By On the occasion of our 20th anniversary
By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
Ostensibly, it's the sights and sounds of 1980s pop culture that you're supposed to experience when you visit the Reagan Years, a video arcade/ museum/store in Old Town Fullerton. But although the bright lights and wacky noises and embarrassing posters that fill the place are unequivocally '80s, it's obvious that there's much more—which is to say, lots less—of the real Ronald Reagan lying beneath the wall-to-wall superficiality of this little shop.
Start with the location of this arcade, on the fringes of the antique and thrift dealers that fill the preserved early 20th-century storefronts in this part of town. The Reagan Years is attached to the Hub coffeehouse, which reeks of obligatory contempo-retro ambiance (that is, premium prices and five-and-dime decor). It's across the parking lot from the Amtrak/MetroLink station, the latest attempt to keep old-time train travel alive. That's Reagan.
Then take a look at the Reagan Years' store logo, which is itself a sly bit of commentary, depicting a caricature of the wrinkled, pompadoured, rooster-necked 40th president standing at the controls of a video game: yes, that game is Star Wars, which drew its double meaning from a blockbuster movie and a block-headed missile-defense system. That's Reagan, too.
Finally, walk among the machines that line the periphery of two rooms without interruption. Read their names, which are scrawled in familiar lettering across their fading-colored facades: Centipedeand Joustand Donkey Kong and Paper Boy and Q*bertand Kung-Fu Master. Stroll beneath the posters of faded-to-forgotten celebrities: Flock of Seagulls and Max Headroom and Twisted Sister and Madonna (from her Desperately Seeking Susan days, when everybody still thought she could act) and Michael Jackson (who still seemed weird but at least really was black). Check out that series of instructional photos titled, "How to Break Dance." And over there in the corner? Those photos of the guy with the winning smile and the weird wife? Yep, that's Reagan, Reagan, Reagan and more Reagan.
Now stop for a second and soak it all in: even the skinny guy with the shaggy hair and the clingy Rolling Stones "Tattoo You" T-shirt who is kicking and screaming profanities at the Ms. Pac-Man game that just beat him—especially him—and just try to say you don't feel the essence of Ronald Reagan permeating this place. And not only the Ronald Reagan from the 1980s, either. All of the Reagan years—that's 88 of 'em, and (barely) counting—are epitomized here.
Truly, could there be a more appropriate assessment of Ronald Wilson Reagan—whose eight-year stint as leader of the free world was a bells-and-whistles stop between B-movie acting and Alzheimer's disease—than rooms full of TV screens flashing primitive images and repeating simplistic plots and accompanied by an assortment of whirrs and pings and zips and boingggggs? Not until somebody figures out a way to coax Bonzo out of bed.