The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

April 7, 2010

Carolyn Trout: Age creates 'Lone Ranger' pop culture

When we were kids, we used to lie on our backs and look at the clouds. We tried to see shapes and faces. It was great entertainment. And it didn’t cost us a dime.

I wonder if kids still do that. Probably not. There’s no electronic component in cloud gazing.

Of course, I myself no longer do any cloud gazing from a supine position. For one thing, I now know that millions of chiggers live in every square inch of grass. For another, I couldn’t get up without lots of help and perhaps a crane rental.

I still look for patterns and shapes and faces, though. For example, I can see Boris Karloff’s face in the wallpaper in our powder room.

It is very definitely Boris Karloff; he has his eyes shut but there’s no mistaking that face, even if there aren’t bolts protruding from his neck.

Here’s the problem. I have tried to point out his face in the wallpaper to several visitors, but no one seems to remember who Boris Karloff is. Or was.

O tempora, o mores. I learned that in high school Latin and it seems more and more relevant as I shuffle deeper into senior citizenship. Basically it translates as ‘what the heck is the world coming to!’

I mean, really! Isn’t Karloff’s monster truly a character for the ages?

My mother shares similar what-the-heck experiences with me, such as a young friend of hers claiming never to have heard of the song “White Cliffs of Dover.” Good grief, even the Righteous Brothers covered that old war-time standard.

Please don’t tell me you can’t identify the Righteous Brothers.

This is a disturbing societal trend, this lack of knowledge of any popular culture prior to one’s own time. I’d say it is a revoltin’ development, but no one remembers “The Life of Riley,” either.

The other day some of my friends and I were talking about old television shows and “What’s My Line” came up. We could all remember the panelists’ names, although we were foggy regarding the identity of the host.

It occurred to me that in another generation or two there won’t be a single person left alive who can identify Red Skelton or Hopalong Cassidy or Howdy Doody, much less the panelists on “What’s My Line.”

No one under 40 hears the “William Tell Overture” and thinks of the Lone Ranger. I’m not saying that that, in itself, is a great tragedy, but for many children in the 1950s, that galloping melody was our first introduction to classical music.

I’d like to believe that the Millennium Generation is bereft of pop culture history because their heads are so overstuffed with political world history and Italian verbs and algebra equations that there isn’t enough room left for knowing that people once cared who shot J. R. or that McDonald’s hasn’t always meant fatty fast food.

Yeah, sure.

But wouldn’t it be a sad world if no one remembered pop culture touchstones like Ed Sullivan and pink princess phones, suicide steering wheel knobs and the Lawrence Welk Show, Polaroid cameras and Walter Cronkite signing off with “and that’s the way it is”?

A sad world indeed, Kemo Sabe.