I'm not a researcher, but I've done a little hands-on work with this subject. Happens every time I strike up a conversation with someone younger than me [which at 82nd means damn near everyone!]. Things start off nicely enough, for we have the usual topics in common: weather, sports, Washington hammerheads, and those ET-twins the Kardashians.
But by this point we start running into trouble. I like quipping about famous celebrities, say Al Jolson, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, Doris Day, Joe Namath, Donna Reed. I draw empty stares every time. It's like being Jay Leno on one of his street-interviews with the goofy, grinning LA pedestrians.
However, here's what I've learned. If I go back far enough, I can actually ring some of their damaged bells. Jesse James...Lincoln...Washington....Franklin. With a little luck maybe Cleopatra ..Columbus ... Napoleon... Winston Churchill. [On second thought, Churchill in most of their minds was vice-president to Roosevelt, because they've seen them in pictures together!]
OK, so what have learned....?
My theory is (1) the very early celebrities of history have found a pedestal from which even the illiterati swilling cheap bear at the bar can look up and recognize (2) the very recent celebrities of history are in our face so much that even those same intellectual derelicts can't have missed hearing about them. If true, this leaves (3) the missing gap of their parents & grandparents generation; not ancient enough to have become statues and stamps so chances are the twenty & thirty-somethings haven't a clue!
Are their national consequences from a population of dis-informed historical nincompoops? From one adult citizen to another, I sure as hell think so. It's like giving the keys to your new Lexus to the kid in the family who hasn't yet figured out the car needs gas to run.
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