In a world where people wore neon socks and gummy bracelets… What else can one say about the ‘80s that hasn’t already been said on VH-1’s I Love the ‘80s? But is pop culture nostalgia all that is left of this decade?
Not if one of South Florida’s brightest new companies, Subculture, has anything to say about it. On Saturday, July 14th at the Classic Gateway Theatre in Fort Lauderdale, Subculture revived the ‘80s with Sincerely Yours, Marty McFly—an event that unabashedly celebrated the decade with films, art, indie crafts, and music.
However, the intention was not to merely revel in the past but to create an entirely new sense of community in Fort Lauderdale.
According to the Subculture web site, their mission is to “work with local merchants, vendors, and artists of all types to promote their work and growth within the community.”
Phillip Roffman is CEO of Subculture—21 years old, a doppelganger for a young Robert Downey Jr., completely enthusiastic and boundless in his vision for Fort Lauderdale. On the night of the event, Mr. Roffman could be found everywhere—outside at the front entrance next to the rented DeLorean on display, checking in with the vendors and the DJs in the lobby, sitting at the front of the theatre for the film screenings, standing in the back with other audience members for the band performances.
“I was raised… with an insane work ethic,” said Mr. Roffman.
Alongside his high-energy and clear direction of purpose, he exuded an approachable demeanor. As he moved throughout the theater, he could definitely be mistaken for one of the attendees—someone who was there to connect with like minds, to watch the films, to have fun. Yet he did not stop moving, making sure everything was running the way it should be, and everyone had what they needed.
When asked to define the concept of the company, Mr. Roffman did not hesitate: “Subculture is about significance.”
He discussed how the company is working to build an alternative to the “quick sponsored event by Red Bull.” Mr. Roffman’s intention is to offer “significant events that people truly deserve.” Subculture’s Communication Director, Katie Lewis, 21, reaffirmed that the company is focused on “creating the culture that Fort Lauderdale doesn’t have…find[ing] the hidden gems and bringing them out.” Ms. Lewis has known Mr. Roffman since their days at Fort Lauderdale High School. “He get you energized… you like to see the end result.”
Freelance photographer Ian Witlen, 29, also reiterated that “Fort Lauderdale needs something.” Although Mr. Witlen photographed Sincerely Yours, Marty McFly for New Times Broward-Palm Beach , he also volunteered for the event’s photo booth, taking pictures of attendees, which would be posted on Subculture’s Facebook.
The company’s commitment to Fort Lauderdale appears steadfast, but Mr. Roffman shared that Subculture plans to build a larger network of local community connections throughout the country. They are already trying to develop a presence in California.
Yet the recession forced countless local businesses to shut down. Well-established arts organizations have lost their funding and tightened their budgets. Individual artists, writers and musicians are trying to find support for their work in a difficult economy.
So can an event centered on the decade of Reaganomics and Just Say No actually cultivate relationships within a community? Ironically, yes.
Of course, many had shown up at the Classic Gateway Theatre for the double-feature of ‘80s nostalgia: the Brat Pack introspection of The Breakfast Club and the DeLorean time-traveling adventure of Back to the Future.
However, filmgoers also spent time in the lobby featuring vendors who sold ‘80s inspired crafts and merchandise. The Fine Print Shoppe pressed out freshly screen-printed T-shirts. Illuminated Lion displayed pint glasses etched with Doc Emmett Brown from Back to the Future. One of the owners of Illuminated Lion, Kristin Frenzel, also referenced ‘80s pop culture and fashion in her paintings exhibited throughout the theatre. Another vendor, Accent You, offered hand sewn hair clips, earrings, necklaces and other accessories, many in pastel hues reminiscent of the ‘80s. Owner and artisan Sandra Isaacs, 58, creates her work from rescued and vintage fabrics—new items were made for the Subculture event. Ms. Isaacs’ daughter, Tracy Peña, 39, wore a pink blouse, gray skirt, white lace gloves, bobby socks and sunglasses. She described ‘80s fashions as “colorful and fun.” Ms. Isaacs added that the ‘80s were “happier times… more carefree.”
