Category Cultural Note

Doorbusting Chaos

The ads inform me that a whole bunch of stores and malls plan to open their doors at midnight on November 25, i.e. about ten hours after people finish cramming themselves full of turkey.

  1. As ludicrous as this sounds, the specimens you see on TV busting doors on the day after Thanksgiving are relatively disciplined people. They are able to get up at 4:00 a.m. on the day after Thanksgiving, and get themselves to the front of a Wal-Mart or wherever in the predawn cold. And people still get killed.

  2. Do door busters bust doors for bargains, or do they do it mainly for the camaraderie and the thrill of it? Either way, this midnight-opening thing is going bring a lot of new busters to the doors. Formerly, you needed to be relatively disciplined (see above). Now, all you’ve got to do is sober up a bit from Thanksgiving dinner. Most people don’t find staying up until midnight all that hard.

  3. Speaking of which: how many of these people won’t sober up? How many parties of shoppers will be made up of people who’ve been awake for eighteen hours, who’ve just eaten their largest meal of the year, and who’ve been drinking since noon?

This is going to be priceless.

This Time It’s For Real

A much-blogged story recently informs us that only 45% of people surveyed know that the U.S. has the ‘world’s largest economy’.

A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey finds that just 45% of voters know the United States has the world’s largest economy. Another 34% say it’s not true, and 21% are not sure.

Says Rasmussen.

In case you’re one of the 55% who doesn’t know this, the United States does have the ‘world’s largest economy’, and not by a little bit. The world’s second-largest economy, that of the People’s Republic of China, is about 2/3 the size of the U.S. economy.

I expect that the size of the Chinese economy will eventually surpass the size of the U.S. economy — and O what hand-wringing we’ll be subjected to then! — if only because of the population imbalance. There are about four times as many Chinese people as there are Americans these days, so if the average Chinaman produced 25% of the value that the average American produces, the U.S. and Chinese economies would be the same size.

Remember, though, that today the Chinese economy is 2/3 the size of the U.S. economy despite having more than four times as many people contributing to it; this means that, economically speaking, each Chinese person produces as much as .15 of an American. Or, each American produces as much value as 6.3 Chinese people.

You’re probably scratching your head at this, because this certainly isn’t what you hear from the news media. The news never talks about the millions of Chinese who spend 100% of their time trying to wring a bare existence from the mud. The time and space they might use talking about them is instead used to make sure you’re up to speed on the plight of illiterate Americans who have no value to offer anyone, and so are reduced to driving a car without air conditioning, and watching only basic cable.

A recent story in Foreign Policy is a perfect example:

American Decline

They even have to say ‘this time it’s for real’, because they know that the media have been telling us that the United States has been in terminal decline since at least Sputnik. Most magazines can simply ignore the fact that this hasn’t happened, but Foreign Policy is aimed at a decidedly brainier demographic, and they might be expected to start questioning whether this is just so much B.S.

‘Plus 10 Other ‘Unconventional Wisdoms’, they say: because the idea that the U.S. is in decline is some zany, fringe idea? It seems to be the perennial campaign theme of the Democratic party, and it’s an important sub-theme of most Republican campaigning.

So if you run an article about American Decline in your magazine, you have to point out in the headline that there’s something different here, because American news magazines might as well all be called American Decline Weekly.

Foreign Policy sees this, and it even gets in a preemptive reference to The Boy Who Cried Wolf, albeit with what I’m sure they consider a neat spin in an attempt to get it to bolster their argument:

But a frequently overlooked fact about that fable is that the boy was eventually proved right. The wolf did arrive — and China is the wolf.

Oh, oh how clever. You see? The near-constant assertions along the same lines that other people have been making for the last sixty years or so (at least) aren’t a reason to doubt Foreign Policy‘s stupid point here, but quite the opposite: they all but prove that now the U.S. is in decline, because after all the wolf does eventually come.

And that wolf, this time, is apparently China. Because they have an economy that is, on a per-capita basis, 15% of the size of the United States’, and because authoritarian communist governments have long been known to issue inaccurate statistics that show that everything under their purview is just awesome.

Why do western societies, and in particular the United States, doubt themselves so?

Giggling

The other day I ate lunch near a couple young girls, about 10 years old or so. Both of them were well dressed, had hair not desperately in need of cutting, and were not fat. In other words: not average kids.

