Neil Young is a Rock Star: Referencing Pop Culture to Youngsters

I was teaching one of my college classes this week and in the course of the discussion (on analyzing advertising and popular culture) I made a reference to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young. It was a brilliant joke about “supergroups” completely relevant to what we were doing in class at that moment. Everyone in the class looked at me like I had just spoken in tongues. Not a single one of my students (whose ages range from 19 to 23) had ever even heard of CSNY. I was shocked and saddened that Neil Young’s folksy vocals and guitar prowess needed explanation. Also, I had to explain what a supergroup is. 

As I struggle to remain informed on current popular cultural trends, I am always a bit surprised when my students (and other people I encounter who are younger than me) aren’t hip to fairly well-known pop cultural references from earlier times. I do get it when my obscure references go over the heads of the youth. Sometimes I do it in class as a means of conveying a lesson. Case in point, I was discussing setting up a summary with a brief introduction to medium and genre with my students the other day. I used the example of two films, The Lion King and Clarence the Cross-Eyed Lion, as my examples because I was certain they had all heard of the former and none had heard of the later. Also, because Clarence is a cross-eyed lion! I have also enjoyed showing old television shows like Fantasy Island and The Partridge Family in class as a way to analyze pop culture separate from preexisting ideas about the artifact in question. The point is, obscure references are often useful lessons.

But when students don’t recognize really famous pop cultural icons like CSNY or celebrities like Linda Hamilton then I get flustered. How can they not know who John Connor’s mom is? Don’t they have Netflix? I am very familiar with icons from my mom’s generation who I am not into myself. For example, I know who The Beatles are and I have seen Dr. No. When students don’t get my pop culture references they just make me feel old. Durn kids.

In summation, if I can learn to recognize Taylor Swift and Avril Lavigne on sight, my students should know who Neil Freaking Young is and not force me to sing Ohio during class.