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What Are Records?

"For those of you under the age of 21, it's basically a big CD, okay?"
Craig Shoemaker

An adult digs up their old record collection out of the attic and their kid asks what they are. The parent nostalgically names all the singers of their day whose works have been put to their vinyl discs. Then the kids says, "No, I mean, what are records?" Followup with the parent saying, "I was going to say these made me feel young again."

A subtrope of Technology Marches On, initially fueled by the novelty of the notion that a format of media could actually become obsolete. It bears mentioning that it started cropping up in fiction before 1990, and the characters unfamiliar with records were full-grown adults, meaning that in its earliest form the trope ran on shameless hyperbole. Even in the 21st century, though, its realism is dubious. Most young people do indeed know what a vinyl record is (from more recent media depictions if nothing else), even if they never listened to or owned one themselves and don't know whether a "seven inch" was an album or a single, or whether 45 rpm came before or after 33 1/3. Modern DJs still use them, for instance, and their appearance in pop culture is almost ubiquitous. They've also been undergoing a resurgence of popularity among audiophiles, hipsters and indie music fans (and even some teenagers), thanks to their retro appeal and their exemption from the abuses of the Loudness War. It remains to be seen if their recent semi-popularity will show up on TV any time soon (in any case, there are quite a few records in the Starcraft series, which takes place in the 26th century), but it's enough to make this a Discredited Trope.

This trope can also be used for 8-track tapes of course (arguably more understandable, since many people know of 8-track but don't know what the actual cartridge looks like). Expect it to be applied to audio cassettes any time now, VHS in about five years, and to CDs in 10-15 years or so, possibly taking the whole notion of going into a store and buying a physical object with recorded music on it into the history books (well, online files if books are also obsolete) with them. Basically, what Before My Time is to cult references, this trope is to technology.

Not to be confused with David Wilcox's record label.

Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Advertising 
  • This 1984 ad for Atari word processor software features a variation of this. Pitchman Alan Alda extols the program's then-astounding features to a little girl, then states, "Atari may make the typewriter obsolete." "What's a typewriter?" the kid asks in response.
  • In a current ad for a contraceptive, a little boy is shown standing on his parents' record collection which he scattered on the floor, and his plastic dinosaur is going round and round on the record player. Why his parents have a turntable in this day and age is left as an open question.
    • Depending on the parents' age, it could simply be an old LP collection, which pretty much anyone who was a teenager before the 1980s might have had. Most modern-made turntables are sold just so Baby Boomers still have something to play these on.

    Anime & Manga 
  • In one episode of Cowboy Bebop, Spike and Jet receive a Betamax tape for Faye in the mail. They are initially stumped as to what it is. And even when they are told to find a VCR to play it, they go through the ruins of Tokyo to find the electronics museum and return with one for VHS. It's particularly funny that Ed, who is younger than either Jet or Spike, knew what it was. Then again, Ed is a Gadgeteer Genius and Playful Hacker.

    Comics 
  • The comic strip FoxTrot did this once. In fact, the example in the trope description exactly matches the dialogue of the strip in question. Also seen in Zits, Blondie, and Dennis The Menace (US).
  • Related: A My Cage strip involved Norm getting weird looks for having a portable CD player with him at the gym instead of an MP3 player.
  • Opus in Bloom County took it to a large extreme, where a person wearing a brown outfit seemed to be completely unfamiliar with what a newspaper was, even when Opus tried explaining what it was three times when selling the Bloom County local newspaper. The guy, when Opus could give the simplest explanation he could give (paper), also mentions that it "feels like kleenex."
  • One The Born Loser strip dared to take this trope to the next level:
    Brutus: To put it in terms you'll relate to, it's like an oversized CD!
    Wilberforce: What's a CD?
  • This old Peanuts strip would be a Double Subversion of this trope had it existed then.
  • A series in Crankshaft revolved around Ed trying to replace his copy of Rhapsody in Blue. The clerk at the store, who is at least in her 20s, had never heard of a record before. This was in 1988.
  • Garfield's nightmare of being old materializes as him being old enough to remember records.

    Fan Fics 
  • Inverted in Anthropology. When Lyra is shown some music CD's, she doesn't know what they are, as in Equestria they only have vinyl records. Audrey's father points out how unusual it is for a teenager.

