Sunday, 1 November 2009

My generation

I'm in my early forties and in the last few months I've begun to realise I'm getting old. And it's all down to this blog. I've been forced to realise that what I've always taken to be common cultural references aren't common at all - they're generationally determined.

Worm comments on my last post on Christopher Lee: "I think the only film I've ever seen with him in it was The Man with the Golden Gun." I believe this particular member of genus vermicularis is in his early thirties. T, who's in the latter part of that decade, felt the same in that she'd heard of him but didn't really know much about what he'd done. Earlier this year, Kev, commenting on my post about the disappearance of Westerns, in which I listed some of the genre's biggest stars: "I'm under 35 and I haven't heard of most of them."

Films seem a particular reference point. Strangely, though, it isn't the case that one set of televised films replaced another. I think old genre films just stopped being shown on TV. But why were these already aging Hammer Horror and Western films retired from their Saturday afternoon and late-night duties when they were? Something to do with the arrival of the VHS in the early 1980s?

These filmic references have something of the character of a shibboleth, something that defines. Unless the individual had a particular eccentric interest in the subject of schlocky old films, I think I could identify someone's upper age limit by asking: why are (were!) Richard Widmark, Christopher Lee, Diana Dors, Randolph Scott famous?

I'm not making claims that this is an original observation - far from it, sic transit gloria mundi and all that. But all these bits of commonplace wisdom, these old saws - concerned with generation succeeding generation, the new becoming old - change their character when they move from being understood in the abstract to being understood through experience. It's a funny old feeling, and it arrives as something of a shock. I warn those of you in your thirties that in the not too distant future you can look forward to interacting with people who don't know who JR is.

12 comments:

Kevin Musgrove said...

It's seeing "classic rock" in the listings and finding that it's something that was recorded five minutes ago that does for me.

If it wasn't for the fact that friends go over to Paris once a year to watch old movies I'd be convinced I was making up half the film stars I know.

worm said...

sorry for that!! :D

In my defence, I do what I can to learn as much as possible about everything I can, including unfashionable things that have slipped off the cultural radar. I hope I can hold a conversation with someone from any generation and find something to talk about that they can connect with

Its actually a thing that I believe has increased exponetially as media has fragmented into this whole internet world - there is no longer the common reference that you had with just 3 or 4 TV channels and 4 radio stations. People all knew - and learned to love - what they were given. They could go to work on a monday and discuss the TV shows or movies or records they'd discovered at the weekend because they had all experienced the same show. Its a shame that no one can really do that so much anymore.

Sean said...

which JR, John Ross Ewing or JR Hartley?

Gadjo Dilo said...

I'm older than most of you and yet I don't know much about these people. I think it's simply that for many years I had a part-time job on Sundays and never watched any of these films!

Gaw said...

From what I know of you Gadj I suspect your mind was on higher things...

Gaw said...

Sean: you really are nailing your vintage down there.

Worm: Yes, I think part of my shock is down to my interests concerning 'unfashionable things that have slipped off the cultural radar'! Who knew?

I'm not sure about the extent of this fragmentation. I still think there are cultural events that are just as involving. X-Factor (love it or loathe it) gets 15 million viewers whereas Morecombe and Wise used to get about 20 million on a Saturday night. That's a falling off but a difference in degree rather than substance. I would argue. There's still a lot of cultural solidity left.

Kevin: Crumbs, I haven't come across that one - I'll do my best to avoid it! I like the idea of your friends going to Paris to watch old movies. Surely the last word in romance.

Brit said...

JR? Oh yes, I think my dad told me about him...

Worm - do you mean to say you've never seen the Wicker Man? Or any of those films Lee was in with Peter Cushing which they used to show on Friday nights after Jools Holland, and which were all completely rubbish?

worm said...

ah yes Brit, you're right - I had forgotten him in the Wicker man. But I blame that on the mind altering powers of Britt Ekland's bottom

Gaw, I swear to god your blog is playing tricks on me - my word verification today is 'hymen'

Gaw said...

Britt Ekland's bottom from the Wicker Man has been censored on YouTube. Is nothing sacred?

'Hymen': Could these be read like a horoscope? What might be in store for you today?

Brit said...

Famously, though, it was not Britt's real bum.

Gaw said...

Not that famously - I'm shocked.

Since first viewing it - at an age when it was bound to make quite an impression - I've always seen Britt through the prism of that bottom. I shall have to reassess.

Brit said...

According to Britt, her own real bottom was much better than the bum double's, and she was mortified that the public would think the posterior belonged to her. They put the scene in without her knowledge.