The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life's Biggest Questions

The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life's Biggest Questions

by Knox McCoy


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780785220848
Publisher: Nelson, Thomas, Inc.
Publication date: 11/13/2018
Pages: 240
Sales rank: 95,332
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.66(d)

About the Author

Knox McCoy loves laughing and making people laugh. Really anything that’s laughter-adjacent, he’s into. He’s also super into the word “swashbuckling” and his dream is to one day use it in a bio.

Knox began podcasting in 2011 as a way to talk more about popular culture, and to his extreme surprise, he’s still doing it every week on The Popcast with Knox and Jamie.

As a resident of the South, Knox’s heritage is to enjoy football and barbecue, and he does so with great passion. He also enjoys zombie movies, police procedurals, and a good Netflix binge.

Knox lives with his wife and three kids in Cleveland, Tennessee, where he works as a screenwriter and as the swashbuckling cofounder of The Popcast Media Group. (Dreams really can come true.)

Read an Excerpt


The First Time I Was Punched in the Face

The first time I got punched in the face was when I was ten years old, and it was by this real jerkface named Daniel. I don't know if that's the median age for face punching among white American kids, but that was when my number came up. Up to this point, my only experience with punching came from Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!! on Nintendo1 and action movies, most notably the Rocky movies.

You may not be familiar with Sylvester Stallone's Rocky franchise. In a nutshell, Rocky Balboa was a boxer from Philly who could definitely throw a punch, but his thing was that he could take a punch. Multiple punches. All the punches, even. In the first movie, Rocky fought the heavyweight world champ, Apollo Creed, to a split decision simply because he was preeminently punchable. Like Johnny Depp gains strength from playing weird characters or Taylor Swift grows more powerful from relationship complications, so too did Rocky gain strength from getting punched. As such, I assumed this would be the same for me.

To be completely honest, I should have seen it coming. Daniel and I went to school together, though we were never in the same class. He had been held back a year in school, as is often the way with bullies. Our rivalry was essentially about athletics, and this came into full focus on Field Day, which is basically Elementary School Olympics.

Anyway, on a random day in the fall, I was hanging out at my best friend Blake's house, and Daniel, who lived nearby, came over. This wasn't out of the ordinary; I was often over at Blake's house and I regularly crossed paths with Daniel. Despite a healthy subtext of dislike between the two of us, Daniel and I still played together because, frankly, it would have been weird not to.

I'm convinced this is where kids and adults diverge; if kids don't like each other, they just deal with it because they don't have any recourse and their world isn't that big yet. For adults though, the sky is the limit. You can turn mutual friends against that person, subtweet them via social media, or ignore them in the detergent aisle at Publix. But kids, man, they just deal.

So Blake and I were tossing around a football, and Daniel wanted in. We obliged because, why not? After all, if a tentative, unspoken peace can't be brokered over football, haven't the terrorists already won? Before I knew it, we were blissfully tossing the ole pigskin around. Just three red-blooded boys engaged in a highly chill game of catch.

Except soon, Daniel threw a variable into the mix by catching the ball from Blake but not throwing it to me.


(Exchange looks as if to say, "What's this guy's deal?")


(Throws the football in the air to himself, like a cat passive-aggressively playing with another cat's toy and begging for a confrontation.)


(Taking the bait)

Hey Daniel, super quick question: How about we keep this highly chill game of catch going and you resume tossing me the football?


(Thoughtful pause)

Nah. I don't think so.


(Exchange another look as if to say, "Can you believe this guy's deal right now?")


(Walks over to Daniel)

Dude, c'mon. Throw it to me or give it back to me so we can throw the ball.


(Thoughtfully considers these options as if he's a CPA considering property depreciation)

No, I don't think I want to do either of those things.


Okay then, here's the deal —

And right then, Daniel punched me in the nose, which is the second most annoying place to get punched. The nose is particularly annoying because it bleeds and your eyes water. So not only is there bloody evidence of you getting a beatdown, but it also looks like you have been brought to tears. It's the equivalent to getting a wedgie on your face — the attack itself is less painful than the humiliation.

To sum up: blood gushed out of my nose, Daniel ran off with our ball, our highly chill game of catch was over, and I realized I didn't take punches like Rocky took punches.

In retrospect I can say that this was the first significant conflict of my life, which I know makes me an incredibly privileged person. I accept that characterization with no protest.

