“What’s a PDF?”
Because I’d read some interesting criticism/praise of the TV show, Younger, I decided to check it out, despite it NOT being a Spanish TV show. (Truthfully, I have expanded into TV from France, Colombia, Italy, Germany, Brazil and Turkey at this point, so it’s more like: despite it not being an international period drama.) The premise is that a 40-ish year old woman pretends to be 26 so she can get a job in publishing. She’s played by Sutton Foster who is, according to Wikipedia, currently 46 and was not quite 40 when the show started. In other words, Sutton Foster and her character are definitely Gen X.
The show’s premise is basically one big set up for “She’s so old and doesn’t get it!” jokes — with the occasional “These crazy kids today do WHAT crazy stuff?” I know for sure that this show was not made for me. Or any Gen X women, really. It’s a show called Younger for younger people and that’s probably why I didn’t have much interest in it when it came out. But the stuff I read said that it had an interesting take on ageism and feminism so I thought, sure! Somehow I managed to get through a few episodes — weathering the jokes about this character (her name is Liza) not knowing anything about hashtags or how to Tweet. (Twitter, founded by a Gen X man, btw.) But then I watched an episode that made me exclaim, “Get the hell out of here.” While my mouth hung open in astonishment for a while.
Liza (the forty year old pretending to be twenty six) calls up one of her friends from her book club in her previous 40 year old life and Liza tells her she’s going to send her a PDF. And this 40 year old woman from the suburbs in New Jersey (which is not an island with no access to civilization, btw) says “What’s a PDF?” Get the fuck out of here. Actually, I watched this scene again to pull an image for this piece and it turns out she doesn’t actually say “What’s a PDF?” she says, “A what?” So I remembered the subtext, rather than the actual line. But still — it is heavily implied that she does not know what Liza is talking about.
Find me a forty year old woman who has lived in a privileged place in America who does not know what a PDF is. I’ll wait.
It’s going to take you a while.
Like — PDFs have been around for as long as the younger Millennials have been alive. It made me think of this Old 97s song “ Longer than You’ve Been Alive. “ Come on. “What’s a PDF?””A what?”
It is just such a stupid joke and I can’t understand why the Gen X-ers on the show didn’t speak up about it. It’s like someone asking “What’s an email?”
Like, sure, there are people who don’t know but you’d be hard pressed to find one in our society. It’s just part of the fabric of ANYONE’s life here. Even the folks who don’t have access to a computer or the internet.
“A what?” I do not know how that actor said that line with a straight face! Acting! Obviously. I applaud her, really, because you wanna guess how that actor probably got the text for her audition for that part from her agent? Yes, my friends, she surely got those lines on a PDF. She went in and auditioned for a part where she had to say “A what?” about a PDF, with the assistance of a PDF. Her contract was probably a PDF. Her first copy of the script for the episode once she got the job was probably a PDF. I’m saying this woman did an amazing job pretending she didn’t know what something she uses on a daily basis is. It’s like someone saying “What’s a fork?” It makes sense if it’s coming from a mermaid or an alien from space but for the most part everyone knows what a fork is. So my hat is off to the actor. And honestly, in watching it again, I can see how she’s playing it a little ambiguously, as if she just didn’t hear it, or got distracted. It’s subtle but I bet that’s how she got through it. So kudos to her. But the writers of this show…come on, people. Come on. Were there no Gen X-ers among you? Must be no.
Now — is this important? Not really no. It’s just a dumb ageist joke. But something about it really gets under my skin and I don’t think it’s just how lazy it is — (that good old “old people just don’t understand computers” trope). It might, in part, be the lack of specificity that gets me mad — that 40s means old and old means dumb about tech. But so much of this way of thinking is garbage. The head of the team that invented the PDF is 81 years old. I heard a podcast, recorded via Zoom, in which a 90- something actor talked about looking up his fellow actors on IMDB. I bet he gets his sides on PDFs, too. The old people and computers trope is dumb for everyone but especially for Gen X. Gen X grew up with computers. And not these user-friendly point and click computers either. I learned Logo in school. I spent hours trying to tell a little triangle, called a turtle, where to go. The notion that someone in my generation would be flummoxed by a PDF is just ridiculous. But even if it wasn’t a Gen X suburban mom, if it were a Baby Boomer suburban mom, it would be just as ridiculous. Our world runs on PDFs now. Anyone with access to the internet deals with PDFs on a daily basis — for birth certificates, for medical records, for taxes, for literally every thing you need a document for. It’s a stupid joke — but also an absurd one.
Was there a time in my life that I didn’t know about PDFs? Yes. Before they existed. There was a world where none of us knew what a PDF was because they were not invented. But this show is not a time travel show and does not take place in 1990. And while we’re at it, who are those Gen X suburban moms on TV? Like, I’ve never seen anyone my age like the suburban moms of TV. It’s like a type that only exists in film and TV and somehow remains the same regardless of the people in the roles. Have these women ever existed? Are they just figments of the TV imagination? Like maybe since they’re not really real real people, they live in a world that has no PDFs — so this mythical suburban mom is not so weird. It’s like if a wood nymph asked what a PDF was. We’d have a lot to explain to her. Because she’s from another (fictional) world.
Maybe Middle Aged “Suburban Moms” are like that. When they show up on TV or in news stories, we can just think, “Oh those fictional characters again! Like a mermaid! You never know what they’re going to say!”
Do I know people who live in the suburbs? Sure. Are some of them moms? Yep. But no one is like this weird beige archetype. The Gen X moms I know are more like Pamela Aldon’s character in Better Things. Complicated. Cool. And they sure as hell know what a PDF is.
I’ve been thinking and talking about PDFs for days since I saw this episode of Younger. I know more about PDFs than I ever did before. I got nostalgic about the days when you had to update Adobe Reader seemingly every time you opened a PDF. I watched a very compelling story about the early days of PDFs. I learned some of the history. If someone asks me, “What’s a PDF?” They will not only get an incredulous face but also an earful. But then again, anyone who doesn’t know is probably something like a mermaid and it’s going to take a lot of explaining to get them up to speed. There’s this thing called a computer…
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Originally published at http://artiststruggle.wordpress.com on November 18, 2021.