Saturday, September 11, 2010

"Leave this house."

WARNING: I might be a little tipsy while writing this. Likely to meander slightly ;-)

After a lovely evening spent mostly in the company of people 7 or more years younger than myself, I got to thinking about the nature of inter-generational relationships and culture. Some of you may know that I'm a huge Oscar Wilde buff. I started wondering if Oscar had the same exasperating experiences that I had when dealing with his youthful compatriots. A little history:

In 1891, at the age of 37, Oscar Wilde met Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas aged 21. In correspondences with Bosie and his other youthful compatriots, Oscar regularly referenced Greek Mythological figures such as Hyacinth, Ganymede, Adonis, Narcissus, etc. as well as Shakespeare and other cultural icons of the times:
My dearest Bobbie, Bosie has insisted on stopping here for sandwiches. He is quite like a narcissus-- so white and gold. I will come either Wednesday or Thursday night to your rooms. Send me a line. Bosie is so tired: he lies like a hyacinth on the sofa, and I worship him.
What I realized is that in the era of TV and the dawn of pop culture, the concept of a shared lexicon has moved from the Victorian two-tiered, class-based system to the modern three-tiered, age-based system. In Oscar's time, the upper classes, be they 13 or 38, partook of High Culture (theatre, art, music, opera, literature, etc.), and the lower classes partook of Low Culture (penny dreadfuls, Victorian dance halls, etc.). Nowadays, we still have the High and Low culture which is still relatively class dependent (i.e. the demographics for the Metropolitan Opera are not the same as for WWE Smackdown) but we've got this concept of "Pop" culture that is about a specific moment in time. It is from this area that most of us pull our common cultural lexicon, our shorthand that we can use with one another. Unfortunately, the technological explosion of the past decades is rapidly shrinking the available pool of users of these lexicons.

In the 60s and 70s, TV expanded the horizons of pop culture, but the landscape was still relatively small. You could reference "Corporal Klinger" or say "Heyyyy" while popping two thumbs up and most age groups would get the references. In the 80s, cable came on the scene and further broadened pop culture, but until it's became nearly omnipresent, the divider wasn't based on age so much as it was based on whether or not you had cable. (To this day I still have no idea when someone references the early days of Nickelodeon as I didn't have cable except at my grandparents' house and then I only watched MTV, ya know, back when the M meant something ;-) In the past decade or so, Hollywood's relentless drive, fueled by the Internet's explosion, to find "the next big thing" has left us with a lot of "last so-so things" as our pop culture legacies. Unfortunately, "so-so things" tend to not make as much money as "big things" and thus disappear from the pop culture landscape much faster, though still leaving their mark on a particular age group.

This has led to another entertainment industry trend of recycling. This is their sometimes wonderful (Batman, Lord of the Rings, Star Trek), sometimes dreadful (Star Wars, Indiana Jones, The Karate Kid) attempts at "reimagining" or resurrecting older material to make it fresh for newer audiences. And there have been newer pieces of entertainment that have succeeded in bridging the divide (Harry Potter and Glee spring to mind).

All that said, maybe it's just me, but I'm nearly Oscar's age, and were I to find a Bosie for myself, I'd likely drive myself insane because I can't do things like reference "Saved by the Bell" to him because he grew up watching "That's So the Suite Life of iCarly Montana." Hyperbole to be sure, but admit it, you know you've (for values of you that are in my age range) done things like:
The irony is that my immediate reaction in many of these instances of dissonance created by the lack of shared pop culture lexicon is to quote Patrick Stewart in Jeffery (from about 1:15 to the money quote and this post's title at 3:05) which, of course, they've never seen.


Peter Tabakis said...

Too much to unpack at this late hour. But thanks for another hot poe-TAT-oh, Jack. Response to follow. Bring it 100MC-ers!

Admiral X said...

Try adding a racial divide to that ;-). I happen to be pretty good at speaking both languages, but when I'm around "my people," half that stuff makes absolutely no sense to them.

The Knowledgemonger said...

Tell me about it Jerry... I am well versed in the both the age-gap reference issue and the interracial reference issue. I have taken to saying: "It's a White people thing, you wouldn't understand..." Kidding, of course. ;-)

But, it does bring up a very valid point about the addition of ever increasing layers of cultural divide. As the technology ramps up and the "pop" lasts for shorter durations, you get an ever shrinking age group that gets the pop reference that you are trying to invoke. It is a challenge for sure, but I also find myself ever increasingly exposed to new things that I would not have on my own.

So, I guess the question boils down to this: Is the increasing inability to utilize a common reference an adequate trade-off for getting to know new references? I will say that I am on the fence on rather or not it is worth it.

Admiral X said...

What is with this gray background on the comments? Makes them look disabled. I mean that's prolly not far off, but those that are don't need the extra help haha.

Admiral X said...

"So, I guess the question boils down to this: Is the increasing inability to utilize a common reference an adequate trade-off for getting to know new references? I will say that I am on the fence on rather or not it is worth it."

I don't think what's going on now is any different from what has always gone on, it's just more visible. My sisters are tweenage, and they speak in a language and use something that passes for punctuation that not only do I not understand, I don't particularly care to.

Yes I do realize my rocking chair, cane and front porch are on a FedEx truck as we speak. Bring it.