The Beat of the Future: John Cusack, guestblogger

[Video: UP WITH PEOPLE "The Beat of the Future" halftime show, Super Bowl 1986]

Super Bowl XX. 1986. Bears vs. Patriots. New Orleans Superdome. One of the great joys of growing up in Chicago was watching Walter Payton turn a corner on nasty winter day.  The Chicago Bears were a wondrous team in '85/'86: full of great personalities, before any  originality in sports was reduced to the common rubble of brand, and a defensive line that rushed the quarterback like marauding beasts. They were Mongols.  

upw2.jpg The Jumbotron was still relatively new technology at that time—at least it still felt new.  I remember the slack-jawed horror when Reagan's mammoth speaking head filled the giant screen, draped in the pulsing stars and stripes. We were celebrating the apex of liberty and the human spirit and lots of other shit, apparently. His comforting tone was deep with menace.  I was with Tim Robbins and we got a bad case of The Fear, even though we had prepared for just this situation.

I remember witnessing the UP WITH PEOPLE halftime pageant terrified, with dilated pupils. It was a time when kids were ordered or bullied into attending high school pep rallies—with all that hateful homecoming gibberish.  

As you can see in this video now, watching the performance was like diving into an ocean of bad fashion and forced smiles. Dr. Pepper dancing and Mom Jeans from shore to shore... pre-Prozac in motion.... military ballet... Mandatory cheers and quasi-religious cult patriotics... the glory of the empire. A choreographed tribute to the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King. A celebration of diversity, unity, and fluorescent leggings.

Meanwhile, Reagan was dumping all the mentally ill and vets out on the streets to die,  as a direct result of his policies.  

upw3.jpg Reagan was a bona fide motherfucker (politically speaking) who—among many other horrible things (see Central America's massacres and bloodbaths)—launched the deregulation craze that began America's descent. But the triple-nuclear motherfuckers who shared his ideology and followed would make us nostalgic for his comparatively lesser evil.

The idea that America would one day feel homesick for the '80s was as alien to me then as that vast, choreographed grid of grinning dancers, goose-stepping to synthesizer blasts.

In the middle of the extravaganza, Dick Enberg's syrupy and wholesome voice echoed through the Superdome:

The beat of the future is all around us!
It's the players on the field
The kid in the stands,
dreaming of being out there himself some day
It's a feeling that's hard to describe!
And when you can't say it with words,
you can always say it with your feet.
"The beat of the future!," Up With People sang. "The sound of tomorrow, ringing in my ears!"

There was ringing in my ears, too. We were seated on the 50-yard line ten rows up. The three grams of psilocybin I gobbled before the game was the only thing that kept me sane.

Later that night in New Orleans, I met a zombie, but I got away without being bitten.


* "Smile Until it Hurts," a documentary on the "clean-cut, smile-drenched singing phenomenon" of Up with People.
* "Forever War: It's What's For Dinner," Michael Vlahos
* Another YouTube find: A montage of the preparation and performance of the SuperBowl XX Halftime show by Up with People, in the Superdome of New Orleans LA / January 86 by the UWP casts of 85-86.


  1. Good lord – that’s surreal. Favorite moment was the monstrous synchronized feet moving up and down the field.

  2. It’s like Busby Berkeley and John Hughes had an illegitimate love child who was raised in middle America.

  3. So, you’re saying that they’ve STOPPED forcing kids to attend pep rallies? Crotchety old man sez kids SHOULD be forced to endure all the stupidity and wasted time that I had to endure because…it’s made me what I am today – crotchety and old.

  4. it might not have been a zombie, but it sounds like something got it’s fangs into you.

    i knew there was a reason i never liked football. now i’ll be needing therapy for those half-time hell nightmares.

    blog on!

  5. I hate Reagan as much as the next 80’s survivor, but to be fair, the start of the de-regulation trend is usually placed in the Carter administration. FWIW.

    Was Marjoe Gortner connected with UWP? God, what a nightmare that time was.

      1. From a comment at the discussion at Snopes:

        “The Lanterman-Petris-Short Act (LPS) [was] passed by the legislature & signed into law in 1967 by Governor Ronald Reagan.” … “Federal funds for community mental health programs, which LPS assumed would pick up the slack, began drying up in the early 1980s, due to budget cutbacks in general.”

        And who was President in the early ’80’s? Saint Ronnie! What a coinky-dink!

  6. let’s not forget saint reagan’s handling of the AIDS crisis. ignoring the masses of people dying in your own country? thank you very fracking much. what an asshole he was.

  7. That was terribad! And here i was thinking about how terrible this years half time show was. I guess its a proud tradition of suckage!

  8. Finally, an antidote to my 10-year-old kid’s 80’s fascination. Let’s end this now before fanny packs return, okay?

  9. Great, Mr. Cusack.

    I was two years old at the time this was filmed, and even though toddlers are more than capable of getting THE FEAR, I’d love to hear your memories of the 2000’s — the decade in which some of us young bucks finally realized that much of the world was banal and malevolent.

  10. Good stuff. For the other people in the intersection of the Venn diagram showing fans of (American) football and BoingBoing, I highly recommend Post-Gonzo college football commentary of the highest order.

  11. Oh my god I remember watching this game and the horrified empathy I felt for some poor girl who went running up onto the stage all a smile only to go flying off it again landing on her kiester.

  12. A lot of people don’t understand why hardcore punk became so popular in the US during the early 80s (and why it became sort of a perennial scene in a number of smaller cities).

    This is why.

