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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Cultural blind spots

We all gain familiarity with most of the range of American mass culture as we grow up, either directly or by peer and media osmosis. So even if you never used a fast food drive-through on a regular basis or (for my generation) watched GI Joe frequently, you are conversant with the basics -- a squawky "Do you want fries with that?," or "...and knowing is half the battle," or whatever.

However, I suspect that each of us had specific cultural blind spots that persisted into adolescence (or even adulthood) as a result of the quirks of our childhoods. I say this because there are a few basic areas of American culture in which, over the years, I have realized that my comprehension was very low, in the bottom few percentiles:

Sports fandom
We hardly ever watched sports in my house growing up. The only thing Dad watched was tennis, and only very occasionally. We only went to sports events as part of Cub Scout trips (Yankee games) or when my friend's dad got tickets for free (Whalers games). None of my close friends were big into professional sports. And Connecticut had no major league professional sports teams after the Whalers left. As a result, at some point I realized that I couldn't relate to the concept of sports fandom. Why would you be concerned with how a specific team does, or wear their hat? What did that do for you, exactly? You could talk about it in class the next day when your team won, but you didn't actually have anything to do with them winning, so that's not really a valid point. In any case, a lot of time and energy spent on something with no apparent return. Today I still don't find myself engaged with sports -- going to the ballpark is fun, but for the experience, not following a team.

For whatever reason, my family generally does not make sandwiches, and does not go to places like Subway that are sandwich-focused. I always brought my lunch to school, but it was never a sandwich. The only sandwich we ate with any regularity when I was a kid was grilled cheese, but in retrospect, I thought of this as a specific item, not as a member of an entire genre of foods that I might want to eat. In my mind, a sandwich was a last-resort means of consuming food eaten by those who had no other options. I have come around to sandwiches, however. I actually remember eating a sub at Hogan Brothers while visiting Carleton with my dad and thinking to myself, "Hey sandwiches can be good!" (In contrast with the local pizza, which is terrible, which at the time I had thought was impossible.)

Playing cards
I was never around people who played cards while growing up. Thus, at an embarrassingly late age, I lacked some key concepts and skills. Not only how to shuffle, which is kind of hard regardless, but also things like how to hold a hand of cards. To misquote Kenny Rogers, "You got to know how to hold 'em." I do now play cards sometimes, though I still can't shuffle.

I don't really regret that I was so outside the norm on these aspects of our culture. It's the kind of thing that gives each of us unique perspectives...e.g. while someone else might approach an issue from a sandwich-centric perspective, I might be more open-minded.


teague said...

Okay, so my mother would like to take issue with my representation of my sandwich exposure. To quote from her email:

"As far as you and sandwiches are concerned, it is interesting that you don't remember that you most often did not have sandwiches because you didn't want/like them. Dad, Davin and I all ate sandwiches from time to time - Davin took one to school for lunch every day! But you didn't want anything to do with them (most often you took yogurt and...) - interesting, don't you think...the way you remember it?"

For whatever reason, I have zero recollection of turning down sandwiches, or of my family eating them. Perhaps I had a traumatic sandwich experience as a toddler.

lj said...

Traumatic Sandwich Experience is an excellent band name.

It is interesting that you've erased sandwiches from your childhood memories. I, on the other hand, have always loved sandwiches, and I think I like them better all the time. Next time we're in the same city, let me make you a couple.

I think one of my biggest cultural blindspots is also sports-related. Not the concept of fandom, really, but a basic knowledge of the rules. We've been watching some of the US Open, and H is continually dumbfounded by my ignorance of the basic rules of tennis (it's always seemed so arbitrary to me: 4 points to win a game, 6 games to win a set, 3 sets to win a match...).