Part of this delayed "trauma" is because I come from a privileged home situation and background. But also because, in terms of personality type, I was a pretty low-key kid. I eagerly avoided conflict and reprimand. Even now, I get stressed about something as dumb as walking into Target through the exit door because I assume a Red Shirt is going to swoop in and reprimand me for it. My default is simply to avoid conflict.

The exception has always been sports. In the arena of athletic contests, I transformed into a Tasmanian devil of jerky-ness. You take someone who is hypercompetitive, petty, and sensitive, then add a healthy dose of the male ego and, boy oh boy, do you have a potent gumbo of emotional instability on your hands.

But outside of sports, I was very reserved, and I remain so to this day. And to be honest, I don't mind this aspect of myself. But not so much after experiencing my first face punch.

I was stunned with the knowledge that a punch-taking Rocky Balboa I was not. But even more affecting was my response — or lack thereof. Daniel just walking away with my football and face-punching virginity and me taking no recourse was just not the narrative I had anticipated for myself. I'd assumed I would be like, if not Rocky, Arnold Schwarzenegger from the Terminator movies. I would have expected to handle the situation with Daniel like this:


There I am, shirtless, ripped, and wearing sunglasses despite it being night. Around me, trash cans billow with fire. Daniel refuses to throw me the football, so I activate my Terminator eye and confront him. He tries to sass me, then lands a punch, but it doesn't even hurt despite drawing a little blood.

I slowly wipe the blood from my nose with the back of my hand and say something awesome that sounds part hiss, part threat, and part Voltaire ...


No one makes me bleed my own blood.

... before counterpunching Daniel into infinity and retrieving the football as he flies into an endless vortex of regret for having ever stepped to me.

But I did none of these things. There was no infinity punching and there weren't even trash cans billowing with fire because that would have been so against the HOA of Blake's neighborhood.

As you can tell, getting punched in the face was a formative experience for me. As is getting hit with the revelation that expectation isn't reality. My expectation of how I would react to conflict had been influenced by pop culture; and, as I would find out, life didn't always go down like that.

Even at age ten, many aspects of my life — including my faith — showed the influence of pop culture. My first visualized manifestation of God was George Burns. Somehow, around age six, I came into contact with his performance as God in Oh, God!, and I internalized it. Why, I have no idea. But it stuck. He's still my default avatar for God to this day.

I can only imagine that by this same logic, there are generations of kids who, when they think about God, might visualize Morgan Freeman from Bruce Almighty or the disembodied face from Monty Python. If this is true, I'm very jealous of those kids. Specifically the Morgan-Freeman-as-God kids. My vision of God is a guy who is like a million years old and looks like he smells like the Great Depression. Their vision is the guy who narrated March of the Penguins and who helps Bruce Wayne gear up for awesome Batman missions. Advantage: not me.

Of course, if we consider the inverse of this idea, that also suggests there may be a generation of kids who think of Al Pacino in The Devil's Advocate as Satan. For me, seeing Al Pacino depict Beelzebub didn't really stick, mostly because I was fourteen when The Devil's Advocate came out in theaters. And because it was rated R, I totally did not watch it (wink) when it came to TV a few years later. But primarily, I'd already imagined Satan's physical essence as vaguely red, pitchforky, and low-key snarly.

This feels like a good spot to emphasize something important to know about me: I'm addicted to analogies. They're my go-to hack for making sense of the world. I just take the thing I don't understand and hold it up against things I do understand until I find some sort of clarity (thus God as George Burns).

But when you always need other examples to explain the immediate thing you're trying to understand, this has the potential for intellectual disaster.

In the movie Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, Will Ferrell's Ricky Bobby tries to prove that he is paralyzed by sticking a knife in his leg. He's trying (and failing) to show he can't feel the pain — and then the knife gets stuck. So Ricky Bobby uses another knife to try to unstick the first knife, but then that knife also gets stuck, compounding the problem. This is the same kind of problem I run into from time to time if the elements in my analogies don't completely land. If you don't fundamentally understand the first thing, your understanding of the second thing will always be compromised.

For example, in church I learned about a myriad of people in the Bible, but that didn't mean I understood them. I just had a name, an action, and every now and then their motivation. To me, they were all mostly flat characters. And though I was flatly earnest, this left me unable to grasp whatever spiritual application I was supposed to be taking from the story. That is, until I created real-world analogies using the lens I was most familiar with as a child: sports. It was then that these flat caricatures became round dynamos of complication and motivation.