They giggled the entire time. I mean, for 30 minutes, the only time that giggling noises were not coming from behind me was when they were shoving food in their mouths; and then, slightly muffled giggling noises were coming from behind me. It was terrible.

Now, this isn’t anything earth-shaking: little girls giggle. They only do it in company (you’ll never see a little girl giggling to herself while reading a book, for instance). And they do it more or less constantly.

I’d like to take about 10 little girls, stick ‘em in a room, and pay a bunch of grad students to observe them with stopwatches, quantifying the amount of giggling each one does. I’m pretty sure that I’d find a perfect correlation between the amount of giggling and the relative social status of each girl within the group. That is, the alpha girl wouldn’t giggle at all, or would only giggle briefly and perfunctorily to confer status on one of the betas.

I’m not sure you could get funding for that, because the official story is that females don’t compete for status, but rather settle everything by consensus. This is obviously nonsense, but it’s the official nonsense at the moment.

Cursory searches don’t turn up anything scientific online on the connection between giggling and social status (except in hyenas, where it’s well studied), but it seems pretty obvious to me (and to the other people who’ve arrived at the same anecdotal conclusion that I have).

The question I’m left with, though, is: why girls? Boys do giggle occasonally, but only very, very low-status boys. On the other hand, nearly all girls seem to spend all of their social time giggling.

Is social status among young females so tenuous that they need to constantly rank themselves on a second-by-second basis? Is it that they can’t effectively sort themselves in the first place and so are constantly seeking an arrangement, or is it that they can’t hold position once attained and so are constantly jockeying for status? Is it that girls aren’t allowed to openly compete for higher status, so they have to have this elaborate system of self-abasement, so the alpha can be identified as the one who just abases herself less?

All worthy of research.

The Supposed Gender Gap in Education

If you consume any quantity of news at all, you will already be aware that right now The Gender Gap is one of those stories that’s just bubbling under the surface, with its proponents trying to spin it up into the National Crisis Of The Week some time soon.

The Gender Gap, this time, has to do with young men not graduating from high school, or going to college, at the same rate as young women. The graduation and college-attendance rate of young men isn’t falling; in fact it’s rising; but the women’s rate is rising faster.

There are a whole lot of annoyances here. The first is that there’s this underlying assumption, never explained or even directly stated, that Of Course this is some sort of Problem. Why is should be a problem is never really expressed; ‘collidge ejuhcashun’ is just taken as an a priori good, for everyone, all the time.

Second, and somewhat related, is that I don’t think the real story is being told. Private and good public schools have been sending a high proportion of both sexes to college for a good long while now. What has changed is that a lot of people from the kinds of schools that graduate a lot of students who aren’t strictly literate are now ‘going to college’. And in this community of barely literate scholars, women are very, very strongly overrepresented. It’s not that women are stupid; but that, these days, stupid (or at least mis-educated) women tend to go on to something called ‘higher education’, while stupid or mis-educated men tend to just get jobs digging ditches.

But because the associate’s-degree program in Word Processing at Bongwater State U. is ‘college’ in the statistics in exactly the way that Harvard and MIT are, people are panicking over the ‘gender gap’ in education. What they really should be worried about is the amount of money and time these women are wasting on what amounts to very expensive vocational training for low-wage jobs.

Seriously: I looked at the ‘areas of study’ web page for a state university not far from here, and found, among other things:

  • Administrative Assistant (certificate)
  • Child Care & Guidance
  • Child Development
  • Child Life Services
  • Child Studies (apparently there are differences between these)
  • Coaching
  • Communication Disorders
  • Companion Animal (presumably training them, not being one)
  • Corporate Video (not to be confused with Communication Disorders above)
  • Criminal Justice
  • Exercise Science
  • Family Life
  • Family Studies
  • Fashion Merchandising
  • Fitness & Exercise Science (different from plain Exercise Science above apparently)
  • Head Start
  • Health Promotion
  • Outdoor Adventure Leadership
  • Recreation
  • Retail Management
  • Sustainable Energy Systems Management

This kind of thing isn’t education. It’s vocational training, at best.

