The passing of pop references

One of my ongoing passions is pondering the passing of pop culture references. Baby boomers have lived through decades of new hip phrases — for instance, the hip word for “good” has evolved every few years, from “cool” to “groovy” to “far out” (thanks to John Denver for killing that one off by using it too much) to “excellent” to “bad” to “tight” to other words and phrases.Young people are constantly introducing new words and bringing new meanings to old words. That’s a part of the evolution of culture and language.

On the other hand, boomers tend to use pop references from our lifetime that might not make any sense to anyone who’s in their teens or 20s today. Because boomers constitute such a large demographic bloc, we have a shared experience of both events (JFK’s assassination and the Apollo moon landing are probably the two events most commonly cited as seared into our generational memory) and culture (sex, drugs and rock and roll, or variations thereof, as well as language).

But whenever I see or hear a reference to a TV show or movie from the ’60s, I wonder what young people today feel about it. Sure, media today is much more of a mashup, freely cutting and pasting images and sounds from several generations into the cultural mix, and there is a “long tail” of culture in an era when cable channels keep alive old TV shows much longer, and “I Love Lucy” is as ubiquitous today with calendars and merchandise in the malls, as it was when I was a kid. But do references to old culture make any sense today?

There’s a funny e-mail making the rounds on the ‘Net (has been for years, actually) that lists all the things that anyone born during the ’80s Reagan administration had no awareness of growing up.

I saw a TV commercial for the Dish network last night and noticed the logo for HBO, an icon of modern American media. I wondered how many people know it once stood for ‘Home Box Office” in the ’70s when it launched as the first-ever cable TV channel, and that it was a revolutionary idea to get unedited movies without commercials in this new way. Of course, not many people had cable TV until a decade later, in the ’80s, but that’s a different discussion.

I also wonder if a young person in 5 years, or 10 years, will know that “KFC” once stood for “Kentucky Fried Chicken.” The brand now is simply “KFC,” and it may as well be Nike, or Sony. It’s just a name, not a description. It’s a tribute to modern marketig, really.

Ultimately, and I have some friends whom I know are asking this of me: Who cares? Is it important to know that these companies once stood for Home Box Office or Kentucky Fried Chicken?

Maybe not. But you know what, I’m a baby boomer and I love thinking about these useless things.

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