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Dealing with pop culture illiteracy

KASSIDY KELLEY/The Stanford Daily

I feel like many group conversations eventually tend to veer down the path of talking about pop culture. Whether it be about some new Netflix original that was released, a commonly enjoyed TV show or book from childhood or just any semi-obsession that everyone seems to share, voices elevate, eyes brighten, hands wildly gesture and perhaps a few debates arise (thoughts on Severus Snape, anyone?) after some unspoken agreement to transition to the subject. This probably happens so often because these are topics that typically a large number of people can give their input on at once. But maybe the overwhelming collective excitement, which is wonderful when you’re a part of it, is precisely why it can feel so uncomfortably lonely to be the only one in the room who seems to be lacking that particular pop cultural knowledge. In those moments, my own silence is deafening. And the minutes just seem to drag on indefinitely.

When this inevitably happens, as I believe it is impossible to entirely avoid the situation unless one has watched or read everything there is to watch or read, I always hope that some opportunity for me to enter the conversation will show itself. Truthfully, the best case scenario is just for the conversation to end completely in favor of something else, but I rarely find myself so lucky without suffering through one too many painful minutes first. I wait for that mention of an actor or actress whose filmography I’m vaguely familiar with, and then sneakily insert some sort of conversation changer.

“Oh yeah, I loved them in _____!”

Ideally, this is followed by a chorus of oh yeah!’s or me too!’s. And then, voila, I have successfully infiltrated the conversation. Alternatively, I sit with wide eyes, twiddling my thumbs or absentmindedly playing with my phone, patiently but sadly waiting until everyone else gets bored of the topic. All the while, I’m wondering how every single person in that room knows so much about it in the first place. Am I really missing out that much? Must I retreat to my room and immediately educate myself? What’s even more surprising is that sometimes it’s not even something that’s necessarily that popular. I mean, in those cases, someone has to be faking it, because there’s no way that everyone has seen that obscure indie film from 2012.

And don’t even get me started about spoilers. Yes, this movie or TV show or book may have been around for years. But no, that does not mean that you can spoil it anyways. Rude. The number of times I had to cover my ears when people started talking about Gone Girl before I actually got around to reading it was frustrating, to say the least.

I suppose the most important thing to remember during these moments is that every conversation changes eventually. People can only stay fired up about something for so long. And maybe I should start looking at these times as a chance to discover something new that I may enjoy — a new world of references, jokes and memes that I may understand in the future. Sure, it can be a lonely feeling, but at the end of the day, if I’ve managed to sit through some of the lectures I’ve found myself in, I can power through anything.

Contact Kassidy Kelley at kckelley ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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