5 Ways to Talk (Smart) Pop Culture on a Date

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When you write your online dating profile, or even your Facebook page, you have time to research, calibrate, and possibly even focus-group the movies, books, TV shows, and music you’ll list as your “favorites.” But we all know “favorites” are just where the Venn Diagrams of “stuff you know about” and “stuff people think is cool” overlap.

You might be in trouble, though, now that it’s time for a date, where you can’t Google your answers first — I’m pretty sure consulting Siri on your iPhone 4S in the middle of a potential romantic encounter is still bad form. And as someone who writes about pop culture for a living, I can tell you there’s more than one way to go wrong talking about the latest in entertainment with your date. And I don’t say that because I’m a snob who hates anyone who doesn’t know their Lana Del Rey from their Adele, nor because I’m a gossip-hound who constantly polices the state of Jennifer Aniston’s womb. I say it because I’ve been on dates with guys who held it against me that I deigned to own a TV, as well as guys who could spin a riveting conversation around the grand social implications of American Idol. Guess which ones eventually got to go home with me.

Here, some no-fail basics for seeming cool but not hipper-than-thou, smart but not snobby, and above all, from this general century:

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1. Get comfy with Slate’s Culture Gabfest podcast. This thing is the magic bullet. The smart people on this show embrace high and low — the more vapid the topic, in fact, the smarter they sound. I once went on an internet date with a guy who articulated a complex theory about the state of interpersonal relationships in America based on The Hills, Battlestar Gallactica, and reality TV as a whole. He did this, he later revealed to me, by listening to this podcast. He does not even own a television, but he didn’t make that a marker of his superiority. And, oh, yeah, we’re still together two years later. And he loves me all the more for my DVR capabilities.

2. Speaking of DVRs … use it if you’ve got it. Find out what the show is that everyone is talking about this second, and record every upcoming airing of it. If you consult your Twitter or Facebook feed, you’ll likely find a bunch of people talking about something quite passionately. This is likely that show. Lately, for example, it’s been all Downton Abbey all the time.

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3. Turn on MTV. This will give you a glimpse of something buzzy. Maybe the final gasps of Jersey Shore, which you can turn into a “How much longer can this be on?” rant. (Don’t worry, there’s no chance your date thinks it’s high culture, so you won’t offend anyone on this particular rant. No one you would go on a date with thinks this is high culture.) Maybe Teen Mom, an endless font of interesting socio-political discussion. Maybe a music video, even? Hey, anything’s possible.

4. Check out iTunes best-selling lists. Pick a genre your date seems into, whether it’s country or pop or indie, listen to some clips (or maybe buy a few whole songs!), then name-drop away at dinner.

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5. The easiest way to impress your date? Ask questions. This way, you barely have to know anything, and your date gets to go on and on about something he or she loves. Favorite all-time movie, last TV show DVDs you gorged on, last concert you went to, first concert you went to … all fair game that could lead to truly revealing conversations. After all, you’re not here to interview for a job at the High Fidelity record store — you’re here to get beyond her “All-Time Top 5 Underrated Reggae Bands” and hear about how her childhood love of Debbie Gibson inspired her to take up the guitar.