Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Culture, secondhand

Whit's answer to Saturday's question about pop culture quotes we use in daily life opens a whole 'nother can of worms. Like most people of her generation -- and maybe most Americans overall -- she identifies the quote "Maybe the dingoes ate your baby" (delivered in an Australian accent) with Seinfeld. But of course the line is a reference to another pop culture product: the movie A Cry In The Dark, in which Meryl Streep blames dingoes for the death of her baby although others suspect she did it herself.

All of us who grew up in the age of mass media get some portion of our cultural literacy secondhand. We know about Wagnerian opera because of What's Opera, Doc?, or about twentieth-century British politics because of punk rock lyrics. Everything I know about the Napoleonic Wars is courtesy of Patrick O'Brian. Noel's familiarity with the works of Thomas Hardy is limited to this Monty Python sketch, but it's enough to provide a few key details.

Every night Noel and I quiz each other with the daily trivia questions in Ken Jennings' addictive Trivia Almanac. And regularly we run across pieces of knowledge about literature or music or art that we know only because it was referenced on television, in movies, or in comic books.

What's your source of secondhand culture, and did it ever save your bacon on a pop quiz?

4 comments:

Eric Grubbs said...

There are plenty of sources for me, but one of the ones that pops off the top of my head is this: I learned about free will because of Rush's "Freewill."

katie j. said...

Everything I know about the Korean war I learned from Hawkeye Pierce.

W.E.B. Adamant said...

I actually did know that Meryl Streep said it first, believe it or not. But I most definitely associate it with its "secondhand" source than its first.

As for secondhand culture, none's better than The Black Adder.

doafy said...

Most specifics about our legal system I know from CSI and Law and Order. This probably means I'm in trouble if I ever get arrested.

Also, wasn't the Meryl Streep movie based on a true story of a woman who said a dingo ate her baby?