Wednesday, April 11, 2012

What Every (Pop Culture) Nerd Knows

[Advance warning: this is a long and ranty but humorous post. It's entirely my own opinions, somewhat exaggerated for entertainment purposes but mostly true. If you're a literal thinker, you might not appreciate the spirit in which this is written, but if you've got a good sense of humor, you'll get the gist of what I mean and consider the rest good fun.]

You may not know this about me, but I am pained whenever I drop a big name and get blank stares in response. Okay, honestly, if I mention Jean Arthur or Joseph Cotten, I don't expect anyone to know who I'm talking about because while they were big stars in their day, they didn't have the staying power of some others and as a result they are no longer a part of the public consciousness. On the other hand, you have people like Frank Sinatra. Now he was a huge star in his day, he's a legend now, and in my mind he is one of those larger-than-life celebrities that everyone should know about. Yet when I mention him to some of my friends, this is how it usually goes:

Me (stops, listens): Oh, that's Frankie.
Friend: Frankie?
Me: Frank Sinatra. Listen.
Friend (listens, looks at me blankly, blinks): Who?
Me (jaw drops): Frank Sinatra. The singer.
Friend: Oh, yeah. I think I've heard of him, somewhere.
Me: *face-palm*

It's one of the most painful conversations ever, and it happens all the time. I don't expect everyone to agree with me. I don't expect everyone to love Cary Grant, but I do expect them to know who he is, at the very least. Humphrey Bogart? Of course you should know that name! I only became interested in old movies a few years ago, but even I knew Katharine Hepburn by age nine.

I don't expect everyone to love It's a Wonderful Life (1939) - hey, I don't love it, either, so why should I judge? - but I'm going to be shocked if they've never even heard of the movie. This is America, people! There are certain things that we should just know: baseball, apple pie, James Stewart, Alfred Hitchcock. And I don't just mean Psycho. I mean North by Northwest and Notorious. Sure, you can argue that Hitchcock was British, but we've adopted him because America in general is kind of like Texas that way: we want you anyway. [You win a cookie if you got that reference.]

Speaking of which, and this is on a much smaller scale, there are some things and people that Texans should know about, specifically the singers and songwriters of our fair state: Waylon, and Willie, and the boys [again, catch the reference, get a cookie]... and Lyle, naturally. Not recognizing these names, in my mind, would be similar to living in L.A. your whole life and never knowing about Tom Cruise or Julia Roberts.

Back on the national scale, if you've never seen I Love Lucy, I'm going to wonder what planet you're from because if you haven't, it just doesn't make sense to me, I'm sorry. And you had certainly better (horrible grammar, I know; I don't care) know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek, and you'd better know that Donald Duck is a Disney character, while Daffy Duck is strictly a Looney Tunes guy (... duck). These are the basics, like 2 + 2 = 6... ... ... and I think I just proved my own point.

It's only been in the past few years that I've realized that everyone my age who comes from a fairly average family is not as well-versed in pop culture as I am. Apparently it's unusual these days for kids to grow up listening to their parents' music. Case in point: I mentioned Three Dog Night to a friend recently, and she responded that, yeah, her dad loves them, but she's never listened. Wait, what?

Half of my education has been discovering quality entertainment along with and through my parents. Before I started branching out and developing my own taste and my own collection, I discovered music by raiding my dad's CD stash; I listened to whatever my mom put in the player while she was working; I watched my dad's favorite, often totally nerdy movies; I built a musical foundation by knowing my parents' collections and listening to everything from classical (not my favorite at eleven years old, I'll tell you that much) to Southern rock.

When it comes to music, of course, I don't have such ridiculous expectations for people. Sure, I expect people to listen to good music (not such a safe assumption as you might think), but I don't assume that they'll know all the singers and groups that I know, and I don't expect that I'll know all of the singers that my friends listen to, either. Everyone has different taste, and everyone is exposed to different music. I do, however, expect that a lot of the music they were exposed to early in life was dictated by their parents. Until I became a teenager and started actively seeking out music for myself, there were basically two ways that I discovered new music: listening to the radio and raiding my parents' stash.

What it all comes down to, people, is that everybody comes to the table with a different perspective on entertainment because we've all grown up consuming it in different ways. As for me, I've loved growing up in a household where punishment meant going to bed early... and missing an episode of whatever scifi show my dad was watching with us kids. It wasn't very fun at the time, but now it makes a great story that's guaranteed to bring puzzled looks my way. I'm glad that the soundtrack to my preteen years was Lyle Lovett, Jim Croce, and the soundtrack to The Big Chill (even though I didn't see that film till years later). Unconsciously, I think there was a time when I assumed that all kids grew up learning about music and good movies from their parents and the adults around them, but thinking about it now, I realize how naive I was to think that way.

I was very lucky to be home-schooled along with my two older siblings. Now for some families, home-schooling does not work, and, honestly, some home-schooling families are just plain weird, but for us, it worked, and one of the perks was spending time with our parents and grandparents and learning from them: everything from the appreciation of lemon meringue pie to a basic knowledge of classic rock by age 15.

If episodes of Firefly and Farscape weren't turned into your bed time stories, I can't hold that against you, but still... you should know Frank Sinatra.

Image Sources: Image I, Image II, Image III, Image IVImage V, Image VI


  1. Love this post! My sister is a music teacher, and she says 95% of her young students do not even know who the Beatles are. What?? I'll bet if she mentioned Frank Sinatra, their blank looks would be even broader. My parents raised us on classical and opera, which is what I still mostly listen to, so I have to admit, most popular music groups go right over my head. Unless they sang in the 1940s or 1950s, and, of course, the 1980s, since those were my high school years and I was corrupted by schoolmates into loving some modern (then) music.

    And I'm pleased to say my 4-year-old nephew knows who Frank Sinatra is. :-D

  2. I know what you mean. Speaking of country music, I heard there will be a statue of Willie unveiled in Austin next week, which sounds neat. Also I heard there's a Texas Country Music Hall of Fame museum somewhere, but not sure where it is. Hopefully these will inspire a younger generation to learn more about country music history.

  3. We're similar in some ways, different in others. I sure know who Bogart and Sinatra are, but I don't know the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. You can blame that on the fact that I'm just not a sci-fi person. But I do remember the bed-after-dinner punishment! I didn't get it too often, so I guess it made me mend my ways pretty quick. :)

    I know next to nothing about present-day pop culture and that of recent decades, but I'm thoroughly familiar with my grandparents' and great-grandparents' day! I prefer 1940s music to what my parents listened to as teens. I'm not really sure how this came about; maybe it was partly through movies - we've always watched mainly classics, and I got to know the era that way. I think homeschooling really can expose you to a greater variety in life, because it gives you the opportunity to explore and discover things for yourself. Everybody in my family has different tastes, but we do share and inform each other's. My dad played trumpet in high school, and he likes Maynard Ferguson - but I introduced him to Harry James!


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