Pop Culture clash

I had a very good friend when I was in my 20s named Erik, and he was an expert on Pop Culture. We had become friends on the first day of college. We had similar tastes in music, literature and television. Our friendship remained close until, more than seven years later, he died quite suddenly one cold January night.

I still remember much about my friend, but what I always come back to is that capacity of his to understand Pop Culture. He did more than understand it; he could put it into words and images that conveyed a much deeper sociological and philosophical meaning.

Over the years, numerous things have manifested that I wish I could talk to him about – mostly the advent of the Internet and the homogenization roadside food when driving cross-country – but this morning, two things in particular made me think of Erik and wish we could discuss it, and both tie in with what I mentioned above.

First, with National Public Radio broadcasting it, and the national media scrambling for pictures, a man drove his 1991 truck for its one-millionth mile. A Chevy.

Second, while surfing the Web chasing content for Trader, I came across a site covering culture in the Balkans, with a story about an art exhibit in Skopje, Macedonia, of photos by John Margolies of American roadside architecture – UFO shaped gas stations, teepee- shaped motels, etc.

Erik and I would have argued about the irony of American architecture – a rich and interesting history – being represented to a foreign culture as being so literal and so simplistic. We would then have made a point about the truck itself, with its million miles, speaking to the desire of Americans to be the best, and to make sure we have witnesses to it.

All those miles were compiled one at a time, and there’s a good chance that a lot of those roadside attractions being viewed in photos in Macedonia had borne witness to at least one, or more, of those million miles on that truck. The two seemingly unrelated events were then suddenly bound as witnesses to one another, connected by unrelated witnesses in Eastern Europe.

We would then have to laugh and posit that nothing we said made sense, that it’s hard not to argue that that truck is a mighty good one, and that it’s pretty cool that it got so far. The buildings represented in the photos in Macedonia were also pretty cool and we definitely would have stopped at any number of them for the sheer fact of their existence and the possibility of a greasy burger. It’s good for Macedonians to see and appreciate, as art, what mid-20th century America had wrought. Who, ultimately, knew if the guy in the truck ever stopped at any of them, and who cared?

The truth, however, is that both of those stories, and their subjects, are disposable in the great well that is now Pop Culture. Erik did not see the massive explosion in “news” coverage that came with the late 1990s. These stories will lose their momentum before they even gain any, they will be a wash in the pattern of electrons being beamed into deep space on a daily basis.

It is disorienting sometimes and I’m glad I have antiques to ground me, things of value and gravitas, which have lasted well beyond a news cycle, a few clicks of a mouse, or even a million miles, things that are anything but disposable and naive.

If Erik were here I could ask him what he thought about it. I’m sure it would make for a fun discussion.

Noah Fleisher


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