    Films — Live Action 
  • In Honey We Shrunk Ourselves (a straight-to-video sequel to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids), Wayne Szalinski describes the gramophone to his son as "an early record player". He then has to clarify that the record player was "an early CD player".
  • Inverted in the first Austin Powers film, when Powers attempts to play a CD on a portable turntable. An early script of the second film had Felicity doing the same thing at the very end.
  • In She Devil Mary comes home to the young girl dancing with the butler to a record. She throws the turntable off the shelf and takes control of her home. Even in 1989, turntables would have been replaced, especially in a rich ladies house.
  • There's a sort of inversion in Wayne's World 2 (1993): Cassandra predicts a gloomier future for vinyl than what actually happened. She says vinyl will soon stop being manufactured and as a result her band's album will never be issued in the format. Vinyl took a hit in the early 90s, with CDs having overtaken the market share from cassettes, which themselves limped on for a few more years, but she was still off the mark. Her remark about her album might have been less so, however, as it may well not have been issued on vinyl at the time for the reasons stated and may not have enjoyed enough enduring popularity to justify a vinyl run in the future.

    Live Action TV 
  • Tower Prep showed where this trend might be going. When they find a record, CJ and Suki ask what it is. Gabe responds that "it's kind of like a hard copy of a MP3." Never once were CD's mentioned, showing that CD's might quickly become the new records.
  • Used in My Family.
  • In an episode of Home Improvement, Jill offers the boys "her old 45s" for a party, to which one of them responds; "You're giving us guns?"
    • In another episode: Brad calls a record player a "machine that plays the black round things that spin", Tim corrects him and later Mark tells Tim that he read about record players in his history class.
  • An early example: Married... with Children. When Kelly asks "What's a record?" Bud's response is, "For you? The second date."
  • Cliff Huxtable in The Cosby Show does a variation on this. Cliff has a huge collection of old jazz records that he keeps in his basement as a form of "offspring repellant". If the kids come down there, he invites them to listen to his jazz records. They always refuse and run away.
  • Inverted in an episode of House where a man has just awoken from a vegetative state after ten years and asks what an "Ip-odd" is.
  • In My Wife and Kids the children are genuinely stunned and amazed that Micheal was able to turn on the TV by pressing buttons on it rather than use the remote. Even asking how he did it.
  • One episode of The Colbert Report had Stephen interviewing an NYU art-history major. The conversation went something like this:
    Stephen: Ted Nugent has condemned your generation as lazy and apathetic. Your response?
    NYU Major: Who's Ted Nugent?
    Stephen: Well, uh, he made a bunch of hit records in the 70s.
    NYU Major: What's a record?
    Stephen: Okay, uh, it's the way we used to buy music.
    NYU Major: Buy music!?
    • In another episode, he explains that "for you young, hip kids", a gramophone was a type of record player, which is like a CD player, which is like an iPod, which, "for you young, extremely hip kids", is kind of like a record player.
  • Doctor Who pulls it quite often in the new series, as most people born sometime in the '80s or later have little to no frame of reference for Police Boxes (other than from the cultural impact of Doctor Who); improved communications technology, such as personal radios for police officers and the wider availability of home telephones note  and the shift away from foot patrols made them largely redundant.
  • The week of Valentine's Day in 2012 had an 80s themed week for the UK Deal or No Deal. It featured an interesting twist involving a cassette necklace. According to Noel Edmonds, this could have been a problem to younger viewers who wouldn't know what cassettes were.
  • In an episode of Veronica Mars that aired in 2006, Veronica expresses surprise that "they still make vinyl". Piz tells her that they still put out dance music on vinyl, but being a record collector, he should know that vinyl was and is more extensive than that. In a previous episode he was seen with a copy of London Calling by The Clash, which he said was unscratched and cost him 99c, which implies it's an original pressing, but the cover is a little too pristine not to be new, which means the writers didn't have an excuse for their ignorance either.
  • This comes up in the episode "Purple Panther, Part 1" on LazyTown when the kids start a LazyTown Museum. Stingy brings in the mayor's old record player that he found lying around and none of the kids have any idea what it is, asking where you put the CD or connect the USB.
  • In The Sarah Jane Adventures Sarah Jane's old editor tells her kids he still uses a typewriter. Sky's response is an innocent "What's a typewriter?" Justified because Sky is technically only a few months old.

