Cultural references and getting old

I’m getting old. There, I said it! They say that you’re as old as you feel, but in reality you’re as old as your cultural references. And when you start quoting TV shows, films and songs that no-one around you has heard of then you’re on the rocky road to obsolescence.

Let me explain. There are certain pieces of your common cultural history that will be forever tied to your youth and your childhood. When people no longer know the best lines from ‘Ghostbusters’, or the name of the characters in’ The Magic Roundabout’ then you’re definitely about to find yourself left culturally high and dry sometime soon. The names of obscure characters from ‘Return of the Jedi’ may be cultural currency to you and your forty-something mates, but they mean bugger all to someone of 20. And that’s not because this person is a kid, it’s because YOU are old.

The meaning of liff (sic)

Age has been stalking along behind us all, gradually slipping a few grey hairs into your scalp and deleting the part of your brain that used to be dedicated to remembering the names of cool, hip bands. And, yes, you are one of those people that still says cool and manages to make it sound uncool. Tragic, isn’t it, but inevitable. Time stops for no man.

There were two things recently that made me realise that I’m no longer a spring chicken – I’m more of an autumn turkey these days…although the neck wattle hasn’t appeared just yet, thankfully!

The first thing was a definition I read in the fantastic ‘The Meaning of Liff’ book by the late Douglas Adams and the very-much-alive John Lloyd. The idea of the book is a simple one: there are many shared, everyday experiences and feelings we have as human beings which have no name. Douglas and John catalogued these shared feelings and named them, using the towns and villages to give them a suitable word for this experience. So, for example, ‘kettering’ is the marks left on your bottom or thighs after sunbathing on a wickerwork chair. You get the idea.

So, the definition that I really took note of was this one:

“Glasgow: The feeling of infinite sadness engendered when walking through a place filled with happy people fifteen years younger than yourself.”

Ever had that feeling? I have. Quite a few times. So I knew exactly what they meant. And suddenly it dawned on me – from the viewpoint of those people, 15 years younger and having oodles of unfettered fun, I’m old. I’m the guy they look at in the pub and think, ‘Blimey, I’m glad I’m only 25! Getting older looks terrible’. That’s certainly what I used to think when I was 25.

That’s pretty sobering.

It’s like a jungle out there 

The second thing that made me realise my age was a music-related reference. The team I work with are all between 25-30 – not super young, but at least a dozen years younger than me. So, we were talking the other day in the office and I made some reference to a line from ‘The Message‘ by Grandmaster Flash – the line being, ‘It’s like a jungle sometime, it makes me wonder how I keep from going under’.

Now, to me and my peer group that track is a classic piece of early hip-hop. It’s one of the foundation stones of rap music and one of the first hip-hop tunes to talk about social issues.

But NO-ONE in my team had ever heard of it. It drew a complete blank. It just wasn’t part of their musical heritage. It had no meaning for them: and therefore my quoting a line from it made no sense to them either.

I’d been shown up by my own cultural reference points. And that happens more and more as time goes on.

Losing my edge? 

So, in the words of LCD Sound System, am I losing my edge? I hope not. I do my best to keep up to date. I read, I listen, I consume and I discuss modern culture. But the things that make up my cultural building blocks will always be rooted in the 70s and 80s – that’s when my cultural operating system was first written and it’s always going to be there in the code, however many versions that OS goes through.

So, I’m getting old. But I’m learning to live with it. You can’t beat a bit of life experience, and that’s the one thing us more mature people will always have more of. Suck on that, ya young whippersnappers! 😉

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