Duh-dun duh-dun

      2 Comments on Duh-dun duh-dun

Well, and in the middle of the conversation my Best Reader made a random reference to a bit from one of the Pink Panther movies, as you do when you are our age, and I laughed, the way you do when you’re our age, and then a few minutes later I thought our children have never heard the Pink Panther theme. I’m not absolutely sure about that, mind you, but I don’t believe that either of the children we have raised have watched any of the movies or the cartoon.

There’s no particular reason why my children should be familiar with the Pink Panther theme. The movies are good, at least some of them are, and some of the cartoons are terrific as well, but there are lots of good movies and lots of good cartoons. Actually, I think my kids have watched very few cartoons, certainly compared to my intake. They spend their screen time playing games rather than watching cartoons, and that’s all right, too. They are a different generation from us, they will have different cultural touchstones.

The thing that strikes me, though, is that when I was their age, the cultural stuff felt so permanent. That was an illusion at the time, of course. The Pink Panther theme was written in 1963, so it had always been there in 1979 when I was ten. It was a Baby Boom thing. And of course there was and still is a lot of Baby Boom stuff just littering up our culture. But a lot of it is fading away, and quickly, too. Not just the stuff made for the Baby Boomers but the stuff that they picked up and kept, too. The movies of the 30s, the music of the 40s, the television of the 50s. And of course it was all recorded so we saw the same shows that they did (except for quite a lot of cutting, but we didn’t know that). And we saw it on TV, which had three commercial networks, a PBS station and maybe two UHF stations. And a culture of receptivity, where we watched whatever the hell was on.

And… we knew who Peter Lorre was from the Bugs Bunny cartoons, but we watched Bugs Bunny cartoons that had been made for people who knew who Peter Lorre was. And we watched them because they were what was on, and the ones with references to The Great Guildersleeve or Charles Boyer were in between the ones without. Now, it seems as if there’s a lot more choice involved. Which is a terrific thing! And if it is the case that almost no teenagers will have watched a Roy Rogers movie or heard the Andrews Sisters or can tell you who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men, then that is not some terrible cultural loss unique to our generation.

It is, however, the cultural loss unique to my generation, overshadowed by the Boomers and the Millennials, the first to grow up with the recorded popular culture of their parents. It just seemed like that stuff would be around forever, handed down to the next generation as it was handed down to us: December Bride and Dragnet and The Rifleman, Dino and Frankie and Sammy, Opie and Andy and Gomer Pyle, Hope and Crosby, Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. I can, as an individual parent, pick a few favorite things to try to transmit to my own kids, out of goofy parental arrogance, and there will always be some people who come to them out of whatever combination of taste and opportunity, but it’s plausible to me that when my kid and his friends are playing tabletop games and one of betrays the other to hideous defeat, it will not occur to him to say Gee, ain’t I a stinker.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,

2 thoughts on “Duh-dun duh-dun

  1. Jed

    Interesting stuff.

    I’m inclined to look at this idea, or a related idea, through the lens of books, because that’s where I had most of my previous-generations experience as a kid: I was reading books published in the ’30s through the ’50s, with no real sense that they weren’t new in the ’70s.

    And I think a lot of those books are still around. I bet a lot of bookstores and libraries still carry paper copies of The Martian Chronicles and Half Magic and Johnny Tremain and Make Way for Ducklings and The Hobbit and Mary Poppins and so on. And on the one hand I’m pleased that those books are timeless enough that more recent generations can continue to read them; but on the other hand, the more shelf space that’s taken up by works published decades ago, the less space there is for new stuff. (Some of which modern audiences might relate to better.)

    1. Vardibidian Post author

      The reason I think of books as different, culturally, is because they are older—I grew up on an agglomeration of Boomer books, Lost Generation, Edwardian and Victorian books as well as a handful of things written in the 70s. With movies and music and television—I think the absolute earliest stuff that I came across was from the thirties. It was really just my parents’ generation that existed for me.
      But also, I think there really was a cultural sense with movies and television and music that we just took in what was out there. We watched what the television stations put on the schedule, and we listened to what the radio stations played. And growing up, it was really the case (for me, at any rate) that I was often in places where I didn’t even get to pick the radio or tv station; that was my dad or my older sibling or maybe the friend who had a car… I mean, my kids are subjected to my music and television tastes, too, but really just the peculiarities of their own parents’ taste, not narrowed very much by the choices of broadcast stations of any kind.
      It occurs to me as well that I honestly don’t know what Kids These Days are growing up with in terms of broadcast stuff, though. I think that mostly the Kids These Days have televisions in their houses with cable/satellite; they have a lot of channels but not an infinite number. There’s a lot of new content (does the Disney Channel do reruns of their older shows or just show the new ones over and over?) but some older stuff. Little House on the Prairie is still being repeated on some channel or other, or was the last time I clicked around the guide. Also, it seems as if our household strategy of playing music from a household collection on the hard drive is not as common as I would have imagined. So our kids’ preference for active rather than passive exposure to popular culture (by which I mean, picking their own stuff rather than watching/listening to whatever is on) may be a reaction to our household peculiarities rather than a symptom of a wider cultural shift.



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