academic decathlon

Exit 47. I’ve got the same combination on my luggage!

Yesterday, I had two hours to kill away from my own neighborhood.  And when I say kill, I don’t mean this in a negative way, I mean I was looking forward to the peace and quiet.  The last week or so, I’ve been having a craving for a certain major national restaurant chain that I hadn’t been to since August, if I’m remembering right.  (In case you’re wondering, It’s the one that doesn’t rhyme with “bottle” and requires a Rectum of the Gods to eat there safely.)  Anyway, I knew of a location of this particular dining establishment that was on the way to where I needed to be next, so I went in and headed for the bathroom, only to find that the bathroom had a keypad lock on it.  Presumably this is there to keep non-customers from using the bathroom.  I got in line, made my order, and asked about the bathroom, if she had to unlock it from there or if customers could have the combination.  “1-2-3-4-5,” she said.

Of course, I replied with what should be the automatic standard reply from most people my age who appreciate science fiction and off-the-wall comedy: “That’s amazing!  I’ve got the same combination on my luggage!

Then I paused and asked her, “Did you get that reference?”

“No,” she replied, as I expected.  So I told her briefly about the movie Spaceballs, a comedy satirizing Star Wars and the science fiction blockbusters of that era and style, how the bad guys are trying to force the good guys into giving up a combination that ends up being 1-2-3-4-5.  (Click the link above to see the scene.)  “Is it an old movie?” she asked.

“1987,” I said.

“Yeah, I wasn’t even born yet,” she replied.

Of course, as I’ve gotten older, moments like this have happened more and more to the point of just making me laugh now.  I’ve gotten used to being older than many of the people I come in contact with.  It’s important to realize that younger people grew up in a different world than me, and this has much deeper implications than not getting my movie references, but that is another topic for another time.

What I can do is offer to share my cultural references without being condescending toward the other individual, as I did with the girl from the restaurant above.  This is also why I invite people over for classic retro video games.  Some of my friends are younger than some of the consoles and computers I have, but we all have a lot of fun with it.  After all, this really isn’t all that different from students in school reading classic literature as part of their education.  Of course, there is a very legitimate argument that Spaceballs and Super Mario Bros. are not exactly on the level of culture as Shakespeare, but some of the creative works that are considered part of the canon of Western culture today were not taken seriously in their own time.

I used to coach Academic Decathlon.  Each year’s events are arranged around a central theme, with the topics of study all connected to some subject, part of the world, or era in history.  A few years ago, the theme was World War I, and among the topics were the art and music of that time period.  Some of the works students were required to study were not exactly considered high class at the time, such as Take Me Out To The Ball Game, Scott Joplin’s Maple Leaf Rag, and Duchamp’s Fountain.  It got me thinking… what if Academic Decathlon students 100 years from now are studying our time in history?  Will the music section of the curriculum include timeless classics like Gangnam Style and The Fox?  Will the students learn about priceless works of art like the photograph of Grumpy Cat and Lady Gaga’s meat dress?  Will Go The F*** To Sleep be one of the literature selections?  It certainly will be interesting to see what history will have to say about this generation, but I’m sure every generation has said the same kind of thing about themselves.  All I can do now is keep finding that balance, passing on the memories of the past without anchoring my life to them, acknowledging that the past made me who I am while freeing myself of its chains.