Social Media Manager of Subculture, Nicole Young, 25, dressed in a New Wave ensemble: black blouse with white polka dots, black cardigan and miniskirt, red belt cinched high above the waist. Opaque black tights with white heels and a fuchsia pink purse with white polka dots complemented the quintessential outfit. Ms. Young provided her own insights on why the modes of this decade continue to influence contemporary culture: “…[the fashion] was pushing boundaries people didn’t realize back then… everyone can find something to like about it…it’s never going out of style.”
Ms. Young also reflected on the need for Subculture’s style of community: “Fort Lauderdale needs one center point for everyone to gather…to give us an outlet to express what we love with other people… to give everyone the voice they deserve… and amplify it, so that people who may not know where to look for it, can find it.”
As far as music, JAMS DJs Kristof, 27, Matt P., 30, and Eric K., 32, played everything from Hall & Oates to Talking Heads to Pet Shop Boys to Madonna.
“Being born in 1980, I’ve got a connection with ‘80s nostalgia… it’s a reminder of good times,” shared Eric K. “I love film, music, art…and local people…and my friend Phil Roffman… [brought] these elements together.”
Kristof also commented that “‘80s music… [built] the foundation for electronic work.” He noted that JAMS was at the Subculture event to “do everything [they] can to build a community.”
During intermission between the two films, local bands Suede Dudes and Beach Day played brief sets at the front of the theatre. The guttural sound of Suede Dudes was reminiscent of the early ‘90s—heavy drums, dissonant chords. Beach Day took on the vibe of a ‘60s girls group alternating between melodic harmonies and a slightly off-kilter beat. The synthesis of decades was enhanced by the projector screen behind the musicians, which flashed a surreal montage of images including a 7UP commercial featuring Pac-Man, a McDonald’s commercial starring DeBarge, music videos from the Go-Go’s, and the intro to Baywatch. But both Suede Dudes and Beach Day briefly brought the audience back to 2012 with a mash-up diversion away from the pop-laden ‘80s.
Another reminder of the present—in the ‘80s, vegetarians may have been out of place. Even in 2012, South Florida events usually do not provide options for non-meat eaters. But Sincerely Yours, Marty McFly welcomed Chris Torlone, 33, owner of Frankie Dogs, a catering service offering gourmet veggie hotdogs. Mr. Torlone considered vegetarianism after his dog, Frankenstein, contracted lymphoma. He researched cancer and the effect that food by-products, particularly in meat, can have on people and animals. The experience motivated him to create Frankie Dogs two months ago; eventually, he hopes to obtain a food truck. “I take the energy [Frankenstein] gave me, and put it out there.”
This idea of “energy” directly relates to the context of Subculture, and speaks to the potential of developing community partnerships.
It also allows us to contemplate the process of recovery after the recession, and how we have responded. Considering the extent of betrayal—the foreclosures, the jobs that have been lost, the corporations that refuse to hire until their own honey pots are secure—who could blame those who refuse to trust anyone outside of their own circles or who refuse to even trust anyone outside of themselves? But this keeps the structures of isolation in place—the Facebook and Twitter existence, the civilizations built on commuters and cubicles.
Subculture presents an alternate response. Why not seek out those you can trust—those who can share their energy, those who can help?
Sincerely Yours, Marty McFly could have been another retro event without consequence. Yes, there was nostalgia. There was Molly Ringwald spending her Saturday afternoon in high school detention and Michael J. Fox skateboarding in and out of the 1950s.
But the difference was that Subculture doesn’t want it to end there.
Subculture provided an opportunity for individuals to connect with local businesses, vendors and artists in Fort Lauderdale—to find each other and encourage a network of support. Because it is fun to go retro—but it only has meaning if it moves us forward.