Cultural Amnesia

Grabbing a cup of joe this morning at my local coffeehouse. Walking out the door.

“Hey, Ed!”

I race back in. She works at the cafe and she’s only a few years younger than me. But we have our share of conversations, in part because she seems to dig my T-shirts, and I always ask her how she’s doing and what she’s up to.

“You know that show, Ripley’s Believe It or Not? It’s this amazing new show where they have this crazy guy with long fingernails. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

I’m a bit baffled. Because I know that Ripley’s Believe It or Not? is not new. Also, the coffee hasn’t kicked in.

“You mean the show with Jack Palance?”

“Jack Palance?”

“Oh,” the coffee hitting my bloodstream, “this is a new show?”

I then describe to her the ABC television show that appeared on Sunday nights at 7:00 PM and tell her that Palance creeped me out when I was a kid. I then offer my best Palance impression. “Believe it or noooooooooooooooooooooot!”

“There was a show before this?”

I apologize to her for not knowing of this new show. I tell her that I don’t have a television anymore. It’s not that I’m against television. I do try and keep current with Heroes, The Office and Battlestar Galactica. But there’s only so much time. I ask her if she knows who Robert Ripley is. She doesn’t know. I point out that he was a high school dropout who started the whole Believe It or Not? business in cartoon form in the early 20th century. She seems stunned that there was a Believe It or Not? that came before. She tells me she’s going to go to the Atlantic City museum to check it out and thought I might dig it, given my T-shirts. And she’s right. And I thank her and tell her that I’ll try to check it out.

As I said, she’s only a few years younger than me. And I’m wondering who has the real cultural amnesia here. Am I the amnesiac because I’m not familiar with all of the latest television developments? Or is she the amnesiac because she isn’t familiar with the incarnations of Believe It or Not? that came before? Perhaps we are both amnesiacs and this simple exchange — one of many I tend to have in the morning — is a way for both of us to bridge the gap.


  1. It’s weird that people can still be surprised to learn something’s a remake, repackage, revamp, etc. I don’t think it’s amnesia so much as her not having learned there’s nothing new under the sun.

  2. I’ve got both of your amnesia cases beat – I hadn’t heard of either show.

    @Chewbee: at 11, I was horrified to hear on public radio that Shakespeare’s stories weren’t new, that he “merely” retold classics. Was glum for a few weeks about that one. A few years later, I figured out that Bible stories weren’t original either.

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