I don’t know how you become detached from the pop culture umbilical cord, but it happens. Some people cut away willingly, embracing the world of bluegrass music and all things hemp. Others cling too tightly to an era and the world moves on without them. Me? I have no idea how it happened, but it did. I’ve begun to drift away from all that is cool.
I’m not saying I’m cool. I’m not. Still, you can be aware of what’s hip and trending without necessarily being a part of it.
Once you become detached from what’s cool, it’s just a matter of time before you have an instance of public ignorance. Now, this type of public ignorance is different than the type that happens when you simply haven’t heard of something yet. When I was 12, a couple of guys were talking about having “a grip” of money. I had no idea what they were talking about, so I asked around, and someone told me it meant “a lot.” I didn’t know, and then I knew. Simple as that. No harm done.
My recent display of public ignorance, the manifested symptom that I’ve become estranged from what’s hot and what’s not, was not only embarrassing, but let me know that I am a terrible American.
Let me go back to give this incident context- when I began teaching two years ago, I was told that it was illegal to not have the U.S. Constitution displayed in the classroom. I still don’t know if this is true or not, but it sounded like something local lawmakers would have spent their time and effort enacting, so I informed the school administration that I didn’t have one. They provided me, along with several other teachers, the following poster, which I proudly displayed in my classroom until a couple of weeks ago:
Notice those letters at the bottom? I didn’t. I recently found out, from a student (who felt sorry for me), that “TL;DR” stands for “Too long; didn’t read.”
TOO LONG DIDN’T READ?!?!?! For two years I ignorantly dismissed the validity of the document that functions as the genesis and beating heart of this great nation… all because I wasn’t cool enough to understand the latest text-speak shorthand, and wasn’t filled with enough youthful cynicism to be on the lookout for something THIS RIDICULOUSLY STUPID.
When I found out, I was forced to sheepishly ask my students if they too knew that the poster I hung under the US flag- the one they face each morning when pledging their allegiance to this blessed nation, contained a message of smug irony and cultural criticism. They did. When I asked them why they didn’t tell me, they wouldn’t answer, but it was clear… they were embarrassed for me.
Ouch. My pride was wounded. No amount of time I spent that night on Urban Dictionary, watching MTV, playing PS3 or listening to Childish Gambino could dip me far enough back into a state of immaturity to erase the fact that my uncoolness had managed to somehow damage my status as a patriot.
I want there to be a lesson in this letter, some variation of “what’s popular isn’t always right, and what’s right isn’t always popular” that might absolve me of some embarrassment, but I’ve got nothing. All I want to leave you with is an assurance that in spite of my status floating further and further away from planet relevant, untethered to whatever it is that makes someone the cat’s pajamas (is that still a thing? SOMEONE HELP ME!!!), I don’t need to be contemporary to be compassionate. I care about my students, and if I stay true to that, it won’t matter how unrelatable I become to them, or to the three of you.
TL;DR- I’m lame, but I love you.