A friend recently sent me a YouTube video clip from American Idol, and I was struck for about the eighty zillionth time by how out of touch I’ve become with contemporary pop culture.
When I was in my twenties, it’s not that I liked every top 40 recording artist or Top 10 movie. But I pretty much knew who or what most of them were. Now I look at this American Idol montage of celebrities lip-synching to Staying Alive, and I’m lucky if I can identify one out of three. Same with People Magazine. Not only do I not recognize the famous people, I don’t even know who they are when it’s explained to me. “Oh, she was in ‘Five’s a Crowd’ for a season, and ‘Houseboat Surprise,’ and that miniature golf movie with Adam Sandler.” Huh?
Now usually, my reaction to this has been, “Oh, I’m getting so very very old.” I’m 45, and the world of pop culture is passing me by. Pop culture is aimed squarely at the 18-24 set, and I am losing my coolness by the minute. I am already less cool now than I was when I started this post.
But as I was watching this silly American Idol montage, it struck me: There’s another reason I don’t know who these people are.
I don’t care.
When Ingrid and I were planning our wedding, I picked up some bridal magazine at the hairdresser’s, and it had all this stuff about what bridesmaid’s colors and cake flavors and honeymoon destinations were “in” this year. And I remember thinking, “It’s your wedding! What could possibly be less relevant that what’s ‘in’? Who cares what colors and vacation spots other people like? It’s your fucking wedding! What do you like?”
And that’s the other side of getting older. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve gotten significantly better at just liking the things I like, and not giving a shit about whether they’re cool. I like contra dancing, documentaries, cat-eye glasses, graphic novels, spanking porn, comfortable cotton clothing, Richard Dawkins, Harry Potter, atheist bloggers, weightlifting, The Office. And I don’t give shit if any of it is on the Vice magazine What’s Hot list.
Now, I do resist some things about being a codger. I make a conscious effort, for instance, to listen to at least some music made by bands and musicians who are still playing. I never want to be one of those people who only listens to music they listened to in college… and who insists that popular music has all gone downhill since then. In fact, some of my favorite music — Radiohead, Iron & Wine, Low, White Stripes, DJ Danger Mouse, Be Good Tanyas, yada yada yada — is made by performers who are still playing.
And it’s not like the twenty-something people I know are mindless pop culture drones. They aren’t; no more than I was when I was twenty-something. This isn’t about liking or conforming to pop culture. It’s about having a baseline familiarity with it. Knowing about it, having an opinion about it, having it be a reasonably big part of the world you walk in. That’s what’s changed. For me, anyway.
I’m not sure what’s the cart and what’s the horse. Do older people respond less to pop culture because it isn’t aimed at us… or is pop culture not aimed at older people because we don’t respond to it as much? The former is at least partly true; what with the whole disposable income thing, and our youth-obsessed culture in which young people set the trends.
But I think the latter may be true as well. Speaking for myself, getting older has meant getting to know myself and what I do and don’t like better. And it’s meant getting to know the world a little better and what it has to offer. I’ve seen more of the world’s nooks and crannies than I had at 25, enough to have found ones that hold my interest more than the broader cultural brushstrokes. I know the world well enough to know that contra dancing is in it… and I know myself well enough to know that I think contra dancing is wicked cool. And I’ve wasted enough time in the past — and have little enough of it left — to waste any of it caring who Ryan Seacrest is.