Expiration date?

When do cultural references run out of their expiration date? When are things or people just so far away from the general knowledge base that using them in conversations does nothing else than showing how truly old the person talking is?
For example, if I said that guy over there talks like Edward G. Robinson, would you know what I mean? Just in case you don’t know, Edward G. Robinson was an actor most famous for playing villains in black and white movies. You can still watch those movies, but the guy died in 1973. Is he still part of the general conscience that referring to him is relevant?
How about other movie stars? Marilyn Monroe is still very much on calendars, posters and all kind of imaginable pop trivia items. How about her partner in ‘Gentlemen prefer blondes’ Jane Russel? Or Betty Grabble from ‘How to marry a millionaire’?
We can also look at events and see if they still mean something. For example the Challenger explosion is still very much on my mind. That happened in 1986. Some of my friends were not even born then. Or how about the fall of the Berlin wall or the release of Nelson Mandela? Is something that happened 20 years ago supposed to be an old hat, or is it still relevant? How about things that happened 30 or 40 years ago? How relative and subjective is this time limit? And what are the current major events that we will still think about 20, 30 and 40 years from now?

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About scratchingcat

Writer, mother, friend.
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3 Responses to Expiration date?

  1. The fall of the Berlin Wall will remain a remarkable part of European history for many generations is my guess. Many events from our lifetime and from way before our life will remain culturally relevant and remembered. Who hasn’t heard of Charles Darwin and The Origin Of Species, for example? Whether future generations remember Marilyn Monroe or Nelson Mandela remains to be seen but a man walking on the moon is sure to be among the things that occurred during my lifetime that will remain culturally significant for a long time to come.

  2. wysiwyg88 says:

    This is something weirdly enough that I run into a lot in the theatre or the performing arts in general. People will sometimes refer to something that is culturally significant to their generation which will have no relevance to someone of mine. I’m pretty good but even I’m left cold sometimes. But being in that situation I think I can say with some authority that its not necessarily so much to do with generation as education and historical interest. Its impossible to know everything but its a worthy and necessary endeavour to always widen your span and breadth of knowledge because your this will increase your ability to make connections with things, places and instances to better illustrate what it is you’re talking about. We use these cultural references as our own short hand for the feelings and emotions we associate with it. In the hope that people better understand what we’re trying to say. This was explored in the Star Trek TNG episode “Darmok”.
    On a practical day to day level though if a cultural reference flies over someone’s head as mine are often wont to do at Drama school I just try and clarify myself in another way, which is also a worthwhile endeavour. I try not to think its either my fault for using a illustrative reference too obscure, or theirs for not having come across it yet. Although it may well end in me suggesting some additions to their DVD or book collection

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