Friday, January 2, 2015

The Results Are In: Nostalgia is not Mainstream

For years I have been having a debate with a few small-minded individuals who continue to think that old movies, old-time radio and cowboy westerns are as popular today as the latest motion-picture blockbusters. "I don't understand how the youth of today doesn't know who Archie Andrews or The Lone Ranger is!" was one such expression. My opinion is rooted deep in concrete. There is a difference between mainstream and a niche market. And today's youth displays a lack of concern for history. Anything created more than ten years ago is "old." Especially when referring to something pop culture. 

Avoiding an anonymity of the other side of the computer screen, uncertain who would be tampering with the results of an online poll, I went to the trouble of distributing a questionnaire to the local community college, the local mall where today's youth hangs out, and at a Comic Con in Baltimore, Maryland. I asked 19 simple questions. I asked for their age -- not their names. I told them there was no such thing as a bad answer and that they were not going to be judged. When there was more than one of them, I asked them not to consult with each other. I asked them to be honest and leave the answer blank if they did not know. But it was okay to take a guess if they think they know the answer.

A total of 409 people under the age of 25 took a moment to fill out my poll, get a free piece of candy for their time, and what follows are the results of that poll. I think you'll find the results quite interesting.

Ages..... Number of People
12..... 3
13..... 13
14..... 12
15..... 10
16..... 11
17..... 9
18..... 23
19..... 59
20..... 48
21..... 67
22..... 58
23..... 48
24..... 45
3 people forgot to put their age on the paper.

1. Do you know who John Wayne is?

13 people said "a cowboy."
11 people said "an actor."

The rest did not know who he was.

2. Can you name a movie John Wayne starred in?

One person said "Stagecoach"
One person said "The Quiet Man"
One person said "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance"
Two people said "True Grit"
One person said "Citizen Kane" (he wasn't in the movie)
One person said "Gunfight at the O.K. Corral" (he wasn't in any such movie)

The rest did could not name a movie.

3. Who is Batman?

405 out of 406 got this answer correct.
The lone holdout forgot to answer this question and left it blank.

4. Have you ever read a Batman comic book? 

Thirty people said "yes."

5. Do you read Batman comic books on a regular basis?

Only two people said "yes."

6. Who is Jack Benny?

Two people said a comedian.
One person said a concert violinist.
One person said a movie actor.
One person said a cartoon character.
One person said a singer.
One person said a Christmas shopper.
One person said "my grandmother told me about him but I forget."

No one else answered this question.

7. Who is James Dean?

305 people said an actor.
Two people said a chain smoker (one of them suggested Dean did smoking ads.)
Four people said a rebel.
Two people said a Rebel Without a Cause.
Four people said a hot rod race driver.
One person said someone their mother dated.

No one else had an answer.

8. Who is The Lone Ranger?

279 people were polled before the recent movie was promoted for theatrical release.

Two people said a cowboy actor.
Two people said a TV cowboy.
One person said a hero in a comic book.

274 people did not know.

127 people were polled after the movie was released in theaters. Answers provided below.

25 people said a cowboy.
36 people said Johnny Depp.
4 people said a Western comic book hero.
1 person said a movie.
1 person said a Texas Ranger.
2 people gave a lengthy description that pretty much says they definitely know who he is.

58 people did not know.

9. Who is Buster Keaton?

Two people said "screen comedian."
Two people said "silent actor."
One person said "an actor."

No one else provided an answer.

10. Who is Bob Hope?

Three people said he did a Christmas Special on TV.
Two people said he performed for servicemen overseas.
Two people said a comedian.

No one else provided an answer.

11. Name a silent movie.

Three people said "Metropolis."
Two people said Laurel and Hardy.
One person gave us two titles: It's a Wonderful Life and Miracle on 34th Street.
One person said a Shirley Temple movie.

No one else provided an answer.

12. Who is Archie Andrews?

Two people said a comic book.

No one else provided an answer.

13. Name three TV programs filmed in black and white.

Some people provided more than one answer. All answers are listed below.

21 people said The Twilight Zone
14 people said I Love Lucy
13 people said The Andy Griffith Show
Three people said Pokemon (I checked, there apparently was a black and white episode)
Two people said The Outer Limits
One person said Betty Boop
One person said Howdy Doody
One person said the Betty White Show

No one else provided an answer

14. Who is Iron Man?

406 out of 406 got this answer correct.

15. Have you ever read an Iron Man comic book? 

21 people said "yes."

16. Do you read Iron Man comic books on a regular basis?

Only one person said "yes."

17. Who is Betty Boop?

Sixteen people said a cartoon character.
Fourteen people said a comic.
Three people said a black and white character.
One person said a female cartoon character.

No one else provided an answer.

