This week’s question comes from A.V. Club Deputy Managing Editor, Caitlin PenzeyMoog:
What’s something you only tried or did because you saw it in pop culture?
A few weeks ago I drove my aunt’s shiny red Mustang and, just because I’ve seen cool dudes do it repeatedly in movies and TV, I revved the engine. Several times. Just because it seemed like the thing to do. That engine made a lot of noise anyway, grumbling—some might say purring—through the streets of Chicago. It felt natural to really make it sing. I learned that the best use of the engine rev is when you’re driving slowly alongside or behind someone you know, so as to alert them to your presence in your banging car. Another use is when you’re waiting for your friend to get in the passenger seat; revving gets them amped for the open road on which a car with a big engine can cruise.
This is an answer I’m guessing applies to plenty of idiots around my age: attempting to do pro wrestling moves. I was the right age to get swept up in the height of WWF’s popularity in the late ’90s, and as stupid kids who ate that crap up were wont to do, my childhood friends and I definitely went against the company’s warnings and tried that stuff at home. There’s a good reason why those warnings exist, though; if you actually attempted to do these moves with no training on how to make them safe, or worse, with harm in mind, you could seriously injure someone. Thankfully we were never dumb enough to get into the horrific side of things—like, say, hitting each other in the head with chairs—but I distinctly remember being on the receiving end of a DDT, a move in which the target’s head is driven into the mat. I can recall the gross thud of my dome hitting the dirt—because yes, this happened on someone’s front lawn—but I ended up being okay. I think.
I once cleared a desk in a moment of anger—or I should say, I attempted to. I don’t remember where I first saw the “rage sweep” move, in which characters—usually frustrated cops—express their utter disdain for injustice and paperwork by dramatically pushing everything onto the floor, usually followed by sinking into the chair with their head in their hands. (Or, if it’s really serious, storming home to stare at themselves in the mirror, then punching it.) I also don’t even remember what got me upset enough to try it, without the excuse of an unsolved murder or even the benefit of an audience. But I do remember that, however righteously mad I thought I was, I didn’t actually want to throw my big, Blueberry iMac to the floor. So instead I just sort of pathetically knocked over a cup of pens, along with a coffee mug that I keep full of guitar picks, my arm skipping around Apple’s late-’90s behemoth to just sort of brush across (a generously estimated) one-third of my desktop. I have to say, it was not especially cathartic. Also, movies don’t usually show that character then squatting down to pick up everything they just spilled, or having to requisition replacements for all the office equipment they just smashed, which really sucks all the drama out of it.
Not to blame various big screens solely for this, as I might have gone this route eventually, but I’m pretty sure that the movies helped convince me that smoking was actually a good idea. Stars like Bette Davis and Humphrey Bogart in the black-and-white movies I loved made smoking seem like the most glamorous thing in the world, instead of the disgusting, smelly, cough-inducing habit it was. But even the kids in Stand By Me and the greasers in Grease and the guys hanging out in Diner made a cigarette seem like a vital accessory to spinning tales and hanging out trading wisecracks with your friends. So of course, that’s what I spent most of my college years doing, furiously smoking Camel Lights, bumming smokes and handing them out just as often. Lucky for me, I eventually quit after years of trying and failing, Mark Twain-like, a number of times. But I swear sometimes I’ll watch a movie and see someone like James Dean (or even Don Draper on Mad Men) and I just want to smoke all over again. If I make it to the age of 80, I’m just going to light one up on my birthday.
My parents were undoubtedly thrilled by this one, but years of watching sitcoms and movies about teenagers taught me that I should really sneak out at night by tying some sheets together and using them to climb out my second-story bedroom window to the ground. This is essentially an idiotic idea, but I had seen it done so many times on screen by the time I was 16, it just seemed like the logical strategy when it came time for me to attempt my first-ever sneaking out after bedtime. I wasn’t even going to meet friends or anything—I was just reading Come As You Are, the Nirvana bio by Michael Azerrad, and figured wandering around at night by yourself, maybe writing some graffiti (on the sidewalk in chalk, because I didn’t want to be rude), was an important rite of passage. Luckily, I managed to not die; the sheets didn’t come loose until after I was close enough to the ground that I could jump. I rolled, stood up, and was greeted by my dad at the front door, staring at me like an alien had taken over his chid’s brain and was just learning the motors. Next time I snuck out, I did the smart thing: waited until they were asleep and used the damn door.