My Childhood, or How I Became a Pop Culture Junkie

Many children of conservative parents end up rebelling. Precedent indicates that someone with my kind of upbringing wouldn’t survive one year of college without developing a mild substance abuse problem or getting tattoos, much less my three and a half. Instead, I’ve developed a pop culture addiction behind my parents’ backs, and now I hope to turn it into a career.

My mother was born in the San Francisco Bay Area in 1948, making her a teenager when Beatlemania struck America. She enjoyed the Fab Four’s relatively innocent early days of hand-holding, but stopped listening to them after Rubber Soul because she disapproved of how many drugs they had started doing. When it came time for her to go to college, her fear of psychedelia led her south to San Jose, away from the hippie enclaves of San Francisco and Berkeley. My father is equally straight-laced, and when they had me, they endeavored to impart the same conventional family values.

As a child, my TV habits were strictly monitored. Most programs were dismissed as garbage, and I subsisted on a diet of TV Land and game shows, sneaking episodes of Rugrats at friends’ houses. In sixth grade, I was allowed to watch Making the Band one time because my mother thought it might contain a positive, teamwork-building message. It didn’t, and was accordingly never spoken of again.

I was a strong reader from an early age, and my mother encouraged me to read mostly historical fiction for its educational benefits. I went on to become Addison Elementary School’s preeminent expert on the Civil War, colonial America, and the Holocaust, amongst other subjects. There was a decent amount of Baby-sitters Club and other strictly entertaining fare that I was allowed to have access to, but I was astonishingly knowledgeable about Ellis Island procedures for a 9-year-old.

Listening to pop music was out of the question. Then, it was more embarrassing than anything else, because other kids wanted to play Spice Girls at recess and I didn’t understand. Now, I have nothing to contribute when my peers start reminiscing about Backstreet Boys vs. *NSYNC, because the music I was exposed to at that age consisted of the generic soft rock and country radio stations that my parents favored. They were determined to shelter me from anything they deemed “trendy,” whether it was Hanson or flared jeans.

By the time high school rolled around, my parents had become somewhat more relaxed toward the evils of modern music. In the summer of 2004, I first heard “Take Me Out” by Franz Ferdinand in all its raw, angular glory on an airplane’s in-flight playlist and was immediately hooked. I took to the internet to find similar music, which led to the purchase of my first parental advisory album, Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm. (I kept the liner notes turned around to hide the label and always used headphones when listening to “Positive Tension,” which loudly questions, “Why’d you have to get so fucking useless?”) Over the rest of my high school career, I started the process of compensating for my years of relative cultural isolation, forging my own musical foundations and developing an unfortunate celebrity gossip habit.

Strangely enough, my parents never seemed particularly concerned over my increasing corruption in this respect, though they may have satisfactorily been convinced that I was doing homework instead of obsessively trawling the Arctic Monkeys forum. When I started college as a music business major, they were content that I was academically motivated. Now that I am instead an aspiring entertainment journalist who spends a significant amount of time analyzing the sort of trendy, obscene things they have always loathed, I recognize that my parents will never understand what I do. For them, Lady Gaga is just a woman who wears strange outfits, not a subject for sociological study. However, they have never expressed disapproval, which is the best I could have hoped for, considering that my mother once demanded to see a picture of Vampire Weekend to prove that they are not a goth band and therefore evil. At least I have friends who can appreciate (and have a laugh at) the fact that the high point of my career thus far has been interviewing Gerard Way of My Chemical Romance. My mom would probably just think he looks like a hooligan. TC mark

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  • http://twitter.com/camille_salome Camille Salome

    story of my life, loved it!

  • http://www.facebook.com/mdkmdk Michael Kramer

    as someone who was similarly sheltered as a child and who then developed a remarkably similar obsession with the trappings of pop culture, i salute you.

  • anon

    how funny about vw being the band they made you show a picture of
    story of my life

    • anon2

      your life story is pretty sad, then.

  • grant

    Your TV habits were exactly the same as mine. So strange, but glad I'm not the only one.

  • anon

    didn't know this sort of upbringing was common in america
    blame my ignorance

  • mayra

    franz ferdinand then bloc party sounds like me at 16 :)

  • AG

    I'm so glad to know I was not alone!

    I did eventually earn the responsibility to watch rugrats when I deemed old enough to not take on Angelica as a “bad roll model”, but completely missed out on Rocko's Modern Life, Kablam!, and All That. :(

    Franz, among Interpol and Modest Mouse, were also my liberators when I was 13.

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