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,