The Generation Gap: Apparently a Thing
A little while back I listening to one of my favorite podcasts. The hosts are an African-American gentleman and a woman in their mid-twenties, both ridiculously, preposterously talented on multiple fronts, brilliant and hilarious. Seriously. I could not hold these two in higher esteem. I don’t just contribute to their Patreon, I contribute to it from both the Nathan Rabin’s Happy Cast and Happy Place accounts. I’m a fan, is what I’m saying. A super-fan, really. A “Stan” in the parlance of the young people.
They were discussing the Dust Brothers and it came out that of the hosts, one had heard of Paul’s Boutique but that was about it, while the other had apparently never even heard about Paul’s Boutique, let alone held it in the kind of reverence my generation does.
I was surprised but not shocked. This was not the first time these brilliant, talented people seemed completely unfamiliar with something I ignorantly assumed everyone in the world absolutely adores, or, at the very least, knows about. But I was taken aback by their lack of familiarity all the same.
To me, Paul’s Boutique is easily one of the best and most important albums ever made. It’s right up there with The Beatles’ The White Album and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds.
Listening to Paul’s Boutique I find myself legitimately wondering how it’s possible for one album to be so goddamn good, so funny and dense and alive and inspired and utterly unique. I assume that everyone holds it in similarly high regard, that the nerds and geeks that followed my generation looked at Paul’s Boutique as a sacred pop culture text to be worshipped and studied and held up as a gold standard for the form.
So it was jarring to hear super-smart, super-engaged people profess not to know anything about an album I assumed everyone worshiped. After that initial burst of surprise and judgment, I realized that I see the world through the eyes of a forty-two year old white, heterosexual American male.
I was thirteen years old when Paul’s Boutique was released. I was old enough to remember the impact of License to Ill and the culture-wide shiver of surprise that greeted the release of an album that was as far removed from the diamond-selling album that made Beastie Boys superstars as possible without leaving hip hop entirely.
I don’t just have the mind, pop culture history and frame of reference of a 42 year old white man. I have the mind, pop culture history and frame of reference of someone who grew up a lonely, friendless outcast who put all of his considerable energies and time into becoming well-versed in pop culture.
While my classmates were getting laid and drunk and having adventures I was reading Pauline Kael and Greil Marcus and making sure I had a solid understanding of the French New Wave and New Hollywood and how artists like the New York Dolls, The Velvet Underground and MC5 laid the groundwork for the cultural and musical revolution that was punk.
I did not realize it at the time, but by escaping from the misery of my real-life into a world of movies and books and music and long-ago pop culture I was laying the groundwork for my career as a professional pop culture writer.
I spent my teen years and my twenties diligently checking off a massive checklist of movies and books and albums I thought you had to experience in order to consider yourself culturally literate. My job as the head writer of The A.V Club didn’t just clear up time for this pursuit; it made this pursuit a huge component of my career and life. For twenty-two fucking years, pop culture has been my life, and my job, and my identity.
Of course I’m going to have a different frame of reference, pop-culture wise, from people in their mid-twenties who spent their youths developing their extraordinary talents for music and comedy and not listening to all of the albums and reading all the books Mojo told them to.
I started out by asking how it was possible that people I respected could have what I initially saw as a massive blind spot. That led me to asking why it’s so important that the people that I dig know and love the same sort of things that I do. Besides, it’s not as if I feel a need to keep up with contemporary pop culture. Oh god no. That shit just is not for me. So I can’t really complain when a generation whose pop culture I largely ignore is not well versed in the pop culture of my childhood, or the pop culture of earlier generations.
We all have own unique paths through entertainment. We’d all do well to try to view other people’s pop culture journeys with an eye towards understanding and acceptance rather than judgment.
I make my living largely through crowd-funding so if you would be kind enough to consider pledging over at https://www.patreon.com/nathanrabinshappyplace it’d be much appreciated.