Pop Culture Ephemera

ugandan knuckles

This has relevance, I swear.

I’ve been thinking of doing a “decade-in-review” blog post for a while now, now that the 2010’s are ending and it seems like a good time to take stock in both my life and the world before beginning the roaring ’20’s that are on the horizon. I first considered doing a year-by-year breakdown, much like I had already done for the 2000’s, but had a more difficult time coming up specific year-related milestones. Turning 30 and getting a steady job meant that I had reached the point in my life where individual years didn’t matter as much as specific events, which is related to something I want to expound on a bit.

I recently came across an interesting video. What I found interesting was not necessarily the content (a dive into popular bad memes of the 2010’s), but how, for the guy who made the video, these memes represented the general tenor of the years in which they came out (2011 was the “Nyan Cat” year, 2012 was all about “Gangam Style” and figuring out what the fox says, 2016 is when Pepe the Frog was stolen by the alt-right, and so on). Thing is, I recognize and remember most of these memes, but I couldn’t, with a gun to my head, tell you what year they came out, or even make an educated guess. Internet culture stopped being delineated by calendar years for me around the same time that Homestarrunner.com stopped updating regularly, and it was a little bizarre seeing someone treat stuff from 2015 with deep nostalgia glasses, when for me, I have to really think hard to place what separated 2015 from 2014 or 2016 in my life (and actually, 2015 was probably the last year I had before I settled into the “living alone in an apartment and working” routine I’m still in today, and even then that’s mostly because before that I was in a “living in a small house with a roommate and working” routine).

I don’t consider myself to be that old. I’ve always been single, my interests skew young (I’m technically an Xennial, that is, someone born on the Gen X/Millennial divide, but I tend to lean far more on the Millennial side when it comes to pop culture/attitude/etc.), and I’ve made an effort to keep up with internet culture, or at least the parts of it I find appealing, which means I know the parts of it that are more-or-less omnipresent online, such as the memes outlined in that video. The channel that produced it, Quinton Reviews, is hosted by a guy (Quinton) who is also technically a Millennial (by about a month), only on the Gen Z side instead of the Gen X side, which I think is reflected by his pop culture being defined by internet cultural touchstones such as memes instead of them being aspects of a larger cultural picture. (He is also defined as Gen Z by referring to things he likes as “my sweet bois” so there’s that.) But there was a line late in the video that made me realize something important. Something that is probably obvious when you read it but nonetheless had a gravity to it when I realized it. The line?

“How will you explain Ugandan Knuckles to your grandchildren?”

ugandan knuckles

This thing

Now, what Ugandan Knuckles is isn’t important, because the answer to this question is “You won’t. People fifteen years older than you don’t care about Ugandan Knuckles, and people fifteen years younger than you won’t care either, let alone two generations younger.”

Pop culture of any era has no inherent worth compared to pop culture of different eras. I can go into work and talk to my 62-year-old coworker, who doesn’t like any music written after 1974 and tells me about the Charlie Chan movies he loves to watch every night to fall asleep, and at the same time I’d be browsing Facebook (where I’m a member of Atari gaming groups that complain about how the peak of gaming was Yar’s Revenge) and Tumblr (where my nieces are constantly reblogging posts about Steven Universe and Homestuck and anime stuff I will never investigate on my own), and then go home and watch some 90’s era Simpsons and Star Trek TNG episodes. People get so caught up in whatever random things were popular when they came of age that it’s mentally nearly impossible to get them interested in anything else. Neither the 62-year-old co-worker nor the 16-year-old niece will ever be as connected to Star Trek TNG as I am, any more than I will ever feel as connected to Charlie Chan or Homestuck as they are.

It takes a concerted effort to not fall into the “My pop culture is the only type that’s any good” mindset. This kind of thinking results in such awful trainwrecks as Ready Player One (the book, I still refuse to see the movie), where the ultimate lazy-pop-culture-obsessed dream is revealed: not just “all my 1980’s knowledge will win me billions of dollars” but also “teens from the year 2040 will be just as obsessed with the ephemeral bits of pop trivia from my childhood that I am, so it’s actually important in the grand scheme of things, not a waste!” No, no they won’t. They’ll be interested in the 2040’s version of Ugandan Knuckles. I think most people are aware of this, but it’s such a great fantasy that it becomes an irresistible draw to its target demographic. I personally have been caught up in this mindset, though for me, instead of Ready Player One, it was Scott Pilgrim: a work that, while not nearly to the same level as Ready Player One, also seemed baffling to those outside its target while exploiting nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake to its core demographic (using Zelda music for no reason, naming a band “Sex Bob-omb” with a song called “Launchpad McQuack” with no connection to any of the things those names are attached to, etc.). I still like Scott Pilgrim, but it’s been tainted a little bit by those bits that are “Hey, remember this thing?” with no larger meaning.

My point is that, whether it’s Charlie Chan movies, Yar’s Revenge, Star Trek TNG, Homestar Runner, or Ugandan Knuckles, bits of pop culture are unimportant to those who came of age in different eras, but stupidly incredibly important to those who came of age during the times when they were popular. And that’s important to remember when seeing something made for people outside your demographic. That’s why I’ve never liked the viral posts like “Kids today will NEVER understand the pain of dial-up internet or cassette tapes!” because I’m all like “Yeah, and you never will understand the pain of people who lived before automobiles, but that doesn’t make you better or worse than them, just born at a different time! Why even bring it up?” Don’t assume that something is more important just because it’s a thing that was happening when you came of age.

This is why I’ve made a concerted effort to keep up with modern culture, at least within my spheres of interest: not because it’s better or worse than when I was younger, but because it’s important to somebody, no matter how dumb or fleeting it seems to me, and I don’t want to be the “Any music after 1974 is crap” guy. And sometimes I pick up on something modern that speaks to me just as much as anything from my formative years, even if it’s not leaning on something directly nostalgic for me (for example, my connection to Undertale, though, to be fair, that’s a bit of a special case) (also, yes, something that came out in 2015 almost five years ago I still count as modern).

But the main thing this video proves is that I think I’m starting to lose that battle, because there comes a point where I just can’t keep up with it anymore. I picked Ugandan Knuckles to represent this post, not only due to the myopic “How will you tell your grandchildren about this?” line, but also because it was the first meme in the video that I had never seen in any form before, but was notable to the guy who made the video, someone who is technically still of my generation despite being on the opposite end of it. It’s the point where I finally reached pop culture saturation, where “notable” for me means something more than “a lot of people know something exists.” And it does give me a bit more sympathy for my co-worker and his Charlie Chan movies.

And it’s when Quinton says something like “This meme from 2019 feels like it could have been from 2014,” and I have legitimately no intrinsic understanding of what that could possibly mean…it is then that, despite my best efforts, I finally begin to feel old.

Sorry if this was a bit rambly, and wasn’t actually a decade-in-review post. I still might do something along those lines in the near future, if only to get Ugandan Knuckles off the top of my blog. Anyway, here’s a Chrome extension that replaces the Youtube progress bar with Nyan Cat.

One thought on “Pop Culture Ephemera

  1. Pingback: Spending the teens in my 30’s: a Decade-in-Review | Jeff's New Blog

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