    1. Agreed… there is also a pretty strong strain of anti-punk sentiment during this time, I think, which helps show that punk was far more popular than people tend to think. There really was a full on war on punk in many ways, including the deal cut by the RIAA and the Senate, which gave them the tax on the cassette tape in exchange for the labeling system…

      John- This was a great piece on parts of the 80s that lots of people want to forget (which I guess is the whole goal of the marketing of retro culture, appropriating aspects that are seen as popular now, effacing the messy details) — “greed is good” individualism and the rise of the ultra-religious wing of the republican party, typified by Reagan and his more ardent supporters. Amen to that on Reagan being a mofo (though I agree with kosmonautBruce there that the roots of deregulation predeeded him). I’ve never gotten the utter adoration of Reagan… even as a young kid at the time I couldn’t stand him…

  13. I was dragged to an Up with People concert by some friends around this time. It was like getting run over by a tank with a happy face painted on the turret. I left the show thinking “down with people” and I longed for the rise of the machines.

  14. “…before any originality in sports was reduced to the common rubble of brand”? Give me a break, Cusack.

    There are fascinating, unusual individuals EVERYWHERE in sports these days. The 2-time reigning Cy Young Award winner is a beanie-and-flannel-rocking Seattle stoner. The best point guard in the NBA is a Solzhenitsyn-reading former elite youth soccer player. One of the top-rated safeties in this year’s NFL draft was literally a Rhodes Scholar.

    To say originality existed in sports only in the idyllic past is such boilerplate tripe about the tragedy of modern times. And I for one won’t have it, no matter how much I love “High Fidelity”!

    1. Thank you for this.

      ‘Stupid people are breeding’ has been said since Jonathan Swift, our children have been destroying the English language since Beowulf, and everything was better in high school for every middle-aged man who still thinks he can be the star quarterback.

      And yet, we’re all still here. Shit’s fine. Smart people still do cool things. Idiots are still idiots.


  15. I’ve never understood the hatred towards Up With People. Maybe I don’t know the whole story, but must their always be a sinister side to something so earnestly inclusive as a musical salute to diversity?

  16. According to Wikipedia, Up With People was started in 1964 by a man named Frank Buchman from his organization Moral Re-Armament (MRA), an offshoot of the Oxford Group. Buchman also seems to have had a misplaced dalliance with a certain Adolf something-or-other.

    >> One has been widely quoted by critics as representing Buchman’s views on Hitler. The article quotes Buchman as saying “I thank heaven for a man like Adolf Hitler, who built a front line of defence against the anti-Christ of Communism.”

    That quote seems pretty unambiguous to me. I always appreciate how fundamentalists insist on literal and strict interpretation unless it is applied to their own remarks.

    The page takes pains to indicate that Buchman’s Oxford Group was in fact an opponent of the National Socialists. Hard to tell if that’s accurate or just the standard ass-covering that so many organizations and individuals here in the states had to resort to post-WWII.

    Apparently C. S. Lewis had issues with Buchman and his Oxford Group:

    >> C.S. Lewis had also voiced opposition to the Moral Re-Armament movement saying “If you try to suppress ‘it’ you only make martyrs” referring to the Oxford Group formed by Frank Buchannen (sic), later known as Moral Rearmament.

    According to the Wikipedia page, Up With People is no longer affiliated with MRA. Yes, I bet.

    It would appear that Up With People germinated from Buchman’s so-called “Christian house parties” (one can only imagine) in the 20’s.

    >> Buchman designed a strategy of holding “house parties” at various locations, during which he hoped for Christian commitment among those attending. In addition, men trained by Buchman began holding regular lunchtime meetings in the study of J Thornton-Duesbery, then Chaplain of Corpus Christi College, Oxford. By 1928 numbers had grown so large that the meetings moved to the ballroom of the Randolph Hotel, before being invited to use the library of the Oxford University Church, St Mary’s.

    Wikipedia, BB, John Cusack, and Up With People, the four great tastes that taste great together. Oh. And… Hitler.

    So, five then.

    1. So, Buchman liked Hitler, and therefor Up With People was a giant Nazi brainswashing scheme? Hardly.

      I was married to a woman whose family was raised in MRA. They’re not Nazis. Quite the opposite, in fact.

      Just because you can make a leap in logic doesn’t mean your conclusions are correct. Cf. every conspiracy theory known to man.

      1. >> So, Buchman liked Hitler, and therefor Up With People was a giant Nazi brainswashing scheme?

        I didn’t make that leap. You did. My post did not say Up With People was a “giant Nazi brainswashing scheme.” The roots of that group are relevant and I accurately related the information contained in the sources I cited.

        Dispute the information on its own merits, if you wish.

        But, in my humble view, the man’s opinion of Hitler is relevant and not a trivial matter, your ex-wife’s family notwithstanding. I personally don’t hold Hitler in high regard and tend to downgrade my opinion of a person based on whether or not they “like” the man. But that’s just me.

        As for Up With People, I’d say the material speaks for itself. It appears to my eyes to be thinly veiled religious assertion, militarism, and nationalism. Christ, the military, or Reaganism are never mentioned by name, but the theme and form are crystal clear.

    2. “According to the Wikipedia page, Up With People is no longer affiliated with MRA. Yes, I bet.”

      So you felt comfortable enough to cite the Wikipedia page and then immediately deny it’s validity?

      That cake you’re having/eating too–I hope it’s the yummy buttercream kind.

      1. >> So you felt comfortable enough to cite the Wikipedia page and then immediately deny it’s validity?