    Music 
  • Steve Albini, musician and producer (or "recording engineer" as he prefers to be credited, if at all) of many, many obscure and semi-obscure albums, as well as better known albums by Nirvana, PJ Harvey, Bush and Cheap Trick, declared an inversion in the liner notes of the CD version of his own band Big Black's album Songs About Fucking: "The future belongs to analog loyalists. Fuck digital". He later re-iterated his vague, non-committal stance on the issue, releasing two Big Black EPs on a single CD which he titled The Rich Man's 8-Track Tape.
  • "The Vinyl Countdown" by Relient K is a song lamenting how kids these days don't know what records are. Naturally, it was a vinyl-exclusive single.

    Theater 
  • Invoked in Car Talk: The Musical, in the form of a joke designed to fly right by anyone under 40. A man is lamenting that, at age 45, he's too young to have a heart attack. His boss tells him, "Hey, 45 is the new 78." Anyone in the audience who laughs has gray hair.

    Video Games 
  • Fallout 3 - Three Dog says "I'm your friendly neighborhood disc jockey. What's a disc? Hell if I know, but I'm gonna keep talking anyway." But Fallout is very Zeerust, so records were not replaced with tapes, CDs, and MP3s, but with giant square cassette tapes the size of 45s.

    Webcomics 

    Web Animation 

    Web Original 
  • "Generational Divide", courtesy of 5 Second Films.
  • In Chargesdotcomdotbr, a character nicknamed "Fimose" wanted to be a DJ and bought a record player (or a big black CD like a friend of his called records) and played it like it was a guitar.
  • The Nostalgia Chick explains books in this fashion.
  • Todd in the Shadows takes this line of reasoning with his review of Maroon 5's "Payphone".
  • Played straight in an episode of "The Marshmallow Money Show" (a now-defunct online Flash series that was on the old Cartoon Network website), when one character notes that record stores nowadays only sell CDs and tapes, yet are still called "record stores", to which another character quickly responds "What's a record?"
  • Happens with The Creatures in one of their game nights. While playing a video game version of Family Feud, one of the questions was "Name something someone would plug in." Nova enters "VCR" and is annoyed when he receives zero points for that answer, claiming that people still own VCR's even if they're not popular anymore.
  • This BuzzFeed video explains the concept of VHS and brick-and-mortar video stores in a way that assumes that today's kids only know about Netflix and other streaming services.
  • The Spoony Experiment occasionally reviews old computer games, prompting Spoony to explain to the youngsters what floppy disks were.

    Western Animation 
  • One of the earliest uses of this trope was an episode of Garfield and Friends entitled "The Record Breakers," : Jon was trying to impress a potential date with his record collection but lacked a record player to actually play them with (due to Garfield and Odie inadvertently breaking it). She didn't know what records were; unfortunately, neither did the clerk at the electronics store. The antiques dealer needed a hint. Note: Said dealer was an old man who was a kid the last time he listened to a record and he only listened because his grandfather introduced him to them.
    • A similar situation occurred when Jon went to buy a new wastebasket and tried to pay with cash (he'd cut up all his credit cards after Garfield had abused them one time too many). The clerk had no idea what paper money was... and, as it turns out, no one would accept cash as legal tender (even the police had to take the money to a lab to verify that it was, in fact, money). Blatantly obvious Artistic License - Economics in service of Rule of Funny.
  • Used in All Grown Up!, with Suzie Carmichael.
  • Inverted by Mayor on The Powerpuff Girls, who tries to play a CD on an old-fashioned record player (and proceeds to mistake the horrible scratching noises that ensue for "techno music").
  • Played straight in the Arthur episode "Francine Frensky, Superstar". (Note: This was one of the earliest episodes of the show, the second season of a program that is in its eighteenth season as of late 2013 and shows no sign of stopping.) The kids shot blank looks at Mr. Ratburn when he talked about Thomas Edison's invention, the phonograph, and prompted the following exhcange:
    Ratburn: It played music, with a needle.
    Binky: Is this some kind of a joke?
    • This may explain why in the later episode "Popular Girls" (Season 3), during a spring break day camp, one group of Arthur's classmates brings in vintage/antique things, and when Jenna demonstrates a record player, the kids all "Oooh" in awe.
  • Used liberally in Futurama pretty much anytime old technology is mentioned or found.
    Professor Farnsworth: Show us this... "The Wheel".
  • Not records, but in the same spirit of the trope: An episode of Batman Beyond has Terry going to the home of a Science Fiction writer, and finding a typewriter. He pokes at it and asks, "What is this? Some kind of word processor?"
  • One episode of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (1987) had the Turtles take cover behind a stack of boxes. Raphael looks into the boxes and the following conversation takes place:
    Raphael: Donatello, what are these?
    Donatello: They're records. They're what people used to listen to before they had compact discs.
    Michaelangelo: Whoa! Someone really burned these pizzas!
  • In Kim Possible, the grandmother gave Kim's younger brothers a collection of vinyl records. This was played with: they knew what the records were, and were excited to receive them.
    First twin: Wow, vinyl records! The legends were true!
    Second twin: C'mon, let's burn them into MP3s!
  • Both played straight and subverted in Ed, Edd n Eddy. In one episode: The Eds are rummaging through Eddy's attic, Ed finds a 7-inch 45rpm record and says: "I found a doughnut!" Eddy corrects him and says: "That's a record."
    • Also subverted with Eddy having a turntable in his bedroom and is frequently seen playing records.
    • Then again, this could just as easily be an aversion, as Ed Edd n Eddy isn't really set in a particular time period.
    • And regardless, it's justified by Ed being The Ditz Cloud Cuckoolander. His knowledge of everything is a bit... off.
  • In the King of the Hill episode "Just Another Manic-Kahn Day", Bobby and Joseph find a box of Hank's old record albums. Bobby knows what they are but Joseph picks up a record and says: "The computer these things go into must be huge!"
  • In an episode of The Cleveland Show, Cleveland takes Rallo to a record store ("it's where insufferable people come to find obscure music no one likes") and Rallo asks "where do they keep the MP3s?" Cleveland tells him that records have a warm sound you can't reproduce digitally, then puts on a hissing, skipping record. "Takes me back".
  • Family Guy: Brian tries to impress a girl in a club.
    Brian: You know, I wrote a book.
    Girl: What's that?
    Brian: It's like a really long magazine.
    Girl: What?
    Brian: It's like the internet made out of a tree.
    Girl: Weird...
  • Teen Titans Go! has Cyborg tell the other Titans they couldn't program a VCR...and being the Teen Titans, none of them have any idea what a VCR is.