Now, there’s nothing wrong with vocational training; but it’s not like studying Philosophy or Physics or Math or Literature. The chief difference is the specificity of the courses. The Head Start major includes classes like “U.S. Political Systems” — showing that they understand what Head Start is really about — and “Relationships in the 21st Century” and “Guiding Alternatives” (seriously, that’s the name of a required class), and so on and so forth. Vocational. Training. But it comes with a bachelor’s degree at the end.

Lately, a lot of these stories on the Education page of the newspaper have been next to other stories wherein the local college is patting itself on the back for holding tuition increases down to a bare 6% this year. If the reporter is any good, the story might mention that while this year’s increase might be only 6%, the cumulative increase in tuition and fees over the past 20 years has been something like 400%.

The local college will rarely, if ever, be asked to comment on this.

What’s going on is that there’s an enormous bubble in higher education; everyone is told that they absolutely must consume this product if they’re to have any kind of future that does not involve grease under the fingernails (and grease under the fingernails is assumed to be a terrible thing), and further the product is heavily subsidized.

So people go to college in vast numbers, and because of this increased demand tuition rises even more, and the product seems even more attractive as a result, because if it weren’t something that’s absolutely necessary and wonderful, they wouldn’t be packing the dorms full every fall at $20,000 and up a head, would they? And so the demand rises even more, and the subsidies rise, and so on and so forth.

At the same time, the real market value of the product falls, because the world is over-supplied with bachelors of arts. The result is to spur demand for more specifically elite education, since the the Bongwater State U. degree has been so devalued in the university’s rush to accommodate more and more and more students, many of whom should not be there in the first place.

This cannot go on forever, and I think the ‘gender gap’ is actually a sign of the beginning of the end. I think it’s being seen as a ‘gender gap’ for two reasons:

  1. The people doing the studies of such things are typically academics themselves, and so are going to tend not to entertain the notion that the academy is perhaps going off the rails;
  2. Women are, comparatively, herd animals.

Now I know I’m going to get attacked for that last one there, so let me explain what I mean. For a variety of reasons, the average American woman seems to be less likely to be a trend-bucker than the average American man. I think that some of this results from women being taught from a young age to value security and predictability, and to go with the group. Before leaving angry feminist rants in the comments, you should consider that this is the flip side of the feminist trope that women somehow innately value ‘consensus’ and ‘community’ and negotiation and harmony over conflict.

Men, on the other hand, are taught from a young age to value self-reliance. Very few men are self-reliant, and a lot more men than women get themselves killed while doing things that the consensus has already determined is a very bad idea, like driving a hopped-up Honda Civic down the freeway at 120 mph.

But the same cultural baggage that causes Johnny Patchbeard to bolt a fart-pipe onto his car and then wrap it around a tree also results in him being more likely to question whether spending more money than he’s ever had in his life to become an official Companion Animal Technician is really worth it. After all, he could always set up his own fart-pipe-and-ridiculous-car-stereo installation company.

This is the guy who isn’t on campus. Four years from now, he’ll either be established in the fart-pipe trade, or possibly doing something else; his girlfriend will be deep in debt and eligible for the specific dead-end job she trained for at Bongwater State.

(And this is before you consider that the Women’s Studies/Women’s Center/Runaway bigotry calling itself feminism culture on many campuses pretty effectively communicates to men that their kind really isn’t wanted there.)

The same thing happens, I think, at all levels of education. I obviously haven’t been in elementary school for a very long time, and I’m aware of the dangers of trusting the accounts of journalists; but everything I read — in blogs from teachers as well as newspapers and magazines — suggests that every year the stuff the schools teach gets less and less relevant to anyone except education wonks. The cost keeps rising, and we constantly hear about the need to lengthen either the school day or school year, or both. Nobody ever says that maybe schools should be pared back to essentials; the closest you’ll see is people arguing for teaching only the essentials, but ten hours a day and eleven months a year.

None of this is never addressed in these stories, even in passing. Boys not doing well in school, and not going to college? They must be dumber! This is more or less what people said about girls and women a hundred years ago, and today you’d be savagely attacked for even hinting that females are in any way at a natural disadvantage.

Suggest today that the problem with educational consumption is some innate failing of half of the population, though, and you can be a respected education pundit — if that half of the population is the male half. That’s far safer than suggesting that extraordinarily expensive has limited appeal.