        Deny? No. Offered an opinion. I sincerely doubt Up With People has severed their relationship with MRA. Evidence? Absolutely none. Just my hunch.

  17. Someone should really bring back sweaters with random geometric shapes sewn into them, using equally random pastel colors.

    I’d rather wear that than the silk screened t-shirts that everyone buys today.

    Or the “you can have any color you want, as long as it’s black” theme I get whenever I walk through a clothing department.

  18. I always thought this very halftime show was the inspiration for the “Hooray For Everything” halftime skit on The Simpsons.

    Oh sure, it was a great day for you in Chicago, but it was a yet another squashed dream in New England (of course 20 years later, oh how the tables have turned). At least the Patriots didn’t make the worst sports-novelty-rap song ever.

  19. Excellent..!
    My older sister was in UWP back then, I can’t remember the exact years, I think I would remember if she was at the Super Bowl. I do remember that Super Bowl.
    1986 was the year I graduated High School…
    in Michigan…

    Thanks for the disturbing stroll down memory lane.
    Seriously though… great read, look forward to more.


  20. I learned the game of football toddling around my family’s feet in a small town south of Chicago. I was gonna comment about the culture shock of the pro game vs. the cult of the College Game as it is down here below tennessee, but now I’m gonna have to inject insulin, find one of my old gay aquaintances to hold my hair back while I puke for two hours and then find some way to forget, oh.. forget.
    BTW, McMahon was overrated, #34 forever and the defense that year was amazing.

  21. I want to see a roundtable discussion with John Cusack, Matt Taibbi, Chris Hayes, and Jeremy Scahill. Can BoingBoing make that happen?

  22. Welcome aboard John, nice post! I want to know more about ‘The Fear’, and where we are with it today. It seemed like you had a little bit in your eyes when you were having dinner with Bill Gates & Co.


  23. I don’t know whether to thank you or not, John. Quite a find, but I feel a little queasy. I suppose such nostalgia seems quaint to those younger generations who did not experience it, but this video still made me feel embarrassed and self-conscious some 25 years later. Wow.

    For those who do not understand the distinction between the culture of the 80’s and that of, let’s say, the 70’s (with its own fashion craziness), let me submit that in the 70’s people knew that dressing like a pimp was outrageous and weird, whereas the culture of the 80’s was permeated with this sense of undeserved triumph and excellence; as if we had reached the pinnacle of fashion, music, art, and enlightenment – as evidenced by our ill-fitting pastels, popped collars, poofy hair, snappy keyboard-driven faux-funky pop music, neon highlighter colors, and the super-duper happiness of people of different races sharing in the cultural awfulness.

    It’s not that their hearts were in the wrong place. It’s just that frightful sense of mass delusion in the midst of obvious lack of quality. ‘Isn’t this the best music?!’ Umm…no.

    And to really drive the point home:

    “A fitting tribute to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.”

    Really? Really?!

    That was the 80’s. We were willing to wholly commit to the mediocre and agree that it was, in fact, grand.

    1. “We were willing to wholly commit to the mediocre and agree that it was, in fact, grand”

      and what, exactly, has changed?

      good post, sir/madam.

  24. Up With People is absolutely part and parcel of the marketing campaign of that era that is keynoted quite eloquently and manipulatively in this classic campaign ad.

    Reaganism was built to marginalize dissidents and free thinkers and to undo the reformation enacted post-Watergate. Up With People seems innocuous and relatively harmless, but it’s not-at-all inclusive message is meant to shame and separate the supposedly joyful and healthy middle from the diseased malcontents who lurk at America’s periphery.

    And attaching (the state murdered, according to Dr. William F. Pepper) Dr. King’s name to that rally is an atrocity.

  25. i’m a chicagoan who’s always loved you, john… you’ve never shied away from bringing the truth. i remember seeing you at a public enemy concert, taking the stage and keeping people calm as cops showed up to crack heads. then you were vocal to media that chicago police were out of line. chicagoans call bullshit bullshit — it’s who we are.

  26. Ewwwww. That’s the mental equivalent of what your body feels like when you’ve been to county fair as a 9-year old and eaten hot dogs, elephant ears, and snow cones all day, and then rode the Zipper 4 times in a row.

    Did the world really need a choral production of Born In the USA? I think not.

  27. Wow, psilocybin with Tim Robbins at the Superbowl! In the fucking ’80’s!!! I’ve always been a fan, but you are now firmly in the 100% awesome category.

    Also, I would like to publicly admit that Martian Child made me cry a little bit.

  28. So you got to go to the Superbowl with Tim Robbins, then beat him up in “High Fidelity?” Quite the life of Riley you’re living there, Mr. Cusack.

  29. In the 1980’s I was working with the adult mentally ill in California who were kicked out of the state hospitals and put into a community that was not prepared for their arrival. This was part of Reagan’s legacy. I didn’t follow politics until then but it opened my eyes.

    Will Bunch has a great book “Tear down This Myth” about Reagan that shows just how much misinformation is pushed about Reagan. Like did you know that he RAISED taxes 7 out of his 8 terms? But the, “Reagan cut taxes and it worked” BS line remains. At least he was better than Bush/Cheney in that way. Two wars and tax cuts for the rich? WTF?

    The despair I felt in the early 1980’s California with it’s 11 percent unemployment I feel again today. (Maybe I should go see some sort of 1980’s comedy again… Hmmmm. Hot tub time machine? Product placement reference!)

