Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Differing Touchstones

Last Fall I discovered just how out of touch I was with pop culture while waiting for a Molten Core run.

I can't remember the specifics of the conversation, but there was a comment made about surreal comedy, and I piped up and mentioned "Oh, like Andy Kaufman."

There was radio silence, and then a "who?"

"You know, Andy Kaufman, the guy who was the subject of the movie Man in the Moon."

"I don't really remember that movie."

"How about the REM song from the early 90s?"

"Card, you're not helping yourself any with that reference."

Well, shit.


For reference, here's the REM song.

Finally, another raider who was about my age spoke up. "Yeah, Andy Kaufman was in Taxi as Latka, and he did that routine where he challenged that pro wrestler to a fight."

"Yeah, he was kind of nuts to egg that guy who was twice his size on, just like his Elvis impersonations were so out there that you never forgot it."

At least I got the chance to make a semi-graceful exit.*


I was reminded of that generational disconnect once more while I was listening to a playlist on YouTube the other day. At one point the old Spinners song "Rubberband Man" came on, and I was bopping along. One of the mini-Reds happened by, and she said "Oh, that's the Guardians of the Galaxy song."

Not having seen anything past the first Guardians of the Galaxy movie --yeah, I'm a bit tired of superhero movies these days**-- I was surprised. "Really? The NBA used to play that song for highlights of players from the 70s and 80s, like Doctor J, Michael Jordan, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, and the Big O."

At least the kids knew who the Big O (Oscar Robertson) is, because he played at the University of Cincinnati and then in the NBA for the Cincinnati Royals. I've told them the story several times about how my dad used to ride his bike to go see the Royals play at the old Cincinnati Gardens, and how Oscar was easily the best basketball player he ever saw.

The statue of The Big O outside of
UC's Fifth Third Arena. My photos turned out lousy,
so I borrowed this one put out by UC.


Why mention this? Well, because people --and gamers-- are a product of their generation. To the longtime MMO players who spent years in the old days of WoW (and now WoW Classic) have a completely different view of Azeroth than those who are new to the game.

I can't tell you how many times I've heard over the years that "XXX sucks!" Like my own personal bugaboo, Belsavis, in SWTOR. I can't stand that zone because it just keeps going on and on and on. Just when you think you're about to finish the planetary story, you go through a tunnel and reach yet another mini-area to explore and quest through.

Or the oldest mini-Red's personal dislike, Corellia. She has major issues finishing the final planet in the "vanilla" SWTOR zones because the warzone imagery depresses her so much. 

I was reminded of that disconnect when her baby Hunter, Tasarae, reached Darnassus for the first time. Of the Alliance cities, Darn has the reputation of being the most disliked. It's hard to get to, it's very spread out, and it's difficult to find anything without inquiring from the guards.

But when Tasarae walked through the open pathways with her new pet owl, she gushed about how beautiful Darnassus was. And when she arrived at Auberdine, the rugged shoreline and evergreen forests of Darkshore captivated her. 

It is the seeing of things with new eyes that energizes me. Just like when --very soon-- Tasarae will arrive at Westfall and head out on the questline that leads inevitably to the Deadmines and a confrontation with Edwin Van Cleef, the Stonemason whose thirst for justice led him down a dark path where everyone else was an enemy, and only he and his followers were in the right.

I'm looking forward to this. Tasarae doesn't know what's ahead for her, but I do. And I will once again be able to see this world through her, with new eyes.



*Thanks for covering my ass there, Zwak. 

**Not to mention all of the freaking gatekeeping by a subset of geekdom.


  1. You're touching on one of my personal bugbears here. Lack of recognition for pop cultural references (and historical and just about any other kind you care to name) really is not generational. It never was. It's attitudinal.

    Think back to your own teens or twenties and remember all the times you dropped just that kind of cultural reference with your own peer group and saw it bomb in just the same way. Culture is vast. Most people don't have many shared reference points.

    Take Andy Kaufman. I watched Taxi when it was first shown. I would have been, what, twenty when it started. I knew him as Latka. That's all I ever knew him as until about ten years ago. I never saw any of his work other than that tv show, never saw the movie about him, never knew what the REM song was about even though I heard plenty of REM including that very song, many times. It was only when I read something at work (I forget what) and his name came up that I dug through the internet and discovered all the stuff you were mentioning and a bunch more.

