Friday, September 10, 2010

Popular Culture Illiteracy: Does this tragic deficiency affect someone you love?

Someday when I’ve become a famous writer, someone will write my biography. It should be fairly easy, because I’m a pretty simple person. I spend my days teaching language arts to 13-year-olds, parenting two sons, occasionally connecting with my husband when we’re both not working, and trying my hardest to put words together on a page that make sense and have meaning. I have dear friends with whom I share common interests. I have never been known to turn down an offer that starts with, “There are cheap plane flights to wherever. Want to go?” Hey, I’m already packed. However, there is one nasty little secret I have that may not be obvious to a biographer who doesn’t dig down deeply enough.
            You see, I am pop culture illiterate. It’s demeaning for a teacher to have to admit to being illiterate in anything, but there you have it. Ask me a question about the latest music trend or what’s on TV and my woeful lack of knowledge is exposed, hanging limply like an American flag on a hot and humid Fourth of July for everyone to see.
There are a variety of sources that I blame for this shameful ignorance. Cable TV is number one on the list. You have to admit that the majority of the shows being offered through this medium are insipid. I have been known to press the channel changing option on my remote through all 200-some channels (for which I pay about $50 a month) without finding anything more interesting than an old black-and-white rerun of The Beverly Hillbillies. My mom tells an adorable story about how “watch Bev’ly Hillbillies” was my first sentence back in 1962. By now, I’ve seen each episode, well, let’s just say “a few times”.
I lack the stamina required to keep track of the latest, most popular shows. As much as I’d like to talk about the contestants on Dancing with the Stars with my colleagues and students, I simply cannot watch for longer than fifteen minutes. I lose interest and wander away to do something I like better – reading a book or cleaning the toilet, for example. Yes, it’s pathetic, I know.
A while back, my appalling deficiency in popular culture facts hit me smack between the eyes. I listen to the news talk radio station on my way to work, so I can keep up to date with political and economic news. I know that President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran is trying to blame his people’s lack of confidence in the latest election result on the US. (This would surprise me except that I teach 8th graders who always blame someone else for anything they don’t want to take credit for. The correct terminology here is “I didn’t do nothing.” Not that I’m implying that the President of Iran is as morally developed as a 13 year old, mind you.) I worry about the nearly 10% of people out of work here in Georgia and how the federal government is planning on making changes that, in my educated opinion, will make the problems in the economy exponentially worse. I got all of that, but following these news items was a bulletin about Jon and Kate’s breakup and how it would affect the eight children.
Excuse me?
 Did you know that there is actually a TV program called Jon and Kate plus Eight? I kid you not. Apparently, it’s a reality show that follows the life of this couple – Jon and Kate – who have a set of twins and a set of sextuplet infants. After hearing about their break-up ON THE NEWS, I overheard people in the car repair waiting room, the grocery store, and the doctor’s office arguing about what should be done to help the children during the tragic breakup of their parents. Some people advocated getting Jon and Kate some counseling. Others thought it was a shame that Kate would have to be a single mother of 8 small children, but agreed that Kate and the kids would be better off without the loser. I heard that the break-up was Kate’s fault, Jon’s fault, or due to the pressures of having 8 babies or being under America’s spotlight 24-7.      All I can say is, “Huh?”
So I remain a pop culture ignoramus. I can’t even tell you that I’m hip to today’s music. My son played a song titled “I’m on a Boat” the other day in the car. It’s a Saturday Night Live parody of rap music, and he was right – it is funny when seen as a commentary on today’s popular rap. Even teaching vocabularily-challenged 8th graders, I can honestly say that I have never heard the f-bomb dropped so many times in three minutes. A work of f***ing genius, that song. Yes, I’m being sarcastic. Obviously, rap music isn’t my bag. (Stop that smirking. I can use the terms “hip” and “not my bag” if I want.)
I can hold my own on Jeopardy questions about classic country, classic rock, and a genre depressingly called “oldies”. Ask me why Jo cut her hair in Little Women, how old Mozart was when he wrote his first symphony, and what Maya Angelou titled her autobiography. But please, don’t ask me questions about Jon and Kate or which rap star has a number one hit with “Milli.” (It’s Lil Wayne; I looked it up.) As pathetic as this is, my current plan is to remain pop culture-challenged. I’m illiterate and content to remain so. I’m going to go reread Jane Eyre now.


  1. I'm the king of the world on a boat like Leo...but, my Dad's not a cell phone! Duh!

  2. Your spelling wrap wrong, and it's not music it's what you do with presents at Christmas. Jeesh, and I thought I was out of touch ;-)

  3. I liked John and Kate Plus 8 until Jon and Kate started arguing. And I'm on a boat is an EPIC song, but I like it's parody, "I'm on a Blimp" better. They drop the f-bomb less. And it has a possessed teddy bear.
    Anyway, I agree that reading is better than some shows. More productive.

  4. You guys make me feel so much better. Um...you do read paper books, right? Those electronic reader things just aren't the same. lol

  5. Paper books are wonderful. The older, the better too. Then you get that great smell!

  6. Gerry the fired teacherSeptember 23, 2010 at 10:58 AM

    Given my current unemployed status, I have dropped to tiers down in the options offered by Comcast. Somehow, I don't think my illiterate status as to pop culture will change one whit... I didn't watch most of that crap when I was paying for it, so I am hoping I won't miss it now. Sometimes the state of being illiterate is something to celebrate. And the public library is once again a free source of entertainment for me. That may well be the one side benefit in all this madness.

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