The White House:
MONON, Ind. – There was Mark Goodman’s face on a TV screen in an Indiana classroom, shot in vertical video-conferencing mode, minus the thick, dark curls of his final days on MTV in 1987.
Introduced on a recent morning by North White High School teacher Todd Shriver as “Professor Goodman,” one of the five original MTV VJs is trying explain his piece of an ’80s cultural phenomenon and fill in some cultural gaps for a group that was born in the early-2000s in rural Indiana.
A few of the references are greeted by blank faces – “Frankie Goes to Hollywood? ‘Relax?’ Anyone? Come on,” he presses at one point. And, from his home in New York, 750 miles from Monon, Indiana, Goodman acknowledges that he’s not famous to the high school faces he can see on the other side of the call. (“But I’m famous to the people who go on those ’80s cruises,” Goodman laughs. “Man, everybody on board wants to take a picture.”)
But here’s what everyone from the streaming-music generation in the classroom wants to know from a guy who was on the ground floor of the music video generation: Is everything their parents – and their teacher in their social studies class “Topics in the 1980s” – told them about the decade for real?
“I do a lot of ’80s events, and it seems like the nostalgia for the ’80s is ramping up,” Goodman said. “I’ve been saying the nostalgia for the ’80s has gone on longer than the ’80s happened. Yeah, it was real.”
At North White, the Q&A on a November morning was less nostalgia than straight-up history.
Twenty years ago, Shriver developed the “Topics in the ’80s” class, a social studies elective that spends a semester tracing the decade, year-by-year, tying geo-political themes to pop culture hooks to a look at the Cold War, the Reagan era and changes in technology.
“When it started,” Shriver said, “it was a way to look at what I felt was the greatest decade of all time. Along the way, it grew into something else.”
In 2013, Shriver started peppering the class with video chats with guest lecturers. Shriver found out that getting faces from the ’80s into his classroom often was a matter of simply making a connection and asking.
“And, then asking again. And again, in some cases,” Shriver said. “Persistence, man.”
Goodman was the first guest, in fall 2013, when he told students stories about the fledgling MTV days, tried to calculate how many times he’d introduced Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” and recounted the influence of some of the biggest names of the decade.
On the same morning that Goodman made a return video visit – his seventh in as many years, by Shriver’s count – Mike Eruzione, captain of the USA hockey team that won the gold medal at the 1980 Olympic Games, made his fifth call to North White since 2015.
The class has been passed from Shriver, who now is a technology coach for the district 35 miles north of Lafayette, to a progression of three teachers. Eric Stewart teaches the class this year.
But the firsthand component remains a staple.
Consider a partial lineup of guests who have spent an hour or so patching into the high school of 280 students since 2013:
• Alan Hunter, another original MTV VJ.
• Malcolm-Jamal Warner, who played Theo on “The Cosby Show.”
• Curtis Armstrong, who was Booger in “Revenge of the Nerds.”
• Brad Long, who played Buddy Walker in “Hoosiers.”
• Rolling Stone and Billboard’s Joe Levy.
• “Saturday Night Live” cast member Joe Piscopo.
• Disney animator Philo Barnhart, an animator on “The Little Mermaid” among other classics.
• Actor Leon Robinson.
• 1988 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis.
• Congressman John Lewis.
• “Full House” star John Stamos.
“I thought these were amazing opportunities for the students,” said David Cornelius, who taught the class for several years.
“I always said, ‘I could teach you anything you want to know, but these people lived it,’” Cornelius said. “The way education is going today, technology is at the forefront. Textbooks, paper and blackboards are no more.”
Shawn Curtis, a former North White teacher who now is at Carmel High School, taught a complementary course devoted to the year 1988.
“I think it is the closest to past history that still seems relevant to our students,” Curtis said of the focus on the ’80s. “It is such a transitional decade between everything that happened before – Vietnam, Civil Rights, World War II, Cold War, etc. – to everything that is now – computers, globalization, millennials. It is like the last happy meeting point of a unified pop culture and one that is splintered.”
Shriver said he still has a dream list of guests. He’d like to get Martha Quinn or Nina Blackwood, two other original MTV VJs. Molly Ringwald, actress in ’80s John Hughes flicks “Pretty in Pink” and “The Breakfast Club,” shot him down like Farmer Ted in “Sixteen Candles.” He’s reached out to Stewart Copeland, drummer with the Police. His ultimate, he says, would be Billy Joel, so they could talk about the singer’s groundbreaking tour of the Soviet Union in 1987.
The list keeps growing. In the prep hour between this day’s Q&As with Goodman and Eruzione, Shriver has a call lined up with the manager of Patty Smyth, lead singer of Scandal. (“Love Patty Smyth,” Goodman tells Shriver. “She was my actual ‘80s crush.”)
That morning, North White student Alexis Saubert wanted to know from Eruzione how accurate the scenes in “Miracle” – a Disney movie they’d seen in class – were compared with what really happened in the USA’s underdog run in Lake Placid nearly 40 years ago.
The movie, Eruzione said from his office in Boston, “captured what the moment was like,” and Kurt Russell “was actually amazing” as U.S. Coach Herb Brooks.
Eruzione told the students he could still hear how loud it was in the arena filled with fans chanting, “USA! USA!” He said not a day goes by when he doesn’t encounter someone who tells him where they were when he scored the winning goal in the semifinal round against the Soviet Union, a 4-3 victory still called the Miracle on Ice. Eruzione said not a day goes by when he doesn’t answer that game against the Russians was huge, but wouldn’t have amounted to much if team USA lost the gold medal game against Finland – “which not as many people seem to remember.”
MTV debuted more than a year after those Olympics. North White student Richie Spear wanted to know if Goodman, leaving a job as a New York City radio disc jockey, knew what he was getting into.
“I just thought it was a cool idea, playing videos,” Goodman said.
“What wound up happening was that MTV became a cultural phenomenon,” Goodman said. “Like I used to say when I was interviewed in the ’80s, MTV became the Beatles of the ’80s, because the Beatles changed music, changed culture, changed clothing, changed film. They changed everything. So did MTV when it came along in the ’80s. We had no idea that MTV would do that.”
As the class dismissed, Shriver stayed back to thank Goodman for taking the time that day – and for being the first willing to take time for North White High School. Goodman thanked Shriver for asking.
“This is so great,” Goodman said. “And, hey, what the heck. The ’80s are more popular than ever.”
Follow Dave Bangert on Twitter: @davebangert.
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