Monday, July 27, 2009

Books and TV Were My World - 25 Years Later, Same Same

10-minute old realization: a possible reason for why I’ve always loved pop culture so much: it’s because I feel so puzzled by white people.

As a kid, as my eyes were first opening up to the fact that there was life beyond my own crayon set, it dawned on me that my family was very different, in ways I didn’t even get. All I knew was that no one knew what foods we ate, what language we spoke and what weirdo arguments we’d have behind closed doors. And I had no idea what white people did behind theirs.

I was lucky when I was really young to have grown up in an immigrant neighbourhood. All the kids in school had parents that spoke funny. So even if they were say, Greek (white-ish), we had that in common. That we always had to explain everything about ourselves to people and among friends at recess, it was actually pretty fun. I learned how to swear in Greek (my random knowledge continues to astound). I would profess that whenever my mom answered the door to a religious person, she would say, “I don’t speak English,” and shut the door to my incredulous, righteous cry: “You’re lying!”

If I think back to the kids I hung out with most, I had a best friend from each of these places: Korea, Pakistan, India, Jamaica, Poland. I did have one best friend who was Scottish (white but she did Highland sword-dances which made her a cultural outsider, too) and one friend who was just Canadian white, whose dad worked for Hostess chips (jealous, much? Answer: yes).

Today, I would barf with excitement over having friends from so many different cultures but the weird thing is, my world is very white these days. My work world is like a dazzling snow drift i.e. I need shades. My peers in university – white. Even my family has become, through my husband and my in-laws, white. It’s kind of a weird feeling. Before husby, I hadn’t even known anyone who goes back four generations in Canada, like he does. Last week I heard of a 10th generation Canadian and nearly died. (“Are you serious?!”)

I don't mean to paint all whiteness with one, giant, normal paintbrush, but the truth is, if you're white, you don't have to explain your culture. It just is. Everyone else has to feel their way around like the lights are out.

Pop culture gave me stuff to talk about with other people. Who’s better, Michael Jackson or Duran Duran? Did you see the Barforama scene in Stand By Me? I’m going to go home now because Growing Pains is on. Oh, I don’t like the New Kids on the Block, I listen to CFNY. Will you make me a mixtape? Who’s Galaxie 500? Let’s go see Pulp Fiction at Cedarbrae on Saturday. Suede, then Menswear, then raves (ugh), then rap, then TLC, Details magazine, laughing at Electric Circus, (then working late Friday nights as it taped next door), Peaches, M.I.A., Nurse Jackie. It’s a bit of a bizarre thing to map out.

But it’s always a bridge, much like I suspect celebrity gossip is (which I liked for fun until it got too mean for me, circa Perez).

Prior to having my 10-minute old realization, I was reading an essay by someone who has the whitest, most normal family on earth and what struck me hard was that his story is real. It’s an essay about his real mom and real dad on their real farm and they really eat bacon and eggs for breakfast (what, no spicy fish stew first thing in the morning?). I just thought – I have always looked in on that world, like it’s in a snowglobe, and thought, “That’s made up!” But it’s not and how would I know the difference?

There’s such a vast chasm, sometimes. That’s what songs and stories and movies and hairdo’s and cool shoes and celebrity crushes are for. So that we have something shared to talk about. I guess that’s why I have always been so into it. I mean, I’m Canadian but my history says nothing about anyone remotely related to me. And Korean history is interesting to me now but back then it said nothing to my acid-wash, Madonna-loving, chunky, glasses-wearing self.

Current history, without long roots. Popular culture with its broad appeal. Fluffy strands of conversation, likes and dislikes born of whimsy. Personal preference, entirely pure and indulgent. This is the stuff that roots me into something that’s larger than my four-person nuclear family and now, my multi-racial extended family.


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