Since moving in with my in-laws, one of my father-in-law’s new favorite things to say to me is, “You haven’t seen [insert movie title here]? Oh man, you have GOT to see it!”
The truth is I don’t really get excited about film or television. It’s rare that my husband and I will see an advertisement for an upcoming attraction and I say, “Ooo! We have got to see that!” More usually I say, “That looks interesting, but let’s wait for it to come out on video.” When it comes out on video, I wait in the hold line at the library to get it for free, then return it after a week, unwatched. And I’m just as selective with my television shows. The only show I regularly watch is Mythbusters and my husband and I have a subscription to MLS live so we can watch football till our eyes bleed (though studies show that watching copious amounts of football, aka soccer, can lower your cholesterol and help prevent cognitive decline.*).
This makes me entirely out of touch with current pop culture, which isn’t really a terrible thing most of the time. It only hurts me when people bring up movies in conversation or tell me that Mr. Hottie McHot is hot and I don’t know who they’re talking about. Trends are transient in nature so, most of what’s in vogue today will be tomorrow’s look of confusion and scorn while your children roll there eyes and say, “Gosh you’re so old!”
I recently read a book that spoke to me that way. It made me feel old, out of touch, or maybe even from another planet. On the whole, I enjoyed the book quite a bit. I walked into it not expecting to agree with everything she said (and I didn’t), but her voice and writing style were fun and quirky. She had a cute, sarcastic sense of humor that made me chuckle rather frequently. The biggest thing I disliked about her writing style was the copious amount of pop culture allusions I had to slog my way through. I looked up a few then just sighed and rolled with it. It wasn’t until I shut the book at the end that I got to thinking…was that really a good idea on her part.
It fit her voice, absolutely without a doubt. She was cool and fun and tuned into what I assumed to be her target audience, but if I already felt lost in the bombardment of TV allusions, one after another after another, then what of the next generation of readers. All the poignancy of her writing could be lost in the years to come. She dated her work. That’s not the end of the world, but when I look at a picture of my mother or father from when they were teens, I usually have to snort back a raucous laugh. They thought they looked cool then. They probably did look cool then. But the photos don’t need to be yellowing around the edges for us to know that they’re old. Their style dates them.
In the classic “Elements of Style”, E. B. White said this:
“Youths invariably speak to other youths in a tongue of their own devising: they renovate the language with a wild vigor, as they would a basement apartment. By the time this paragraph sees print, psyched, nerd, ripoff, dude, geek, and funky will be the words of yesteryear, and we will be fielding more recent ones that have come bouncing into our speech…Most are, at least in their infancy, more appropriate to conversation than composition.”
A few paragraph’s later, he says:
“The language is perpetually in flux: it is a living stream, shifting, changing, receiving new strength from a thousand tributaries, losing old forms in the backwaters of time. To suggest that a young writer not swim in the main stream of this turbulence would be foolish indeed, and such is not the intent of these cautionary remarks.”
It would be a shame to cut all current allusions and lingo from our writing. Not only would that put limitations on our art (which should by definition be limitless), but it would also hinder our voices from being unique and make future generations miss out on all the nuances of life and language as we live it now. I think caution is key here. We need to be careful how much and how little we include so that we don’t make our writing as obsolete as…you know that guy who played so and so in that show I watched when I was 15 that they cancelled in the middle of season 2.
* Results may vary. Author of this blogpost is not responsible for the varyingness of said results. The studies mentioned were conducted mostly on badgers**.
** No badgers were injured in the making of this blogpost.