Elizabeth Nolan Brown // Blog

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Diavlog: Conor & Elizabeth

I recorded a bloggingheads segment Monday with Conor Friedersdorf for his channel on bloggingheads.tv. I guess you call this “vlogging.” I have been vehemently opposed to vlogging (ask Rachel Steinberg) since 2006, because no one looks good in web-cam close-up. Also because a lot of bloggers are better writers than talkers, including me. But I talked to Conor for nearly an hour, about: men’s role in feminism, Hugo Schwyzer, James Poulos, women’s ‘privileged relationship’ to the natural world, subsidizing birth control, vasectomies, my partisan political apathy, Gary Johnson, what’s new in eating disorders, David Brooks, Phoebe Maltz-Bovy, ‘elites’ behaving like traditionalists, goat cheese and arugula, old-fashioned cocktails, Portland bartenders migrating to Los Angeles, the farmer’s markets of Indiana, D.C. media culture and the things you’re supposed to say on the Internet.

Anyway, here’s the test clip I sent Conor & my very first test vlogging attempt:

I swear I get a little better.

You can check out the whole thing here.


Written by ENB

February 29, 2012 at 8:10 am

‘Tain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do

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I have probably written about Rihanna more than any other celebrity. Mostly because I don’t generally write about celebrities (though I also seem to write about Leann Rimes quite often …). But also because Rihanna’s whole weird S&M-princess-meets-Tammy-Wynette-thing fascinates me.

Last week on Blisstree I wrote about how Rihanna and ex-boyfriend, abuser and musical collaborator Chris Brown both grew up witnessing domestic violence. Rihanna’s dad abused her mother, and Brown’s stepdad abused his mother. I think that’s important to any musings on what’s up there. Also:

I think Amanda Dobbins at Vulture nails it here, with “The Argument You’re Having With Yourself About Rihanna and Chris Brown;” it’s also a nice summary of the argument the Internet is having about Rihanna and Chris Brown. Clearly, the publicity is good for both their albums (Perez Hilton’s post about it was pretty accurately titled “Rihanna & Chris Brown mind-fuck the world”). And who are we to say … yada yada yada. But in the end, what it keeps coming back to is: Maybe Rihanna is in an abusive relationship. Maybe Rihanna is ‘a very famous, very rich, very talented 24-year-old in an abusive relationship.’

So, that. Or maybe she’s not, you know? This is a woman who’s recorded songs about abusive relationships and whips and chains and talked about being sexually submissive in Rolling Stone magazine. In short: She’s no shrining violet.

Which is what makes this whole Rihanna and Chris Brown narrative so puzzling. When we saw pop divas of previous generations stay with men who abused them, the women were usually somehow dependent on their abusers. Think Tina Turner. Or even Whitney Houston. (Yes, she was already famous by the time she married Bobby Brown, but drugs are another kind of dependency—or, enabling someone can make them dependent on you). Rihanna, however … She’s the bigger celebrity. She’s in no way dependent on Chris Brown. And she seems to have her shit together. She seems to have her shit together and she chooses to work or be with a man who nearly killed her. And she’s kind of defiantly proud about that.

A few days ago, I read about how she tweeted a line from her 2009 song “Hard” in the midst of all the ‘open letter to Rihannaetc. etc. etc. hoopla and the rumors about her and Brown’s upcoming collaboration.

They can say whatever, Ima do whatever…No pain is forever<—–YUP! YOU KNOW THIS

The first thing I thought of was “Tain’t Nobody’s Biz-ness if I Do,” the early female blues standard written by  Porter Grainger and most associated with Bessie Smith, who recorded the song in 1923 (it was also recorded by Billie Holiday and bunches of others). Here are a few lines:

Well, I’d rather my man would hit me / Than follow him to jump up and quit me / Ain’t nobody’s business if I do

I swear, I won’t call no copper / If I’m beat up by my papa / Ain’t nobody’s business if I do

A long time ago I wrote a paper I’ve long-since lost about early female blues singers. It turned me on to folks like Bessie Smith, Trixie Smith, Lucille Bogan and Ma Rainy. Pandora has since turned me on to many others. If you haven’t heard much classic female blues, you will probably be surprised by how dirty! it can get. Bogan in particular—whew. There’s also a wonderful playfulness, though, and an awesomely feminist bent. They challenged prevailing gender roles and ideas about sexuality and femininity. Rainy—billed ‘the Mother of the Blues’—was married to a man but slept with women. Here’s Rainy’s “Prove It On Me”:

I went out last night with a crowd of my friends,
It must’ve been women, ‘cause I don’t like no men.
Wear my clothes just like a fan
Talk to the gals just like any old man

Cause they say I do it, ain’t nobody caught me
Sure got to prove it on me.

Lesbians were fairly common on the classic blues circuit. Mike Rugan’s ‘Uncensored History of the Blues’ blog introduced me to Bogan’s B.D. Woman’s Blues (She recorded it under the name Bessie Jackson). B.D. stood for bull dyke (or bull dagger).

Comin’ a time, B.D. women they ain’t going to need no men
Comin’ a time, B.D. women they ain’t going to need no men
Cause they way treat us is a lowdown dirty sin

B.D. women, you sure can’t understand
B.D. women, you sure can’t understand
They got a head like a sweet angel and they walk just like a natural

And, just for fun, here’s “Shave ‘Em Dry,” a song recorded in 1935 by Bogan:

I got nipples on my titties
Big as the end of my thumb
I got somethin between my legs
That’ll make a dead-man come

So—lots of sex. Lots of lesbians. Also lots of honesty about what it was like to be a black woman at the beginning of last century. Some of the songs are camp. Some of the songs are heartbreaking. And “Tain’t Nobody’s Business” wasn’t the only song defending or celebrating an abusive lover. Not only was early female blues full of lesbians, it was full of women “repeatedly left, beaten, cheated on, and ignored, only to forgive their lover because of his sexual prowess. Here’s Trixie Smith’s “You’ve Got to Beat Me to Keep Me” (also written by Porter Grainger; clearly dude has some issues):

You’ve got to beat me to keep me, cause mama loves a hard boiled man
So don’t you let no man cheat me, if he’s got a good right hand.
Beat me up for breakfast, knock me down for tea,
Black my eye for supper, then you’re pleasing me.
You’ve got to beat me to keep me, cause mama loves a hard boiled man.

