One of my favorite memories of high school is the time that I spent in the computer lab, browsing the then (relatively) young internet to try and find cool pages about whatever movie or action hero I was into at the time, or niche pages about obscure topics and hobbies that no one had bothered to write about before.
It was a magical experience of discovery, and it turns out that even now, decades later, I enjoy finding new (or old) sites and blogs covering obscure topics.
One of the sites I recently discovered is called Branded in the 80s, and though the owner, Shawn Robare, stopped updating the site last year, I decided to reach out to him and see if he would be willing to speak with me about the site, why he created it, and to give me (and you) a glimpse into his very interesting life.
An Interview with Shawn Robare…
Geek Extreme: Who is Shawn Robare? What’s going on with you these days?
Shawn Robare: I’m just a guy who remembers what it was like to be a kid. I’m your basic nerd who loves to read and watch movies, collect some toys here and there, does a little illustration and graphic design, and loves talking about the good old days of the 80s. These days (post-Branded) I’ve been keeping a fairly low profile as I help raise two toddlers with my super cool wife. I’ve been doing some trading card design work for Terror Vision (an independent record label specializing in horror score and soundtrack vinyl and cassettes), and have been concentrating on a couple of podcast projects (The Cult Film Club and Crestwood House.)
What inspired you to start Branded in the 80s?
Long story short, I became a super nostalgic dude around the age of 22 and there were a handful of websites (blogs mainly) that were sharing a lot of 80s stuff and I adored reading them (Neato Coolville, Bubblegum Fink, Secret Fun Spot, and X-Entertainment – Matt before he rebranded to Dinosaur Dracula.) So taking a cue from them I decided it would be fun to share my own collection of stuff and memories from my childhood as well. Branded was born, started as a podcast, but then quickly morphed into a very graphic-heavy blog.
You decided to stop updating the site about a year ago. How are you feeling about that now?
It was the right decision. As much as I love the 80s, I painted myself into a corner content-wise and between a bunch of life changes that were either huge time sucks (having two kids) or supreme bummers (losing both my parents and sister over the last decade), I just wasn’t feeling the pull to concentrate on the nostalgia as much.
How do you think ‘Branded in the 80s’ has affected your view of the world?
It completely reshaped my worldview. Not only did this tiny project connect me with a ton of really great and creative people, it spurred me to do things I’d dreamed of but never thought I’d do like creating an offshoot zine that I ended up tabling with at comic conventions all over the country as well as being sold in a handful of comics shops in the southeast. It was the thing that connected me to the woman I would fall in love with, marry and start a family with. And it became a platform that unlocked a lot of doors creatively. Because of Branded I’ve been featured on NPR, The Guardian, and The Washington Post, and was even in a documentary about my favorite movie (The Monster Squad). But more generally, it proved a theory that I had when I started the site, which is that this love for this specific decade of pop culture is a powerful shorthand that connects an entire generation of folks. I can walk into a retro convention, horror convention, or meet folks that are roughly my age and start up conversations with them as if we’ve been friends our whole life, and this is a pretty powerful connection that can bridge all of the dumb junk that separates us these days like politics and hot button issues.
What do you think of the intense action and adventure animation of that decade?
I love it. I feel like what we got with companies like Filmation, Sunbow, and Rankin/Bass was a perfect blend of content that’s okay for kids, but still cool enough that I can enjoy watching a lot of it as an adult. A lot of folks like to bag on those cartoons, but I feel like they were an amazing leap forward from the played-out teen detective and around-the-world race cartoons of the 60s and 70s, and were the inspiration that would give us truly amazing shows in the 90s like Batman the Animated Series. Also, I’m still haunted by Mumm-Ra and Mon*Star transforming in their respective shows…
What does nostalgia mean to you?
It’s a mixed bag, but at its best nostalgia is an incredibly visceral experience that can literally send one back in time. Because of the inherent sadness of the emotion, that yearning for having something or being somewhere we can never have or be at again, it’s also the strongest argument for staying centered in the present so that you don’t let what’s happening now just pass you by. Revel in it and you won’t miss it later.
Why do you think it’s important to reflect on and document our childhood experiences?
First and foremost so that we can relate to one another. I can’t count how many times one of the thousand pieces I wrote for my site created such a strong emotion of remembrance or recognition in another person that we’ve instantly bonded over it. Some of these shared experiences with folks have turned into decades-long friendships and that is amazing to me.
What are some of your favorite childhood memories?
Some of my absolute favorite memories are tied to growing up in central FL during the 80s. So having the opportunity to hit up Disney World a lot, or being neck-deep in the surfer/skating culture. Typically the stuff I dwell on the most is also the weird and niche stuff. Whether it’s the smell of a brand new cassette tape, the sound of the witch’s cackle on the Halloween Horrors sound effect record, or the feel of tonguing the sharp mouth hole in a brand new Ben Cooper Halloween mask (the kind that came with the vinyl smock costume. The smell of bubblegum Sex Wax (which was available everywhere in FL in the 80s because everyone surfed right?) The freedom of creating your own soda suicide in a 7-Eleven. That stuff is golden.
What do certain objects or products from your childhood bring to mind?
I mention this one a lot, but eating Otter Pops can transport me to sitting on one of those huge green ground-mounted electrical transformer boxes in neighborhoods, the warmth burning through my thin surf shorts as I discuss skateboarding tricks with my friend Peanut. G.I. Joe figures remind me of the toy aisles in Albertsons grocery stores as I spent hours staring at them there.
What are your thoughts on the 80s being dismissed as a decade?
If this is in reference to younger generations dismissing it, I’m all for it. I’m actually kind of done with the 80s being popular and I want it to calm down to the point where eBay resellers and folks aren’t driving the prices of old ephemera and toys through the roof. Honestly, though, it doesn’t bother me. I can talk until I’m blue in the face about how so much of the decade was important, but folks thinking a lot of that stuff is useless, wasteful, or hollow isn’t wrong. That’s not really an 80s-specific thing though, it’s an every-decade thing. It’s a pop culture thing.
How do you think the 80s shaped pop culture and corporate branding?
It was the decade where we learned that absolutely anything can be branded, packaged, and sold. There were Crest Toothpaste lunch boxes for crying out loud!
What do you think is the most misunderstood thing about the 80s?
That the cartoons were ridiculous and written down to kids. I think that there is some amazingly subversive stuff in some of the series (there are so many penis monsters in Galaxy High), and there is some generally great animation writing in others (just seek out any cartoon written by Michael Reeves.)
What would you say is the biggest difference between the 80s and now?
I think the biggest difference is access. We’re living in a decade that is very similar to the 80s in terms of loud insane branding and a million pop culture things, but our level of access to it is insane. If only we could have had that in the 80s when I was young and had the energy to absorb it all!
Anything else you want to share with our readers?
Just that I’m developing a new site that will hopefully launch by the end of the year.