    In the early 1980s I had few skills but I worked cheap. Now I’m over qualified and can’t compete with the people who will work cheap.

    And a group of jerks protesting the loudest are the silly tea partiers. Why aren’t they storming the Wall Street shadow banking world and demanding jail terms, regulations and they pay their fair share of taxes?

    The Tea partiers know that they won’t be shut down because they aren’t really challenging the money makers. Anger directed at “liberals” is easy to dismiss.

    A serious group of people who attempted to put shadow in jail would be rolled up faster than a Al-Qaeda cell.

    1. “And a group of jerks protesting the loudest are the silly tea partiers

      It’s not they they are louder or more numerous than those of us who protested in the previous 8 years. They are just getting the full bullhorn from the right wing punditsphere and faux news while liberals are silenced so that moderates continue to appear to be the left.

      1. Right now the Tea Party Express is traveling to towns to raise money for the Tea Party Express. They come into town screaming about the need for smaller government and no taxes all the while using government services and public venues for their fund raising.

        I’ve been writing some of the cities and asking them “during this time of declining do you really want to give away services for free to these people? Do you normally give free services for fund raisers” There is a difference between a free speech event and a fund raiser with pleas for money, entertainment and the selling of flags, cds and t-shirts.

        I don’t mind them fundraising but using my tax dollars and services is galling (especially since they don’t want to give back)

  30. Mr. Cusack, thank you. This video horror dwarfs the cheese and “The Fear” I got from rediscovering Calgary’s Winter Olympics Closing Ceremonies on YouTube:

    PS – I nearly drove over you on your bicycle in Vancouver’s Yaletown district. We drive in the right lane here too. :)

  31. I was living Rutland, Vermont in the mid 80s (I was taking care of my elderly and increasingly Alzheimer’s afflicted mother) and UWP came to town.

    The “C” tour UWP group. Yes, the singers and dancers that just weren’t good enough for the “A” or “B” circuit, but good enough to play shitholes like Rutland.

    Jeebus. The publicity, the faux sincerity. Oh, and the begging for free rooms for the cast in local homes. Yeah. Up With People!!! And can we crash on your couch for the weekend?

  32. How can anyone write about Super Bowl XX without acknowledging the horror known as…”The Super Bowl Shuffle”?

    “Well they call me Sweetness and I like to dance. Running the ball is like making romance…”

  33. Honestly, I don’t see any difference from this show and any other one from the Super Bowl in the past 20 years (Janet Jackson, non-withdthstanding). It’s just it has 20 years to gestate and you can see the crazy fashion-sense and the unperfected (at the time) psychological art of marketing and tv.

    And about Reagan. Yep, he was a mofo..but I rather have his over-the-top right that’s out in the open than someone like Nixon who was a crazy, paranoid sonofabitch who hid everything behind closed doors. Or Carter, who is a great man, and amazing with foreign policy but probably would of put us in a “lost decade” scenario domestically and let the Soviet Union tromp all over us and possibility of losing the “cold war”.

    Still, it could of been worse. Reagan almost won the Republican nomination in 1976 and most likely would of defeated Carter in the General Election. Who would we had in 1984? Mondale? Gary Hart?

    Most likely and extended 4 more years of Republican dominance from the late 70’s all the way until the early Nineties.


  34. Mr. Cusack writes extremely eloquent and intellectual articles, not only on this website, but also he writes on others, such as Huffington Post. He is truly gifted and super-intelligent. I, for one, am glad that this actor has proven that not all the film industry is laden with bubble headed actors and actresses. I look forward to more of his articles.

    1. I generally find that eloquent, intelligent people don’t have to drop ‘motherfucker’ and ‘asshole’ into every other sentence to make a point.
      I’m not saying he’s not a smart guy – I’m saying if all his guest posts are as motherfuckin’ eloquent as this, maybe he’s not the most eloquent asshole.
      Jeez, that sounded like Jugalospeak.

      1. I find your argument that profanity is connected with ineloquence specious. One might as well ask why he started the piece with punctuated non-sentences, or why he ended with a zombie.

        It’s a rhetorical decision, that’s all. Let’s not pretend that swearing is any better or worse for communication than any other word, and I haven’t the energy or the time to critique every level of stylistic decision used.

      2. Profanity is a delicious and savory spice. Some people like variety, others prefer oats seasoned with pure, distilled rain water. And judgment.

        The cliched rider that attends to criticism of profanity, which is after all merely language and nothing more, is that the user who swears “must” resort to offensive language because their inability to competently elocute compels them. In other words, dumb people curse. That’s motherfucking bullshit.

        Cock titty ballsack.


  35. I believe “The Fear” was a term originally coined by Charles Manson. Regardless, I can’t watch this video as I was there then and it was scary enough the first time.
    The 80’s revival reminds me very much of my father the night Regan was elected. We were sitting at the table and he just kept saying “they’ll be sorry” over and over.

  36. So John, listen..

    My girlfriend asked me, to ask you if you’d marry her. Would you consider it a cock-block if I just, y’know, told her you said no?

    Trying not to step on anyone’s toes here.

  37. I believe “The Fear” was a term originally coined by Charles Manson. Regardless, I can’t watch this video as I was there then and it was scary enough the first time.
    I spent most of 1986 tripping in New Orleans…. so I often digress.
    The 80’s revival reminds me very much of my father the night Reagan was elected. We were sitting at the table and he just kept saying “they’ll be sorry” over and over.

  38. I was having such a terrible day before I saw this. Thank you. Anyone still nostalgic for the ’80s after watching this should be forcibly lobotomized by the fossilized wang of the Gipper.