Here’s Ma Rainey’s “Sweet Rough Man:”

I woke up this mornin’, my head as sore as a boil
My man beat me last night with five feet of copper coil

… But the way he loves me, makes me soon forget

There are tons of fascinating things about early blues ladies I want to ramble on about, but! that is not the point here. The point is about Rihanna: She’s certainly not the first female singer to defend being with someone who beats her. She’s just the first in a while.

The point is also agency: They were reclaiming it.

So is Rihanna making a feminist statement in flaunting her friendliness with Chris Brown? I certainly wouldn’t be the first to point out that by being so publicly congenial to Brown, by defining the terms of their relationship, she could be trying to reclaim agency, to set herself up as not-a-victim, to show she was not afraid of him.

I also wouldn’t be the first to point out that no one’s sure whether they are friends, lovers or trying to stir up a lot of publicity for their new songs.

But Rihanna isn’t just friendly to Chris Brown. She doesn’t just project forgiveness. After (reluctantly) leaving Brown, she puts out a hot violent sex song with Eminem. She puts out her own song called “S&M.” She says things like:

“Sometimes whips and chains can be overly planned – you gotta stop, get the whip from the drawer downstairs. . . . I’d rather have him use his hands.”

Clearly she gets some level of enjoyment from being roughed up and being submissive.

… And she’s, like, not afraid to talk about it? Which is … cool. But also not cool because rough sex shouldn’t really have anything to do with actual violence, and people get easily confused.

But it doesn’t really matter. She’s not asking us to like her decisions—she’s just kind of making us acknowledge that she is making decisions. For personal or professional or whatever reasons, she is choosing what she’s choosing, and she believes in these choices. She believes that making them doesn’t disempower her.

Cause it ain’t nobody’s business if we do

And maybe that’s right. If we believe women are fully-autonomous people and all of that—well, we have to respect the choices they make, even when we don’t agree with them. Which doesn’t meant we can’t talk about them. If you collaborate with an ex who nearly killed you on two songs released the same day, you have made the discussion part of the pop culture public domain. And I do think issues like this are instructive. On the one hand, it’s pop gossip. On the other hand, the stories we tell about celebrities both reflect and resonate with the society who tells them. They become allegories. Rihanna and Chris Brown have no reasonable expectation of bloggers, entertainment TV hosts and kids on Twitter not talking about them. But!—

Maybe “not blaming the victim” isn’t the point. Maybe the best way to not take away a woman like Rihanna’s agency is to blame her fully—to acknowledge/accept that she has reasons for making the choices she’s making and doesn’t care if we approve or understand.

Just some thoughts …

Written by ENB

February 26, 2012 at 10:16 am

Traveling Light

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About two years ago, I took Amtrak from New York City to Pittsburgh (Cleveland was the ultimate destination, but we ran into a blizzard) with a dozen other Brooklyn kids to film a semi-improvised, open-ended ‘train film.’ A friend, Gina Telaroli, conceived of and directed the project, which came to be titled Traveling Light.

Anyway, the finished product—Gina calls it “a video essay celebrating cinema on the railroad tracks”—got some nice words from folks writing year-end film reviews. On film site Notebook, David Phelps calls Traveling Light “a type of found object” and writes:

 … what starts off as plain-air documentary comes quietly to seem like a closed movie set in which the inhabitants are subjected to shifting red flares and matted Midwest, magic lantern backdrops. Instead of pinning down space, the long takes can defy it—the constants, determining the movie’s own space and screen, are unseen windows—in the train’s endless trackback.

And on Moving Image Source, critic B. Kite says:

I think they put cameras in everything now. And that gives a lot of the newer durational work a kind of floating anxiety, a need to justify its existence, which usually finds expression in either a sense of intense strain (grandiose images composed unto death) or, at the opposite extreme, those soggy, shapeless lumps of space-time I’ve come to call “video bloat.” So how unexpected and cool to come across Gina Telaroli’s Traveling Light, a feature that demonstrates neither the hyper-consciousness of the first camp nor the apparent unconsciousness of the latter but instead maintains a remarkably composed comfort in its rhythms and objects of attention. A train trip from New York to Pittsburgh under brown mid-winter skies, past tract houses, snow scabs, and those deeply unmysterious piles of concrete somethings that always seem to crop up in the blank, functional spaces of America. It’s hard to say whether the hanging melancholy is a state of mind or just an expression of the weather, but it rests at the center of the film and exerts a steady sweet-sad pull until the trip finally comes to terminus in one of the loveliest shots I’ve seen in digital.

So, yay. Gina shoots lovely things, and deserves the attention. Besides which, I have her to thank for finally getting to visit Pittsburgh. In 5 feet of snow. With no means of escape. For two days. Oh, and inspiring the amazing Whirlwind Cross-Country Amtrak Adventure! that consumed the first few months of my 2011 …

Photo: Ian Westcott

Written by ENB

January 10, 2012 at 3:43 pm

Curio: 10/18/2012 (Rambling Media Criticism + Amateur Porn Edition)

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Last week at Blisstree, I posted about how birth control is once again making headlines for making women choose the “wrong” men—which is one of those strange media narrative perversions that happens so often and goes so unremarked on in general that it makes me hate being a journalist [the number of things in the media climate that make me hate being a journalist grow and grow …].

Scientific American blogger Scicurious, a biomedical researcher, is also sketched out by the way media, in general, cover studies relating to birth control: “There seems almost to be glee in the way people spread it.” Though the post seems to mis-peg Jezebel blogger Margaret Hartmann as totally earnest), what Scicurious gets at (and I also find most unfortunate) is that this type of melodramatic coverage is either taken as right on face, or taken as so absurd that the research it’s based on is also taken as absurd. Any valid, potentially interesting parts of the research get obscured. While I’m more inclined to think of this as an institutionally-encouraged problem, rather than rampant stupidity or laziness on the part of individual journalists, I’m not sure—nor of the extent to which this kind of coverage is exasperated by the nature of web media. IN other words, I get terribly existentialist about blogging. (Also: How is there any meaningful difference between blogging and daily web news journalism?)

