Culture Is Not Forever

Dearest Rachel –

There have been a number of days when I’m literally writing to you at the last minute, standing around waiting for Chompers to do his business, or waiting for him to finally succumb to sleep. And as I wonder what topic to discuss with you, I can think of nothing else to say but how tedious it is to deal with him, and whatever keeps him up at night pacing the floor especially after having slept so long during the day. Although maybe it’s just that very fact that keeps him from falling asleep at night – yes, he was certainly a dog after your own heart.

The good news is, today is not one of those days. The bad news is, this topic might seem to be coming out of left field. That, and the fact that I’m acknowledging just how old we really are – or were – apparently.

So I know you found a lot of TV series that I never really got the chance to get invested in. In the past few years you had Supernatural and Black Mirror to occupy your days while I was out at work, but before that, there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer. And well I never got a chance to really get into any of the storylines or even most episodes, you would fill me in on some of the more memorable bits.

There was, for instance, a scene in which Buffy and her love interest/antagonist/I’m not sure what he was Spike were discussing a problem that was too big even for the both of them to deal with on their own, or even together. At one point, one of them literally asked – in trying to determine where they might obtain help from to resolve the matter – “who we gonna call?”

And despite the show generally being a drama, there was immediately a comedic ‘beat’ following this question, at which point the other character remarked, “are we ever going to be able to ask that question seriously again?”

I know next to nothing about the remainder of the plot of that episode; only that interchange sticks in my mind. What was truly impressive about it was the actual fact that neither Buffy nor Spike needed to explain the joke: anybody watching the show would recognize that line. And even as they might be laughing from the line, the viewer is left pondering that now, anytime anyone asked that question, worded in that way, their mind would respond almost instinctively with “Ghostbusters!”

Cultural osmosis is a funny thing. Every screenwriter dreams of being able to come up with something so fresh, so new, so original, that it sticks in the public consciousness right then and forever. But there’s literally no telling what will actually accomplish this. it is truly like capturing lightning in a bottle – a magical and unpredictable thing.

Equally strange is the fact that we tend to assume that once the lightning is bottled, it is preserved forever. Steeped as we are in American pop culture, we all know this stuff instinctively. Everyone knows the answer to “who ya gonna call”, after all… right?

Well, apparently not. Now, I don’t know the exact shelf life of a catchphrase or meme, and maybe it varies from one to another, But apparently evidently it’s not something we’re born knowing.

Case in point: last night was the conclusion of Vacation Bible School. We pulled out all the stops; confetti, green slime, the works. Needless to say, there were some cleanup to take care of afterwards. Thankfully, we had plenty of volunteers to deal with all that. And as I left the projection booth on my way out, I ran across a young man Working one of those canister vacuums, you know, the kind with that disposal unit strapped to his back:

And for whatever reason – probably the dad joker in me – I couldn’t resist admonishing him “don’t cross the streams!”

The first time I said it, he indicated I should repeat it. Understandable; those things are actually quite loud. However, when I repeated it, he gave me the same blank look as he had the first time, when he hadn’t heard what I’d said. He literally had no idea what I was talking about.

I suppose why should he? There’s certainly plenty of current pop culture for someone his age to consume. It’s not as if Ghostbusters qualifies as one of “the classics” one might be required to study or otherwise absorb.

But I don’t mind telling you, it took me aback. Am I so old that the lines and catch phrases that I automatically assume everybody knows are actually completely passé? It’s a scary thought.

But it probably shouldn’t be. Nothing lasts forever; not human lives, not human achievements, and certainly not human words and phrases. I think, intellectually, we grasp this, but it’s still a shock when some thing that’s been around all our lives is no longer there. Everything comes to an end, yes, but not now. Not so soon.

And of course, this year has been particularly full of upheaval in that regard. Even around Christmas, we would walk through the local mall and observe so many locations – not exactly boarded up as such, but closed off. Oh, they might have signs about something ‘coming soon’ to that location, but each empty storefront was somewhere that once was someplace, and now is no longer.

Some places and things, some cultural touchstones, will in fact outlive us, and as such, we may essentially perceive them as lasting forever. But there’s no guarantee that they really will – indeed, as the economist John Maynard Keyes put it, “In the long run, we are all dead.” Which, now that I think of it, isn’t all that far removed from how Philly D’s son put it. And which things last for what seems like forever, and which ones become ‘so last year’? We never know until we get to that next year.

If we get to that next year.

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I am Rachel's husband. Was. I'm still trying to deal with it. I probably always will be.

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