  39. Back in the 80’s, when I was in grade school we looked back at the 60’s with disdain. Now, there’s a certain charm to the styles and throwbacks in 2010. I’d expect in 20 years we’ll look back at the 80’s more fondly, and be embarassed by the 2000’s.

  40. is like OMG see all that capitalism/corruption is doing to our countries, the 80s started the culture of mass consumption, in the 2010 we still have not clue in.

    building houses that need to be rebuild every 70 years is just not good enough.

    I want to kill my own chicken! this is just not the reality I sign on for. no reset button.

  41. still blaming the cultural homogeneity and lowest common denominator hive behavior on the television… yep, grinding the axe again. That piece is an insanely powerful representation of how commerce, culture and the individual blend in a brain slurpee.

  42. I remember this and I was completely horrified. Even at 14 years old I knew there was something just not right…

  43. “The Fear” is William S. Burroughs. It’s in his book Junkie.

    Nice essay. I try to explain to co-workers that their nostalgia for the ’80s is misplaced without the threat of being turned into a pile of ash by the Russians. That video just kinda proves that you shouldn’t look back.

  44. I have honestly never seen anything dripping in that much misplaced idealism… well certainly not while prancing around in a multicoloured spray of synthetic fabrics.
    While the all too painful smiles and the somewhat militant application of moral entertainment are frightening, it’s the optimism and belief in what they’re doing that makes me cringe the most… though I can’t say if thats because I’m embarrassed by their zealousness or by the fact that the future they hoped for failed so miserably.

    Urgh this perky preaching style always did make me uncomfortable, the addition of friendly day glow colours only serves to remind me of carebears.

  45. Gah, my eyes. My ears. I had just graduated from high school that year, and I was filled with wide-eyed optimism! Wait, no, that’s not quite it. I was filled with deep angst and a healthy amount of mistrust and anger toward this type of bullshit. I was pretty sure that the beat of the future was going to include plenty of beat-downs for alternative artistic types and geeks such as myself. It’s as cringe-inducing to watch this now as it was then.

    I will say that I had a little laugh when they sang “the beat is in my hand!” @ 1:27. See, I haven’t really matured that much since 1986.

  46. I try to explain to co-workers that their nostalgia for the ’80s is misplaced without the threat of being turned into a pile of ash by the Russians.

    You must be popular.

  47. I don’t remember seeing any of that. Just Singletary’s eyes looking into mine from 2000 miles away.

  48. In the 1980s, I had a haircut with so many sharp edges you could slice cheese with it, and I dressed like an extra from Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. I was also living with a coke dealer and trying to foment revolution. And I threw myself across the hood of a cop car to get at Nancy Reagan with my megaphone.

    Not everybody had the same 1980s.

  49. You ate mushrooms at the Superbowl? I knew you were cool. Although watching that video makes me feel like I’m on mushrooms, too.

  50. Do you need to update John’s Twitter ID in the link at the top? @shockozulu lands at a “Sorry that page doesn’t exist” Twitter page.

  51. on the subject of you and tim robbins…i think the movie TAPEHEADS is incredibly underrated

    and on the subject of tripping at football games…its incredibly fun isn’t it? the games i’ve tripped at were not so important, but still in the midst of 80k fans. the fear can set in just from that…

  52. I, too, grew up in Chicagoland watching Sweetness dominate the league in the late 70s and early 80s. 1985 was a dream come true season, considering I’ve still never seen the Cubs in the World series and the Bulls had yet to become the dynasty we all remember now. The game was imperfect even though Da Bears won 46-10, the widest margin up until then. Besides this train wreck of a halftime show, we had to endure the kings of the obvious, Dick Enberg and the late Merlin Olsen announcing–probably one of the worst duos ever. Given the opportunity to let Walter score a capstone TD in the biggest game of his career, Ditka opted to give it to the Fridge, a move Big Mike regrets to this day. Leslie Frazier–perhaps the Bears’ last shutdown corner–suffered a career-ending knee injury in the second half in a rout of the hapless Patriots, who somehow beat the Dolphins–the only team to beat the Bears that year–in the AFC Championship to get to the big dance. The first half ended with the Patriots gaining -21 yards. It wasn’t much of a game, a bittersweet victory in many ways and probably the worst Super Bowl halftime show ever. For my money, the best game the Bears played in this era was a few years later on Monday night against the 49ers when they won 10-9. A defensive slugfest that actually saw the Bears take a safety late in the game to avoid punting from the end zone and giving Steve Young field position–and it worked!

  53. Up With Zombies!

    now there is a halftime show i could get into. mb get the Swanky Modes to open.

  54. My high school made Up With People cry on stage in 1971. The lead singer lost his shit and launched into a frenzied Jesus sermon to teach us all a lesson for being so mean to them. I was never so proud of my school as on that day.
    Hilton Central High School, class of ’71.
    Made Up With People cry.

  55. I think we would all be “Better off dead” than to see that half time show. Get it John? “Better off dead”, the movie?
    John? … John….

    Sorry, that was really bad.

  56. Gah. My parents showed me your movies the second I hit preteen (wasn’t that long ago actually,) And I love your acting. This is like talking to David Lynch or something. Can’t wait for more posts.

