As you get older, being aware of new pop culture is akin to getting lost in a part of town that you thought you were familiar with but don’t quite recognize. “What happened to that deli? Where’s that music coming from? And who are all these people?”
A cavalcade of references and memes and the current thing fly with greater rapidity over your thinning hair. For some, the feeling induces panic and a sense of growing irrelevance. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
It can be quite freeing, and eventually, you may find yourself blissfully uttering, “I don’t know who any of these people are, and it’s great.”
Who Are These People?
We’ve all been there: A viral headline flashes across your feed along the lines of, “Can you believe what JAC4D*hole said to Sweet Maloy?” and you’ve never seen the names before in your life. A TV commercial says “Special performance by Dickwad Jones and the Useless 5.” Who?
Yes, I know none of these stupid names are real, but they totally could be. I’m not learning any new names.
Maybe it’s a meme about some anime character dying or a zeptosecond-long video making the rounds on a new social media platform you didn’t know existed. One gets cultural whiplash as the zeitgeist pace car careens around the corner.
Let’s not forget award shows. Award shows gather (or at least think they gather) all that pop culture ephemera/pollution together and fillet each celebrity on a rotisserie for the masses to gawk at. It’s like watching a light show in one of those fancy Japanese toilets.
Not only do you not know who any of these people are, you don’t know what this is—or why. How? Where did that come from? Do people like this? You turn off the television and drink some whisky while looking at a new line on your face or calling an old friend.
If you’re really familiar with these people, you don’t think about it. But, if not, knowing who the hell these people are is a bit of a cultural and generational identification. That’s how they should check ID at bars. “Do you know why KS the Flood is mad at Finland’s Prime Minister?”
“Ok, you’re old enough come on in.”
Familiarity Is Healthy, But So Is Not Knowing
Before you descend into some existential crisis brought on by a growing detachment and a recognition of your mortality as it filters through your passing window of time–don’t. None of it matters, and it’s totally awesome not knowing who any of these people are.
Each generation carves its own topographic cultural reality, the terrain in which our tastes are cultivated and our personalities developed. While it’s totally healthy to continually evolve your tastes, and while there’s plenty of great new talent out there, it’s equally healthy to understand that you’ll never quite relate. You’ve already built your own collage of appetites and likes and songs and movies that are the soundtrack to your life.
Even if you got every reference, they’re never going to let you into the cool young kids club, and those adults who try to fit in are just as embarrassing as the ones who have no idea what’s going on.
Familiarity is fine, but so is not knowing. It’s like when you visit some town, and everyone goes, “You gotta go do so-and-so and or eat at what-have-you.” You don’t. If you’ve lived life properly and done new stuff and traveled and have people in your life who care about you, fear of missing out becomes less of a thing, and you’ll find yourself happily not caring about what Snapchat celebrities are arguing about.
Remember, corporations are often pushing much of that pop culture debris in your periphery, and even if not, culture is depressingly cyclical anyway.
There’s always someone doing something ultra sexual or ultra political or fake edgy, there’s always something you’re not supposed to say, some new artform that people argue about being art, some stupid new way people found to rip others off, some current thing we’re all supposed to get behind.
Feel free to queue up for all of it, and also feel free to take your attention elsewhere and remain blissfully oblivious. It really is great. Just try not to take it too personally at that single moment when you finally do know who these people are, and there’s no one there to give you credit.