Monday, December 17, 2007

Jingle Bells, Batman Smells

I have a confession to make: I grew up in a rural household without a television.

It's difficult to explain the permanent gap this situation opened up between me and my peers, then and now. Their adventures were peopled with characters from video games and cartoons, and their soundtrack was Michael Jackson, Poison, New Kids on the Block. My sister and brother and I ran around in the muddy creek valley, brandishing sticks as swords and making up names for our warrior selves. Our only soundtrack was the oldies station that my parents listened to, or the records they occasionally played.

I have a vivid memory of making them play "Mr. Bojangles" over and over again, and being mesmerized by the melancholy that the song swept through me. That was around the same time that my friend Alethea confessed that she had a crush on Patrick Swayze. Who? I wondered. We were probably about eleven.

I was already introverted and shy, and I wandered through the hallways not knowing or asking what much of the imagery around me signified. Kids wore KISS shirts or put Achtung Baby pictures in their lockers, and it was all as meaningless as if I were a foreigner just visiting. In some ways I suppose I was: a newcomer to the land of Pop Culture. Our P.E. teacher that year at McGovern Middle School frequently wore a t-shirt with a funny drawing on it: an open mouth, with just a few oddly crooked teeth visible. I shrugged it off as one more obscure artifact in the insane territory of middle schoolers.

It wasn't until a couple of years later, when I finally saw the movie Batman, that I realized what the symbol really was. Ever since, the experience has served as a good metaphor for the feeling of alienation I still get sometimes when my peers reminisce animatedly about music and movies and cartoons from our childhood years. "No, guys, seriously: I just thought it was a mouth. How would I know any different?"