Thursday, September 7, 2017

Dealing With the Disconnect

"Scrubs."  "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia."  "How I Met Your Mother."  "The Office."  "24."  "30 Rock." "Lost."  "The Walking Dead."

As much as I like to think that the television  monoculture has gone away, that's not entirely true.  The shows listed above are ones I see referenced commonly in the larger media, but that I've never really seen.  Oh, there was an odd episode of "The Office" now and again in college, and I did make it through the whole first season of "The Walking Dead," but otherwise these are the shows that I see references to regularly, but I never bothered to connect with in any meaningful way.  More importantly, these are the shows where I don't particularly care to be in on the joke.  Every time I see "Parks and Rec" or "The West Wing" brought up, I make another mental note that I really should go watch it sometime.  With "Always Sunny"?  Not so much.  

Now, when I was younger this used to bother me more.  I watched several programs like "Beverly Hills 90210" just to stay in the pop culture loop, even though I didn't much like them.  Especially when it came to genre shows, I felt like I was letting down my fellow geeks if I didn't give everything promising a shot.  I actually felt guilty that I wasn't watching the "Battlestar Galactica" reboot, even though I didn't have access to cable at the time, and was barely watching television as it was.  How could I call myself a sci-fi fan if I wasn't watching the biggest sci-fi show of its era?  During the anime phase of my life, I kept up with "Naruto" and "Inuyasha" and pretty much everything that was aired on Adult Swim because everyone in the wider anime fandom  watched  them.  The only anime I kept at a distance was "Dragonball" and its spinoffs, because there was just too much adolescent testosterone involved for me to take.

And now?  Well, I've figured out that a little common ground goes a long way.  There are plenty of pop culture references that I do get from media I do consume - "Game of Thrones," "Rick and Morty," and "Breaking Bad," to name a few of the big ones.  More importantly, it's really not difficult to absorb the most popular references from media I don't have much familiarity with - the "Always Sunny" characters are all monsters, Barney from "How I Met Your Mother" is a suit-loving womanizer, Jack Bauer from "24" is an over-the-top badass action hero, and Turk and J.D. from "Scrubs" have the best bromance of all time.  There's rarely any reference that goes much deeper than that.  I've filled myself in on most running jokes with just a couple of Youtube clips.  It's incredibly easy to find the relevant information these days.  

Besides, if you're going to connect to someone over a piece of media, it's better to connect over a show or film that you have a genuine interest in.  Sure, a "Friends" or a "The Simpsons" reference is always fun to see, but it always feels a little more special when you find that rare fan of "Eerie, Indiana" or "Paranoia Agent."  Also, with the dismantling of the monoculture, and the new reality of peak TV, nobody really expects anyone else to keep up with what they're watching anymore.  Everyone goes at their own pace and plenty of people show up fashionably late to the party.  Mainstream culture more or less reflects that these days.  The only shows it assumes we're all watching are "Game of Thrones," "the Walking Dead," and "Stranger Things."    

And oddly enough, I really don't mind the unfamiliar references.  On the contrary.  I've found that they can be a good way to tell whether or not I'd enjoy a show, whether the humor matches my own, and what the fanbase is like.  For instance, I adore the gruff Ron Swanson from "Parks and Rec," despite never having seen a single episode.  I really will get around to it someday.  Promise.  And I know that I'd probably never be able to sit through any amount of "24" with a straight face.  

Besides, that is a show whose time has definitely passed.

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