Catching Up on Shared Memories

Twelve years after it originally aired, I’m finally watching Dawson’s Creek. Believe it or not, I’d never seen a single episode until I watched the entire first season last week. As a kid and teenager, I was mostly oblivious to contemporary pop culture. I can’t even blame my parents. I don’t remember them ever making any rules that said I couldn’t watch TV or listen to the music that my classmates liked. It just never occurred to me. Most of the time, I was lost in my own little world of Anne of Green Gables and Jane Austen and Bach, and I more or less liked it that way. This sort of thing is often romanticized. Get kids away from the TV! Make sure your special snowflake is only exposed to Shakespeare and classical music! I don’t think my parents particularly tried to do that with me; if anything, they just modeled that behavior. And my brother is nowhere near as pop culturally oblivious, so it wasn’t systematic. But I am, even if accidentally, a product of those methods.

And you know what? It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Sure, I read tons. I know more about history and literature and classical music than most of my generation. But I also never, ever felt like I fit in with my peers, and never knew why or how to fix it. Looking back, I wish someone had given me a list of TV shows to watch and albums to buy. If it had meant that I had a little less time to read books none of my classmates cared about, fine. I might not have felt so weird all the time. When I say the one thing I’d change about my teen years would be to read less and watch TV more, I’m not entirely kidding. The point isn’t the TV or music itself. It’s that these shared cultural experiences provide common vocabulary and points of reference.

So now I’m watching Dawson’s Creek, and finally understanding all those references to Joey and Pacey everyone’s been making for years. And really, it’s an enjoyable show! But more importantly, with each episode, a teeny bit of that awkward teenager inside me feels a little less left out.

(I’m also tweeting the Dawson’s Creek experience. You can follow me at @katelinnea if you’re interested.)