Three Things

1: which is actually two things in one. Nicole bought some half & half the other day from our local artisanal food jobber. This is primarily a butcher shop, but they also sell local dairy products, eggs, etc., etc.

When she got home, she noticed that the sell-by date had already passed, by about 24 hours. She called the place, and they told her that the next time she came in, they’d give her a free quart of half & half. Additionally, the store now knows that either they’re not getting frequent enough deliveries from the dairy, or that the dairy is selling them nearly-expired products.

In a completely separate matter, Nicole took some olive oil back to the local grocery store the other day, because the stuff wasn’t actually olive oil. If you know what olive oil is supposed to taste like, it’s pretty easy to tell the stuff that’s 5% olive oil and 95% bean squeezings; and if you’re not familiar with olive oil, an easy way to tell is that olive oil turns solid when you put it in the refrigerator. This stuff didn’t.

Nicole didn’t tell them that she was returning this because it had been misrepresented, and was in fact not at all what it said on the label. Try explaining all of that to the bored teenager working at the grocery store: the only difference between that and not saying anything is that you will have done some talking, and you will have been looked at like you have lobsters coming out of your ears.

It’s virtually impossible for a customer to get a message (like: “You are selling counterfeit olive oil”) through to anyone with any decision-making authority at a company with more than about 20 employees. The end result? We’re probably not going to be buying olive oil at the grocery store any more.

2: At a different grocery store today — Wegman’s — I noticed an interesting thing. Most of the products are arranged not by function, but by ideology. Or by ethnic origin.

By this, I mean that there was one department full of nothing but hippie tea, from relatively ordinary things like Red Zinger all the way to Japanese roasted twig tea. Then there was another aisle full of ordinary tea, ranging from Bong Ho Industrial Tea Concern Ltd. Sachets Of Reconstituted Tea Sweepings (864 ct.) all the way up to Red Zinger, the hippie tea for people with jobs.

Then there was a huge aisle full of Coke and Pepsi and so forth; but if you were looking for Coke with sugar in it, you wouldn’t find it there. You had to look in the aisle full of Mexican food, where they had Mexi-Coke by the bottle or the case, next to twenty kinds of Tamarindo. According to Wegman’s, the Hecho en Mexico Coke is more like Tamarindo than like, say, Coke.

There were three separate selections of chocolate bars:

  1. Yuppie chocolate, all of which is the color of tires, with oh-so-subtle labels promising that the things contain little more than cocoa stuck together with the absolute minimum of binding agents;

  2. Normal candy, which ranges from the low end of yuppie chocolate down to Hershey bars and Nestlé Crunch;

  3. Candy typically sold only in Exotic Lands like England and Germany and Canada.

Similarly the digestives are next to the English mustard, not next to the other cookies; the Radenska water is not next to the Perrier and the San Pellegrino, but next to the other German things (though Radenska is actually from Slovenia); and so on and so forth.

All of these things are widely scattered, so if you actually want to see your mineral water options, or the cookies available, you have to be prepared to wander all over the store. Which may be the whole point: but in my case the result of this kind of thing is that I always feel like I’m somehow missing the thing I’m really looking for, because my taxonomy does not match Wegman’s.

More annoying than that, the effect is to ghettoize this stuff, so that you’re not going to consider, say, the German mustard when you’re looking for mustard in general; you’re only going to see the German mustard if you are looking for German things in the first place. The most important thing about the mustard, Coke, digestives, etc., Wegman’s is saying, are not their food natures as mustard, Coke, and cookies, but rather their country of origin.

3: I think that all of this points to a problem the United States has with the culture of eating. You actually see the same thing at work all over the place, but it’s much easier to demonstrate with food.

I started thinking about this again while watching that Jamie-Oliver-Feeds-The-Hillbillies show on ABC.

I shouldn’t really call it that, because Huntington, WV, where it takes place, is a small city, with trains, and an airport, and an Interstate, and a navigable river, and so on and so forth. True hillbillies are the result of the incredible isolation that a lot of West Virginia produces; you can easily have to cover 150 miles there to get 20 miles away from your starting point in a straight line. Huntington is actually a fairly nice place.

But according to the CDC, it’s also a fairly fat place, in fact the fattest town in America: Fat City U.S.A. And so Jamie Oliver has come there to teach them all to eat.

