Some time ago, a friend of mine had a go at me about movies.

We were watching TV, you see, and a commercial came on to advertise the late night movie. It was some old black and white flick, the name of which escapes me now. It was casually noted that the movie was a good one.

“Is it?” I said, innocently.

Big mistake.

We got into a bit of a discussion then and my friend was appalled to learn that my movie history knowledge is somewhat lacking. Oh sure, I’ve seen a few Bob Hope pictures and one or two shows starring Jimmy Stewart. But, I was forced to admit I’ve never seen Gone With the Wind. I’ve never seen anything by Alfred Hitchcock, nor have I watched anything with Cary Grant in it. Casablanca? Perhaps you’d better play it again, Sam.

I was handed a long list of required viewing by a rather indignant movie buff, and I was given strict instructions to catch up on the “classics.” I’ve been slowly working my way through the list — or at least, I’ve done a really good job of adding them to my To Watch list. I figure at this rate I’ll have to spend all of my collective Christmas holidays glued to the set for the next several years, living by the light of the screen display and eating from the popcorn strings draped over the tree.

In the meantime though, I’ve come to realise just how important some of these movies have become in western culture. We often sprinkle references to these classics in our everyday conversation without even noticing it. And it’s not just movie, but songs, television shows, radio programs and so on come up on a daily basis. Academics may like to sneer and call it “pop-culture” and term it shallow, but the fact is, western culture is a pretty complex, often self-referential thing. Pity the poor immigrant who gets dropped into the middle of it without much warning.

For example, when somebody says “beam me up Scotty,” you have to realize that he isn’t referring to your flashlight, but rather the old Star Trek series. When someone says “to the moon, Alice!” you should understand they’re not talking about NASA’s latest efforts, but The Honeymooners — and that they’re probably really annoyed with you at the moment too.

Pop culture doesn’t just refer to, or make use of recent stuff either. I, for one, can never hear The Barber of Seville without inserting the line “Whaaaat would you want with a waaaaabit,” thanks to a certain Looney Tunes cartoon staring Bugs Bunny and Elmer Fudd. I can’t think of the William Tell Overture either, without being reminded of the Lone Ranger’s “Hi ho Silver, away!” Pop culture has layer upon layer of references, cross-references and inside jokes.

Which is why shows like Hercules: The Legendary Journeys worried me a bit. 

In case you haven’t seen it, Hercules was a syndicated television program, now in reruns I think, which stars a muscle-bound, semi-clad action hero, loosely-based on the famed Hercules of ancient Greek mythology. I say loosely, because a recent episode had Herc climbing up a beanstalk with Robin Hood.

I’m worried because you and I might know that Hercules didn’t have anything to do with Jack and the Beanstalk, or for that matter the famous thief of Sherwood Forest. Anyone Gen X or older probably get the jokes. But do our kids?

We don’t seem to be teaching our kids much of the original stuff, be they ancient legends, or real-life history. And we certainly aren’t expanding beyond ‘western’ stories and learning the touchstones of other cultures. Thus, our kids take in these mangled myths and fractured fairy tales as gospel truth, and history began a week ago last Tuesday.

Go ahead, make my day, and ask your children what they know about Julius Caesar, Aladdin’s lamp, or the story about the emperor having no clothes. You might find out that we are raising a generation of cultural illiterates.

Is this important? Well, probably the world won’t end just because I didn’t know It Happened One Night or how To Catch a Thief. In many of our old stories and songs though, are vital messages about dealing with life’s problems and we’re not going to get that from a 30s TikTok done by a 16-year-old influencer. 

Lest you think this is an old woman shaking her fist at the clouds, I’m personally a sucker for any of the reels having to do with cute animals, hot takes, and nerd jokes. I’ve nothing against TikTok, YouTube or Instagram. But our children are going to need a solid cultural foundation to deal with the chaotic and fast-changing years ahead. Those who don’t learn from history are condemned to repeat it.

And if that happens, Rhett darling, whatever shall we do?

One Comment

    • Edward Carlson

    • 1 year ago

    I could say, My dear Chandra I don’t give a damn! But I won’t. Or I could truly say, I’m too old for this shit! But that would be an escape. I can’t escape to Rockaway Beach, we know how that ends.

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