Pink Lady and Jeff. Hello, Larry. Heaven's Gate. Ishtar.
What do all those things have in common? One, they're legendary bombs.
Two, they're also really outdated references, as my editor pointed out to me when I attempted to include them in a recent Culture Shock column.
I was citing these examples -- the former two failed NBC shows from the 1970s and '80s, the latter two major box-office failures from the '80s -- as comparisons to how bad Charlie Sheen's Detroit show was.
I thought the references funny and clever. My editor, who at 49 is seven years my senior, didn't. He also didn't get them. More painfully, he said no one else would either.
It seems I've become old. Forty-two isn't over the hill; at least, not the way I see it. As my wife tells others, she has a 4-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old husband.
That I can handle. What's really depressing, though, is that my popular culture knowledge -- the useless trivia I've retained for decades, such as Sorrell Booke playing Boss Hogg on TV's The Dukes of Hazzard -- is antiquated and expired. I cannot tell you how many germs of useful information about math and science I've flushed from my memory through the years in a determined effort to make room for such things as the ability to quote the lyrics to Coven's "One Tin Soldier" on command. (For those lost on that reference, Coven was a '70s one-hit wonder with its theme song to Billy Jack -- yet another obscure reference to a 1971 counter-culture film starring Tom Laughlin.)
I never envisioned a day when cultural knowledge such as that would have a shelf life. Then again, I grew up in a time when 20, 30, and even 40-year-old references remained funny and valid. Much of my institutional knowledge of films, music, TV, and celebrities initially came from decades-old Looney Tunes cartoons, which were chock full of cultural references from Hollywood's Golden Age.
Then there were all the 1950s and 1960s TV shows served up in afternoon TV syndication as part of the 1970s-80s rite of passage known as boring summer weekdays. More than time fillers between mall outings and naps, these shows were great sources of research material about our nation's near-past. I'd also like to think that some of my considerable parenting skills were fostered through countless hours watching Ward Cleaver of Leave it to Beaver, Jim Anderson of Father Knows Best, and Steve Douglas of My Three Sons. That screaming booze hound Darrin Stephens of Bewitched? Not so much.
But my summertime ritual of hunkering down for hours in front of the boob tube was years ahead of the Internet and hundreds of available cable network channels, which have all but consumed my leisure time and also changed our cultural landscape. These days, social touchstones are cycled in and out of mass consciousness with the frequency of a CB radio. (Deliberately old-school point of reference.)
Frankly, you don't get the kind of mileage out of a reference as you once did. How popular was Charlie Sheen's "Winning" mantra only weeks ago? Outside of cultural irony, the expression is now as out of fashion as Bjork at an Oscar ceremony. Again, another dated reference, and her swan dress disaster is only a decade old.
It wasn't that long ago that you could make a crack about the major flop that was Ishtar for at least that long. I know Johnny Carson did. Then again, Saturday Night Live also poked fun at Carson for his "outdated references lost on young people," which in itself is a reference to the skit from the early '90s.
Too quickly now we forget what used to be hip. I'll spare you my reference to Huey Lewis and the News.
Meanwhile, I've got a Shields and Yarnell Show reference to unearth ... right after I kick those kids outta my yard.