Keeping up with popular culture can be a struggle, especially when you didn’t have the “typical” childhood. Madeleine McDonald confesses her ignorance and asks whether being out of touch with mainstream trends is such a terrible thing.
David Bowie is dead, the radio presenter tells me. The name means nothing to me.
“Take your feet off the seat, Madeleine,” Mum quips in exasperation.
Dad’s broad hands grip the steering wheel tightly. I can see the whites in his eyes narrow in the rearview mirror. Their intensity startles me.
There are chip crumbs embedded between the seats. I breathe hot air and petrol fumes. The seatbelt is tight across my chest, and I think it might be slowly cracking my sternum.
“Who’s David Bowie?” I ask.
It’s been over a year since I cluelessly asked that question, and I hate to admit that not much has changed.
As an 11-year-old kid, my ignorance had always been perfectly excusable. My parents had been full-time volunteers, and so I had grown up in third-world regions of Southeast Asia and Africa with very little access to TV and internet.
But now, at 19, I find myself desperately flailing in a tumultuous sea of pop culture, gracelessly trying to pick up on each new phenomenon and fad with little success.
Although I’ve been back in Australia for eight years, I still get the sense that somehow I’ve missed it all; that my overseas-childhood is an irrevocable stain on my ability to understand cultural references. I’m a 90’s kid who hasn’t seen Rugrats, who never owned a Nintendo, who doesn’t know who Britney Spears is and will probably never wear bootleg jeans.
It bothers me that my 12-year-old sister is the one to inform me of the latest trends and correct my awkward attempts to keep up. Last week she laughed when I thought ‘smh’ stood for ‘Sydney Morning Herald’, and when I insisted that ‘Thursday-Friday-Weekend’ was the obvious interpretation of ‘tfw’. Yesterday she rolled her eyes at me and said; “These shoes are converse Maddy, not combat.”
I’m really struggling here. At the age of 19 I have to ask myself, is it worth trying to keep up?
Captain America is one of my heroes. Not because he yields a super-cool shield, or because he looks pretty darn good in a suit (though these are valid attributes)—but because he integrates so well. He’s been cryogenically frozen for 70 years, and yet he catches up with the world remarkably quickly.
At one point he whips out a list he’s been writing of all the things he needs to discover, and I’m not kidding when I tell you that I kept a similar list. On it were things like: ‘Katy Perry, Spiderman, The Beatles, pavlova, Brittany Spears, Tamagotchis, the Macarena, Lord of the Rings…’
But hey. I’ve now read the Harry Potter series. I’ve seen Star Wars. I’ve listened to Ed Sheeran, and today I sat through the full three hours of Lord of The Rings.
I know that there’s still a lot to catch up on, but I’ve decided that’s okay.
If these pop culture references are really worth knowing about, they’ll still be here for me to cluelessly ask about in ten years time.
So if you’re like me and have no idea what the Kardashians are up to, how the Blockheads’ renovations are going, which farmer wants a wife or who’s getting married at first sight, relax. Breathe deeply.
Let’s throw away our catch-up lists and start forging new memories—trends of our own.
Feature image: Richard O’Regan