The Wookie Always Wins

Paul Campos over at Lawyers Guns and Money makes an interesting observation about the lingua franca of our modern world, pop culture references:

[…] at this point I find that the only two film references that I can always count on the vast majority of the class to get are The Wizard of Oz and the first Star Wars trilogy. I’m wonder about the extent to which technology has and will gradually change this circumstance — that it is or will make pop culture, both in its high art and low schlock manifestations, more reliably intergenerational as pedogogical references or just subjects of general conversation.

Technological innovations in distribution like Netflix and streaming video are certainly going to provide a much larger window onto the collective pop culture scene than was previously available. Netflix alone has recently been granted access to stream the entire back catalog of MGM. There are silent movies on YouTube, in their entirety. This is a far cry from even when I was a kid, and we only knew the movies that could be rented on VHS. If ti was out of print or hadn’t ever been issued to begin with, it may as well have not existed. However. This doesn’t mean the kids these days are going to know what you’re talking about when you mention China Town or Dirty Harry or even The Shining. Just because they can watch those movies doesn’t mean they’re going to. Other than the odd teenage cinophile, there’s no reason to expect every teenager[1] to have seen The Princess Bride, even if it is one of the best movies ever.The flip side of this are the outliers. Movies like Star Wars and Wizard of Oz and Indiana Jones, those pieces of art that have become embededed in the culture at large. Everyone gets a star Wars reference or an Oz reference, even if they’v enever seen the movies because parts of those stories have become so pervasive, you pick it up through osmosis, or just repetition and homage.[2]

This is part of a larger set of assumptions that educators and librarians are runnign into when it comes to the younger generation of students. I keep seeing this in the university where I work, where everyone assumes the Millennials[3] are all computer experts. The problem is, this expectation has been around since they were children and what I’m finding more and more is, since everyone assumes these kids already know how to work with computers, they’ve never bothered to train them to do anything. So they come to college and something as simple as format a word document is beyond their ability to comprehend.

Basically, it’s safe to assume that they’ll get the Star Wars references but if you want to riff on The Venture Bros.or Firefly, you may need to test their knowledge before hand. You may be surprised at what they have seen but will definitely be shocked at what they haven’t.

That, and for the love of Steve, add a basic computer literacy course to your school’s curriculum.

1. Or even people in their mid twenties. I’m surprised at the number of people just five or six years younger than me who had never seen Labyrinth and had no idea that something like the Dark Crystal even existed. And these weren’t exactly sheltered people. It’s just not something they would have thought to look for and so never were exposed to it.

2. My wife had enver seen Casablanca until a few years ago. After watching it she wass startled at just how many lines and scenes she knew, because that movie had been so thoroughly assimilated into our culture.

3. I detest generational tags like this but that’s to be expect form an old Gen Xer like myself.