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Meanwhile in Oz: The best of trends repeat in time
Matt Johnson, Publisher - photo by Matt Johnson

As I’ve aged I’ve discovered I’ve lost a connection with popular culture.

My friends send me YouTube links to songs they like by bands I’ve never heard about. When I read the list of celebrity birthdays in the Monroe Times, if the person isn’t above the age of 45, it’s likely I don’t know their work.

In fact, I’d much rather watch an old television show or documentary on Netflix than something new on a network.

That moves me further and further away from the demographic that people want to have as advertising targets for impulse purchases, fashion trends or anything that has to do with having an interest in today’s popular culture.

When it comes to entertainment, I’m actually in reverse. One of my hobbies is listening to old-time radio shows produced between the 1930s and 1950s. I picked up this hobby when I got my first transistor radio when I was 10 years old and could tune in WBBM in Chicago. During my teenage years, WBBM often ran three hours of old-time radio shows on any given night. Wisconsin Public Radio has two hours of old time radio shows on both Saturday and Sunday night. Now I just find archives of shows stored online and it only takes a second before I’m listening to “Dragnet,” “Challenge of the Yukon” or “The Mercury Theatre.” 

While I’m in reverse on pop culture, I religiously read and listen to the news. I understand, through multiple generations of experience, what is important and what isn’t. I wouldn’t say I’m perfect at my analysis, but I’m getting doses of news from print, radio, online and video sources every day. There’s no such thing as enough news for me. A news story can lead me to investigate details of stories online. I can spend hours investigating the news. 

I used to judge my knowledge of pop culture by how well I understood the skits on Saturday Night Live. Now I don’t stay up late enough to watch the show.

I’ve come to an understanding that I won’t be able to keep up with change, because it’s a constant challenge just trying to retain the knowledge and of revisiting things I already like.

I know why people garden as a hobby. It’s a rewarding, repetitive task. You can make changes, but you can largely do the same things every year and unless there’s horrible weather, you get a harvest. There are fruit and vegetables at the end of your labor.

The key to being a good gardener is tending the garden. Tilling the soil, planting, hoeing, weeding, watering, pest control, picking, cleaning (composting) and retilling. What I learned in my early life about gardening is that you should only garden a spot as large as you’re willing to maintain. Staying on top of weeding is a simple task if you do it every day. If you let your garden go for two weeks? Then it’s a disaster.

Western cultures have different thoughts about planning when comparing to their far-eastern friends. I’ve been told that while the United States makes a five-year plan, China and Japan are working on 500-year plans. I think that makes a great deal of sense and provides a strong platform for future generations. We have that through the Constitution, which in a way is a plan of what you can and can’t do in the United States of America.

I’ve been a bit saddened by NASA giving up on any manned mission to Mars. That event is not going to happen in my lifetime. A private company might make such a mission, but that feels so much less universally inviting. I understand it makes more sense for us to send scientific exploratory vehicles into space rather than manned vehicles. Because we haven’t yet figured out a way to travel fast enough to reach another inhabitable place. 

We should be working on issues such as overpopulation, solving conflict, reducing nuclear weapons, feeding people and creating common goals for all mankind before we decide who gets to play “Captain Kirk.” 

Thankfully, I can use the “Captain Kirk” reference to popular culture because through all of the different evolutions of the Star Trek franchise, it’s understood by multiple generations.

Maybe I don’t have to worry so much about staying in tune with popular culture. Every time I turn around and look at fashion, television, the arts, haircuts and eyeglasses, some previous generation’s trend is coming back. 

As long as we’re interested in each other as people, are kind to each other and project the positivity that is inherent in all of us, that, too, should be returned.

— Matt Johnson is publisher of the Monroe Times. His column is published Wednesdays.