  57. Being a Patriots fan, I have blocked out most memories of that game; I was also smart enough to know to avoid watching the half-time show before major sections of my amygdala and hippocampus were burned out. Seeing it now… *shudder*

  58. Reminiscent of Leni Riefenstahl ala “Triumph des Willens”, especially the segment just after 8 min. Actually, perhaps it is more comedically ironical like “Lambeth Walk – Nazi Style” by Charles Ridley (

    By the way, Mr. Cusack, thank you, thank you, thank you for Say Anything, Grosse Pointe Blank, High Fidelity, and Pushing Tin. You sir, are a genius.

    “Maggot, Maggot, Maggot” didn’t necessarily ascend to genius level, but you looked good in the uniform.

  59. There is no way that ’80s culture in general and Up with People specifically came about organically. That decade was one big right wing propagandistic social engineering experiment.

  60. All I want to know, John, is what on earth possessed you to eat psilocybin and then go to the superbowl? Isn’t that kind of like dropping acid and going to a Donnie and Marie concert? Guaranteed to make for some nightmarish, teeth- clenching terror, I would think, at least for me. Talk about the UberNormal. Brrrrr! You’re a brave man. And I like the way you write, too.

  61. (A) The horror, the horror…

    (B) It takes a curiously particular sort of fuckup to be able to trivialize Huey Lewis and the News.

  62. My business partner was in Up With People. This video will definitely come up in our next team meeting.

  63. While the submission is well written in a way, you do realize that the content isn’t particularly innovative.

    It isn’t particularly innovative that:

    1. Superbowl half time shows are particularly scary irrespective of the time period – staged entertainment is just that … staged. (Helpful hint: like movies, which are staged and not the truth)
    2. Past fashions especially those worn in high school and remembered by 30 somethings are particularly scarring. Watch past movies that recall the awkward phase of most people’s youth – they generally don’t like that time period (unless they were the cool kids and now living in the past).
    3. You pick the majority to agree with – honestly for all that I disagree with politicians, and it PAINS me to say this – irrespective of party they provide a more articulate and better reasoned copy of what is “wrong with America” during X or Y time period (not saying they are right but it is better BS and art). Fine you don’t like Reagan, but there are more pressing concerns with politicians lying to us (a consistent problem) NOW. If you want to be the voice of dissent, why not be reliably that voice irrespective of who is in charge – do you honestly believe that any politician isn’t in it for themselves? Do I have to mention Rod Blagojevich (D), or any part of Illinois politics or specifically Chicago politicians?

    Perhaps you are banking on people’s unwillingness to disagree with you b/c you are a public figure, or this is a Good Ole Boy appeal to the masses (reference the past in the way that appeals to the self-image of your audience so that you become part of the “in-crowd”), or perhaps you are just BSing.

    I don’t find that this is worthy of a “apocalyptic shit-disturber and elephant trainer”.

    If you are going to lay on the BS, make it convincing, innovative, and actually counter culture (if that is your slant). As a Chicagoian, I like my BS Daley sized, my lies so big that they fundamentally lie about the nature of reality, in other words so Elephant Sized that I have trouble wading through it. Good art like good BS causes you to question reality.

        1. Hmm you obviously don’t get sarcasm unless it is done by an actor. My point is that he did not press it far enough.

          Ok, I’ll do what you (the Man/”Moderator” expects of me):

          I was totally wrong… that was SOOOOOO funny!!!!!! I was just getting your goat. ROFL! That was awesome! You are right, we are so idiotic that we assume that we are not a totalitarian state like . That awkward video of our youth just proved it! I too loved doing drugs while watching the Superbowl, however I also was surprised that this made it seemed surreal.

          I hate Reagan – In fact I think all republicans or old people are evil. I think that we should never learn from our elders b/c they have nothing to teach us and are zombies anyway. While this makes me skeptical of John, he is ok b/c he is in tv and movies and anything he says is funny. I don’t understand why we don’t attribute all the evils of the world to the totalitarian state that the elderly want? That way we can laugh at all the mistakes they make and compare them to Hitler. Or perhaps we can just say they are evil, racist, or insane? Perhaps we can rehash this again for the next 40 years? I love talking about this, It makes me feel like you and I are best friends and I am 16 again.

          Better? Sheesh I am pretty sure that you aren’t as deeply sarcastic as I am (based on your statement)- really though what is the harm in requesting more or higher sarcasm laden entertainment? If you note I actually think more of John would be good.

          Lighten up francis, indeed.

      1. If I did, I would have found it funny. Is it wrong to want new jokes/commentary rather than ones I laughed/cried at when I was a kid?

        Tell me what you think – would this have been funnier if John had said this in a video so that he could have put a sarcastic spin on it? (I think so) But then I would be enjoying John “the actor” rather than the old content.

        Compare this to – there despite the oldness and moldiness of the jokes the presentation allows freshness. there it isn’t the jokes which are entertaining – it is the people.

        Just saying that John has an opportunity here not to be stale.

  64. The thing that rocks my boat about watching the attached vid is *how few flashes there are in the stadium*.

    Watch that intro again and think about it.

    As the crazed crews lead off into the field like some kind of Human/Ant interpretive dance version of Moorcock’s Chaos Symbol you can actually *count* the whimsical sunbursts of the flashes hiccuping from the void of the nose-bleeds. Wow!

    Compare that to any self-respecting event in the 2010’s where you are lucky if you don’t escape without permanent eye damage from the masterbaflashatory extravaganza of thousands of people waving their xmas gift canon powershots, elphs and digital rebels with obligatory zeal above all events of note (and many of absolutely no consequence) and chronicling the event (or non-event).

    Again – wow. They were much simpler days.


    And by the way, if any of you haven’t seen They Live (88) (and a direct response to the wasted social landscapes of the time), give it a shot.