[Why are we such a mess, that’s what I’m trying to say here, folks. In so much of what I write about, I’m tempted to conclude: We are all Doomed. Other commentary often fails me, but We are all Doomed applies so nicely to so much of the health, food and political news I read.)

Well anyway: Here’s a really terribly funny and also ENTIRELY ABSURD television news segment and accompanying article about a couple who turn to amateur web porn to provide for their young daughter. This is what the cognitive dissonance required to cover this couple’s porn as somehow titillating and deviant while simultaneously trying to frame them as average, upright American parents ends up looking like, I guess:

Hair pulling, biting and ordering each other around are just some of the strangest things the couple said people have asked them to do during their live sessions. It’s all filmed in their bedroom while their daughter sleeps in a different part of the house.

Written by ENB

October 18, 2011 at 8:19 pm

Scattered Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street’s ‘Media Problem’

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Here is what I’ve been reading about Occupy Wall Street. Here are my few observations:

1. There is no meaningful sartorial difference these days between “hippies” and “hipsters.” Just so we’re all clear on that.

2. Most of the people quoted are ridiculous. It almost seems the media coverage is tailor-made to make us hate them, but unfortunately I think the most plausible answer—rather than widespread media conspiracy—is that this is how the majority of these people really are and sound. To speak like a cowboy or a politician for a moment: Let’s call a spade a spade, okay?

2.5 What is funny is that, were this a conservative protest, all parties involved—its participants, its mercenaries, its political cheerleaders—would have the Lamestream Liberal Media to blame, to explain away how uninformed its participants come across. Mainstream liberals can’t really avail themselves of that excuse.

2.51 They could, of course, make a point about how most media is owned by corporations who have a vested interest in preserving the status quo, or the natural biases of reporters and bloggers at traditional (and by that, I mean anything outside the super-lefty indie press) media outlets, even those like Mother Jones and NPR. I find these arguments unconvincing, but they could be made …

2.52 In fact, I feel like a lot of people in the press are going out of their way to *try* and find some coherence, some meaning in all of this.

2.54  It is of course impossible for me or you (providing you are not there) to know whether media outlets really are cherry-picking quotes and protestors to paint a certain narrative picture. If anything, I find it likely that reporters’ natural biases run more against anyone appearing to be a dreaded Hipster (hippie) than anyone appearing to have a legitimate complaint with United States power structures. If there’s one thing we all hate more than Wall Street bankers, or at least that The Media hates more, it’s hipsters. The second more likely bias would be the Bias of the Narrative (in general), I think.

2.55 Luckily, there is a lot of ‘citizen media’ available these days. A cursory glance of said citizen media does not reveal a significantly different narrative than that being reported by corporate reporters.

3. Panning the inane or misguided complaints of uninformed protestors is not the same as rejecting the very premise that there are legitimate complaints to be made about some of the issues they’re allegedly protesting. It is not to say there are no smart, informed people there. It is not to say that even the not-smart, not-informed people there don’t possibly have legitimate reasons for anger. For the record.

4. As much as my 12-year-old heart desired to go back in time and be an establishment-protesting hippie with flowers in my hair, I would have sucked at it. I could have worn those flowers damn well, though.

5. The Occupy Wall Street protestors do not sound any more misguided, insipid, etc., than your average Tea Partier. Their contempts and complaints and scapegoats are vastly different, sure, but no more or less reactionary or vacuous, and certainly no more or less coherent. But—and I am really taking a page from my boyfriend’s blog here on this one, but one of his favorite complaints rings quite true to me here—whereas many not-insipid liberals have criticized these Occupy Wall Street protestors, have in fact publicly cringed at their Greatest Hits of Liberal Demands, their incoherant babbling, their hypocrisy — whoa to the few not-insipid conservatives who did the same with tea partiers! No matter how vacous, rascist, whatever tea partiers sounded, a lot of mainstream conservatives lept to their defense. Maybe not to defend every indinvidual thing they said—some of it needed to be cleaned up a little bit for media consumption, some swept under the proverbial rug. But still, conservative leaders were enthusiastic about framing this as part of a larger story about citizens fed up, citizen uprising, etc. Liberals are not clamoring to do the same with the Occupy Wall Street kids. You can say one is the more desirable position for party mainstreams to take—I could make a case for either position, which means I will not make a case for either. But I think the difference is marked.

Written by ENB

September 28, 2011 at 9:36 am

Problems With Health Journalism

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I’ve been accumulating personal and secondhand data for some sort of story on gendered mental disorder diagnoses, so it’s with particular annoyance that I come across this PsychCentral article, “Prevalence of Mental Disorders Vary by Gender.’ The authors note, in the second paragraph, that “researchers discovered women are more likely to be diagnosed with anxiety or depression, while men tend toward substance abuse or antisocial disorders.” Yet if the authors realize that the prevalence of this disorder or another is not the same as those “diagnosed with” said disorder, they fail to make the distinction in the headline or the rest of the article.

The ways adult hyperactive-type ADHD manifests itself are remarkably similar, at least by the diagnostic criteria and the way they are written about, to the symptoms of bipolar II (a less intense combination of highs and lows than bipolar I). Women are said to rarely possess hyperactive type ADHD (as opposed to the inattentive type), but they swell the ranks of bipolar II diagnoses—which is allegedly much, much less prevalent in men. And it’s sort of funny that Miami Dolphin’s Brandon Marshall wants to be the ‘face’ of borderline personality disorder, because for years it was said just to be a girl disease (symptoms include promiscuity and neediness). This sort of stuff both fascinates me and pisses me off; if anyone has any good research on these things to point me to, please do.