Oliver cooks meals, and tells them to stop deep-frying everything, and tries to get the schools to actually cook food rather than reheating frozen stuff, and that’s all fine and well. The most interesting thing happened when he cooked something or other in a school that required knives and forks.

And it turned out that a lot of these elementary-school kids didn’t know how to use utensils. I don’t mean that they weren’t very coordinated: I mean that they really had no idea what the heck they were doing. The strong impression is that they’d never used a knife or fork before.

201004151809.jpg

And that seems likely, because they seem to survive on a diet of nothing but chicken nuggets and french fries. I have nothing against either chicken nuggets or french fries, mind you, but these kids really do seem to eat nothing else, unless it’s some other variety of state-fair midway food being served up for dinner. They inhabit a completely different food culture.

Think about what you eat at home, when you cook from scratch. If you never do this, think about what your mother or grandmother might have served. The meal that I’m envisioning is a smaller, non-gut-busting version of Christmas or Thanksgiving dinner: you have some meat, and some vegetables that are recognizably vegetables, and possibly a salad (though salad is never, ever part of Thanksgiving or Christmas dinners for reasons I haven’t figured out), and so on and so forth. You sit down and eat most of this off one plate.

Now try finding that in a restaurant.

You can get a specific version of it in a steakhouse, from a fancy place with a special port-wine cellar all the way down to Ponderosa and its ilk. And you can assemble it at Old Country Buffet. But nearly all restaurants instead serve either some conspicuously ethnic food, or what I call stunt food.

Stunt Food is all branded and specialized, and mostly unrecognizable as anything other than its branded, specialized self. The Bloomin’ Onion® is a perfect example, as is anything that comes to you while sizzling in any manner, as is the entire menu at TGI Friday’s.

Some of this is just logical: the restaurant needs to offer you something that you can’t easily do at home for 10% of the cost, and there are some things that you can pull off in a restaurant kitchen at scale that are difficult or impossible to do at home. But people must like the simple meat-and-two-veg meal, or they wouldn’t go on making it at home so much. And it’s almost non-existent outside home kitchens. Cracker Barrel delivers things that are vaguely similar, but their enormous portions at least push them up against the Stunt Food line.

Why the hell is this? Why is our food culture so messed up? Why is the country of origin or the market segment more important than the basic nature of the food for organization at Wegman’s? Why are the things people eat in restaurants and at home almost completely different? Why does nobody seem to notice this?

The Narcissism of the Activist

I am reading Cory Doctorow’s Makers, which, in the version I’m reading, carries a preface about copyright.

In case you don’t know who Doctorow is: he’s a sci-fi author, anti-absolute-copyright activist, and general left-wing complainer, possibly not in that order. He’s originally from Canada and now lives in the UK; as with pretty much all such people, this gives him a special insight as to everything that’s wrong with the United States.

Doctorow’s main issue is copyright, or, more specifically, absolute copyright. Himself, he gives away all (most?) of his writing via his website while at the same time selling the stuff through normal channels. His intention is to be a one-man experiment to prove whether it’s possible to make money from intellectual property without hiring a team of lawyers to sue your fans. So far, it seems to be working.

In the course of explaining why he does this — he quotes Tim O’Reilly in saying that his, and most writers’ — biggest problem isn’t piracy but obscurity — he writes

I have always dreamt of writing sf novels, since I was six years old. Now I do it. It is a goddamned dream come true, like growing up to be a cowboy or an astronaut, except that you don’t get oppressed by ranchers or stuck on the launchpad in an adult diaper for 28 hours at a stretch.

First: astronauts do not spend 28 hours on the launch pad under any circumstances.

Second: note here that he uses cowboys as an example of people who are oppressed. Now, I’m sure that there were and are some bad cowboy jobs. But to see a cowboy — the very symbol of independence and self-determination — as oppressed takes a special kind of view of the world.

And I’ll be forever indebted to Cory Doctorow for illustrating this so perfectly, because his illustration has allowed me to put words to a concept that’s been annoying me for a while.

The activist’s credo is: everyone’s fucked but me.

The argument goes something like this: Things are just fine for me, but everyone else is getting the short end of the stick, and so it is up to me and other similarly comfortable people to fix all of this for them. In many cases, you can add to that: because they are all too stupid to see the truth.

