Deep Thoughts #9: Our Shared Pop Culture Wasteland

There's something to the fact that Generation X was immersed in a pop culture that was shared.  In other words, we all watched TV in the evening, and there was basically only three channels to choose from.  So we all have a communal memory of TV in the 70s.  There wasn't much selection, we all did it, and thereby we as a generation have a shared experience.

Stay with me.  I'm going somewhere with this.

Take movies as another example. There was no Netflix or even DVDs or VHS.  Other than flicks that happen to come on the Boob Tube, our movie experiences come from the theater.  And unlike the more recent generations which have literally tens of thousands of movie choices at their fingertips, there, again, was a very finite selection.  Thus, we all have memories of the same basic set of movies.

You can take this same fact and apply it to music.  Yes, there were records stores with thousands of records.  But there were only a couple of stations on the dial to choose from - no Spotify, no Napster, no iTunes, no Internet.  Thus, once again, you have a generation immersed in pop culture that is fairly homogeneous from person to person.

So, now you take this same generation and you completely swallow it in the shadow of the Baby Boomers - a ridiculously large group with absolute dominance over every aspect of society.  The Gen Xers were labeled as slackers and never taken seriously as a generational force.  They never came close to wielding the financial or political power of the mighty Boomers. Rather, they are viewed as stunted adults, still playing their little video games.

As age begins to catch up with the Boomers, it pries their vice-like grip off the job market's jugular. Positions of power begin to open up for a few Gen Xers and our generation quietly matriculates into their vacancies. Eventually, perhaps, Gen X will let go of it's shared pop consciousness.  Maybe when the Boomer's vacuum is filled and we will put away 'childish things'.  Yet, I believe, because of all I just mentioned, it is forever a part of our generational culture.  The Boomers have 'Nam and Woodstock, we have The Jeffersons and Star Wars.

Hence programs like Family Guy (and all Seth McFarland projects for that matter) which exist solely to distribute rapid fire pop culture references.  The director of a generation, Tarantino, makes films using 70s tropes as templates and peppers them with more pop culture references within the dialogue.  The list goes on and on.

And here we are on Retrospace.  Where pop culture is mined even deeper.  It's not enough to smile and enjoy the Brady Bunch theme.  No, we have to have an entire post on The Peppermint Trolley Company, the group that sang the theme in the first season (before the cast recorded the theme).

And then, of course, it gets drilled down even further by people commenting and emailing me on when exactly the Peppermint Trolley Co. theme was used, who wrote it, where the band members are today, other great songs by the group, etc. etc.  deeper and deeper into the nether regions of the pop culture wasteland....

.... well, I'm not sure where this is all going, or what this means, or even why it matters, so I'll stop here.  It's something that I've been thinking about, so I thought I'd share.  Cheers!

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  1. "Once in a great while, we are privileged to experience a television event so extraordinary, it becomes part of our shared heritage."-Herschel Krustovsky

  2. I've never known if I was considered Boomer or Gen X. I was born in 1958, but my arrested development continues to this day.

    My earliest memory of our shared pop culture came when I was a kid in the 60s. After the Saturday morning cartoons, a local station would always show a Tarzan movie. It didn't take long to cycle through them. Whenever they showed Tarzan's New York Adventure, and then my Dad would send me outside so he could watch baseball, all of the kids in the neighborhood would be climbing buildings. All of us.

    I lived across the street from a college campus that had many tall buildings built with rough stone. You could climb five stories and then make your way all the way around the building. It's a wonder I survived.

    I'll never forget the day after The Night Stalker first aired. It was all anybody talked about at school the next day. And we were all quoting lines. From a movie we had only seen once and had no expectation we would ever see again! I still remember them!

    "This nut thinks he's a vampire!"

    1. >I've never known if I was considered Boomer or Gen X

      Silent Generation (1925–1942)
      Baby Boom Generation (1943–1960)
      Generation X (1961–1981)
      Millennial Generation (1982–2004)
      Homeland Generation (2005–present)

    2. I've usually seen the Baby Boom generation defined as those born from 1946-1964.

      I've also never seen clean delineations for GenY(holy getting more gypped than X for a name Batman!) or Millennial's. I'm not even sure what the latter term means? came of age around the millennium?

      I've also never heard the term, "Silent Generation", though I have often seen used, "The Greatest Generation"

      I'm curious, are the date you provide your estimation, or do they derive from somewhere else?

  3. I am so glad you wrote this; it is especially accurate on how the grip of the boomers over everything has affected culture, something that perhaps we Xers feel and understand more than most.

  4. Here's another perfect example of this. The day after "The Longest Yard" (the original, not the stupid remake that I'll never watch) was shown on network TV, I'll bet the line "I think he broke his freakin' neck" was repeated at least 150 times, and that was just in my small grade school class.

  5. "Stay with me. I'm going somewhere with this." ".... well, I'm not sure where this is all going..."

    Interesting ways to bookend a post.

    I hear you there, about the only thing my kids generation shares is superhero movies. They wish they grew up when I did.

  6. While I agree with you 100% on this, and fear what it means to the future of our already fragmented country, I can't help but ask if this has not always been true of each generation? At least each generation since life began to move so fast.

    For example, my parents grew up in a town with one high school. For their generation everyone knew everyone, everyone knew the teachers, the sports teams, families, friends, etc. Even today, when they have high school reunions, they have them for a group of years instead of the "Class of 19 XX" because you get better attendance and everyone has, as you put it, shared (pop) culture.

    Now, as the town has grown, you have six high schools and nobody knows the family on the next block, let alone the teachers from "Cross Town High." The shared culture is gone for the town. Just like the "shared culture" is gone for the current generation.

    I think that there is still a "shared pop culture," a "shared experience," it is just with so many more options the groups just get smaller. There are groups Monday morning who are JUST as excited to talk about the recent episode of "House of Cards," as we were to talk about Newheart, Mary Tyler Moore, or the Carol Burnett show. My niece talks about "Frozen" with her friends just like I talked about "Three Lives of Thomasina" with mine so many years ago. But I agree with you, the big picture is fading away. But doesn't that always come with ore choices? Isn't that the price every generation has had to pay?

  7. Ahem. I dated Quentin. Quentin was born March 27, 1963. He's not Generation X. He's Generation Jones and doesn't remember or care about half the stuff you've shared here, dear Gil.

    I was born in 1968.

    Ask me.

  8. I often wonder what the unintended consequences are of the loss of shared culture, and therefore common bonds. There is very little that links people together anymore (with life on the internet, this includes geography and contact). Personally, I think future anthropologists or sociologists will view this as a a terrible experiment and mishap.

    I think this is a very interesting idea that you should pursue more on your blog. It is obviously directly related to the very content of your blog. There isn't just the melancholy pain of things past and lost, there is the pain of leaving a place that was coherent and easy to make sense of, for a place that is overstimulated, anarchic and alienated. A place without the traditional sense of community or commonality, that does feel stunted and empty. Near as I can tell, the Xers coming into their own has solidified the trading of community, civics and civilization for entertainment--and a very backward yearning entertainment at that.