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An Irishman, Englishman, Glass Of Milk and Pop Culture Walk into a Bar

Generally, I’m not black or white on many issues. I don’t know why this is. Sometimes I think it may have something to do with my heritage. For all practical purposes, I’m like many multi-generational Americans – I’m a mutt. The Spafford family came to this country in 1650 from England. My mom’s family, The Crokers, came from Ireland during the Potato Famine. I am Irish and English, with some German thrown in – along with Bohemian. Imagine that, I don’t even drink coffee and I can actually lay claim to being a real live Bohemian.

However, it’s the English and Irish that keep me vacillating. On more than one occasion the English side has gotten in the way of the Irish side having fun. This internal skirmish of the English trying to hold the Irish down (under the auspices of getting something done) has led to many a battle in pubs across this land. This is where the Irish side does his best work. Unfettered by the shackles of grammar and spelling and only beholding to the story and the immediacy of the interaction – while English bided his time deep inside planning to plagiarise Irish’s words and possibly tame them a bit. This constant internal struggle keeps me looking at both sides of the coin.

When this coin is pop culture, English and Irish have varying opinions. Dear and ever thoughtful reader, before going any further I need you to understand that I am not taken to superficial generalizations – especially when it comes to entire countries. I don’t want you to think I believe all English to be stodgy butlers from Elizabethan age movies. Many of the modern-day English people I have met, have terrific senses of humor, Ok teeth, and are quite alright to let the Irish do as they wish. Conversely, I personally know two Irish fellas who don’t drink.

The core of my personal confusion lies in the fact that I’ve written stories for years and produced and directed films and videos, yet I’m not that into watching the television. I can watch TV with the best of them, don’t get me wrong. I love to watch tv (you can see I can’t even decide whether or not to capitalize TV/tv). As a child, our tv was on non-stop. Although, by today’s standards it was tame. We only had three channels – until we got that special antenna for PBS, then it was 3.5. My parents were incredible multi-taskers. They constantly read books with the television of the 1970s – like “All In The Family”-playing in the background. To this day, if you were to ask my dad about President Truman, I imagine he might say Truman’s dog was named “Meathead”. I don’t know how they could concentrate, but they did, plowing through book of the month books at a rapid pace, by the flickering sit-com light of the TV and a couple 60 watt sylvanias. My wife – let’s call her Cynthia – grew up in a house sans television. Actually, it was à la mode. The tv was in the garage. Poor little Cindy would have to wait for the television to warm up to see her favorite program – Fame. It must’ve been horrible. I don’t know how you could want to “live forever” when your TV was in the garage.

Television is only a small piece of the pop culture puzzle, but as a history book is to, ah, let’s say, history – the tv is part of the curriculum of pop culture. I will defend the tv and its little brother the Internet (who can now beat up its big brother), at every turn – just because there’s a chance to see something positive every once in a while. I also think it’s important to be in touch with what everyone else is taking in- crap or not. I know some operate on a higher plain, and only let into their busy minds fodder to compress into pearls. I am more like the humpback whale slowly plodding through the ocean of pop culture mouth half-open slurping up all the information krill. But, pop culture and information with a capital I are not always considered the same.

Over the years I’ve witnessed humorous antidotes pertaining to pop culture and just knowing facts. I had a verbose college professor teach a media class and I watched painfully as he deconstructed a Charlie Chaplin hat blowing in the wind bit, referring to it as a truncated syllogism. Said professor couldn’t tell a joke to save his life.  And all irony escaped him pertaining to his dry lecturing on the theories of comedy.

In college, I also met a very sharp young man who wanted to start a camp for advanced Junior High aged learners. He had given this great thought. He thought focus was the key to learning, and young people needed to have more time to concentrate. He was working on getting funding to set up one of these camps. He asked if I would like to work at his “Concentration Camp”.

I looked at him and gave him a moment, but he wasn’t kidding. I asked, “How’s the fund-raising going for your ‘Concentration Camp’?”

“I haven’t really started…..” Something seemed to click in him. “Oh, crap, I can’t call it that, can I?”

He was not even kidding that he just got it. How caught up do you have to be in thinking kids need to concentrate to let that get by you. It’s an example of someone not paying attention to anything.

“Yeah, no, that won’t work at all. How could you even say it in your head once and not realize what you were saying.” I asked as if I were some kind of mind doctor.

He had no answer, other than the idea of youth thinking hard at a camp seemed to surpass all other knowledge he had ever put into his head. Talk about a lack of concentration.

Man not being able to remember important history facts is equal to man not being able to communicate with other people in a superficial way. The English and Irish in me wants to understand the history of a country I may never visit, while, simultaneously watching the season finale of Parenthood (actually, my wife makes me watch that. I prefer Hoarders).

The English and Irish in me have somehow kept me in check and help prevent me from going too far in any direction. I can’t agree with you, because I agreed with you yesterday. Every single thing has to be judged on its own. I can’t believe something because someone with authority said it should be that way. Here’s an example. My wife tells all our kids to drink their milk. Granted, there’s vitamin D in the milk, but today we are able to get vitamin D in orange juice.

“But, it’s good for your bones.” Someone might say.

Well, it’s good for your bones because of vitamin D – not because it’s white. But, thanks to the dairy business, for generations we’ve been made to believe we need it. Yes, I drink milk. I especially like it with chocolate cake. I mean, a caveman would like that. Am I right? But, what other animal, once it has completed drinking the milk of its mother, turns to the teat milk of another animal for the rest of its life. That’s just messed up (but good with chocolate cake).

This talk will make some irritated, but only because deep down you know it makes sense. And this is part of pop culture. It’s not on the Michael Jackson end of the spectrum, but the slow burning long-term pop culture. It would prefer to go by the name of popular culture.

Speaking of prefer, The dairy industry would prefer that I stop writing and go to sleep right now – with the fishes that is. But Irish and English can’t do that. They may argue and taunt each other internally til the end, but at the end of the day they will defend the discussion of pop and popular culture. They just won’t abide by the Bohemian stepping into the discussion. He’d probably want milk with his coffee and hate the TV show they’re watching.

Sadly yours,

Jason Spafford

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