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.