God: ESPN. I know, I know. This is probably sacrilegious. So I'll give you a moment to unclutch your pearls. In my defense, when I was a kid, ESPN seemed omnipresent, covering all aspects of sports, and their roster of talking heads projected a sense of omniscience. Truly, ESPN was the alpha and omega of the sports world, and Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann were its prophets.

Jesus: Michael Jordan. This is definitely sacrilegious, especially given our unlayering of MJ's, shall we say, complicated history with vices, monogamy, and friendships. But consider the evidence:

• Like Jesus, Michael Jordan led a group of dedicated disciples: Scottie Pippen, B. J. Armstrong, John Paxson, Steve Kerr, and Luc Longley.

• Both were capable of miracles: Jesus walked on water, and MJ dunked from the free-throw line.

• Both confronted the authorities a lot: Jesus with the Sanhedrin and MJ with the refs.

• Both rose from the dead: Jesus after his crucifixion, and MJ resurrected his basketball career after spending a year swinging at — and missing — sliders.

Holy Spirit: Dick Vitale. Simply put, there was no one else in my life with as much spirited enthusiasm for sports. He was an early draft of the modern hype man caricature. I couldn't always understand the words he was saying, which reminded me of what I'd learned about Pentecost. "Dipsy doo dunkaroo" seems perfectly at home in the larger linguistic madness that was Pentecost.

Cain and Abel: Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan. Like Abel, Nancy Kerrigan had a better public persona offering for the American people. Like Cain, Tonya Harding was so enraged at her rival's success that she participated in a conspiracy to assault.

Moses: Kirby Puckett. Like Moses, Kirby Puckett was an unconventional hero. He was built like a pug but could run, and he had a penchant for clutchness in leading the Minnesota Twins to the promised land of World Series glory against my childhood team, the Atlanta Braves.

Judas: Hulk Hogan. I'm still not ready to discuss the night Hulk Hogan savagely betrayed Sting and Macho Man and joined New World Order, turning his back on all that was good about professional wrestling.

I'm aware this method was flawed in its oversimplification of many very complicated elements, but it did succeed in giving me a kind of shorthand in understanding the whole Christianity thing. I realize now that this impulse of using something secular to better understand the divine was the primordial soup from which my tendency to want to reconcile my experiences with my faith arose.

As a kid, I was told about these supreme beings and legendary biblical characters who were responsible for articulating all good and all evil. That's kind of a big deal, so of course I'd want to characterize them. Maybe God is more appropriately described as a benevolent animating force intertwined with all our souls, or as a literal flame in a bush from the Moses burning bush story. But, guys, kids can't really unfurl the tableau of God manifestations so good, so George Burns it was.

That's what I remember from my elementary school years: having ideas impressed upon me, not knowing how to handle their bigness, and filling in the blanks the best way I knew how. I made sense of the world using elements of popular culture because I could access them easily, and this felt like an inroad through the seeming inaccessibility of knowing who I was and what I believed and whether or not the formation of these identities could sustain all the punches that would invariably come my way.

Postscript to My First Punch in the Face


It's twenty-one years after the events of Knox's first face punch. He is alone in his office, dutifully working on serious paperwork. Imagine lots of paper clips and manila folders. And hole punchers too. You can't even believe how many manila folders and hole punchers there are.

Anyway, his phone DINGS, indicating a text message. He rubs his weary eyes and retrieves the phone from the corner of his desk, grateful for a distraction from the contents of all those manila folders I just told you about.

The text is from his mom.


Guess whose mugshot I just found?


(Knox texts back.)



Mom texts back just a screenshot of none other than Former Face-Puncher, Daniel. At once, Knox is thrust into a cyclone of emotions. He feels a twinge of empathy for the author of his first sucker punch, but also sadness at the passage of time and how it has the ability to neuter hope in all of us.

Another DING indicating another text message from his mom.


lol who saw that coming?


The Illusion of Pee-wee Herman

When I was eight, my uncle Tim told me the most revolutionary thing I'd heard up to that point. Granted, I was eight, so it's not like I'd heard of string theory or the theory that Katy Perry is really just grown-up JonBenét Ramsey. But still, what he told me was crazy even then. It was that Uncle Tim wasn't just Uncle Tim; he was also Pee-wee Herman. As in, Pee-wee from the Playhouse. Pee-wee of the Big Adventure.

