I can waggle my hand at my brother, whining a sing song, “Lance” and I know he’ll laugh remembering Lancelot Link, Secret Chimp. My husband and I know all the words to the Gilligan’s Island theme song. I can quote part of a Beatles’ lyric, and someone can usually finish it. It’s great to make cultural connections with others who share the same experiences and memories. And then you find out there are differences. Things other people have done, read, seen and somehow you’ve missed it.
I’ve never seen The Godfather, never read War and Peace, never watched Friends. Have I missed something essential? War and Peace has never loomed before me as a something I must accomplish. And The Godfather? Maybe I was too young when it came out, and later, I guess I never got around to it. Asking my mom about the popularity of Elvis in the 60’s, she said that she completely missed it because she had her hands in the diaper pail. I can relate. The 90’s flew by and I never watched one episode of Friends – there was no time for most TV when the kids were small.
I was deliberate about wanting my kids to see The Wizard of Oz. First, I wanted them to be old enough that they wouldn’t be terrified (I spent many nights under the covers convinced that witch was coming for me), and I wanted them to be able to recognize the myriad references from the movie that they’d encounter everywhere (there’s no place like home, click your heels, and your little dog too, surrender Dorothy, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore, oil can,the witches broom stick, I’m melting).
When everything seems available and sharable, from downloading a library’s worth of books instantly on your tablet, to viewing any classic movie or TV show on a streaming service, one could fill any gap in cultural knowledge. But who has the time? In the late 80’s The Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, What Every American Needs to Know was an interesting tome that did two things: it let me feel smug about all the things I did know, and feel bad about all the things I did not know. The book was probably more concerned that we know about the three branches of government than who Rachel and Ross were, but it didn’t make me fill those voids.
Shared experience and knowledge form strong bonds and allow for shorthand communications; but I guess it’s more interesting if we don’t all know exactly the same things. Right about now, I think you’ll be looking up Lancelot Link and scratching your head.