Sunday, August 28, 2011

Les Guys de Versailles: Adventures in Selective Memory

Dave Barry, one of my heroes (alongside Jim Henson, the Moomins, and Colin Mochrie), once wrote a column in which he stated that the average person of his generation would be unable to name any Supreme Court justices, but would remember in perfect detail the theme song to the TV show Robin Hood.  

My sister, reading this column aloud, had scarcely gotten to the next sentence when our father (who is of Dave Barry's generation) exclaimed: "Hey! I watched that show!" With no further prompting, he launched right into a jolly rendition of the theme-song, complete with rolled r's and delivery straight from Sadler's Wells. Word-perfect, naturally.

When he was finished, my sister remarked: "Yes, that's right." She had been following the lyrics as Dave Barry had typed them on the page (I assume he did this without having to go back to check anything).

This fits with something I've observed about human memory myself.  It's not just our formative years that stay with us the most strongly.  It's what we watched on TV in our formative years.  And, if you ask me, it's what we watched on Saturday mornings in particular.  Has anybody else noticed this? We remember our morning cartoons in extraordinarily vivid detail.  I do not have the faintest memory of what the trichotomy axiom is,* but I can remember, with photographic precision, any number of individual mornings in 1999, getting up in the wee dark hours with my sister to watch episodes of Pok√©mon and Sailor Moon.**

And so I say to those of you in MY generation - excepting those of you who spent the year 1999 being Amish - that if you do not remember this, you are lying:

My sister is younger, so thanks to her this was my second go at the whole morning cartoon experience.  As it happens, I myself already had my own stash of useless but incredibly vivid TV-memories from when I was a wee Snark.  The problem is, when you carry these memories around long enough, you start to doubt their accuracy. Case in point: I went around for years convinced I had fabricated a commercial I "saw" as a toddler.  The commercial, for Dreft detergent, featured a female narrator speaking in the softest yet most reptilian voice imaginable about DREFFFFFT: FOR A CLEEEEAN YOU CAN TOUCCCCHHHHH.  This commercial dominated my brain for literally years, replacing recollections of things like upcoming doctor's appointments, drowning out most of college,*** until finally I ran across a video of it last year.  It did exist! See?

Okay, so that lady's voice isn't QUITE as creeptastic as I remember.  I mean, I honestly recalled her speaking Parseltongue.  But whatever! I didn't make it up! Score!****

Obviously, stuff like this takes up critical brain space.  But the question remains: what is it replacing? At least, what is it replacing of use? Because I know that, even without the palliative of morning cartoons, I wasn't about to go around thinking of the trichotomy axiom, and neither were you, stupid.  So morning-cartoon memory syndrome might have an evolutionary function, but it's not to block out math.  Something else would have stepped in to serve that purpose.  

So it's not math, and it isn't history, either.  Yes, yes, I know: every day we see another article bemoaning how today's youth do not know basic U.S. history.  This is an incomplete statement.  I personally have completed an extremely rigorous course of higher education, so I can tell you, from personal experience, that today's youth do not know foreign history, either.  

Why is this? Simple: we block it all out with things we prefer to think about.  I am thinking here of a semester I spent in France, where I took a course in foreign history.*****  For one class, we went to Versailles, which features the Palace of Versailles,****** the former home of Louis XIV (son of Rick and Kimberly XIV).  From there we went to the Salle du Jeu de paume, which is historically significant because during the French Revolution, several hundred members of the Third Estate, angered because they had been excluded from a meeting of the Estates-General, went in there to do battle with Sailor Moon.

Okay, so maybe that wasn't it exactly, but to tell you the truth, my mind wandered.  The professor was telling our group about the history of the place, and actually it was very interesting, but as it happened, my friend and I had found something far more interesting: marble busts of historical guys lining the sides of the room.  Each of these guys had their name carved on their front (you can be sure this was not the case in real life; or possibly they all died of bloodloss).  This was how we discovered that one of them was named "Target."  

I should explain, for the benefit of those not In the Know, that Target is an American low-cost department store, which Americans often jocularly refer to with French pronunciation, as "Tar-zhay."  So my friend and I had a conversation like this:

ME: "Tar-zhay."
MY FRIEND: Heh heh! (Beat.)  How do you think you'd explain that to French people?
ME: Huh.  I dunno.
MY FRIEND: "Tar-zhay."
ME: Heh heh!

Another girl in the class had also broken off from the group and had undertaken the academic pursuit of determining which historical marble guy was hottest.  As a scholar, I thoroughly respected this endeavor.

The moral of this story is, history is JUST NOT INTERESTING, unlike (a) things we watched when we were little, and (b) the question of which Versailles guy is hotter than all the rest (answer: that one guy, whose name and role in history currently escape me).  And it's not just history; the same goes for sociology, philosophy, science, the sociology of philosophical science, and anything else they teach at a college.

So - and call me a bold and inspiring visionary if you like - I'm unveiling my idea for the College of the Future.  At this college, you would be able to major in only one of two subjects: either Saturday Morning Cartoons or Ranking Dead Historical Figures by Hotness.  Just think of the commitment students would demonstrate to their education! 100% of graduates would go into jobs in their chosen fields.  Granted, their chosen fields would be Cartoon-Watching Expert and Hotness Specialist, but would this really be such a bad state of affairs? Would it really be so much worse than the universities' current practice of annually turning out an estimated 16,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 investment bankers?

Anyway, I don't know about you, but I'm sure sold on my idea.  And as a prospective master's degree candidate at the College of the Future,  I humbly suggest that students also be allowed to minor in Coffee.  I even promise to listen to the lectures, sometimes.

* Answer: it was something in my math book.

** Fighting ee-evil by moon-LIGHT!
     Winning lo-ove by day-LIGHT!
     Never running from a REAL FIGHT!
     She is the ONE NAMED SAILOR MOON!
     She will never, yada yada yada, etc.   

*** I wish.

**** I didn't mean right now.  Come back and read this blog.

***** Of course THEY will try to tell you it's domestic history.   

****** And don't try to tell me this is a coincidence.

©2011 Nicola McEldowney


David Barry said...

I approve of any post that begins with my name.

Nicola said...

haha, you may consider it a dedication if you like!!

The Old Wolf said...

Oh, may I please be a professor at your university? I can whistle just about every theme song from every ruddy game show from the 50's... along with "Davy Crockett, King of the Wild Frontier" the opener to "Leave it to Beaver" and the intro for "Gerald McBoingBoing."