Getting Older Means Never Having To Care About What’s Cool

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.

Getting Older Means Never Having To Care About What’s Cool

8 thoughts on “Getting Older Means Never Having To Care About What’s Cool

  1. 1

    “I remember thinking, It’s your wedding! What could possibly be less relevant that what’s ‘in’?”
    I’ve always thought that was pretty odd too. Although it’s seldom the practice, the whole intent of a wedding is that it is a once-in-a-lifetime event. What could possibly be less relevant than contemporary (emphasis on “temporary”) fashion trends?
    Just ask all those guys who got married in the 70’s, with their wide-lapelled jackets and bell-bottomed trousers how timeless those pictures in their wedding albums look now.

  2. 2

    Imagine my predicament, as a topical comedian/satirist type– I actually have to pay attention to this stuff or my act goes stale. I’m this close to moving to Branson, Missouri and opening my own theater (right next to Yakov Smirnov’s). Granted, I’m a never-was, as opposed to a has-been, but with the way my memory is going, that shouldn’t be a problem– especially if I offer free beer, air conditioning, and RV parking; and ice cream for the kids– mustn’t forget ice cream for the kids (exit stage left, muttering to himself and checking his pockets).
    –Chip Ritter

  3. 3

    Your question is interesting, but I propose a third option: Perhaps it’s not pop culture you speak of, but rather trendy stuff.
    Aside from the (obvious) fact that pop culture is by definition (what’s ‘popular in culture’, which includes we older folks) not limiting, I don’t see what People magazine etc. is pushing is pop culture per se but rather trendy stuff for a very young group in culture.
    In other words (and perhaps I should have opened a document and wrote this first — or at least thought it through!) what pop culture phenoms you mention are not really pop culture, but a small part of a sub-set. It’s popular in that ‘culture’ or group, but not ‘all’.
    These are fads and trends which in the short term and for a group are ‘huge’ but in reality, are not so. To really be part of or become pop culture, the thing or person must be more universally adopted. Hype doesn’t mean it has.
    For example, in 10 years, American Idol will be a recognized name and part of trivia games, but very few of the so-called celebrities from the show will be.
    Older folks have more to retain, so only the really huge, monumental, will be recalled by the collective and therefore actually become pop culture. Trends, fads, people marketed to us as important, are short lived. Like Lief Garret in my day. lol
    I don’t know if I articulated this well — strike that. I know I didn’t articulate this well. But I think I have a point in there. Somewhere.
    Perhaps you can wriggle it out. 😉

