Pop Culture History Lessons

MTV logo from the 1980s

Do you ever have moments where your kids have no idea what you’re talking about because you made reference to something important or well-known among your generation? It happens often in my home, especially since my daughter is homeschooled and we don’t have television (we watch movies and select shows on DVD and on our computer), so she isn’t constantly bombarded with media to the same extent I was.

So occasionally, I sit the children down and teach “Pop Culture History” using YouTube as video guides.  We cover everything from music videos (and lament about the days when MTV played them) to commercials.

All About Eve

It isn’t just references from my generation, either.  Since I grew up watching all sorts of television, lived in a three-generation household, and listened to a lot of stories and music from my elders, I learned a lot about pop culture media from as far back as the 20’s (my maternal grandmother was born in 1918 and lived with us for many years).

Golden Girls

We watch black and white films and discuss Pink Floyd.  We sat down and powered through all seasons of the The Golden Girls because it was a love I shared with my grandmother.  Now my daughter understands why Betty White is incredible (though she has yet to see her earlier work).  She can now comprehend why my partner and I laugh at certain references in current shows, films, comics, and even news reports that mention something from before her birth.  Politics beyond ten years ago isn’t as a great mystery to her as it is to many of those in her age group.

Dathon and Picard at El-Adrel

Why is pop culture even important? Much like being culturally literate in the ways of classic literature, your nation’s history, and the ideals upon which it was founded are necessary to be able to discuss shared ideas with other people, being literate in pop-culture allows for certain languages and ideas to flow together.  Anyone who knows what “Darmok and Jalad at Tenagra” means, can understand how a simple phrase can completely shape a person’s sense of what someone else is saying and help strengthen understanding. Just as some languages have single words or phrases for complex concepts, pop-culture references provide mutual comprehension of something vast while saying something small.

Alan Rickman as Professor Snape

My daughter said to me the other day, “Always?  Always.”  To anyone who knows Harry Potter well, they might recognize this brief exchange between Professor Snape and Headmaster Dumbledore regarding a complex set of emotions and an explanation for quite a lot of Snape’s behavior over the previous six years. It strikes at the heart to hear it, and can render one of us speechless in the right moment.  And given the context of our discussion, this mention can add a profundity and shared connection not easily achieved with a longer string of words.

Pop culture history adds dimension, flavor, and a chance to connect more deeply with time periods inaccessible to our kids due to their youth. And to adults as well who wish to learn and understand more about our near ancestors, reaching back to partake of the television shows, music, films, and casual reading material of the past can help us better understand our elders, our culture, and the past which shaped our present.

May the Force Be with You.  Troy and Abed in the Morning.

“Troy and Abed in the Morning” from Community


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