    On the other hand, when I was fifteen, in the mid-70s, I got so interested in Lenny Bruce I bought an imported double-album of his stand-up routines, his autobiography and another book about him. No-one of my own age I knew had a clue who he was or cared. All that material came from the 1950s and very early 60s, most of it before I was born. By the time I discovered Bruce he was a decade dead.

    Everything is like that. It's not when you're born or what age you are it's how your mind works, what your interests are and most of all how curious you are about the world. But it's a big, big world. No matter how curious you are you're going to be unaware of almost all of it. Which is why we make such immediate connections with other people who share recognition of any part of it. Until we find out that's the only point of contact between us, of course...

    Anyway, sorry to rant in your comments but as I said, it's one of my things.

    1. Nah, you're fine. You do have some good points, although I'll also point out that for my generation (I'm probably about 10 years younger than you) Taxi was a big deal. Although the show lasted only 5 years in regular production, it made a gigantic impact on my generation in the States because it was all over the place in syndication, in much the same way that WKRP in Cincinnati was as well. Just like how, 30 years later, The Big Bang Theory only became really popular when it reached syndication and it was (and is) shown all over the place on television in the States.

      That doesn't refute your position, because Andy is definitely a niche comic, and even in his heyday a lot of people never understood him. I probably could have said Richard Wright and maybe gotten some recognition, but he never had a movie starring Jim Carey (at the height of his popularity) made about him, either.

      But yes, it's not generational per se, but when you were exposed to something. For a lot of people, your generation does provide a benchmark when it is most likely you are going to be exposed to something. It isn't an absolute correlation, but as a rule of thumb it does provide a baseline.

      Back when I was in college, I spent several years delving into the short stories and novels that defined the Golden Age of SF. When I occasionally poked my nose into a SF or Star Trek convention, I was definitely among the youngest attendees who would sit in on panels about the fiction of the Golden Age.

      So I get where you're coming from, and I agree with you to an extent. Perhaps it's the American centric view of pop culture here in the States that refuses to acknowledge a lot of non-American (and non-British) pop culture. That attitude is changing, but there's a lot of the country where the big wide world simply doesn't exist.

      Or, as the barmaid at the country bar in the movie The Blues Brothers said, "We have both kinds [of music]: Country AND Western!"

  2. Darnassus and the early night elf zones are beautiful, that's objective fact! I always tell my guildies off when they diss them. :P

    1. I completely agree with the beauty of the Night Elf zones, but I'm in the minority among the people I know in Myzrael. The back-and-forth nature of the Darkshore quests, along with the wide level range for Ashenvale, can sour people on the zones. At the same time, however, I've caught myself taking screenshots of the NE areas just because they're so photogenic.

  3. Hi Red;
    Thanks for the blog, been enjoying it for a few months now. Today's post really hits the nail hard on the head for me, being a gamer in his 50's who's seen a ton of pop culture come and go over the years, especially with seeing WoW from the early days of Vanilla up through all the expansions and into Shadowlands.
    Your experience in the raid I've had more than a few times where you through out a reference in chat/ventrillo/discord/whatever and as you noted...crickets. Inevitably followed by 'Damn you're old'.
    An online friend from vanilla and I keep in touch, an email to say hello every few months usually followed up with a couple hour phone call. The nostalgia bug hits hard recounting our days from vanilla up through wrath when he stopped playing. Our pop culture references happen quite often during those conversations, a way of saying 'I get what you mean, it was like that time on Happy Days when Ritchie borrowed the Fonz's bike..."
    An interesting conversation happened at my work just yesterday, going into an increased Lockdown due to covid. Customer asked me how I've been handling it. My answer: I've been playing computer games for over 40 years now, I've been in training all that time for this exact thing. I'm good.


    1. Thanks for the comments, Bill! And yes, I know the episode of Happy Days that you're referencing. For me, there's also plenty of relevant pop culture out in MMO space that you can get from shows as diverse as MASH, Miami Vice, Knight Rider, BJ and the Bear, or even Baa Baa Black Sheep (really showing my age there). But unless some of us old farts are grouped together, these gold mines never get mined.

      Do you play Classic? (Or Retail, or any other MMOs?)

