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Published: Monday, 9/20/2010

Age becoming biggest cultural divide

The Blade's blog Culture Shock is a three-times-a-week riff by Pop Culture Editor Kirk Baird on pop culture news, events, and trends. The blog will appear Monday, Wednesday, and Friday mornings, with the odd night or off-day posting if something is merited.

All in the Family was a television milestone in the '70s, a must-see sitcom that sparked heated debates and pushed the boundaries of prime time beyond what we're ever likely to see again.

My neighbor has never seen it. Neither has a former co-worker.

Years ago, I worked with a reporter who couldn't name the Beatles. If memory serves, she guessed at Paul, though she didn't know his last name, McCartney.

All three of these people have one thing in common: they are about a decade younger than me. So even though the four of us are lumped into the Generation X category, we have little common ground when it comes to popular culture.

This gap seems to be an increasing phenomenon among age groups.

It used to be 20 years marked a big divide in common references. Then it was 10. Now even five years can mark a gulf in shared media (TV, film, music, literature, celebrity) references.

In 2005, for example, actor Robert Blake was on trial for murdering his wife in what was considered to be a celebrity case just a notch or two below the O.J. Simpson trial. How many people even remember the trial now — or Blake for the matter, who, for the record, was found innocent of the charges in criminal court but liable in a civil trial?

In only five years time, we've forgotten and/or moved on to something else new and shiny. Which also means we don't have time to obsess like we used to -- or, should I say, we move on much quicker from an obsession.

Y2K, a computer programming glitch that many thought would cripple the world at midnight Jan. 1, 2000, was a doomsday scenario turned into a late-night punchline. It's since been forgotten.

"Who Shot J.R.?" was a national obsession in 1980, with the season-opening episode that revealed the culprit behind the bullet watched by 83 million people, a record at the time. Who younger than 40 would remember it?

More than 120 million people tuned in to watch the M*A*S*H finale in 1983, which is still a record for non-sports programming. That's a number that will never be topped -- not with television audiences splintered by so many channel options and now the DVR. But talk to someone 30 or younger and, while they may've heard of the show, it's doubtful they've seen it.

As a kid I was exposed to “classic” 1960s prime-time shows like The Beverly Hillbillies, Green Acres, The Andy Griffith Show, Lost in Space, and Land of the Giants through syndication. There also wasn't much else to watch during morning and afternoon summer programming.

Now, though, there are hundreds of channels and viewing options — not to mention distractions from the Internet and video games, all of which are depriving kids of an opportunity to learn TV history the old-fashioned way, through re-runs.

it also means kids today are further removed from cultural touchstones like All in the Family.

It used to irritate me that George Lucas made the Star Wars prequels, in large part because they fall far short of their predecessors, though you can make an argument that Revenge of the Sith was at least as good as Return of the Jedi.

But now I get it. I understand why Lucas felt the need to bring back Darth Vader, beyond just money. He was afraid — and rightfully so — Star Wars would be forgotten, a sc-fi-fantasy relic lost on a younger generation. (One of the reasons he created Star Wars was introduce a new generation to the type of space serials like Flash Gordon he grew up watching.)

Want to know why Phantom Menace is for the kiddies? Lucas wanted to hook a new group of children on his space saga. He has since continued to keep the fanbase young and strong through Clone Wars: The Animated Series.

Lucas doesn't want Star Wars to be forgotten.

It's for this reason I know there WILL be a Star Wars 7, 8, 9 — Lucas will invariably want to indoctrinate another age group into the Star Wars 'verse.

Sadly for famed sitcom producer Norman Lear, his All in the Family spin-offs, Archie Bunker's Place and Gloria, failed to do the same and keep kids interested in all things All in the Family. Otherwise, I would have had a much different conversation with my neighbor.

OK, so I have no new news on the iPhone making its way to Verizon. I did receive some e-mails from readers I will share later on when I'm back at work.

Agree or disagree with a posting? Lemme know. Have a topic or suggestion? Lemme know that, too. Send an e-mail to kbaird@theblade.com or call 419-724-6734. Or even better and easier, rant on the message board.



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