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Pop Culture Expiration Dates

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I’ve noticed a strange pattern in my pop culture consumption since 2005 began. I’ve read Michael Pollan’s best-selling dissection of nature, art and human behavior in The Botany of Desire and Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. I recently blogged about pop singer Pink, who’s biggest success was the multiple-hit-single spawning Missundaztood (her spelling, not mine – it’s kewl to spell rong, u know?). And the other night I watched the rock musical/cult hit Hedwig and the Angry Inch. What do these all have in common?

They were all produced in 2001.

Five years ago doesn’t seem like a long time. But then I realize I was twenty-one. Doesn’t that sound so young? Especially compared to twenty-six. 21. 26. Meh.

When friends are hanging out with a group of people that includes early twentysomethings, I often hear the refrain, “I feel so old.” But when I’m around twenty-one-year-olds, I think, “God, I’m so glad I’m not that age anymore.” All the drama, the lack of perspective, the general spazziness…no thank you.

But seeing those numbers…21…26…hmmmm….

Turning twenty-one, my Irish Car Bomb cherry was popped (as for many virgins, the first time was iffy, but I kept at it until I got it right). I moved into my very first apartment, a tiny studio where the kitchen lined the wall of the bedroom/living room and my closet was also my office. This was also where I happened to randomly turn on the morning news – something I rarely did at that time – and saw the second plane crash into the World Trade Center. I went to my retail job at a high-end cookware store that sparked my dormant love of cooking and food; by the time I got to work later that day, we had to evacuate the building and leave the heavily-populated downtown area.

I took in movies like the David Lynch mind-twister, Mulholland Drive, the revolutionary animated film that has since been mostly forgotten, Waking Life, and Wes Anderson’s quirky family dramedy, The Royal Tenenbaums. Two of my favorite films even today were from 2000 but viewed in 2001: Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, which birthed many knock-offs that never matched its intense majesty, and You Can Count On Me, a quiet, perfectly written film that introduced me to the talents of Laura Linney, Mark Ruffalo and writer/director Kenneth Longergan.

College was not going well. Let’s just say I wasn’t properly motivated to drag my ass to my senior seminar class where we actually had to draw (with a crayon) a symbol that represented who we were as a person on large pieces of paper clipped to the wall. Hello, kindergarten? I drew an easel with a blank piece of paper and described myself as a “work in progress.” The class and teacher perceived this as “deep” and “self-aware.” Okay, sure.

Unmotivated and overwhelmed, I took fall semster off and became a full-time sales associate. I worked, I made money and I liked it. I didn’t read a lot. I barely wrote at all. What was I doing with my time? All I can remember are nights such as the one spent watching Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 in my dark studio with friends and then randomly discussing our sexual firsts over glasses of cheap wine.

I remember hearing about The Corrections during the media frenzy when Franzen turned down Oprah’s Book Club. Why didn’t I read it then? I knew I wanted to watch Hedwig when it first came out – why didn’t I bust a move to a theater?

Obviously, there could be many different reasons. We can’t consume every single piece of culture that flies by our radar. But I often get the feeling that now I’m trying to play catch-up, as if I have to compensate for my slacker twenty-one-year-old self. Which isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy what I’m consuming in the moment (I’m using “consuming” as a substitute for reading/viewing/listening to, etc.), it’s more like I feel the need to get through something just to say I’ve gotten through it. I wonder how common this experience is for people at any age.

Maybe, at twenty-one, I simply wasn’t ready to get through Franzen’s sprawling, time- and continent- hopping, overfed yet satisfying novel. At twenty-six, I barely have the attention span to listen to the brilliant lyrics in Hedwig, so I can’t imagine my younger, unfocused self appreciating it except on some superficial, easily-entertained level.

Although I’m definitely more self-motivated than I used to be, I wonder: will my thirty-one-year-old self look back on me now and wonder what the hell I did with my time? Will I be grateful that I’m not an aimless twenty-six-year-old anymore? I already keep lists of movies I’ve seen and books I’ve read, so hopefully that will be enough to persuade him I’m not a total slacker. Maybe I keep those lists as a sense of both accomplishment and personal history. As I add new entries, each previous entry is like a barcode triggering memories to pop up on my internal display screen: what movie theater I saw this in, what couch I sat on when I read that, what this chapter taught me at that point in my life, etc.

All of this means that in another five years, when I’m 31, I might finally sit down and watch Napoleon Dynamite so I can join in on the never-ending Napoleon-quoting conversations. And then I’ll finally be caught up.

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About Don Baiocchi

  • Mat Brewster

    Next month, I’ll turn 30. 26 seem a long ways away. I used to be on the edge of all things pop culure. I had to see the new movies (and if I missed one in the theatre I promptly hit the new release aisle in Blockbuster) and had to buy all the new, hip music.

    I’ve long since passed the mark of being able to play catch up. Instead I prefer to kick back with the classics. Give me a good Bogart, or Cary Grant picture and I’ll let the kids sit around quoting Napoleon Dynamite.

  • Don Baiocchi

    I hear ya, Mat. I still like to keep up with movies for the most part, but most of the popular music doesn’t quite do it for me anymore. In fact, I find most of it quite boring. I do find myself listening to trendy music thinking, “They call that music! Bah! That’s just noise.”

    Kind of sad, yet I don’t really care.

  • chantal stone

    i’m 33, still consider myself relatively “cool”….haven’t seem Napoleon Dynamite, and don’t really want to. i think that’s part of what makes me “cool”—-that fact that i don’t feel like i need to.

    one thing though…i think at any age, we can look back and think “what was i doing?” , “why did i waste that time?” it’s called maturity. we can always look back and feel like we could have done things better, or differently.

    what i do is use that as a lesson to make NOW the best that it can be…to live each moment as fully as i can, and to not take things for granted. in five years though, i’ll probably think that i was just being an idiot. 😉