The more I cover health and nutrition for Blisstree (where I post at least four times daily, these days), the more frustrated I get with some health research and a lot of health reporting. It’s remarkable how little is done, in a lot of cases, beyond looking at the press release. I’m guilty of this sometimes (though if at all possible, I skim the study itself), but I write for a rapid-fire blog; you would think folks at websites for major publications/TV stations/etc. would go beyond that. [I’m not necessarily faulting the writers; for all I know, they all have to write a whole bunch of articles per day, too, and are only being asked for brief, neutral coverage]. But what’s worse is a) the veneer of objectivity, and b) the packaging/marketing. Some studies are crap. Reporters or editors have to know these are crap, at least most of the time, but they need things to write about and maybe everybody else is reporting it or maybe their paycheck/job/whatever is dependent on pageviews and so even if they report the truth of the stories, the headlines and deks or the blurbs scream out the most sensational aspect of the story, even if it’s not necessarily correct. Sometimes the articles will mention some fact that completely changes the meaning of the content as they’ve packaged it, and then just go on with the chosen narrative, contradictory fact notwithstanding.

The most egregious example of this in recent memory is this study reporting that it would cost a single American $380 more per year to eat healthy; for a family of four, this shot to $1,520. Headlines trumpeted things like “Is Eating Healthy a Luxury?” and “Most Americans Can’t Afford to Follow Dietary Guidelines.” What most glossed over was that the 1,000 adults surveyed were only from one affluent county in Washington, and researchers looked not at how families could add potassium, fiber, and other nutrients to their diets most cheaply, but based calculations on what these wealthy participants tended to already buy that contained those nutrients, or said they’d like to buy.

Even when what’s left out isn’t so extreme, there’s very little questioning of a study’s methods or conclusions in health reporting, as if the fact that it’s academic research alone makes it sacrosanct. I wonder if it’s more market factors of sociology/conventions of journalism that’s most at work here? Or is it impossible to distinguish? It is things like these that make me wish I were in grad school again, and could devote time to wonky media things like this. And then everyone could report on my research findings unquestionably …

Written by ENB

August 19, 2011 at 9:21 am

Curio: Back to Paying Attention to Things on the Internet Edition

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A few things.
And a few sentences about each.
[And because I’ve been out of the loop for a few minutes, we can pardon my lack of timeliness, can’t we?]

1. Just got around to reading this awesome faux-profile by Ann Friedman about Washington’s “DC Lady Mafia”—a parody and a rebuttal, of sorts, to this unintentionally hilarious New York Times piece about DC’s young male journo scene. Hell yeah.

In only a few years, these young women and others like them have become part of the journalistic establishment in Washington — but you wouldn’t know it from reading The New York Times. Once they lived in modest studio apartments and stayed out late, talking about grammar, feminist theory, and ready-to-wear collections while their male counterparts appeared on cable television. Now the members of this “DC lady mafia,” as they began calling themselves because no newspaper style section deigned to give them a nickname, have become destination reading for — and respected by — the city’s power elite. Indeed, arguably they are themselves approaching power-elite status. [emphasis mine]

While we’re on the topic, I’m also kind of sick of this whole ‘brave new world’ of digital journalism narrative. Ezra Klein may have been delighted at discovering the act of reporting after he’d already been finding success as a blogger —

“I came here, and I had no professional affiliation,” Mr. Klein, 26, said over lunch at Potenza, a decidedly grown-up restaurant in downtown Washington. “I just had a blog that was mine, but I came out here and was trained as a magazine writer, and that was just a much more formalized way of journalism. You made calls. People answered calls. You took down what was said in a respectable account, and that began to influence my blogging. It became a lot less of an ‘Ezra affair.’

— but a lot of bloggers and web journalists I know (myself included) still started off at daily newspapers or student newspapers or some sort of outlet that required reportage first, opinion second (if at all). As Conor has eloquently laid out before, one of the problems with movement journalism is that it encourages blogging and opinion and analysis from young journos before they even learn how to tell a proper story. But that’s a rant for another day, or another blogger.

Anyhow, we may be the last generation of journalists to come-of-age if not primarily in print than at least not exclusively web. Although another problem I have with this narrative is that it’s generally only concerned with young journalists following the DC-baby-pundit/Gawker-media-mouthpiece model. These are the writers that are most visible, the ones that have made Names for themselves, so it makes sense. But I’ve got a friend who went from beat reporting at the Boston Globe to beat reporting for AP to a newspaper fellowship in Abu Dhabi. Another who started at the same Columbus, Ohio business paper I did and now helps run an online business magazine. These kinds of writers go under the radar as far as the general media story about young journalists is concerned. Exhibit A:

[…] Douglas Brinkley, the Rice University professor and historian who is working on a biography of Walter Cronkite, expressed nostalgia for an earlier, more in-the-trenches generation of correspondents who didn’t rely on Twitter posts and linking to generate content. “I’m not making a judgment,” Professor Brinkley said [Ed. note: Really? Than what the heck do you call that statement?] .

“What I don’t like is that before, people would start in foreign bureaus all over the world before making their way to Washington. You would be pushing into your deep 20s and have a really deep global background. What you’ve seen is a devaluation of serious journalism in favor of reporters who are able to create a brand identity.”

Besides negating the identity of tons of 20-something reporters out there, this idea (which one hears from older journalists all the time) is quite insulting, as if we’d all rather sit in an office all day than actually get to see the people and places we write about. Give us an environment where more than the most well-funded media outlets can afford to send their reporters out in the field to report—I’m not even talking the bureau in Dubai, dude; how about something happening down the street?—and, you know, I bet a lot of us degenerate young turks would be more than happy. But there’s not time, or money, for that at most places, and so reporting takes place through emails and phone calls. I get tired of being told to live up to a model of journalism that hardly anyone is willing to support anymore.

Huh. That turned into more than ‘just a few sentences.’ Let’s keep the rest of this brief then, shall we?

2. Blisstree talks about “orthorexia.” Which was not a word I even knew existed, describing a concept I am very familiar with.

3. Megan Daum has an interesting take on folks’ ire towards Planned Parenthood:

Here’s my theory: When it comes to parenthood, the whole notion of planning can be so overwhelming that it feels better to leave it to fate.

Sure, we know that the respectable, socially responsible thing to do is to think hard about when and how many children to have and to take the necessary steps – abstinence or birth control – to avoid producing a child that cannot be properly cared for. But as any parent will tell you, there is no “perfect” time to have a baby. It’s always going to be a showstopper.

