “B+” for “Beastie Boys Story.”

Got a question or comment for Dom? Email him at moviediary@att.net.

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