    Real Life 
  • Frank Zappa was once the victim of an inversion of this trope. During a legal battle for payment for some music he composed and conducted in Britain, the judge asked what a "record" was. As noted in our article on British Courts, however, this was probably intentional on the part of the judge. British judges — particularly old-school ones — generally presume ignorance on the part of everyone in court, and ask questions like "what is a record?" just in case a member of the jury or someone reading the court transcripts later on does not know what a record is. The judge most likely knew exactly what a record was and probably had a collection of them at home.
    • Considering British lawyers can, when pressed, turn to court decisions from the age of Richard I to boster their case, the judge's actions were very much justified.
  • At a certain (non-secret) base in the US there is a room that can only be entered by using the phone on the outside of the room to call the people inside of the room to come and open the door. The phone on the outside of the room is a rotary phone and there have been cases where the new, younger people don't know how to operate the phone.
    • One has to wonder what the purpose of dialing is if you'll only ever use it to call the other side to open the door. Perhaps they installed it before the invention of the spoken passphrase.
      • It may have been installed back when the only thing the phone company would allow you to attach to their phone lines was one of their telephones. Of which there were two varieties: the kind that hangs on the wall, and the kind that sits on a table. It was a regular phone, connected to the regular phone system, with the extension for calling inside the room written on the phone. The purpose was to tell someone inside the room to look at the security camera then come answer the door.
  • This trope is cited by Hasbro as the reason we'll probably never get a toy of Soundwave that turns into a cassette player ever again. On the other hand, Classics Hound came with Ravage in what was alternatively referred to as "Capture Mode" or "Cassette Mode", hinting that things could still go one way or the other.
    • Double subverted by various toys first revealed in mid-2012. Soundwave's finally a tape player again, but only in the form of a high-end, collector-oriented "Masterpiece" toy — the upcoming kid-oriented Soundwave toy is based on his armored car form from Transformers: Fall of Cybertron.
  • This video shows the children of a mother who grew up in the '80s attempt to use technology from that era. At one point, they're shown having trouble figuring out how to control games on the Atari 2600 despite it only having a joystick and one button. For contrast, this video shows kids trying out a Commodore 64 with considerably more success and appreciation (once they get past the Loads and Loads of Loading, at least).
    • It's actually a Commodore Plus/4.
  • A 13-year-old boy finds his dad's Sony Walkman. It took him, in his own words, three days to realize that he could take the casette out, put it in backwards, and get a completely different playlist.
  • It is a measure of Neil Young's continued appeal to people of every age on the spectrum that a fan who was twenty-one years old could and did ask "What's an LP?" on a Neil Young mailing list in 2001.

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