  4. 4

    We, and the rest of the animal kingdom, are comfortable with the familiar. If it isn’t familiar it is alien and, going back to basics, to our genetically inherited survival kit, is subconsciously perceived as a threat.
    If you spend your formative years in a noisy household – the t.v. is always on, nobody is watching it but it’s on, the ‘stereo’ is on, nobody is listening to it but it’s on – when if you find yourself in a peaceful and tranquil environment you feel uncomfortable. It isn’t famliar. You are accustomed to noise. You are accustomed to music being played in bars and restaurants. Music often played at such a volume that it is difficult to engage in conversation. You are accustomed to and accept noise. Why else do people take their ghetto-blasters to the beach, to the countryside? Certainly not to ‘listen’ to whatever pours out of the ‘speakers.
    By far the most heard music is ‘pop’. You are (probably) exposed to nothing else. Your young peers listen to it. They are knowledgeable about the bands, they copy their forms of dress. They use the latest buzzwords and jargon.
    The choice is already made for you. You are expected to copy your peer’s dress code, to use the same grotesque mutations of the English language, to listen to the same music. You are coerced to conform. The pressure to do so is overwhelming. Not just from your peers but also from the pimps in the marketing departments of our world. If you don’t conform your are not part of the group, the herd. You will be marginalised.
    Your “This isn’t about liking or conforming to pop culture” is simply false. It is exactly that. Conform or be ostracised.
    Your subsequent “It’s about having a baseline familiarity etc ” is only superficially true. What is important is to appear to have the familiarity, the knowledge, the opinion. And it goes without saying that it will be an immense part of your world.
    But what a small introverted world that is. There are millions for whom that world will never change. They will never be exposed to, never have the opportunity to, or be encouraged to experience something different. They are ‘those people who only listen to music they listened to in college’, if, indeed, they went to college.
    You say “I’m 45, and the world of pop culture is passing me by.” I would rather say that ‘I have grown up, my tastes have matured’. I decide what I (really do) like, apropos your “Who cares what colors etc”.
    No, of course you don’t care who those people are. You are able to make your own decisions. You are able to exercise discrimination.
    But there are those millions who can’t and never will. Never will be able to set their sights a little higher and improve themselves.
    SlipOfAGirl mentioned “what’s ‘popular in culture’”. A bit of an, albeit common, oxymoron. Most of it is the very antithesis of culture.
    During my formative years, in the U.K., the music I heard was on the radio and was determined by the likes and dislikes of predominantly my grandmother, in whose house we lived, and to a lesser extent by my mother. It was usually the musical dross of the era, the 40s. As I grew older I was steered by social pressures to listen to the new Rock and Roll and its derivatives. I thought I ‘liked’ it. Hindsight has tought me that it was being comfortable with the familiar. I never did find it satisfying. I didn’t know any different (better). I had never been exposed to anything else or had the interest to explore.
    While on a business trip I spent my fortieth birthday in Mexico City. On that same day I played my first game of squash – at 7,000 feet. But that’s another story. That evening I dined in the Piccadilly Pub in the Zona Rosa with a girlfriend, a colleague and his girlfriend. My girlfriend gave me a present of a gramophone record. It was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto no 5, the “Emperor”. I didn’t recognise the name but I suppose I had heard at least bits of it but I certainly wasn’t My girlfriend commented that she particularly liked the opening of the second movement. This, however, meant nothing to me.
    It was some weeks later that I thought I should, at the very least out of deference to her, listen to the record, and in particular to the beginning of that second movement.
    Even though we parted company I shall be eternally grateful to her. It opened up a new world for me.

  5. 6

    Mesdames Christina & Eggrott, I concur.
    At 54, my interests are so unlike what they were as a “Carpenters” and “Jesus Christ Superstar” nerd (and deeply closeted gay teen) in 1973, and, of course, those of today’s 18-year-olds. Embracing Enlightenment thought (including libertinism) and atheism –from Epicurus to Roddenberry–, enjoying early-18th-century reenactment (including bowing with one’s tricorn hat off and retiring in the appropriately genteel manner of a gentleman of the 1730s, tho’ I have yet to learn the contredanse and minuet (both of which were danced in the “molly houses,” the gay bars of the day, in London). Immersing oneself into the history, mentality and language of people, cultures and lifestyles long dead (or evolved beyond recognition) would have been unthinkable, unimaginable for me at the age of 18, as is experiencing Europe and Europeans in an intensely personal and non-touristy way, feeling just as much “at home” in Amsterdam, Berlin or Paris as I once did in rural North Dakota. It’s amazing how much people change and evolve with time, whilst letting go of all those things that were never intrinsic to our natures in the first place. Interests, viewpoints, one’s self-image, the way one interacts with others; nothing is static over time; all is subject to change.
    Hope this makes sense. 🙂
    I have the honor to remain Milady’s most humble & obedient Svt.,
    Esq. Dean Hutchinson

  6. 7

    One of the bands of my youth(Rush) said it best in their song “Subdivisions” “In the high school halls, in the shopping malls, conform or be cast out.” That was more years ago than I care to say, but the sentiment is still the same. Sorry if that song is now stuck in your head.

  7. 8

    Ms. Christina I was kind of curious. I am 45 also and found myself on ‘you tube’ the other night listening to the likes of Paul Davis, Henry Gross, Michael Martin Murphy, England Dan and the other guy et. al.
    Do you miss that stuff? I do. It was a magically simpler time.
    Thank you

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