It’s totally legitimate that younger people wouldn’t know who Dick Clark is. It’s totally legitimate, even, that older people wouldn’t know who Dick Clark is: “American Bandstand” is not the most contemporary of shows, and most of us are doing other things on December 31 than watching “New Year’s Rockin’ Eve.” What’s interesting, though, is what the tweeters above — and their thousands of fellow “Who’s Dick Clark?” queriers — did with their ignorance. Rather than do a Google search for “Dick Clark,” rather than look him up on Wikipedia, rather than avail themselves of the approximately 5,000 other web-based mechanisms that exist solely to rectify the world’s ignorance, these people asked their followers on Twitter.
For some of them, the question might have been simply ironic — or, more specifically, an ironic declaration of generational/sociological affiliation. (Who’s Justin Bieber?) For many, though, the question seemed like an honest one: “Guys, I don’t know this person everyone’s talking about. Help me out.” It wasn’t just that the “Who’s Dick Clark” crowd were embracing their ignorance; it was that, through Twitter, they were trying to rectify it.
But they were also publicizing it. Rather than taking the relatively introverted route toward satisfying their curiosity — Google, Bing, Wikipedia, platforms that treat a question as a silent transaction between mind and machine — the “Who’s Dick Clark?” Twitterers asked their question openly and publicly. They chose to broadcast their ignorance.
And that choice is a new thing. In the past, ignorance has been, you know, something to be ashamed of. To call someone “ignorant” has been, generally, to insult that someone; and it’s been an insult specifically because ignorance is an accusation that assaults not just a person’s knowledge, but a person’s intelligence. It’s no coincidence that, etymologically, “ignorant” is connected with “uncouth.” We have construed ignorance as a matter of personal failing.
Also relevant to anybody asking, “Who is Levon Helm?” (If those people exist.)