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Pop culture references in columns are the bee's knees

October 28, 2009|By TIM ROWLAND

So far I've been sitting on the sidelines over this heated debate about whether or not aging columnists are making too many outdated pop-culture references that younger readers do not understand.

You might have missed this heated debate, but I assure you it's what a lot of columnists are worrying passionately about when they are coming down from sugar highs after eating too much raw brownie mix.

To sum up the problem, I will use the line, "Ay, Ay, Ay, Ay; I am the Frito Bandito." Everyone over the age of 45 will be thinking, "Oh yeah, the Frito Bandito, ha ha, that takes me back." While everyone under the age of 45 will be thinking, "Is he on drugs?"

My first reaction is to get defensive. I like to think that I spread my pop culture references around. In past columns, I have used pop culture references that today's younger people will understand, including "Hannah Montana," "iPhone" and "Is this resume good enough for Burger King?"

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Second, I am always ready and willing to explain any cultural reference to younger readers who might not understand. For example, if I make a humorous reference to John Maynard Keynes, you kids are always free to pop me an e-mail asking, who's John Maynard Keynes? And I will promptly write back and tell you that, like most newspaper columnists, I have no idea, but I hear a lot of smart people quoting him and I want to appear smart, too.

Still, something about this whole debate was gnawing at the recesses of my mind. Something didn't seem right. Then it hit me: WHAT younger readers? I have younger readers? Since when?

People used to define their writing by the number of pages. Then it was by the number or words. Now it's by the number of characters. No kid is going to slog through 15 inches of text that goes beyond the scope of "wat up" and "not mch."

So why should I bloody care? I know my constituency. They like newspapers the way they are. Their only complaint is that we don't print the obituaries in a type size that's roughly the same as what you would find in the average Dr. Seuss book.

This makes me reluctant to change my ways -- ignoring people who use my product so I can appeal to people who don't use my product.

This would be like if Crest suddenly decided that raccoons were not buying enough toothpaste. So it pulls its ads from television and sets up marketing campaigns in the middle of the woods. It stops selling toothpaste in tubes and starts selling it in garbage cans.

It changes its flavors of its toothpaste from mint and wintergreen to grub and crayfish.

This would be a very useful analogy for newspaper columnists to take to heart, except that it went on for so long I have now forgotten what the point of it was.

But it doesn't matter. The columnist police can take away my "Badges, we don't need no stinkin' badges" when they pry it from my cold dead hands.

Speaking of which, this is my answer to columnists who fret, "But what of future columnists? What if people stop reading columns because no columnists bothered to engage the young people when they had the chance?"

Yeah, well, that's a future columnist's problem.

Sadly, by that time, the people who read my columns today will be dead. Happily, I'll be among them.

Tim Rowland is a Herald-Mail columnist. He can be reached at 301-733-5131, ext. 2324, or via e-mail at timr@herald-mail.com. Tune in to the Rowland Rant video under opinion@herald-mail.com, on antpod.com or on Antietam Cable's WCL-TV Channel 30 evenings at 6:30. New episodes are released every Wednesday.

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