And I suspect that’s why a lot of people, pro-life and pro-choice alike, like to think of parenthood as something that was foisted upon them rather than actively pursued.


Written by ENB

April 19, 2011 at 3:58 pm

Millennial Lament

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AP piece on mangled 60s nostalgia:

If you’re the chain store Party City, you traffic in costumes that will immediately evoke the “fun” 1960s, not James Meredith desegregating Ole Miss. If you’re producing “The Wonder Years,” you gin up grainy home movies for your opening credits and overlay a snippet of Joe Cocker singing at Woodstock.

But as time goes by, these anecdotal stand-ins shift to the front row. Instead of just evoking a decade, they become how we think about it. Then we start misremembering the past. Worse, we don’t even know we’re doing it.

It’s an entirely banal/played-out topic, I realize, but the article is well-written and if you’re a dork about generational navel-gazing (like me), worth a read. It also got me thinking/banal navel-gazing) … What are we going to mythologize about the oughts?

Did the oughts have their own distinct culture? Or was the whole decade just a mash-up of the culture of other decades, with a little bit of September 11th and some iPhones thrown in? Did I just answer my own question—our Gen Y Happy Days will just feature kids in Kohl’s sweaters, asymetrical haircuts and jeggings texting and watching ‘hamster on a piano’ while the best of the feel-good slogans from Bush’s moment of post-9/11 unity-building & the Obama campaign cameo in?

The oughts were my St. Elmo’s Fire decade (the one in which all my road-to-adulthood meandering took place), you know? I’m pretty protective of them right now. Will I find myself explaining to my children, sheesh, trucker-hat hipsters were a distinctly mid-ought phenomenon, you can’t just throw one into the Colbert rally! And—gah!—why is that character twittering if this movie is set in 2004?

Or will I completely forget the subtleties of the era myself?

Here’s what the AP article predicted a 2000s party would look like:

Imagine a 2000s theme party in, say, 2035. Your guests will snack on Mario Batali frozen hors d’oeuvres, dance to “Single Ladies” and wear Snooki outfits. The guy in the corner might be dressed as Tony Soprano or Simon Cowell. Some people, gathered in the kitchen, will be playing the interactive retro drinking game called “Status Update.”

I am not even sure who Mario Batali is … This does not bode well for my decade.

Written by ENB

November 29, 2010 at 1:50 pm

More Mad Men wonkery

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Amanda M. on the latest episode of Mad Men:

The very thing that rescued the Midge interlude from being a “Forrest Gump” moment was that it not only genuinely rattled both Don and the audience, but it ended up having meaning.  As Heather at Salon noted, Don saw something in Midge’s situation that he also saw in himself, or at least in SCDP.  Midge didn’t care how much money that Don gave her, as long as it got her to the next fix and perhaps kept her from having to sell her body to strangers for a few days or so.  And so SCDP was willing to be with this new cigarette brand, which I’m assuming is Virginia Slims.  He saw desperation, and how deeply ugly it is.  And so he started to hand off those attachments that kept him desperate.

Somehow this whole analogy didn’t occur to me when I watched the show yesterday, but I think she’s spot on.

Not having watched the show’s first season, I have no particular attachments to Midge, but that scene in her apartment was creepy nonetheless. Though I really liked her outfit. And the fact that she described heroin as “like drinking 100 bottles of whiskey while having your tits licked.”  Do you think if I went as Midge for Halloween, anyone would know who I was (it’s between that and a disco bumble bee right now). And what am I supposed to watch after the Mad Men finale next week? Don’t you dare tell me Dexter

[P.S. That whole Land of Lakes girl business? I had that exact same conversation with friends when I was about Sally’s age, though we called it “The Slushie Dog theory.”]

Written by ENB

October 13, 2010 at 10:06 am

Posted in Ephemera, Media

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How I learned to stop worrying and love the zeitgeist

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Conor calls for ‘slow journalism’ over at The American Scene:

I think I saw something about someone wanting to start a Slow Journalism movement. I am on board. Or if no one said that, then I’m doing so now. We’ll wait somewhat longer to write up news and analysis, worry less about news pegs, blog about worthwhile books that were published four years ago and articles that appeared on the Web five months ago, or seven years ago. We’ll lose the morning, every morning, but we’ll win the week. Or the month.

He’s responding to Dave Weigel’s intro over at his new Slate blog, in which Weigel grapples with the speed of the political news cycle In This Day & Age (I do dig Dave’s elevator pitch: So: Who’s running the country, who wants to take it away from them, and what are they all doing wrong? Let’s find out.) Conor says he pays no mind to who publishes first; he gets his news from friends and those established voices he trusts:

The whole of Red State or Big Government could be writing about a story before anyone else, but having concluded that I don’t know when I can trust them, and it isn’t worth the time and effort to fact check their work before writing about it, I won’t see the story until Dave Weigel or Chris Beam or Tim Carney or Mark Hemingway or some other person whose work I follow gets to it.

And I really don’t care if it’s a day later.

It sounds a bit like a vote for “epistemic closure” (am I using that phrase right, boys? I willfully ignored that whole debate; Slow-Journo street cred, score 1 me …?), but I more or less agree. It fits the theory that the only currency journalists have In This Day & Age (god, I love that phrase; all the moral panic it breathlessly implies!) is their name, and they can contract that name, that voice, out to different publications, different sites, but they better maintain control of it, because it’s really their only card. Publications have been and will continue to rely on and invest in recognizable “voices” or “brands” rather than “the news,” per se. It’s why, in attempting reinvention, AOL snapped up name-brand political writers; or why it perplexes me that in Atlantic.com’s site revamp, it reorganized content away from a voice/blogger-centric layout (not that I doubt it had very good secret reasons).

And this is all reminding me of Clay Shirky’s latest book, Cognitive Surplus, which I am reading (slowly) right now. This is my favorite point so far:

The old choice between one-way public media (like books and movies) and two-way private media (like the phone) has now expanded to include a third option: two-way media that operates on a scale from private to public. Conversations among groups can now be carried out in the same media environments as broadcasts. This new option bridges the two older options of broadcast and communications media. All media can now slide from one to the other. An e-mail conversation can be published by its participants. An essay intended for public consumption can anchor a private argument, parts of which later become public. We move from public to private and back again in ways that weren’t possible in an era when public and private media, like the radio and the telephone, used different devices and different networks.

