If you are going to be a competent member of society, it is important to follow the popular culture in addition to current events. I have always been a pop culture omnivore, watching TV shows I found barely interesting, listening to music I didn’t like, seeing as many movies as I could, and following sports I hated. I viewed with alarm my contemporaries who assiduously ignored what their children and their children’s friends were watching and who they cared about. This is how you become irrelevant, and also incompetent. A culture has many features, and affects everything: the analogy of an individual in a culture being like a fish in water is apt. All of these people, ideas and events surrounding us that we see as trivial and silly have a massive effect on the rest of our lives, and we ignore them at their peril.
Yet today I have to confess that despite what I thought were my best efforts to keep up with popular culture, it has whizzed by me. There are a lot of reasons, social media being a major one. Another is no longer having a teen in the house, but the reasons don’t matter. It is a citizen’s duty to make sufficient efforts to know and understand the culture of his or her nation, because without that understanding, a citizen is making decisions within that culture on outdated, partial, or just bad information. That is incompetent and irresponsible.
I give myself a pop culture test every six months or so. Today, I used WeSmirch, an online aggregator of celebrity news. It was horrifying. I never heard of most of these people. Those I have heard of seem completely irrelevant to me. Almost all of the important people in thse stories seem to be morons, famous for being famous, illiterate, notable mostly for being rich. The so-called “news,” breathless shouted from various headlines, seemed less than inconsequential. And yet this is what a rising generation cares about.
Here is a typical headline from this morning: “Vanessa Morgan’s son is called River.” Who is Vanessa Morgan? Who cares what her son is named? It turns out that she is an actress on “Riverdale,” a TV show based on the comic book whose appeal I never understood (but I read the damn thing so I knew what my friends were reading). Oddly, I do know something about River’s father, Michael Kopech, because he pitches for the Chicago White Sox, and once was a Red Sox pitching prospect.
Perusing the many articles and supposedly important celebrity news, I saw these names I could identify (unlike Ms. Morgan, who is, naturally, estranged from her newborn son’s father, as almost none of these celebrities think having a stable, two-parent marriage is a big deal because they are inexplicably rich, hence corrupting the values of their fans, who are not. Vanessa Morgan is also black, thus contributing in her own irresponsible way to the general mass shrug of the black community regarding two parent families):
- Tom Brady, the despicable NFL quarterback about to play in another Super Bowl
- Rebel Wilson, the obese comic actress who lost a hundred pounds in 2020, which will prove good for her health but fatal to her career
- Gigi Hadad, a model, and I have no idea why I know that.
- Donald Trump
- Actress Michelle Williams
- Ryan Seacrest, the “American Idol” host
- Rupert Grint, Ron Weasly in the “Harry Potter” films (saw every one, was bored stiff by the last five)
- M. Night Shyamalan, the creepy movie director (he’s not creepy, just his films)
- Chrissy Tiegen, another model
- Kim Kardashian
- Dustin Diamond, “Screech” on “Saved by the Bell,” who is now dead.
- Queen Elizabeth and Prince Harry.
- Cardi B, a rapper and social media star.
That’s fifteen. Now here are the supposedly important celebrities I couldn’t pick out of a line-up:
- Katie Price, a celebrity dulcimer player or a model (above). I never heard of either of them.
- Jacob Busch, an heir to the Anheuser-Busch fortune
- Rachel Lindsay, a former “Bachelorette”
- Clare Crawley, a runner-up in one season of “The Bachelor”
- Dale Moss, a former NFL player, and male model.
- Emerald Fennell and Olivia Wilde, both female film directors
- Alice Evans, a British actress
- Phoebe Bridgers, a singer
- Sia, another singer. I’m pretty sure I once knew more about her.
- Nikki Reed, the “BaYou with Love” founder, whatever that is…
- Ian Somerhalde, who played a character on “Lost”
- Emma Corrin, whom I saw play Diana in the last season of “The Crown,” but thought she was lousy so I paid no attention to her name…
- Harry Styles, an actor in “Dunkirk,” which I also quickly erased from my data base because it was also lousy
- James Charles, the “make-up mogul”
- Tyler Reks, a retired pro wrestler
- Actress Alisha Wainwright
That’s seventeen. I bet the average 20-something knows all but a couple of these, maybe all of them. Next time I take the test, I might be a 30% or less. When all the celebrities are strangers, I will have reached the dreaded stage of my uncle, who got the Beatles mixed up with the Rolling Stones, and the codgers today who talk about the internet like it’s some new-fangled fad.
And at that point, I will be useless.