Wednesday, March 26, 2008
People ten years younger than me haven't heard of anything
I'm continually surprised by the complete lack of cultural reference points (or context for available reference points) my mostly decade-younger fellow students exhibit in class discussions. The immediate present (or context-free reference to the recent past) is the only thing that seems to exist. I know I'm looking at the world with ten extra years of jackassery under my belt, and I allow a lot of concessions for that. When I was 18-21, I never rented any movies that predated the late 1960s, and I hardly ever rented any non-American films. My musical taste was narrower and rooted in the present and near-past, and I stuck to the 20th century in my choice of books. However, I spent those years slowly expanding my repertoire, and I had at least heard of a lot of stuff I hadn't yet experienced. I know it's the American way to be lazy, complacent, hostile to any kind of intellectual self-improvement, and stuck in the present, and knowing a lot of cultural references isn't really that important unless you experience the work behind these references, but sweet christ, the cultural history of the twentieth century sure seems irrelevant to today's newest adults (hereafter referred to as post-pubes) (not really). Even when they know who someone is, they know him or her from some of the most irrelevant shit he or she has ever made. Examples, overheard in my classes: "Who's that guy from As Good As It Gets? Oh yeah, Jack Nicholson." A group report about the film Red River in my Life and Lit of the Southwest class included a presentation about Howard Hawks. The girl giving the presentation mentioned some of the many actors Hawks either discovered or featured in their first important roles. James Caan was one of these actors. The girl said: "He's the guy from Elf." This makes me feel 10,000 years old, even though I'm pretty new to the planet myself.
Interestingly, the reference points of the middle school kids I'm observing and student teaching this semester are much more expansive than the 20-year-olds in my classes who've never heard of Cormac McCarthy, Larry McMurtry, Stanley Kubrick, Charlie Parker, Gary Cooper, the L.A. riots, Henry Kissinger, H.L. Mencken, the Fat Boys, Foreigner, Liz Phair, or the Sex Pistols. The middle school kids have heard of more writers, bands, and songs than my fellow English and education majors (though they claim every book is either "stupid" or "boring.") I've heard students singing 1970s and '80s metal, pre-fame R.E.M., sixties bubblegum pop, Nirvana's non-hits, and '80s gangsta rap and new wave. When I asked them about their favorite movies, Fried Green Tomatoes had a place in the pantheon. (Not a good movie, but, hey! It predates their existences!) I was baffled by this for weeks until I realized a lot of the parents of these 13-year-olds aren't much older than me. If I had more muscle tone, athleticism, stupidity, street smarts, a non-fear of rejection, a fear of latex, easier access to booze, and less access to drugs, heavy metal, and/or unrequited love in high school, I could be the father of a 13-year-old right now. So, this obsession with the present only (unless referenced on Family Guy) is a temporary, generational thing is all I'm saying, and I will stop worrying about it. Thanks, middle school loudmouth brats! You have actually heard of things that aren't really important but make Dr. Mystery feel better about the state of young adulthood and the health of this country's cultural references of yesterday, tomorrow, today, tomorrow.
Louis Black still sucks! Evidence here!