    Bonus is tou get to hear some great lines cribbed by Duke Nukem too.

  65. I had to torture myself and watch that video twice. I don’t know if it’s just me, but it seems that they’re lipsynching. I can understand lipsyncing if you’re going to be doing actual dancing (ala Michael Jackson) but I was more attracted by the pretty lights than by the “dancing”.

    1. All singers on such a big field have to use voice-on-track, unless there are few enough to allow individual microphones. If you’ve ever been in a large performing group, you’ll know. By itself that’s not so bad.

  66. Ahh welcome Mr. Cusack. I am pleased to read that you are One Of Us. Central Command has been notified. Watch the news at 10PM local time for further instructions.

  67. I will gladly sit through this drivel again, if it meant that the Buffalo Bills win a Superbowl. I’ve already proven my tolerance for pain.

  68. I don’t understand what you could have against dancing, miming dental hygienists. They were just ‘sayin’ it with their feet.’ Whatever that means?!

  69. Tripping on ‘shrooms at the Super Bowl actually sounds more frightening than cool, but okay… still a fun post.

    Now, about that $2…

  70. That’s it was in the Superdome is even more frightening. I’d say “nice post bro”, but those people are still out there and nowadays they’ve changed their tune. Literally.

  71. Holy Christ.

    In the 80’s I once took a hit of purple blotter and flew coach to Japan from San Francisco. Im pretty sure I was sitting next to Ralph Macchio, who was speaking in tongues while masturbating.

    But fuck me. I think you got me beat with this one. 50 yard line, Up With People and mushrooms?

    Nice work sir. you win. Please drive through.

  72. Horrifying…absolutely horrifying.

    I agree with you 100% about that fucktard Reagan. I still find it deliciously ironic that he constantly used Born in the USA as an “American pride” tool (like they used in this video as well). I just hope somebody explained to that senile ass pimple what the song really stood for.

  73. Wow. Ow. This brings back all of the memories of the worst parts of the ’80s in vivid color, while reflecting absolutely NONE of the good ones. There were some really good things that happened during that time, and that video reflects absolutely none of it. It shows only everything you hated the most about those times, the cheesiest and ugliest parts of it – the worst hair, the worst clothes, the worst music, and groups like, well, whatever the hell that whole half-time thing was about. I’m pretty sure that video would borderline on torture, then or now, Reagan or Bush (the sequel) era. I can only imagine it on “reality enhancers”.

    Great post, John, hope to see you back here again. But please use a video that requires less eye & ass bleach next time, thankyouverymuch.

    And great comment, ifthenwhy. Holy Christ, drive through, and FAST! FTW.

  74. you’re all going back to training sandinistas unless I see that fucking tape!

    what’s the whammy, sammy!!!

  75. I was alas too busy in 86 being homeless to witness this apocalyptic horror, but I am glad now it has been brought to my attention. On a side note, boing boing is my compendium of everything I already love and stuff I didn’t yet know that I loved. Now John Cusack is guest blogging, I guess I will now have to meander through my favorite daily website sporting a giant girl boner.

  76. The best thing about this post?

    Hearing the legendary John Cusack Monologue Voice in my head while reading it.

  77. Well… you’ve got to give them some credit for the amount of work they put into that extraordinary choreography… Now if only they could form an enormous human knife to cut a giant facsimile of my wrist, it would be totally 80’s.

  78. Watching that on YouTube is horrifying enough– I can’t imagine seeing it live while shrooming.

    This is such a great read. Please do more of this!

  79. Dear God, John Cusack – you must write more. We need to hear your voice. World’s gone mad. Thanks for a great read.

  80. Gee, Thank you for bringing that Half Time Show to my attention, I was too wasted on Beer, Whiskey, Pot, a little Wine, half a dozen Purple Microdots and a couple lines of Coke off the Toilet Top in the Bathroom to remember it from the first go round. My fondest memory from the ’86 Super Bowl was making a Left when I should’ve made a Right when turning out of Scotty Rat’s driveway on my little Honda Scooter and ending up in Thousand Oaks instead of Pasadena by the time I was sober enough to read a street sign.

  81. You remind me of the angry combat veterans I work with. But then you remind me of me when I’m angry. What do you think – is it enough to talk about the past that pisses us off? What do we do once we’ve done that?

    Sorry for the unsolicited shrinking. Can’t resist asking.

  82. Too scared to watch the video.

    I didn’t know that you were such an excellent writer.


  83. never been too big on public displays of intoxication, :)
    really enjoyed seeing hot tub time machine in the theater

  84. Thanks John.I would have chosen shrooms to get through this too! This was craptastic. The Eighties were an ugly decade in so many ways, denial about America’s foreign policy notwithstanding (Iran/Contra etc). Laughable fashion and worse hairdo’s. When was a mullet ever acceptable?

  85. Thanks a lot for sharing that abomination! I almost watched a few minutes of it!! AARGHH!!!

    I was so upset, at 14, when Reagan was elected. You could feel his momentum in the air, though. It’s the first election that I actually remember. I was not happy about his position on the arms race with the, then, USSR. When he screwed the air traffic controllers I was really dismayed. I thought, “is there something I’m missing, because this seems so obviously wrong.”

  86. Amazing! I grew up in Soviet Union (good riddance!) and finished school that year. I had no idea you were fed the same bullshit we were by our govt.
    Ironically, the only truth they told us back then was about US policies. You probably were told similar truth about USSR. :)
    And yet I remember the 80s fondly.