18. Who is Bettie Page?

Eleven people said a stripper.
Two people said a pin-up girl.
One person said her mother's maiden name.

No one else provided an answer.

19. What is the Inner Sanctum?

One person said a porn film.

No one else provided an answer.

20. How many Star Wars films have you seen?

375 of them said "six" or "all six."
Ten of them said "all of them."
Five of them said three.
Four of them said four.
Four of them said all six "many times."
Four of them went so far as to name the titles of all six movies.
One of them said "only the first one."
One of them said "only a few minutes of one of them."

21. Have you ever played Angry Birds?

54 people said yes.
Two people said "once."

Rest of them said "no" or provided no answer.

22. Who is Humphrey Bogart?

Six people said an actor.
One person said a Hollywood actor.
One person said a singer.
One person said a detective.

No one else provided an answer.

The youth today knows who the comic book characters are, no doubt as a result of the popularity of the motion-pictures and mass marketing. But do they read the comic books? It appears that the majority know about Batman, Green Lantern, Superman, Spider-Man and other characters originates from the movies they watch -- not so much from the comic books. But at least they know they are comic book heroes.

Old-time movies and actors who helped define silver screen immortality may fade into obscurity with each passing generation. Old movies are available with ease of access courtesy of DVD and multiple television stations. But who can expose those to a generation what prefers iPads, Angry Birds and Star Wars?

Now we all know if this poll was submitted to an older fan base -- people over the age of 55 -- the results would be much more different. But I wanted to gauge the results from today's youth. The difference between mainstream and niche is clarified simply: A niche market is defined as geared to a specific type of audience, with products focused on a specific genre or product. So the next time someone tells me that they cannot comprehend how kids today don't know who The Lone Ranger or Buster Keaton is... I am going to point them to this poll.


R. said...

Doesn't surprise me a bit, Martin. Of course, there are also a lot of people out there who think you can get rich selling old radio shows and old movies and TV shows.

Rich said...

Makes me wonder how many children today listen to "Rudolph" every Christmas but doesn't know who Gene Autry is.

Anonymous said...

My children will not watch anything filmed in black and white. Not surprised our children couldn't recognize Humphrey Bogart or John Wayne.

Anonymous said...

You may want to try this survey again at a four year college campus. Try to blend campuses with arts/broadcasting/film as specialties with ones that are not. Remember, many old time radio programs and film revivals began on college campuses in the 1960s. Also nostalgia may be easier for themes or practices within a 20 to 40 year period. For example you found that so many young people recognized 50 years and older superheroes, but had not read the comics (the decline of overall comic sales in recent decades) and "I Love Lucy" and "The Twilight Zone" have never been off the air and were frequently broadcast on the Sci-Fi channel, TV Land, Hallmark Channel, and even the I Love Lucy Christmas Special has been on CBS two years in a row. I agree that an appreciation of history has declined, partly because today's youth have been told by schools and even high ranking officials to only look at the present as relevant.

James said...

Is this surprising? Was nostalgia ever mainstream?

Tom said...

The only thing in black and white my kids are willing to watch is I LOVE LUCY. They like that. Nothing else, though.

VP81955 said...

This doesn't surprise me (though to some extent it does disappoint). If I tried a similar questionnaire of 400 or so people and asked people to identify Carole Lombard, Myrna Loy, Barbara Stanwyck, Clark Gable, William Powell and James Stewart, I doubt more than a handful could ID them -- and Marilyn Monroe probably would get more responses than the six of them combined.

But I'm not going to hold it against them for two reasons:

* The breakdown of mass culture into niches makes classic Hollywood largely inaccessible to many, unlike the days of three or four TV stations in each market (six or seven if you lived in the largest cities). Quite a few young people watch TCM, bless 'em, but it's not in their DNA.

* Think about how time has elapsed -- and this particularly comes into play with the recent Kanye West-Paul McCartney controversy. In 1965 (the year I turned ten), few, if any, teens or pre-teens were aware of musical stars of 1915. (I'd heard of Al Jolson, George M. Cohan and Enrico Caruso, but only because my parents bought LP compilations of vintage music.) The Beatles don't resonate with a high percentage of young listeners, and they also perceive Elvis Presley more as a movie star than as a revolutionary force in music (more's the pity).

Samantha Glasser said...

I think it was just brilliant that you did this poll. I find myself frustrated in my daily life mentioning things I think are common in pop culture to my friends and receiving blank stares. (How do young people not know who Leonard Maltin is?!?)

I hope a few of those people were curious and/or embarassed enough at their own ignorance that they sought out some of the names. But I doubt it.

Anonymous said...

Thirty-five years ago my nephew wouldn't watch anything in black and white. Today, people won't work on my independent films if they are black and white, or *horror of horrors* in the 4:3 (non-widescreen) aspect ratio.

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