It has come to my attention that I just might be a bit out of touch with popular culture. Or, as I prefer to think of it, that popular culture is out of touch with me.
The first clue was being with a group of young adults who didn't recognize the William Tell Overture by name. That part wasn't really so surprising—but what made me realize there just might be a culture gap was the fact that they didn't recognize it as the theme for The Lone Ranger.
My cultural frame of reference is narrow, out of the mainstream, and out of date—perhaps because so much of it is out of books. I grew up without television. Once, at a gathering where for some reason a group of people started singing the theme from "The Howdy Doody Show," I was the only one in the room who didn't know the words. As an adult, I've spent most of my life in a voluntary state of TV deprivation. I have never seen an episode of "Seinfeld," "The Simpsons," or "The Biggest Loser." Or "Dallas," for that matter.
Maybe that's why I don't recognize all the celebrities who feature, by first names only, in the headlines of tabloids and People magazines at the supermarket checkout stand. Who are all these people? Okay, even I have heard of Angelina and Brad and a few of the others. But the various interchangeable Jessicas, Jennifers, Brittanys, and Kims seem to have escaped my cable TV-less notice. The magazines who refer to them so casually seem to assume I ought to know. Even worse, they seem to assume I ought to care.
Once upon a time, in order to be known by only one name someone had to be really famous. Not to mention, quite often, dead. Like Plato, or Socrates, or Aristotle. Frequently they had a title or at least a clarifying description attached. Like Alexander, Peter, Catherine and all those other "the Greats." Or Attila the Hun. Jack the Ripper. Smokey the Bear.
Even Elvis, by the time he needed only one name, was "the King." Lassie, on the other hand, needed no descriptor.
Then came Cher, who dropped her last name about the same time she dropped Sonny. And Madonna. Oprah, of course. Elton John uses two names, but that doesn't count because they both sound like first names anyway.
But now it seems to take less and less fame to become a one-name celebrity. One quick scandal, a tell-all book, or a season or two on a cable channel, and there people are in the tabloids, first names only, as if we run into them every week at the grocery store. Which, come to think of it, I guess we do.
Maybe it's because fame comes and goes so quickly that we don't have time to learn their last names. Or maybe it just saves room in the tabloid headlines and takes fewer characters on Twitter.