April 4, 2012

"Oh, you're too young to have heard of it"

A large part of my job at Paramount entails giving tours to the public. Last week I gave a tour to a group of mentally disabled adults visiting from Chicago. They were an absolute blast - super enthusiastic, and full of questions. One gentleman in particular was especially inquisitive, and one of the group leaders warned me that he'd talk my ear off, but I didn't mind a bit. At one point, he asked "what's the name of that John Wayne movie with his son and Maureen O'Hara? And it's funny?"

Without hesitation, I replied, "Oh, do you mean The Quiet Man?"

A chorus of impressed murmuring ensued before he responded nonchalantly, "Nope, the other one."

The other one? I was stumped. I contemplated it for a moment.

At this point, one of the other group leaders interjected. Condescendingly, she told him "Oh, leave her alone. She doesn't know what you're talking about."

Welcome to the life of a 24-year-old classic film buff.


Look, I get it. There aren't a lot of us out there. If you were to assume that I preferred the onscreen company of Robert Pattinson to Humphrey Bogart, the statistics would be in your favor. I'm not necessarily begrudging the people who make this assumption, although it is narrow-minded and frustrating. What bothers me the most is when I prove that I know what I'm talking about, and people don't hear or listen. In the case of the above woman, I admit I was a tad confrontational. I said something like "I know perfectly well what he's talking about. You know what I did this weekend? Watched silent movies." That may or may not have been what I actually did on the weekend in question, but my point was that it happens often. She replied, as if I had just described my workout regimen, "Good for you!" but quickly added "you probably do it for your job, right?"


Why could this woman not comprehend that I watched classic films of my own free will? And why is that okay to say, but I'd probably get smacked if I told her "Oh, I bet you haven't heard of Twitter because you're too old"?

What's especially puzzling is that movies (and TV) are the only art form(s) where this happens. No one blinks an eye when people are interested in the literature, drama, music, or visual art of a time before their own. Our culture keeps these artifacts alive - does it not do the same for cinema? Perhaps it's because other art forms are more likely to be taught in school - you're more likely to read Shakespeare and listen to Mozart than you are to be shown Godard. And people invariably know of events that occurred before they were born, so is knowing about that culture really such a stretch? My default comeback to "Oh, you wouldn't have heard of it, it was before your time" is "The Civil War was before your time. Have you heard of that?"

Again, maybe it's a bit catty, but the assumption that people are too ignorant or close-minded to explore culture other than their own is downright rude. I used to work at a video store where I'd get this all the time. Many people snapped out of it once I demonstrated I knew my stuff, but others would continue like the group leader woman and keep condescending to me because of my birth year. If you alter this sentiment somewhat, it pretty clearly becomes something you could not say in public. How about "oh, you wouldn't know about sports, you're a woman" or "you wouldn't know about Easter, because you're Jewish." Please don't think I'm classifying people's attitudes toward me as a hate crime or anything. But it's just so disrespectful to approach people like that.

I know I don't. I'll give people the benefit of the doubt, no matter how small a chance they have of knowing what I'm talking about. If I'm greeted with a blank stare, only then will I go back and clarify. Giving tours day in and day out, you learn to cater to the lowest common denominator. But if people seem pretty savvy, I'll roll with it, no judgment.

So, I implore you: don't make narrow-minded assumptions about people's tastes based on external factors. Talk to them and find out. 

Do you find this to be true? If you're a youngish classics fan, do you get this treatment? Or in general, do people make exclusionary comments about your taste based on some demographic you're in? Relate and commiserate!

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