    2. Yes, I played Classic (had to return for the nostalgia) from release until Shadowlands, then hopped over to Shadowlands till now. Haven't been back to Classic since, except to re-mail stuff between alts before it disappeared.
      Not much into other MMOs, I did try Guild Wars 2 but it didn't hold my interest as much as wow.
      Huge wow fan up to and including Mists of Pandaria, tried WOD, Legion and BFA, enough to level a server's worth of alts but not continuing on to my other servers as usual. Each time I'd hop to a private server for Wrath or BC depending on my mood. While watching for the next expansion.
      So far enjoying Shadowlands with it's return to an older way of dealing with professions and having fun levelling my toons.
      As you can probably tell, I'm a huge altoholic, during MOP I'd maxed out my account, all 50 toons, just to see if I could do it. Since then, not so much, but usually have at least an alliance server and a horde server maxed out.
      Here's a little bit more about me, a blog I started way back but ran out of steam on, which keeps me in awe of Bloggers such as yourself who keep on rocking. Major kudos Red!

      If you do read any of this, the fellow I referred to in my last post is Kelletar - posted about in the blog.


    3. Well, Bill, when you're ready to take up your old blog again I'll be ready, as I added your blog to the "Blogs in Mothballs" section. If you become active, it'll pop up to the top and I'll move your blog back to the MMO Blogroll.

  4. Not sure if you're not falling into a trap of "everyone should know this". Most if not all of the songs on the Guardians of the Galaxy soundtracks predate my time listening to music, but I still knew most of them before the movies, and some people old enough wouldn't recognize any of them.

    Also having had this discussion so often I think it's not really the young people not being interested, it seems more like those few generations of people now 30-60 are the only ones who seem to have a wide span of interest. Maybe because we grew up with LPs, CDs, radio and MTV. Young enough to have access to music and old enough to not only know streaming. And that's from a sample of people who are actively seeking out other kinds of music than what they listened to in high school or what's in the charts currently... Or maybe I'm just overthinking it ;)

    1. I suspect that part of my "touchstone" belief is that before streaming --and to be fair, high speed internet connections-- your ability to listen to music was somewhat limited.* In a bizarre way, the ability to listen to just about anything has had the opposite effect of what you'd expect: you tend to listen to only what you like --or what the algorithm suspects you'd like-- in as much the same way that Facebook and other social media become echo chambers, reinforcing your political and social tendencies.

      Radio has also gone in this direction, which is kind of a shame because you'd hear a variety of music on Top 40 stations (if it was in the Top 40, it was fair game). Even in stations that had clear formats, such as Album Oriented Rock or Soft Rock, you'd get a wider range of music than what you'd expect. I remember listening to The Scorpions' Wind of Change on a Soft Rock station, and Bruce Hornsby's The Way It Is on a hard rock station. And I can't tell you the number of times I heard Country crossover into Top 40 radio as a kid. Nowadays I can successfully avoid any Country at all because I control what I listen to, and hang with people online who only listen to what I listen to.

      MTV was another way that you got broad exposure to differing types of music, such as Rap (now considered old school, but hey) and R&B.

      And of course, no discussion of music crossing over would be complete without mentioning the influence the Star Wars soundtrack (and later Superman, Raiders of the Lost Ark, and the Star Trek movies) had on people becoming interested in Classical music. I knew a lot of kids my age for whom hearing Star Wars for the first time was their inspiration for wanting to learn to play Classical music.

      Well, crap. I think I'm kind of proving Bhagpuss's point about it not being age but rather what your touchstones were. Oh well.

      *Back in 1999 or 2000, I remember downloading the trailer to the original Dungeons and Dragons movie and having it take close to a day to download. Still can't believe I wasted that much time on that turkey of a movie.

  5. I am so out of touch. I was reading a article and they were knocking the talent who would be appearing and I was agreeing since I had NEVER heard of them. Turns out they were knocking the old one I knew not the "in" one I'd never heard of, yike!

    Worse I've started to use words that are decades out of date! I don't even think I used them when they were in , lol. I don't know what it's about.

    Someone tells me something and I go, cool, cool. For heaven sakes WHO DOES THAT? Must be quarantine brain.

    1. Oh, I've been there, Ancient. SO BEEN THERE.

      And do you know what is suddenly hip among the TikTok crowd?

      Sea shanties.

      No, really. Sea shanties.

      I mean, I liked them, but that was because my mom had a record or two of them around the house while I was growing up, and she was definitely not a "hip" person.