Wednesday, July 1, 2009


Last night I wasn't feeling very well, so I spent a lot of time on Facebook doing quizzes. The ones I took were particularly brainless, quizzes like "Name That 90s Movie", and you had to choose from photos that were stills of the most famous scenes in the movies, so they were not challenging at all. Just mindless fun while I wasn't feeling up to much else. The fact that I aced all of these dumb ass quizzes got me thinking about my knowledge of popular culture.

The older I get, the more embarrassing it gets that I know every episode of The Simpsons, or that I can recite the entire "Rush Rap" from "Roll The Bones" as well as the Vincent Price rap from "Thriller". I can also recite the "Can You Read My Mind" poem from Superman as well as about 95% of the dialog from Ferris Bueller's Day Off. While these skills never made me cool, they did make me quirky, and I enjoy quirky. I get made fun of a lot, especially when I quote The Simpsons, and some people can be pretty ruthless. I've learned to reign it in a bit because of this, but I have a really good memory so I can't help memorizing quotes.

If I hear something twice, I've learned it. Song lyrics, dialog, even when I learn a new piece on the piano, once I've played it 2 or 3 times I know it by heart. As such, I'm very bad at sight reading music. I of course can help quoting out loud, but I'm a quoter. I pull quotes out as responses, and I have friends with whom I can have total conversations in just quotes. And while I find this an interesting statement about my memory and I love to meet another quoter, this is not always appropriate behavior. Quotes just come to me when I hear something that reminds me of them. People can always tell when I am really tired because I start talking in all quotes.

This comes from a good memory. I have a very good memory, which my friends tell me is both a blessing and a curse. Often, I tend to agree with them. For example, I remember driving on Schrock Road with 1994 with my boyfriend at the time, and he told me that a weeping willow is his favorite tree. Why do I remember this? I have no idea, but I do. I'm not one of those people like Marilu Henner who can tell you exactly what she did on any date., but I remember lots of weird stuff. Including pop culture facts, some that I really didn't wish I know. Things like Danny Wood, Jon and Jordan Knight, Donnie Wahlberg, and Joey McIntyre. I really don't want to know that kind of stuff, but I do.

Since my brain is full of pop culture, I'm seen as kind of a doofus. Other friends who have Phds in English know every fact every about Robin Hood, but my knowledge is seen as useless. I'm not a stupid person by any stretch, and I do know a lot of not only useful things, but things that are seen as actual knowledge. I'm pretty good with the periodic table (the atomic weight of cobalt, or Co, is 58.9) and I love to read. I also have a lot of music theory knowledge, and although I can't sight read, I can read music. I don't have the Kochel listings memorized, but I know some stuff.

I started to think about how classical music, plays, and poetry are considered culture, whereas biographies of living actors, movies, and song lyrics are considered pop culture. Keeping in mind that Shakespeare wrote plays for the unwashed (literally) masses in his time and now you can't even get into the Folger library without a PhD, I think the answer is time. But how much time must pass before something is considered culture and worthwhile knowledge rather than pop culture trivia? 30 years? After all, Bob Dylan is seen as a poet now rather than a young hippie upstart. Does dying young help transform you from a flash in the pan to a cultural icon? Case in point James Dean who went from having been in a couple of movies to one of the most celebrated icons of the 1950s.

Time served and death before one's time are a common aspect of all things labeled as culturally valid, but how do you obtain such validity while living? Not everyone has to wait 30 years before they are seen as credible. How does a living writer get onto the path of the writer who is assigned reading in literature class rather than being sold in grocery stores? How does a contemporary director get his work considered "filmmaking" rather than being shown 3 nights in a row on TBS?

Does controversy help? Is it location? Does the credibility of the work reflect in how nice people have to dress to attend? I haven't quite figured out the formula. I think a major factor has to do with the collective consciousness, and there is no predicting that. But from what I've seen, if I live long enough, I'll be considered a scholar rather than a well of trivia.

1 comment:

Chris & Xan said...

I'd much rather you knew every name of every Twilight Zone episode than the title of every Shakespeare play. What's really breathtaking is that you probably know both! Don't let the chumps who find your quoting weird get you down--just remember that there's always someone by your side who loves that you're a nerd with an astounding memory!