On Tuesday, Salon writier Matt Zoller Seitz wondered whether pop culture references are ruining TV shows like The Simpsons and Community for future generations. He discusses trying to explain a Simpsons Arnold Schwarzenegger reference to his confused young son, a frequent problem in a program that includes so many hyper-specifics. When reviewing episodes of Spaced, The A.V. Club’s Todd VanDefWerff responds to Seitz’s piece, and the fleeting nature of rip-from-the-headlines jokes. “I laughed because I got the reference to the show, but will my kids laugh?,” he muses. Both writers argue that the temporariness of pop-culture references will eventually, say fifteen years or twenty from now, render certain dated and difficult to follow for the next generation. To which I say: who cares?
The fact of the matter is, worrying about whether future generations will find a joke funny seems like the perfect way to stifle anyone’s ability to produce something hilarious. Beyond that, the value of comedy specifically has often been its immediacy; why wouldn’t we want writers to make jokes that are relevant to their current audience? The reality is that comedy, or any kind of art, doesn’t have to be enduring to be worthy. Additionally, we’re selling kids short by assuming that not understanding a comedic reference will ruin their enjoyment of an entire episode, or movie, or cultural moment in time. “Can a show still call itself a comedy if you have to explain why it’s funny?,” Seitz asks. Well yeah, if you’re explaining to a seven-year-old, which is how old his son is in the article. If their joke flew over the head of a seven-year-old, then I’d say the show’s writers are doing their job.
Both writers acknowledge that many, if not most, of the humor inherent in the shows mentioned will translate regardless of a riff on Lindsay Lohan, or god help us, a Charlie Sheen reference. However, if shows like Glee or even Seinfeld end up feeling like ancient artifacts that Grandma laughs about in her hover-wheelchair, then that’s fine too. Having a fresh juicy show, or movie or album, eventually grow stagnant on the shelf doesn’t strip it of it’s value. It was written for a specific place, people and moment in time, and now that time is gone. If they don’t like it, let our children find their new shows and writers, and add their two cents to the ever-changing flow of comedy and culture. Now bring Grandma her Community ocular uploads and get that damn dog away from the holoport.