Steven (unzeugmatic) wrote,
Steven
unzeugmatic

Cultural Misliteracy

It is a recurring theme throughout my life that I have absolutely no sense whatsoever of what is general cultural knowledge and what is not. I can't count the number of times I made what I thought was an obvious reference only to be greeted with blank or confused stares. I posted a poem the other day that was an extremely specific takeoff on "You Are Old, Father William" from Alice in Wonderland, but based on my past experience I realize I have absolutely no idea whether anybody besides rsc (and a few others) could recite the first few lines of the original from memory. But that's Alice in Wonderland, right? I mean, that's a fair reference point for general cultural knowledge isn't it?

Ok, probably. But I really don't know; I've been burned on this issue before. It came up yesterday for the second time in a year that not everybody is familiar with the old Betty Boop cartoons, specifically The Old Man of the Mountain and Minnie the Moocher. Isn't that like not being familiar with The Flintstones? When they show clips from musicals at The Bolt on Sunday nights people will often turn to ask me what a particular clip is from -- and I don't mean just obscure clips, but clips from Guys and Dolls and South Pacific. Isn't knowing the words to "There is Nothing Like a Dame" somewhat like knowing the words to "Happy Birthday"? Again, I have no standard of judgement; I thought the clip of Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes singing "Ain't There Anyone Here for Love" would be as familiar as the clip of the Munchkins singing "Ding Dong the Witch is Dead", but nobody ever seems to know that one, or even who Jane Russell is. Is Jane Russell really an obscure figure from the past? But, but -- in her later years she was spokeswoman for Playtex and their cross-your-heart bras ("for us full-figured gals"). And she dated Howard Hughes, who supposedly designed a new kind of bra for her. Everybody knows this stuff, right?

In another recent post I made up the name "Tranny Annie" (as a playmate for the fictional Danny and Fanny), which meant that for two days I kept hearing Stephen Foster's "Gentle Annie" in my head, with substitution ("Thou wilt come no more, Tranny Annie; like a flower thy spirit did depart") -- but in this case I did not voice it aloud because I was fairly certain it would be an obscure reference. But, again, I really have no idea. Do other people hear the melody?

This is not a question of asserting cultural superiority, by any means. I have known people who seem to use knowledge as a weapon (I know this fact and you don't!), which to me is sickening. Knowledge, by definition, is something that only takes on meaning when it is shared (it's just like a magic penny -- oh wait, do people get that reference?). No, it's just that there's all this STUFF out there and isn't it cool?

Sometimes, in this journal, I make a reference on purpose for specific people. I once titled a post "I Don't Want Your Millions Mister" because I knew my parents would get the reference. When I later told my mother what I had done she said, "What do you mean?" I said that I was making a reference to a song the Almanac Singers recorded in the 1940s and that I figured that she and my father and my brother Matthew would be among the few to get it. She said that other people besides the Almanac Singers recorded it. I know, I said, the point is that most people wouldn't get the reference. Oh, everyone would know that song, she replied. Um, sure.

I think I'm going to start writing down every time somebody gives me that now-familiar blank look. Perhaps I can put together a little paperback called "Things I Was Sure Everybody Knew." But you gotta' know the territory.
Subscribe
  • Post a new comment

    Error

    default userpic

    Your IP address will be recorded 

    When you submit the form an invisible reCAPTCHA check will be performed.
    You must follow the Privacy Policy and Google Terms of use.
  • 52 comments
Previous
← Ctrl ← Alt
Next
Ctrl → Alt →
Previous
← Ctrl ← Alt
Next
Ctrl → Alt →