The point he makes is so simple, but it struck me, still; that is the root of so much of what we talk about when we talk about journalism, the Internet, writers, authors, amateurs, user-generated content, social media, social networks, email privacy, influencers, news … Everything (Dave Weigel’s Journolist emails; your facebook profile; a photo a girl from third grade found in her parents’ attic, the electronic love letters you really meant to keep between you and your intended, the rough cut of the song you send a few folks to preview) is public media. Which is why it makes sense that, amid this, you know, little social shift wherein a good portion of the world’s conversation became public media, trustworthiness is one of the few viable, remaining currencies.

Or something like that.

Anyway, Conor, count me in! Because I’d like to write about Georges Simenon mysteries and what sense, if any, can be made of Elizabeth Hardwick’s Sleepless Nights. I want to hear your and everyone’s thoughts on this 2001 Nerve essay, and not feel silly blogging about this New York Magazine article on soldiers and YouTube even though it’s over 2 weeks old. Because, I tell ya, getting out of DC helped give me a little perspective. It can be paralyzing when your drinking buddies are among some of the most well-known political or cultural bloggers. It can make you feel like there’s no point in writing a thing if you didn’t get there first, or don’t have a perfectly unique take.

Now Brooklyn provides its own kind of weird (everything you and/or your friends do ends up a sort of product that is very palatable for certain media types, I guess, but then again, sometimes you ask for it). But I don’t feel as paralyzed by the news cycle here. Sometimes, the whole business seems like a cross between a research experiment I might have set up in grad school (as it was, my thesis tried to discover some sort of ideological metamorphosis in U.S. celebrity-tabloid coverage based on our changing political & cultural atmosphere between 1996 and 2006. um, yeah) and a private game being played solely by those with the power, or misfortune, to believe in it. Or worse, to think they don’t.

But maybe that’s just me.

Written by ENB

August 6, 2010 at 1:09 pm

‘I despise you ’cause you’re filthy / But I love ya ’cause you’re home”

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So well played, Mad Men, so well played (turns out with an iTunes season pass, you can’t watch ’til the next day, so I finished the premiere just moments ago) … I had to pause the recording for momentary glee (smiling, clapping, the whole nine yards) when Don Draper began telling the Wall Street Journal reporter about the Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce backstory. What a perfect, beautifully-subtle nod to the shift from a 1950s media and relational culture (coded language, just the facts, ‘my work speaks for itself’) to the coming of the new journalism, the rise of confessional culture, the celebrity profile, Rolling Stone, all of that. And the use of that sort of Brit-rock-on-the-verge-of-psychedelia song (turns out it’s “Tobacco Road,” as covered by a band called The Nashville Teens) just as Don does this—all right, I’m fawning, okay, I’m fawning hardcore. Betty’s costume choices were perfect—so matronly, so political-wifey—and such a contrast to the young bride Barbie cocktail florals of earlier seasons. Peggy’s haircut, Don enjoying being slapped around by a hooker, that bikini ad (my god, that would never have flown in 1961!), that girl who works in the mute-Opera-chorus and looks like a second-rate Betty …I loved it all.

Anyway … “Here comes that British group with the American name … The Nashville Teens!”

Written by ENB

July 26, 2010 at 3:38 pm

Posted in Culture, Media

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Defending Betty Draper

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I didn’t know what was going on with LeBron James.

My college friends—mostly ex-Clevelanders now living in Chicago—were appalled. It was the night he was making his big announcement, and our friend Greg had canceled on dinner plans. “He probably just wanted to stay home and watch LeBron,” someone said. “What’s going on with LeBron?” I asked.

Embarrassed silence, dismay, horror spread throughout the room! I hoped never to have to meet with such abject group shaming any time soon—but it was not my night. Because later that evening, my tongue loosened from a little too much Malbec and some concoction my friend calls “Kari juice,” I let slip a far graver statement. What, you wonder, could beat the horror of telling a bunch of Cleveland kids that you, a former Ohioan yourself, have no idea what’s going on with LeBron James?

I admitted I liked Betty Draper.

With the Mad Men season four premiere this evening, the chattering classes and us that orbit them have once again begun fawning over the series, and though I know it’s not fashionable, though I know it’s downright heretical, I want to come clean once and for all: I don’t only like Betty; she is, in fact, my favorite female character on the show. I think she’s sexier than Joan. I think she’s more interesting than Peggy. Yes, we’re all supposed to admire Christina Hendrick’s brave curves, and Peggy’s ambition. And I do. But my heart belongs to Betty.

Yes, she’s  used to getting her way. Yes, she’s rich, and insular; cold, and certainly not the world’s greatest mother. Betty’s not perfect—but none of the character’s on Mad Men are. And yet none of the others seem to be met with the same audience scorn as Betty Draper. Why?

When I’ve admitted to friends, recently, my feelings about Betty, they asked me if I’d finished season 3 yet. I had not. Wait ’til you finish season three, multiple people told me. I bet you’ll change your mind.

But I finished season three last night, and I just don’t see where I’m supposed to start perceiving Betty as especially horrible. Sure, she’s leaving Don for another man, but Disney princesses get more action that Betts got during the lead-up to this affair. Meanwhile, Don has been screwing around on her since the beginning of their marriage, and hiding a secret life (which Betty finds out about at the same time as all this is happening). I’m not one to cast fidelity as the be-all end-all of marital commitment, but for what it’s worth, I think the point clearly goes to Betty here.

So what then—what is it about Betty that turns people off so? Is it that she was raised rich? That she’s pretty? That’s she’s a certain kind of pretty? That she’s not a bastion of maternal compassion? All of it together? What?

