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Mom, unplugged

September 22, 2006|Debra J. Dickerson | DEBRA J. DICKERSON is a journalist and author of "An American Story" and "The End of Blackness."

IN THE SAME WAY that we middle-ageds go to great lengths to hide our advancing waistlines, thinning hair and increasing forgetfulness, I have been for some time now faking a vibrating cellphone or fumbling conveniently in my purse when pop culture references are made. As deluded as any mom doing the Robot at her daughter's Sweet Sixteen, I thought myself hip for culting on "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." I smirked knowingly at the Scoobies' updated Ridgemont High-slang and indulgently dug the angsty-goth bands that played at Buffy's fave dance spot, the Bronze.

I didn't recognize the bands, felt no need to run out and buy their CDs, but hey -- I'm black and 47. So I get outta jail free for my willingness to groove to both Michelle Branch (whose name I had to snag from the "Buffy" TV credits) and Louis Armstrong, right?

Turns out, not so much. Black may not crack, but it does creak.

I read a great many periodicals (one or two online even!), and they've been flush recently with a heads-up on the new TV season. Where I once digested all that along with Harper's and felt proud to be both cerebral and earthy, my gut reaction now, once I locate one of my many disappearing pairs of reading glasses, veers between annoyance (how the hell am I supposed to tell all those stick-figure blonds apart?) and panic (did I just make my mom's disapproving "humphf" tooth-suck sound?).

When, in my youth, I turned my nose up at "The A-Team" and "Dynasty," then later at the "90210" brand, I felt wise beyond my years. Superior. But in my 20s through early 30s, when I was mostly abroad or too ambitious to sit still for long, I stalwartly denied myself the instant gratification of "Twin Peaks" and Eddie Murphy's "Saturday Night Live" years. Like any snob, I dined out on my cultural blind spots, feigning a Parisian ennui as I changed the subject from David Lynch to the Louis Malle movies I rented, from "Mr. Robinson's Neighborhood" to grad schools and fellowships.

Now though, I'm passing on "Lost" just because I'm too stubborn to admit I was wrong about it, and "Deadwood" because the violence and profanity exhaust me. And what if my kids are only feigning sleep? I'm also passing on quality entertainment because I'm just no longer on the right cultural wavelengths, for oh-so-many reasons and not always by choice.

TV worries me now, and not just for my preschoolers' sake. God help me: I see the tube, with its beckoning to "invest" in 52 inches of wardrobe malfunctions and tuition-level monthly fees, as I do the baby-sitter with one too many tattoos. Does she bring a bourgeois family's much-needed shot in the arm or is that the bulge of a hypodermic needle I spy in her hipster's low-slung messenger bag (which could use a good washing)?

Mine was a conscious refusal to degrade myself with "Desperate Housewives," but I was shocked recently to learn that "Nip/Tuck" just began its fourth season. Wasn't that canceled? I'd watch "Weeds" or anything with that funky grown-up, Mary-Louise Parker, in it. Except that premium cable is an extravagance, and there ain't no money tree in the backyard.

Oh dear. That's what Daddy always said. When did I become Grandpa Simpson?

My flickering connection to pop culture saddens, frees and humbles me. Only a gun to my head could have made me watch the recent MTV Video Music Awards, but I'm so unfamiliar with today's music that I Googled a list of winners twice before I noticed that it was from 2004. I diligently scanned the correctly Googled list, but it may well have been another one of those Onion hoaxes for all I knew. Avenged Sevenfold? Chamillionaire? Ringtone of the year? Best videogame soundtrack?

When you don't even recognize the categories, it's time to admit that you've been hip-checked. So be it. Confession is such a relief. Hi, I'm Debra, and I haven't recognized the bands on SNL for years now.

Guess it's just as well that I can't stay awake long enough to hear them anyway.

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