Great Expectations

The '80s: A Look Back at the Tumultuous Decaae 1980-1989 Edited by Christopher Cerf '63, Tony Hendra and Peter Elbling Workman Publishing, $6.95

HOW DO YOU feel about clever, hip-liberal eastern literary establishment parodies of vapid hip-faddish eastern media establishment decade "retrospectives"? Like 'em? Then get this book. But don't read it or you might be numbed by the sheer volume--263 large pages--of News week format articles ridiculed by formula.

But it takes some effort to be annoyed by the repetition, because The '80s--edited and written by many of the same people who brought you Not The New York Times--is an ideal excuse to put of writing your Gov paper, to relax with when it's too gauche to drink beer and watch football with your undershirt on, junk food for the intellectual cynic. If read slowly, selectively, this compendium of facetiae should beat just about any conceivable true-to-life rehashes of the grey cripple of a decade that will limp (or roll) off to oblivion in just one more month.

Of course, if you're easily offended, skip this book. You won't miss it; it won't miss you. If you're a fan of Abbie Hoffman, the consummate Celebrity Sweepstakes fugitive Yippie, steal this book; Hoffman contributed three articles. In fact, if you dig Monty Python or Saturday Night Live (when it whatever crosses your personal threshhold for sufficiently imaginative and irreverant humor, The '80s is worth a look. You will be amused.

There's an awesomely prophetic account of the Moslem Jihad of revenge that swept through Europe (Jihad! April in Paris!") in the late '80s world. ("4/7/87--Sheik Ali Fayadh Mahim was arrested in Beverly Hills today for trying to pass a bad emerald at Gucci's.") China, racked by hard rock, LSD and "un-Confucian sexual attitudes" among its youth, places none other than Richard Nixon at the helm in order to crush "The Great Trip Forward" with "The Great Clamp Downward: And tension persists in that area of the world: "4/4/83--In pre-emptive strikes on Hanoi ammo dumps, the Chinese dropped an estimated 40,000 tons of people on Vietnamese bombs."

In Italy, pervasive kidnapping and a sharp drop in productivity led to "the logical next-step--the abolition of the debased currency in favor of people as a medium of exchange...in Turin, a $100 bill would procure a plump industrialist. In the provinces, it was difficult to get change for a judge or a factory owner, but the exclusive shops along the Via Condotti in Rome could easily break a bank president."

CULTURAL developments abroad are not ignored. The 1988 Tirana (Albania) World's Fair, with no outsiders allowed to enter the country, "a less-than-celebratory spirit of secrecy and suspicion evidently hovered":

Word filtered out via diplomatic sources all through the duration of Tirana 1988, telling of picture postcard vendors being charged with selling state secrets and picture postcard buyers being shot as spies...(Attractions included) a working naphtha plant, a working olive grove, a working sheep pasture, and a working coal mine, and the International Halls of Sheep Diseases and Head-Squeezing.

And there is discontent in the Soviet Union. After "climatic changes due to the year of the Simultaneous Orgasm halved the potato harvest to a mere 63 million poods," the "newly clear-headed" citizens began to speak out: "My apartment is too small" "Pravda is dull!" "Remember meat?"

And in the United States, chaos and television reign. Teddy Kennedy made it to the White House all right, but "Camelot II" became "The Ten Days" when surgeon-general designate Dr. Allen Bakke (appointed to gain white middle-class support) botched an operation. "Now I remember," sobbed Bakke on coast-to-coast television. 'It's two kidneys, one liver.'"

Of course, the special-interest dominated Congress, which, among other things, offered statehood to Norway and prohibited the importation into the United States of prunes, shredded wheat, ice skates, bow ties and corduroy, was the last straw for conventional American government. An angry mob forced the "Horrible Hundredth" Congress out of the country, and Walter Cronkite routed John-John Kennedy in the first video-election to become the first Anchorman of the United States.

The future history above is representative, but there's more. A lot more. The first interview with a dolphin. The Great Wall of China goes on tour. An excerpt from David Halberstam's next opus. The cancer cure (repeatedly strike the head of baby harp seals of Prince Edward Island and extract the unique harp seal acetylocholine). And, announced on March 29, 1982, the discovery of the scrotal orgasm. Take your time. You get the idea. Fun, light, cute Good to have, but not to buy. I got it free.