Brooklyn Party Themes Hit New Low: 1980s Subway

nyc subway car 1980s graffiti tag

Grab your shoulder pads and hang on to your purse—the 80s is coming back to Brooklyn! But, like, the fun 80s. The Daily News reports that artist and 2007 New York City transplant Shaina Stigler plans to recreate 1980s New York City in a single car of the G train for one night only, complete with graffiti, poor lighting, and people dressed as Guardian Angels—maybe even a citizen’s arrest! Among other things, Stigler’s 80s G train is an outsize example of hipster nostalgia, where “80s” is a legitimate party theme and all it means is side ponytails and neon sweatbands. 

This nostalgia for old New York—Patti Smith New York, or Andy Warhol New York, or even Frank O’Hara New York—is always sort of ridiculous, but only rarely so up front about its source material. One performer said, “For this subway party, I’m thinking more like a St. Elmo’s Fire Demi Moore cokehead look.” Another said, “The city was very dangerous, but very alive.” But alive with what? With real, live, authentic 80s-ness, of course! You’ll be able to tell because of the Guardian Angels and the je ne sais quoi of urban blight. In other words, it is middlebrow, yuppie “Derelicte.”

“The 80s is a symbol of the very real grit and resilience it takes to ‘make it’ in New York,” Stigler told the Daily News. Not like today, when no one is trying to “make it” in here. Or, when they do, they don’t face gritty 80s obstacles like subway muggings. Damn you, gentrification!

Billed as a party, the G train’s blast from the past is to be the first in a series of historical reenactments for Stigler and her merry band of Guardian Angels, and subsequent parties will be “themed” as the 1968 student occupation of Columbia University and a “punk rock riot” at CBGB. Because riots are so hot right now

In this jaunty, “party”-based incarnation, Stigler’s hipster nostalgia is also a bizarre form of cultural appropriation—historical appropriation, if there is such a thing. Layered on top of whatever costume elements capture the true spirit of the era (e.g., side ponytails, neon sweatbands), is the notion that everything was “better”—realer, more “artistic,” more authentically “New York,” whatever that might means. “Theming” historical periods flattens the reality of the past, highlighting and prettifying a notion of the past into a tangle of teased hair and leg warmers. Stigler speaks glowingly of the 1980s’ “grit” and “resilience,” never acknowledging that both of those would be terrible party themes. You might as well host a Grapes of Wrath lawn party.

It’s fitting that the 1980s revelers plan to convene at Barcade, in Williamsburg—a bar filled with classic 1980s video games, for the appropriate mise-en-scène—before beginning their journey through time. “Era-appropriate costume” required, natch.

Follow John Sherman on Twitter @_john_sherman.

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