My laptop died in December. For the past three months, I have been enjoying the benefits of having a laptop that isn’t ancient. For instance, I can now consistently open PDFs.
Even better, I can once again access the iTunes store, with its glorious array of free and bank-draining possibilities.
I can finally act on the repeated recommendation from a friend to check out a podcast from NPR called “Pop Culture Happy Hour.” And oh boy, do I love it.
Now, due to a quirk resulting from some kind of change to the technical aspects of NPR’s podcast distribution in the past few months, most of my NPR podcasts suddenly decided to download all or most of the past few years’ archives. That was a bit annoying when it came to Fresh Air (I enjoy it well enough, but not THAT much), but when it came to PCHH, it’s great fun.
One of the things I like about it is that they theme the episodes, which are usually divided into three acts. The final act is always the same – “What’s Making Us Happy This Week” – but the first two are sometimes both discussions, and sometimes one is a discussion and the second is a funny quiz.
Anyway, some of the archived episodes I’ve been listening to have me thinking about the subject of popular culture knowledge gaps.
There are things we take for granted, assuming that everyone knows them as well as we do. Often it’s heavily dependent on what popular culture we’re exposed to as children, and at some level, we are still those kids who think that this is what everyone sees, reads, and listens to, and then we’re startled when we encounter someone who doesn’t know those songs, stories, and characters.
In my way of thinking, these gaps fall into a few overlapping categories.
1. Lack of knowledge
If you simply aren’t aware of something, you will naturally have that as a gap. That happened (and still happens) to me a lot. I didn’t grow up in a tv-watching household, so when my friends talked about Nickelodeon, the Siimpsons, South Park, Friends, or Buffy (to name a few), I usually either stared blankly or went off into my happy place until they finished. There was a guy who sat near me in eighth grade history, though, who used to love to recount the entire plot of each week’s Simpsons episode to me in spite of my demonstrated lack of interest. Which leads me to…
2. Lack of interest
This manifests at a lot of levels. Sometimes it’s as simple as an individual production by an artist, or sometimes it’s the artist’s entire body of work. Sometimes it’s a genre or an entire category. For instance, keeping up with popular music has never been of particular interest to me. So I don’t. If I encounter a song that I like, I listen to it, but I don’t put any effort into finding new music. There’s so much entertainment and popular cultural works out there that it’s impossible to consume more than the tiniest fraction in our lifetimes – why spend your time and energy on something that just doesn’t capture your interest?
3. Lack of access
Sometimes there are things you would follow if you could, but maybe you don’t have the right channels on your TV, or the funds to expend on pursuing the cultural thread in question, or the rules of your family don’t allow it, like Lane Kim on Gilmore Girls being forbidden to listen to rock music. Then again, maybe that’s not a good example, because she finds a way to listen anyway.
4. Lack of time
Like I said earlier, there’s so much out there in the popular culture realm, created before, during, and likely to be produced after our lifetimes. Even if you spent all your time reading, you’d never read all the books in the world. Same goes for movies, or tv, or comics, or sporting events, or music, or live performances. We all have to pick and choose and accept the fact that we’re barely going to graze the surface of what’s out there.
The kinds of gaps I’m describing here are interlocking. For instance, my lack of interest in pursuing popular music means I have a distinct lack of knowledge in the area.
Here are some of my gaps, other than popular music, of which I am aware. At the moment, I’d say mostly my choices are determined by category 2 – most of my gaps are simply due to lack of interest. For the same reason, I am rarely able to categorize my interests by genre. I follow what interests me.
1. Superman franchise
2. Batman franchise
3. Basically anything from the DC Comics universe. I’ve got some on Marvel, thanks to the past decade’s films, but I never really got into comics.
6. Most sports. I get a kick out of watching the Olympics (winter and summer) and sometimes watching bits of the World Series, but the rest of it just doesn’t hold my attention.
7. Most in the paranormal/supernatural area of stories
Some gaps I’ve discovered in others that brought me up short, and that help me to understand my own quirks:
1. Dickens novels
2. 1930s/1940s Hollywood classics/memorable actors and their roles
3. James Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks (nobody EVER gets my references, and it makes me sad)
4. Tudor history
5. Classic English children’s literature from around 100 years ago (think Frances Hodgson Burnett, Edith Nesbit, etc.)
6. Original literature versions of things Disney has mangled into syrupy, sanitized animations
7. Lord of the Rings