  87. That’s wonderful. I work in the Regan building. I wish I were wearing legwarmers. I’m going to put more blush on now.

  88. I pissed off Mr. Cusack today on Twitter and he blocked me. I didn’t even really mean to but such is life. It got me a good blog to write about. Plus, I am apparently part of a large club now.

  89. Amazing how a few adjectives can turn something like the Up with People performance that would have otherwise been seen as amusing kitsch into something “menacing”.

    Regarding those mental patients turned out on the street by Ronnie himself – what a mean, mean bastard!. Except it never happened that way. I was there. The year was 1975, a psychiatrist I was working with was seriously pissed at the civil libertarians who had been working diligently to set the mental patients free from their imprisonment (as they saw it). The population of the state mental hospital at which she worked had been reduced from about 4500 to under 1000. Her statement; These people (the ones who had worked to release all the patients) have no idea what they have done. On the surface these patients seem normal, but they cannot reason well. We are creating a large group of people who will be on the streets and homeless.
    How right she was!
    So – John – pulling everyone along with the rhythm of the diatribe and then inserting this gem – I suppose that most just believe what you wrote. Despite the fact it has no basis in truth. What about the other points of “fact” you attempt to make? Are they as wrong?
    And BTW – he did end the cold war without a shot being fired. I don’t think you can appreciate fully the importance of this unless you grew up knowing that you and everyone you loved could any day be turned to charcoal in a nuclear horror. and I do mean ANY DAY. My parents had canned goods stacked in our crawl space so that we could live there in case of nuclear war. Even at 10, I could see that was pitifully inadequate. Scared me even more.
    Thanks Ronnie!

  90. I was in the class of ’87, and Regan scared the piss out of me. He was crazy and out of touch, but who knew that he would become the messiah of the right wing and gain a cult like following in death. The mythology of the “great communicator” has seemingly grown, especially as radicals and nut-jobs have tried to follow his doctrine. Some wing-nuts have attributed political miracles to him, so I wonder how long it will be that he will anointed as having been divine – sent to save the soul of America from them damn Socialist heathens.

  91. What a trip! I haven’t seen synchronization like that since my days in marching band! Especially loved the guy singing Footloose who was doing his very best imitation of Carlton on Fresh Prince of Bel Aire!! Great read, John!

  92. Vapid, mind-rot, stench PABLUM!

    (Yeah, I like it.)

    Whatever happened to that Alex Cox/Michael Nesmith vibe anyway? You guys were valiantly fighting back, but to no avail. ‘Tapeheads’ changed my life, maaaaaan. :-)

  93. For younger folks looking to draw a parallel to the Reagan/ JumboTron reference, think of Voldemort’s face in the clouds over Hogwarts.

  94. “My high school made Up With People cry on stage in 1971. The lead singer lost his shit and launched into a frenzied Jesus sermon to teach us all a lesson for being so mean to them. I was never so proud of my school as on that day.
    Hilton Central High School, class of ’71.
    Made Up With People cry.”
    Petrillije, you’ve made my day. I thought driving a history teacher to start barking and run out of the classroom, never to return was the coolest thing to happen in high school – you win the internets today.

    Mr. Cusack, welcome to the Boing. Now get your patchouli-stank ass out of my store.

  95. This is a slice of the sublime, though being from Boston I have different memories of the ’86 Super Bowl. I think most Patriots fans were on oxygen or into the high-octane booze.

    The line about forced-attendance pep rallies reminded me of Grosse Pointe Blank: “Pull that down,” growls Martin and they wrap the body in the pep banner.

    Civics, pain is thy name: I, too, marvel that one could look back at the 80’s and miss them at all. Minor case in point: commercial radio.

    John Cusack is a national treasure. Even in a turbo-uber-screwed up nation, his best stuff is still ahead of him. I could give a shyte for celebrities, but would really like to meet him someday.

  96. In 1983 I had watched “If You Love This Planet”, one Friday in grade 12, I was so affected that I had nightmares and generally futile thoughts all weekend. I was already scared of R.Reagan, but that film took it up about a 100 notches more. Then by 1986 we had the movie “Top Gun”. In order to bask in it’s warm protective glow I had started to become pro military and all was good for my psyche once again. By embracing the weapons technology as works of art, I could ignore the danger of being evaporated. That is what the 1980’s felt like for me.

  97. The 80’s were not by any means a simpler time nor did we feel safer than we do today. I graduated High school in 1985. I remember growing up in the days of the Cold War; we were well aware that Nuclear War was a real possibility. Now thanks to the treaty’s which were started in the Carter administration and continued by Reagan, Bush(Sr),Clinton, G.W.Bush, and Obama I feel this is not likely.
    Taxes are decided by Congress and approved by the President;they are usually riders on something the President has to sign like the Budget Bill(which is why the line item veto was signed into law). The Democratic party controlled congress for 40 years before Reagan took office and they controlled it for the first 6 years he was president. So, to the person who claimed Reagan raised taxes, technically he was correct. Regan was no saint but, he was not the Devil some people would make him out to be either. Life is far too complicated for there to be a black and white answer to every problem. I choose to remember the 80’s with a little nostalgia. I loved Punk Music, the birth of MTV, being in college and partying. I was not into politics and I am still sure that there are far more good people in this country than bad. We may not always make the right choices at the ballot box and we may follow dumb fads and trends which later look stupid (parachute pants) but, we are not as dumb as we may look on TV. I would take the next 30 years over the last 30 any day of the week.
    Peace. Lee

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