This is why I can respect Martin Luther King, Rosa Parks, the Tea Party people, etc., but find ACORN and WTO ‘protests’ disgusting. There’s a big difference between a group of people looking out for itself, making its opinions known, and attempting to influence the government or the culture so that its members will be better off on the one hand, and organizations of the Professionally Outraged, abstractly arguing the cases of other, usually unseen people on the other.

The logical conclusion of this way of thinking is that People in general either

  1. do not know enough to run their own lives (search for ‘voting against self interest‘ for many examples) or
  2. the real majority supports X, even though the most accurate measures seem to indicate that people support Y.

Either one in the end justifies autocratic rule by a ‘benevolent’ dictator, and the best part is that you don’t actually have to demonstrate that people are hungry/oppressed/being shipped to Gitmo/whatever: you just assert that they are from your perch of middle-class comfort.

Advice For Men

Today, Merlin Mann writes on what he knows about women. It’s seems like it’s all pretty sound advice, like:

Listen. Hear what she’s saying. Synthesize what you hear in your head, but be slow to offer advice or “solutions.” Women (like many men, including me) often think by talking — or, if you like, by being heard. Shut up and listen. Seriously. Shut the fuck up sometimes.

No woman wants to be your Mom. Give more than you get and be a grown-up about asking for sacrifices — especially if making that sacrifice goes against something she’s kinda unsure about, but which sticking to until she IS sure is making her feel stronger and more whole. Don’t be a dick.

Do things without being asked. Even things she maybe didn’t know she wanted you to do.

Be extremely clear in your own mind about the very very tiny number of things only you are allowed to ever be right about. Keep making that list smaller every month.

and he does preface it with

Yes, a lot of this goes both ways. Obviously. Give it a rest

But. When’s the last time you read something like this, but with the sexes reversed? Once in a while, some women’s blog might post a list of a few tips with ‘dealing with your Neanderthal’, which is pretty much the same advice in reverse, but usually with a lot of references to how men are stupid children, and with a comment thread with hundreds of posts about how all of this is wrong and that what’s really required is basically more emotional abuse.

And what little you get isn’t nearly as good as Merlin’s advice. You never see the corollary of the first advice-cule above, with women being encouraged to talk through their decisions bit by bit, because men think by talking and that this might help them understand what’s going on. Once in a while you might see women being advised to listen to men, but usually the goal there is for the woman just to better understand exactly how the man is wrong.

And you never, ever see women being told that they’re only allowed to be right about a small and ever-shrinking number of things, even though a whole lot of Advice For Men essentially amounts to ‘shut up and take it’.

Porn Inflation

1. Why is there any money in porn? I suspect that there isn’t, at least in ordinary non-weird porn. As it’s becoming clear was true of all old media, the real value the companies were adding was distribution — the printing, marketing, shipping, etc. The porn guys were making money from their printing presses, their videotape duplicators, and the networks of pornography stores that sold the stuff. The Internet has replaced all of that, and so now all you need to produce porn is a pair of tits and a camera.

2. I think that this might be why we might be seeing more… unusual porn.

Let’s say that you’re turned on by the naked female body. There are about 3.45 billion human females in the world; half of them are uglier than average, so figure 1.7 billion better-looking-than-average females. Figure that 20% of these are in the prime porn age range, so there are 340 million good-looking young ladies out there. Even if 90% of them would never, ever pose for pornography, that means that there are 34,000,000 potential porn stars out there. Good-looking young ladies willing to pose for porn are just not a scarce good, when you look at the problem globally.

Scarcer are good-looking young ladies willing to pose for porn while being defecated on, or tied up, or while fucking a dog, etc., etc., etc.; this can be sold at a premium, because there is less competition. Fewer people are interested in this kind of thing, but they’re willing to pay quite a bit more for it.

Ergo the real talent in porn — the people who put a lot of effort into it, and who are dedicated to making serious money from porn — are going to make fetish porn.

3. This has led to two things: a devaluation of porn all together, or porn inflation, e.g. things like widespread mainstream-media coverage of celebrities with their bosoms hanging out, and at the same time a diminution of what you might call respectable mainstream soft-core almost-porn, R-rated feature films that were thinly-veiled excuses to show breasts on the screen. Maybe I’m not paying attention, but this sort of thing seems to have disappeared completely — as you’d expect, because you can see the same thing for free now without having to also sit through what were usually excruciatingly bad movies.