I began suspecting folks’ hatred of Betty Draper had less to do with what Betty was, and more to do with what she was not. And what she was not was behaving in the way we like our victimized mid-century housewives to behave. Justin Miller at the Atlantic just comes right out and says it:

Betty was “hazily presented as a stultified victim,” as Ben Schwarz wrote in The Atlantic last year. And victimhood requires a sort of innocence, which is destroyed when she cheats on Don with an anonymous man at a bar and sets up an affair between her married friend and another man. Betty is no longer a victim of infidelity, by the end of the second season, but a believer in it.

So when our lonely housewife heroine feels such so thoroughly isolated she can only speak candidly with an 8-year-old boy, that’s sympathetically adorable, but this sympathy is conditional on her remaining totally helpless?

Well, either that or getting all Betty Friedman on our asses! Miller continues to lament that

… Betty isn’t the agent of her own salvation. It’s another man that’s letting her escape the Draper name by seducing her, proposing to her, and convincing her to leave her family. Betty is hardly an epitome of 1960s feminism. After all, what sort of heroine needs a man?

Most heroines, I’d say, just like most heros need a leading lady. What exactly are Don’s numerous affairs but proof of his “need” of a woman?

As one commenter on Miller’s piece says:

I actually like the fact that Betty’s kind of a jerk. It would have been too easy and obvious a trope to have written her character as a more morally (and emotionally) advanced and perfect creature whose frustrations, limitations and heartbreaks have been foisted upon her by the other jerks in her life and/or by the inequities of the time.

Written by ENB

July 25, 2010 at 10:52 pm

Hipster Wizard Spotted Harassing Asian Girls at McKibben Rooftop Dance Party As Early As 2008

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I posted a photo of the ‘hipster wizard’ harassing an Asian girl before posting about the hipster wizard harassing Asian girls was cool

McKibben rooftop dance party circa 2008

I’m sorry; I just couldn’t resist.

Written by ENB

July 19, 2010 at 8:50 am

Deciphering Google Voice Messages

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I’m going to decode the Google Voice transcript of a voicemail just left by my dad. The Google Voice transcript:

Yeah. Hey Liz, It’s 10:35 and I was just driving in between jobs. So I had a minute and I wanted to call you and thank you for the i was take care of. I love the color. I’d like to shirt. I don’t work yet but your mom watch that, and I’ll probably wear at this weekend and then watch it again and take it out to California. Your mama college and she’s gonna. Thank you for both of us and I think you got him playing phone tag. She’d like to go to California and she left out this morning and I just called because I had a minute. So if you get this message. You do not have to call me back because I’ll be working. Hello she’d get in the next couple of minutes, but otherwise I’ll give you a call tomorrow or tonight or sunday or something, so hope you’re having a great day and love you and I’ll talk to you Later. Bye Bye.

And what my dad actually said:

Yeah, hey Biz, it’s 10:35, and I was just driving in between jobs so I had a minute, and I wanted to call you and thank you for the father’s day present. I love the color, I really like the shirt. I haven’t worn it yet but your mom washed it, and I’ll probably wear it this weekend and then wash it again and take it out to California. Your mom had called ya and she was going to thank you for both of us and I think you guys ended up playing phone tag. She left to go to California, she left, uh, this morning, and I just called because I had a minute. So if you get this message, you do not have to call me back because I’ll be working—unless you get it in the next couple of minutes, but otherwise I’ll give you a call tomorrow or tonight or sunday or something, so hope you’re having a great day and love you and I’ll talk to you Later. Bye Bye.

Google Voice: The medium is the (garbled) message?

Hahahahaha. That is the kind of bad pun you get from ex-communication students. McLuhan? Get it?



But seriously, y’all: Google Voice makes me laugh daily. I highly recommend.

P.S. Happy father’s day, dad!! Love you!!!

P.P.S. A dramaturgical note: If you were worried my mom may have run out on my dad (the whole up and leaving for California think), take heart—this is a prearranged trip ending in a predetermined amount of time. Also, my dad really likes uniquely-colored t-shirts.

Written by ENB

June 18, 2010 at 11:25 am

Celebrity Skin

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I am a bit belated to noticing this, but: Courtney Love on the February cover of Spin magazine looks like an Olsen twin who took some sort of medicine with bad metabolic side effects and then crack-dieted the weight away, trying to channel Fiona Apple in the “Criminal” video. It’s a shame. Perhaps Love was never a great role model, but for a certain subset of teen girls in the 90s, she was at least … interesting. Unique. Seeing her airbrushed, injected and whatever into zombie-Heidi-Motag territory (the New Face has gone too far!), ranting about “skinny little bitches,” is just … disappointing.

Written by ENB

June 7, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Posted in Media

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Fetishizing the Good Wife

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The problems start with the subhead: A new generation of female bloggers is championing the importance of being a good wife and partner.

Yes, a new generation of bloggers, eons removed from those paleolithic female bloggers of 2003 who, incidentally, aimed to be terrible wives and atrocious partners! But blah blah blah; people like to cover housewives. The green/locavore/whatever movement is providing a wonderful new hook for doing so.

What’s more interesting, I think, are things like this:

And then there’s Taryn Cox, who isn’t afraid to put it all out there, unabashedly writing about stereotypically uxorial topics ranging from themed baby showers and creating her own cocktail-style dresses to the art of ironing a newspaper and how to clean with vodka at a blog she has titled TarynCoxTheWife.com.

Cox’s posts showcase classic glamour and gorgeous parties as songs such as “Sunny Side of the Street” play in the background.

“I’ve always just been so completely fascinated by the idea of marriage and dedication,” says Cox, a trim 26-year-old with a penchant for pastels and an e-mail address that starts with “stepfordwife.”

No, she’s not married and she doesn’t have kids, but “this [blog] is for those dreams and fantasies. I believe my own vision. I believe there’s an art to being a good wife.”

Clearly, Taryn is taking things a little far. But I think for a certain subset of post-post-feminist (or whatever we are) Gen Y women—especially the particularly horrifying strain who perhaps read a lot of Sylvia Plath or worked in a vintage clothing shop in high school, who were raised by Republicans or Catholics but later got a lip ring or an ill-advised Kanji tattoo, and who appreciate a good cocktail, a man who will take out the garbage and the erotic possibilities of gender roles—well, it’s not too hard to get sucked into the ‘good wife’ allure. Not to the degree Taryn has, heavens no. Just a little bit.

