Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Ride Home

"When I stepped out into the bright sunlight of the dark movie house, I had only two things on my mind: Paul Newman, and a ride home."

After teaching the novel The Outsiders for two years, 150 students, and eight middle school classes, I was always saddened when the kids in my charge had no idea who Paul Newman was ... I might well have been talking about obscure stage actors of the 1800's as opposed to an iconic, and, until recently, still active screen presence of the last fifty years. Cultural awareness of this latest generation is a sad state of affairs - which is even more surprising when one considers that teens today have access to more information than any generation before them, and yet seem more blissfully unaware of anything going back further than five years.

So when reading of Newman's death today, I wondered if any of the middle school kids I taught who are now in freshmen and sophomores in high school might have taken pause to remember Ponyboy's opening (and closing) lines from S.E. Hinton's book.

Perhaps. When bringing the middle schoolers up to speed with a list of movies such as Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Cool Hand Luke, and The Sting that got me blank stares in return, the only one that ever clicked for them was, ironically, Newman's voice work as Doc Hudson in Cars.

From what I know of Newman, I think he would have liked that....


Clark Orr Design Co said...

Man, this was the first thing I thought of when I heard about his passing. Glad to know someone else thinks like me.

thrdgll said...

To be fair, Newman didn't appear in too many places that would be on a kid's radar. I knew my older actors at that age if they'd been villians on Batman or appeared on some other old rerun tv show. I wouldn't have known, say, Van Heflin in middle school.

In fact, I saw Cool Hand Luke for the first time only a few years ago. I've only seen parts of The Sting and Butch Cassidy. How the hell DO I know who Paul Newman is?

Wait! I've got it. Judge Roy Bean. That was a boyhood favorite.

Oh yeah, and I've seen him in the grocery store.

NaeNae said...

When I read he'd passed, that was the first thing, that quote, that popped into my mind. Given, that is my favorite novel of all-time and author, but I had to laugh at myself and think, "I'm horrible...". Comforting to know I wasn't alone. And honestly, it really isn't fair to expect kids to have an interest in anything that was around before them unless it's like a classic Disney movie or the sort. You couldn't even tell kids today about the original Power Rangers and expect them to know what on Earth you are talking about.


Good points about kids not knowing who Newman was ... but when I was an eighth grader in 1980-1981, I knew of older actors such as Bogart, Cagney, Mr. Laurel and Mr. Hardy, the brothers Marx, James Stewart, etc., and none of those gentlemen were working in a venue of notice (due to being either dead or retired) where a youthful Mayberry boy in the sticks of NC would have them shoved under his nose.

Notice I didn't include the Three Stooges in the list above ... somehow, the Stooges still manage to be known of and enjoyed by males (and select females) of all ages. A guess a pipe wrench to the head never goes out of style!

thrdgll said...

True. But consider that not every kid had the obsessive interest in old movies that the geeky likes of you or I had as youngsters. It was pretty odd that I knew what Your Show of Shows or Fibber McGee were in middle school.

But I still think you're right, generally speaking, about kids today being clueless. I get pretty alarmed when teenagers don't know who won WWII...but I don't think most kids knew when I was their age, either.

Tinky1878 said...

To be honest, I did not know much about Newman until today, except that he has a great line of Salad dressing.

What Pop Culture said about the 3 Stooges is very true. I used to be a Stooge Fanatic and I know (or used to know) everything about each and everyone of them from Moe to Curly Joe DeRita. If someone does not like the Stooges, there has to be something wrong with their head(But, they could not be as mental as Edger A. Poe!)

-Jake(In your 4th Period)