In terms of popular culture, I find myself more and more “out of the loop” these days — a fact that hit me full in the face in the aftermath of Paul Walker’s death. Mainly because I had no idea who Paul Walker was. No idea whatsoever.
As people are wont to feel when they hear about the death of a younger person, particularly when that person has suffered an accidental and untimely death, I felt sorry. While I couldn’t muster the energy to participate in the mass mourning or the Facebook condolences for someone I’d never even heard of, I was not unsympathetic to the void his death would create for his family and his friends.
There was another death that made the news this week, a death which certainly didn’t stun the world given that Nelson Mandela was 96 years old and had been in failing health for a number of years. Still, I would argue that the death of Mr. Mandela, while not wholly unexpected, has left a much larger void than that of Mr. Walker.
It didn’t bother me in the least that I had no knowledge of who Mr. Walker was. I don’t feel as if I missed out on something as a result of not having seen even one of the installments of “The Fast and the Furious”.
I was, however, flabbergasted by the number of young people for whom the opposite was true. They were familiar with Mr. Walker, but not with Mr. Mandela. (Luckily my child wasn’t one of them!) Most of them could not tell me what “Apartheid” was, either.
It isn’t lost on me that these kids were born at a time when Apartheid was a matter of history. I also understand that Nelson Mandela lived half a world away. (For the record, my very limited poll data indicates that they have no knowledge of who Mahatma Gandhi was, where he lived, or what his contributions to civilization were either.) But, still.
It saddens me more than a little bit that there exists a whole generation for whom the life of someone so important remains unknown, but that they could not only reference the work of a minor celebrity, but mourn his passing — that their connection to a man who starred in what I assume are car chase movies was, to them, far more tangible than their connection to a man who changed not only the history of his country, but the history of the world.
My suggestion to anyone who I came upon this past week who admitted to not knowing what Mr. Mandela’s contribution to society had been, was that they use his passing and the media attention that has surrounded it, to learn a few things about him, about Apartheid, about the way in which he lived his life, about how he changed the lives of others. I can only hope that they did so.
In the meantime, I’m going to go ahead and find out who this Paul Walker character was. Perhaps I, too, will learn something today.