This was mind-bending to say the least. Not just because Uncle Tim and Pee-wee Herman looked nothing alike, but because Pee-wee Herman was one of my first ride-ordie TV-show characters. I was in on the whole Pee-wee Herman vibe, worldview, and aesthetic. We're talking about a guy who had a live-in genie named Jambi who would grant him one wish per day. It would appear that Pee-wee Herman had life pretty well figured out. And then, all of a sudden, my uncle Tim was very casually revealing to me that I'm blood of Pee-wee?

The important thing to understand here is that at the time of this revelation, my uncle Tim was six foot four, 220 pounds, and a member of the US military. And he looked like he was a member of the military — not like one of those guys about whom you might wonder, Is he in the military or does he work at Build-A-Bear? I can't quite decide.

No, Uncle Tim looked like he could have been in the cast photo of G. I. Joe. Imagine a group of soldiers in army barracks getting rowdy around an arm-wrestling match. Any of the guys in your head right now probably looks like my uncle Tim.

Pee-wee Herman, in contrast to Uncle Tim, looked to be about five foot five and maybe 125 pounds soaking wet — like the kind of guy who counts soup as a meal and is always wistfully looking at the thermostat, wishing he could turn it up at least five degrees higher.

Eventually though, I learned the truth about this explosive claim. Uncle Tim wasn't Pee-wee Herman. He wasn't Tom or Jerry or Garfield or Slimer or any other of my favorite Saturday-morning cartoon characters. He was just Uncle Tim.


Excerpted from "The Wondering Years"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Knox McCoy.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction: On Introductions ix

1 The First Time I Was Punched in the Face 1

2 The Illusion of Pee-wee Herman 13

3 High Stakes 21

4 Knox McCoy, Canine Evangelist 35

5 The Value of Eating Shorts 45

6 Alex vs. Pat 55

7 The Can't-Miss Kid 65

8 The Seven Suspected Antichrists 79

9 The Sexy Car Wash 93

10 Harry Potter and the Prisoner of McCallie 101

11 Knox McCoy, Evangelist to the Stars 113

12 Knox McCoy, Evangelist to That Kid I Met on a Mission Trip 123

13 An Argument I Couldn't Refuse 135

14 The Heart Attack Provocateur 145

15 The Whiskey and the Bulldog 157

16 The Third Time I Was Punched in the Face 171

17 The Sidekick Corollary 181

18 The Cancer 197

Conclusion: On Conclusions 211

Acknowledgments 217

About the Author 221

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The Wondering Years: How Pop Culture Helped Me Answer Life's Biggest Questions 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 4 reviews.
JennGrand 27 days ago
Have you heard of the insanely popular podcast, "The Popcast with Knox and Jamie?" Well, one of the co-hosts wrote a book! And it's SOOO super fun! When you think about pop culture, things that come to mind are probably Netflix, reality TV, Justin Bieber and one of the 52 Kardashians. But what Knox says is that pop culture taught him about God. [Cue yourself saying, "whaaaaaaaaa?!"] Yep you read right!  And you'll want to read more, trust me. This book is amazing, and funny, and entertaining! It'll show you that pop culture isn't all bad, but one of the ways God shows us things about himself. Trust me, just read it!
QuietBookwormReads 4 months ago
It's rare that a book makes me snort with laughter, but this one did. It's the perfect combination of lighthearted stories and poignancy that make this book a delight. I so related to Knox's childhood stories of growing up in the Bible belt south, and I loved how he related his love of pop culture to faith in such a grace-filled way. This is an amazing book, and I loved it. Many thanks to the publisher for a complimentary copy; the views expressed are my own.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Thanks for the free book, BookLook Bloggers! I was curious about this one because I’m a fan of Knox McCoy from The Popcast and The Bible Binge but honestly... I am not “pop-cultures” enough to truly appreciate the art of this one. I was pretty sheltered as a kid and was a 90s baby so most of his references and stories and analogies went straight over my head sadly. That’s not to say this wasn’t well written, funny, or worth reading— it just wasn’t one I personally could connect with! If you’re a movie buff or a little older than I am or you looooove all things pop culture and find them interesting points of references for bigger questions of humanity, life, and faith, you will LOVE this one. I’m so glad he wrote it, especially for those people, and I can’t wait to pass this on to a friend who I know loves this stuff.
Anonymous 6 months ago