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The kids are all right, if not a bit different

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The young woman holding a guitar on the back cover of People magazine was obviously someone famous.

She wouldn’t have been sporting the white mustache brand of the "got milk?" ad campaign otherwise.

Only I wasn’t sure who she was.

Good thing there was small print – more accurately, medium-sized print I could read without glasses – that identified her at the end of a long website address as Taylor Swift.

Ads in pop culture and fashion magazines that regularly feature "somebodies" of the moment are generally ineffective for me, but then I’m not in the demographic group at which they are aimed.

While desire for a "3-D lip look" with "shineblast" would not be out of the realm of possibility for people eligible for senior citizen discounts at the manapua place on Tuesdays, lipstick sellers made the right call in choosing actress Dania Ramirez for their ad.

I’m sure that the women likely to want "a flush of lasting color" would recognize and identify with the pitch-celeb.

Not me. She’s not on my Mindset List, just as the late actor Tony Perkins isn’t a pop culture touchstone for members of the college class of 2014.

Every year, Beloit College in Wisconsin issues the Mindset List that attempts to define segments of a younger generation through their cultural references. It is supposed to remind the college’s professors that their points of references might be outdated because they’re older, and to adjust their teaching accordingly.

The list, however, often ends up being a way to poke fun at the kids.

Excerpts point out that the class of 2014 thinks Beethoven has always been a dog, that e-mail is too slow and that rock bands have always played at presidential inauguration parties. According to the list, few of them know how to write in cursive.

Of course, these are generalizations and, as such, narrowly instructive. I’m sure many young people know the movie’s canine character shares its name with Ludwig, the composer, and can pick up a pen to scribble a birthday card to send via snail-mail to grandma.

The list also serves as reminder to older folks, if they needed one at all, that they’re aging. They watched John McEnroe smash balls across the tennis court, they remember when there were only three TV channels with nothing to watch instead of 500 with nothing to watch.

They ordered a cup of coffee when that at one time involved answering only two questions: Black? With sugar? They dialed phones that had cords but no photography functions.

Cultural references are an accumulation of life’s experience, a collection that continually broadens and narrows with the flow of change.

For members of the class of 2014, their scopes and takes on matters naturally differ, but that doesn’t mean the kids aren’t intelligent and knowledgeable. It also doesn’t mean they aren’t dense and ignorant. It simply means fragments of time are dissimilar for each generation.

Those generations do overlap, however, and cultural references don’t stand solo. They freshen and fade with the comings of the young and the goings of the old.

There are enough constants to keep us whole.

Cynthia Oi can be reached at


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