4. And it’s led to a third thing: the belief, among members of the public, that society is getting more and more depraved.

It’s not that; the reality is that while the porn of an earlier age needed to appeal to the widest possible variety of potential customers (in order to provide for the capital expense of printing, tape duplication, etc.), while today’s porn needs to appeal strongly to niche markets (in order to provide for the greater margin necessary in a world where so-called ‘vanilla’ porn is essentially free).

All of this has undoubtedly and unambiguously happened to the porn industry, and the same thing appears to be happening to the news industry. Basic news and commentary is now pretty close to free; it doesn’t cost much to observe an event or to have an opinion, and the distribution cost has gone to $0. We see news fragmenting into niche markets (examples include Fox News and MSNBC each attempting the narrow-appeal route, and the increasingly transparent political bias of Time, Newsweek, the New York Times, etc.; though this will likely work better for Fox and other conservative news organizations because ‘vanilla’ news is already pretty far left), and we see criticism from both the right and left that the news coverage is becoming more ‘polarized’, more ‘irresponsible’, more — dare I say it? Depraved. Just like the zoo porn.

I wonder what industry this phenomenon will hit next. TV shows would be the obvious answer, but while the distribution cost of a TV show online has dropped to pretty close to $0, I think the production of even a mediocre show might still be too capital-intensive.

Betty Draper and Infantilization

Today I came across some pictures of January Jones, an actress who plays Betty Draper on Mad Men, and I found them a bit jarring. The pictures are from an upcoming issue of GQ magazine.

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January Jones is a good-looking 31-year-old actress, and these aren’t scandalous or anything by current standards; every month, GQ and similar magazines each turn out something like this. So why do I find these jarring?

I think it’s because I’m only familiar with Ms. Jones as Betty Draper, the young housewife she plays on TV.

Betty Draper 3 Mad Men Mad-Man-Betty-Draper-01

Betty, feminists like to complain, is a Repressed Housewife in the Stifling Milieu of the early 1960s, contrasted by the Liberated-To-Varying-Degrees Joan, the office manager who Uses Her Sexuality To Her Own Ends, and Peggy, the former secretary, now copywriter, who’s effectively Liberated before people talked about women being Liberated.

This is an accurate if thin description of the three characters, and frankly I think the contrasts between these three are the most interesting part of the show.

But while Betty may be Repressed and Stifled, she’s also undeniably an adult, something that the partly-clad woman in the pictures above does not seem to be. As Repressed and Stifled as she might be, she is confident within her own domain, and at least relatively certain of how she should be treated by her husband, her friends, and the world in general — and relatively certain of what behavior is expected of her. This is, in short, the mark of the adult: knowing what to do, and having the autonomy to do it.

How ironic that picture of the character Ms. Draper at left would be considered ‘family friendly’, while the childish pictures of Ms. Jones the actress above — showing her fine figure and features, but nothing of character or will or agency whatsoever — are considered ‘adult’.

Hazards Of Twitter

Bla bla bla bla bla. Guy travels to Memphis for a client meeting with FedEx, Twitters to the effect that he doesn’t like Memphis (specifically that he would ‘die’ if he had to live there). FedEx people see this, forward it around. Guy is likely in trouble now.

Two points:

1. I like Twitter, but it’s dangerous. In 160 bytes, you don’t have the space to say anything that’s at all nuanced. I have no doubt that most happy New Yorkers wouldn’t want to live in Memphis, as those two cities are very different places. Even the most die-hard Memphis partisan would likely readily agree that if good bagels, access to diners, walkability, etc., etc. are your priorities, New York is probably a better place to live than is Memphis. But you can’t get into any of the specifics of that — or the specifics of anything — on Twitter. This isn’t exactly a weakness of Twitter; it’s just that Twitter isn’t the right medium for some messages. Like nearly anything of substance.

2. People in most American cities can understand the benefits of living in New York, even if they themselves do not want to do so. New Yorkers would do well to attempt to understand that there are also benefits to not living in New York, and that many people prefer those benefits. As it is, a lot of New Yorkers — particularly people who have moved there from somewhere else — seem to believe that everyone everywhere else would move to New York if they weren’t somehow trapped elsewhere.