Why are people often surprised and disgusted when you don’t recognize someone they think you should? As a kid, if you couldn’t name the members of the band you liked, it meant you weren’t a true fan. (I memorized the names Joe Elliot, Rick Savage, Rick Allen, Phil Collin, and Steve Clark when I was 9 or 10 just to make sure I could prove I was a true Def Leppard fan.) I figured this was a kid-thing, but I see it all the same as an adult. Occasionally, I am even guilty of it myself.
Last week I decided to watch the Muppet Movie. It had probably been decades since I’d last seen it. It was much funnier than I remembered it, but the truly great thing about it was all of the notable cameos. Big Names wanted to be a part of the Muppets. There were newer (circa. 1979) names like Steve Martin. But then there were people like Dom Deluise, James Coburn, Telly Sevalas, Milton Burle, Richard Pryor, Orson Well, Mel Brooks, and Bob Hope to name just a few of them.
My kids only recognized Bob Hope–they didn’t remember his name, but they knew he was the guy from the Road movies that we’ve watched. Part of me couldn’t believe these actors no longer had the recognition they once had.
A week or two earlier, reading the paper, I announced “Oh no, Hank Aaron died.”
“Who is Hank Aaron?” came the reply from my kids. Really? You mean you weren’t born knowing who Hank Aaron was? That’s how I feel at least. It seems to me there was not a moment in my life when I didn’t know who Hank Aaron was. I explained who he was.
Still, I sometime run into people who are incredulous when someone else has never heard of someone or something they feel is important. What’s the big deal, really? We complain about fame, and then we chide people when they don’t know who someone famous is. It makes no sense.
Besides, it goes both ways. My youngest daughter went on and on about Jojo Siwa and A for Adley before I knew who she was talking about. She didn’t roll her eyes at me because I didn’t know who Jojo Siwa was.
There is, of course, the reverse phenomenon, which has become almost parody at this point. You know what I am talking about? The famous person, at their wits end because they are not getting their way, letting loose a barrage of “Do you know who I am”‘s at some poor sap.
We all have our areas of interest, and I suppose it is natural to think that other people know what we know. I’m reading a biography of Walt Disney and I suppose there are animation fans that could rattle off the names of all of the top animators at Disney in the late 1930s and early 1940s. Even though I am reading the book, I couldn’t name one specifically without refreshing my memory. (Well, that’s not quite true. I can name Ub Iwerks, but only because his name is so unusual, I can’t help but remember it. There’s another one that will come to me eventually.)
Saying to someone, “I can’t believe you don’t know who John Lennon” is just like saying, “I can’t believe you don’t know what Avagadros Number is.” Each is a fact that is important to its own subculture and if you aren’t part of that subculture, why should you know it? Indeed, other than for chemistry class, and as a punchline in stories I co-wrote in high school, knowing what Avagadro’s Number is has been utterly useless to me. What useful information might I have replaced that number with? RIght now, it would be the name of that other Disney animator on the tip of my tongue.
At some point, every last one of us will be unknown I suppose. Then what will people look for to find fault in others? Probably their spelling mistakes. I’ve often thought that every single person who died before April 1564 had no idea who William Shakespeare was. And Bill had no idea who Albert Einstein was. And Al had no idea who Derek Jeter was.
When I become famous, I want to assure you all that I will take no offense if you don’t know who I am. But I implore you not to pester friends and family with look of horrified disdain when they don’t know who I am either. And whatever you do, don’t ask them, “What do you mean you don’t know who Jamie Todd Rubin is!?”
WARD KIMBALL! WARD KIMBALL! I knew I’d remember his name.