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Friday, July 12, 2013

Nostalgia Isn't What It Used To Be

ABOVE: James Mason in A Star Is Born
Last night, while flipping channels, I had caught a few minutes of a standup act on The Comedy Network's  Just For Laughs. The fellow onstage did a spot-on impersonation of James Mason. He positively nailed the actor's rhythm of speech and identifiable voice. The theatre was silent, save for a few polite titters. No, the audience wasn't a tough crowd- it was simply that the people didn't know who he was! (One assumes that those few who giggled were among the minority who got the joke.)

Now, come on. James Mason had a movie career spanning nearly fifty years- he worked right up until his death in 1984. Among his prolific output were the cinema classics Odd Man Out, Julius Caesar, and the 1954 version of A Star Is Born (in which, for my money, he stole the film from Judy Garland). Even if the audience consisted of people in the 30 to 40 range, had no one watched reruns of his later films when they were younger? The Verdict? Heaven Can Wait? Anybody?

With each generation, pieces of past pop culture understandably slip away to make way for the new. But James Mason? It's not like he's doing Ish Kabibble!

This sorry incident reminded me of an article I read a few years back about the writers of TV's Saturday Night Live being instructed to limit their pop cultural references to things of the past five years. Sheesh! My youth's pop culture contained allusions to things that were forty or fifty years old. And even if we hadn't seen, say, Casablanca or Laurel & Hardy firsthand, they had so much been imbued into our cultural baggage that we still understood references like "Play it again, Sam!" or "Here's another fine mess you've gotten me into."

In this information age, one has more access to knowledge than any other time in history. Why then, is this generation's cultural baggage so small? At the risk of sounding like an old fart, I don't want to just blame it on today's youth: it could be oversimplifying to say that they don't care. Is this generation really apathetic about anything from before it was born, or is the media controlling its ignorance? As Sir Francis Bacon said, "Knowledge is power...."

Oh. And after that, the comedian did a Clint Eastwood impersonation to thunderous applause.

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