Maybe it’s seriously all libido. Or maybe it’s just another facet of that grasping 20-something desire for some model for how to be Good at Life®.

The rest of the article—which ran in Sunday’s L.A. Times—is mostly a rehash of some book about being your husband’s “at home business partner” or something that came out a few years ago, sprinkled with a little bit of two-bloggers-as-Trend anecdotes. And of course there is the Angry Feminist response:

“They want to live in this perfectly art-directed world,” says Michele Kort, senior editor at Ms. “It’s an illusion that if you have all the right clothes and right accessories that your life will be perfect. This is a throwback to stuff like [Marabel Morgan’s 1974 self-help book] ‘The Total Woman’ … that a wife should be subservient and be all about making a man comfortable and having the perfect household … for the women of the ’50s, it wasn’t so happy-making.”
Which is one of those arguments that just seems silly, for anyone to endorse or for anyone to take as the standard belief of all feminists. To me, it seems that for some women of the 50s, it probably was “happy-marking,” to use Kort’s awkward phrasing. It’s possible that then, as now, there were some women who really did enjoy being completely dedicated wives and mothers. And that this being true in no way negates the fact that many women do not enjoy being full-time housewives, and that women should pursue whatever path makes them happiest. I mean, while I appreciate all the current research and publicity about how women who don’t work could be in for a lot of financial misery if their husbands dump them … at a certain point, god. All of our life paths are a gamble. If we really want to protect our young women’s financial futures, we should tell them not to become journalists, or actors, or major in sociology.

Written by ENB

May 18, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Is Emily Gould the Elizabeth Wurtzel of Gen Y?

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That’s my preliminary assessment after reading the first two chapters of And the Heart Says Whatever. Stay tuned!

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May 7, 2010 at 4:00 pm

No Ad-Sales-Slump in DC

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According to Atlantic Media’s internal research in 2009, the Beltway print-ad market (as defined by Politico, Roll Call, the National Journal, The Hill and Congressional Quarterly) was up 28 percent over the past year despite the recession.

That’s from an all-around interesting profile of Atlantic Media exec Justin Smith and his play to make National Journal competitive with Politico. National Journal has always been a kind of weird property, hasn’t it? At least as long as I’ve been aware of it (which is an admittedly short 4 or so years) it’s been largely pay-walled-off content. Dull pay-walled-off content. So it will be interesting to see what Smith & Atlantic Media come up with …

But that’s also interesting about the Beltway ad market, isn’t it? Niche is king, I guess. Ugh, what a terrible phrase. How do we make that sound better? Because I really think there’s a “medium is the message” truth for the digital/collapse-of-publishing era in that … Gourmet may be going out of business, but look how well the hyper-localized Edible franchise is thriving.

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May 5, 2010 at 8:38 am

Glamour Magazine of the Year?

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Yep. Fashion-glossy Glamour was named “Magazine of the Year” by the American Society of Magazine Editors.

Here’s the May cover:

Glamour, May Cover

What do you think they were judging on?

(Complete list of 2010 winners here.)

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April 23, 2010 at 7:35 am

The “Hipsters on Food Stamps” Phenomenon

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The way the reporter (Jennifer Bleyer) wrote this article itself was like she was just begging people to mock her subjects:

Savory aromas wafted through the kitchen as a table was set with a heaping plate of Thai yellow curry with coconut milk and lemongrass, Chinese gourd sautéed in hot chile sauce and sweet clementine juice, all of it courtesy of government assistance.

Every descriptive word Bleyer uses is designed to imply maximum offensiveness, or to make very normal things—like vegetables, for goddsakes— seem exotic and luxurious.

So what if some people on food stamps buy more healthy/weird/international cuisine than do others? It’s not like they’re getting extra money to buy this food; they’re getting the same amount as the guy who’s buying fucking Wonderbread and store-brand Kraft singles. And yet …

Magida, a 30-year-old art school graduate, had been installing museum exhibits for a living until the recession caused arts funding — and her usual gigs — to dry up. She applied for food stamps last summer, and since then she’s used her $150 in monthly benefits for things like fresh produce, raw honey and fresh-squeezed juices from markets near her house in the neighborhood of Hampden, and soy meat alternatives and gourmet ice cream from a Whole Foods a few miles away.

People are always railing, of course, about how people on food stamps don’t buy enough healthy food. But heaven forbid the food they buy is too healthy, or healthy and also outside the mainstream. It’s absurd. Fresh produce is a luxury? Soy protein (which costs about the same as meat) the height of libertine-ism? Not to mention that things such as Chinese gourd and coconut milk are the very kind of corner-store staples in ethnic neighborhoods that often sell these sorts of foods cheaper than mainstream varieties (at the Asian-run market in my neighborhood, I can get three large hunks of fresh, homemade tofu for $1, compared to $2.50 or $3 for the packaged stuff; the Polish corner store sells an abundance of large, quite good Polish beers for cheaper than domestic varieties).

Now you can argue with whether food stamps should exist in the first place, or at what level, or in what way, and that’s something different entirely. But the folks in this article had to have been at some certain pre-determined level we’d set as the threshold for food stamp eligibility, you know? And as long as we’ve already set that threshold, whatever sustenance one buys with those stamps (and in spite of whatever hobbies/passions/desired-careers they may have) is really nobody’s business.

Says Jessica Grose on XX factor:

I’m not sure that “hipster” food stamp recipients are anything but a fake trend, but it does appear that no article about food purchasing or ingesting can be written without irate and judgemental comments. The twenty- and thirtysomethings in the article are predictably called lazy and overly indulged, for example: “Of course people are going to be pissed that they’re busting their asses every day in real jobs so that some douchebag can satisfy his ‘flexitarian’ gourmet diet.” But even if these hipsters were using their own money to buy their organic food they’d be slammed. Or if they were buying the stereotypical foods purchased with food stamps—which is to say, heavily processed—they’d be criticized for contributing to the so-called “obesity crisis.” Eating is now a major moral issue in America, and whatever choice you make is wrong.

Written by ENB

March 23, 2010 at 5:48 pm