Volume 2, Issue 59: The One About Shared Popular Culture

Because Tinyletter is mostly for mail, it’s nearly impossible to find old newsletters. So I’m posting all my old newsletters here so they can be searched, indexed, all that. You’re still better off just subscribing.


Jeanette Rankin died on May 18, 1973, at the age of 92.

May 18, 2019

When running down Milledge Avenue in Athens this week, I came across a woman wearing a “Save Ferris” T-shirt. It was just that basic T-shirt that you can get anywhere. Amazon can have it to your door by Sunday.



When I was a kid, we had five movies that my sister and I watched over and over. My parents bought blank VHS tapes and took them over to my Uncle Ron’s house, the only person we knew who had cable, so we would have some movies to watch that summer, a summer my parents knew they’d be working heavily and wouldn’t be home for us as often as they might have liked. (We lived out in the country, where cable wasn’t available. Ron’s patience for his brother-in-law and nephew coming over to watch Cardinals-Braves games on TBS was apparently infinite.) Ron spent a day recording the movies on HBO for us and then labeling them in black magic marker on a sticker outside of the VHS tape. You remember, like this:

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And then we watched those same five movies over and over, basically for the next three months. My sister and I, to this day, can mostly recite these five movies by heart. They are:

  • Clue
  • The Golden Child
  • Ferris Bueller’s Day Off
  • Short Circuit
  • Superman II

For those three years, when we were home all summer and could no longer play outside in the sweltering Central Illinois heat and humidity, we watched those five movies, and only those five movies. Occasionally some neighborhood kids came by, but mostly it was just the two of us, trying not to fight with each other, in that house by ourselves, watching those same five movies. For that summer, those five movies constituted all of American culture, and the only people, as far as I knew, who saw or understood those movies were my sister and I. I had no place to find out if anyone else had seen them, or who they actors were in them, or what their lives were like. As far as I knew, they made the movies specifically so my sister and I could watch them. It was as close as you could get to culture in a vacuum.

I did not know at the time — and could have had no way of knowing — that I was in fact having a shared cultural experience, that millions of other kids like me were all watching Superman II, or Clue, or The Goonies, or Revenge of the Nerds. We were all having a collective generational moment, all in our studies or living rooms or bedrooms, watching old VCR tapes while our parents tried to make sense of the increasingly ominous world that swirled around us. I had no idea that was happening. I was just arguing with my sister about what movie we were gonna watch next.

I never knew there was a whole other world out there, and other people who cared about what I cared about, until I went to college. You’d see someone else with the Reservoir Dogs poster on their dorm wall, or hear them playing “Exile in Guyville” on their CD changer, and there would be instant recognition: That person is like me. There are others like me. I remember the early days of the Web, of alt.newsgroups, when you could go to alt.fans.letterman to discover that it hadn’t just been me staying up late and taking notes on Dave’s best jokes, of noting which guests had which ongoing gags. It was thrilling. I had felt alone. But I wasn’t, and I never was. There were people sitting around and watching with me that whole time. But I think it’s better, in retrospect, that I didn’t know that.

When I think about Generation X, a big topic this week (and another reminder that Choire Sicha is a genius), that’s what I think about: Being, essentially, the last generation that didn’t know it was living collectively. I remember what life was like before I had an email address. I remember sending a message to someone in Australia and getting it returned in a matter of seconds and being absolutely blown away by this. I remember discovering something and having no idea if I was the first person to ever come across it. I remember not knowing the answer to a question and having to sit there in the mystery instead of just looking it up. I remember all my feelings being genuinely, distinctly mine, without worrying about how they held up to hive-mind scrutiny, without wondering whether they would be considered cliched because someone else had gone through them before. I remember being able to learn things in private, on my own time, at my own dumb speed.

When I went to college, I heard about the band Save Ferris, probably most famous for their cover of “Come On Eileen.” I didn’t really care for Save Ferris that much; I preferred my alt-rock less ska-tinged, all told. But it blew my mind that there was a band called Save Ferris. Somewhere in California, a quarter of the planet away from a Mattoon, Illinois living room, 10 years earlier, the members of that band had been watching “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” just like I had, and knew their band name would be knowing wink to those of us who had loved that movie and thought we were the only ones, just as that T-shirt, which can be at your door by Sunday through Amazon, is commoditizing that same knowing wink. I miss that knowing wink. I miss stealthily finding a kindred spirit. Young people now experience everything in public. They can know, instantaneously, that any thought they have is shared by millions of people they can connect with whenever they desire. They have the world at their beck and call. And I bet this makes them feel more alone than we ever did.



Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. You may disagree. It is your wont.

1. The Pointless Pain of Tanking, New York. Mostly, I was just happy to go on a Stephen A. Smith riff I’ve been meaning to go on for a while.

2. Keanu Reeves Movies, Ranked, Vulture. Grierson and I are really good at these, I think.

3. Data Decade: The Best Left Fielders of the 2010s, MLB.com. Ryan Braun really, as they say, shit in his mess kit on this one.

4. Golf Magazine Instructional Column No. 5: The Data Revolution (GOLF Magazine, print only). On newsstands now. These columns are actually getting more fun, not less.

5. Your Quarter-Point MLB All-Stars, MLB.com. There is only one Cardinal, and it’s probably not the one you’d think.

6. Debate Club: Best Modern Monster Movies. SYFY Wire. A reminder that Peter Jackson’s King Kong remake is really good, and underappreciated.

7. Thirty: Each Team’s First-Half MVP, MLB.com. This is the Cardinal you would expect.

THE WILL LEITCH SHOW



It’s David Cone! An actual athlete on a sports show, if you can believe that. Watch on Amazon or on SI TV.

PODCASTS

Grierson & Leitch, “Wine Country,” “Pokemon Detective Pikachu” and Grierson’s 2019 Cannes Preview. He’s there right now, the europhile.

Seeing Red, Bernie and I are having a hard time with the Birds right now.

Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, no show this week.

GET THIS LUNATIC OUT OF HERE 2020 PRESIDENTIAL POWER RANKINGS

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I moved out of New York just before Bill de Blasio became mayor, so I will confess I do not hold him in nearly the same level of contempt as those who have lived there the last five years have. All told, if you don’t live in NYC, I bet you don’t hate him that much? Here’s a line from his bio: “He initiated new de-escalation training for officers, reduced prosecutions for cannabis possession, implemented the usage of police body cameras, and ended the post-9/11 surveillance program of Muslim residents. His signature initiative as mayor was the implementation of free universal Pre-K in the city.” Uh ... I think I am for all of those things? I think it is maybe good that he did them? I think I would support a candidate who was for that?

If I still lived in New York, I’d surely scream at him because the streets weren’t plowed as quickly as I’d like them to be, and I’d do the same subway complaining that everybody else does. (This is as good a reason to move out of New York, by the way: You no longer get mocked by the rest of the planet for whining about the subway all the time.) This is all probably instructive. We can get caught up in everyone’s policies and personas and sound bites and ideological purity, but at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter how much your views align with your constituents if you can’t get the trash taken away on time.

Also, Steve Bullock entered the race this week. As Nate Silver pointed out, since Amy Klobuchar announced on February 10, 11 people have entered the race, and all 11 are straight white males. It’s like a Steve Nash LES pickup soccer game, there are so many old white men out there.

1. Kamala Harris
2. Elizabeth Warren
3. Joe Biden
4. Beto O’Rourke
5. Cory Booker
6. Amy Klobuchar
7. Kirsten Gillibrand
8. Julian Castro
9. Pete Buttigieg
10. Bernie Sanders
11. Jay Inslee
12. Seth Moulton
13. Michael Bennet
14. John Hickenlooper
15. Bill de Blasio
16. Tim Ryan
17. Steve Bullock
18. Marianne Williamson
19. Wayne Messam
20. Eric Swalwell
21. John Delaney
22. William Weld
23. Andrew Yang
24. Tulsi Gabbard

ONGOING LETTER-WRITING PROJECT!

These have started to slow. This is because of you, people, not me: I have written back to every letter except for the ones I got back this week. Let’s get it together, people. You should check your mail more often than every two months, what are you, a savage?

Will Leitch
P.O. Box 48
Athens GA 30603

CURRENTLY LISTENING TO



“How Long?” Vampire Weekend. I don’t really care about any of the debates about this band anymore. This new album just has a bunch of really lovely songs on it that I sincerely, unironically love to listen to. I look forward to listening to this album this summer while lazily floating around on something. I give.

If you ever get a chance to coach Little League baseball in your life, the argument here is that you should.


I’m the one wearing sunglasses.

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Have a great weekend, everyone.



Best,
Will






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