Naomusings

My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Archive for the category “Culture”

“Why is My Poop Green?”: Wondering with the Humans on Google Autofill

google why is

The humans fascinate me.  I walk by a stranger and I wonder, “Who are you?  What’s your story?  What are you thinking?  Well, now thanks to Google Autofill, we can all get a better sense of what the humans are wondering about.  Or at least the humans in your geographical region.

Google Autofill works like this.  You go to the Google search box and you start typing in whatever it is you want to ask Google.  Autofill guesses what it is you’re trying to type, and it presents you with suggestions to choose from.  How does Google know what to suggest?  It just looks at what other users have looked for in your geographical region, and the most popular search choices pop up.

The unintentional and fascinating part of Autofill is that it can give you insight into what the humans are wondering about. Or at least what they’re asking Google about.

This can be really cool if you look at the most basic questions.  As you can see by the screenshot above, I typed in the phrase “why is,” and Google suggested to me the top four inquiries beginning with “why is.” As you can see, the majority of humans making this inquiry were asking the age-old question of why the sky is blue.  Others wanted to know another age-old question: why is the ocean salty?

Others, however, where wondering, “Why is my poop green?”  Apparently a lot of people wonder that. At least in my geographical region.

Green poop isn’t the only medical concern of the humans.  Spend some time typing in Autofill questions, and you’ll find that the humans ask Dr. Google a lot of questions they ought to be asking a fellow human doctor.  Apparently many of these questions have to do with excretion. For example, when I typed in “why do I have to,” here’s what the humans were wondering about:

google why do i have tio

Apparently the humans have similar questions for Dr. Google the Veterinarian:

google whi is my cat

Play with Autofill and you’ll find that the humans wonder endlessly about both the Big Questions and the more mundane. For example, when I typed in “is there,” I learned that the humans are asking the age-old question about the existence of a higher power. The second biggest “is there” question”?  Gluten.

google is there a

Playing the Autofill game can also reveal some sad ponderings.  By typing in “why am I,” I discovered that the humans are excessively tired, cold, and ugly.  The last one is a matter of opinion, of course, but terribly sad.

google why am i

Some of the ponderings are just surprising.  Typing in “what do” reveals that people are wondering about the meaning of slang terms, which isn’t a surprise.  But who knew that people were so concerned about turtle food?

google what do

“Why does” reveals that humans are wondering about ice.  And gray hair.  And also, well, something that goes back the Dr. Google issue. Seriously, people, go talk to a human doctor.

google why does

My favorite Autofills, though, are the most basic and human ones.  Because ultimately, humans are still wondering the same questions they’ve been always been wondering.  It’s just that they used to ask books, or wise elders, or Mommy and Daddy. Now they ask Google.  But the questions are the same.

google why

So, if you’ve ever wondered what the humans were wondering, just ask Google.  You could always walk up to strangers and ask what they wonder about, I suppose, but they might start wondering about your social skills or sanity.  Humans aren’t clickable.  Google is.  Now please go about your day with an ever-so-human sense of wonderment.  And if your poop is an unexpected color, please talk to a real doctor.

“Bacon Pride,” or, Why is Bacon In Vogue?

Sign seen at the Commerce St. Creamery and Coffee Shop.  Courtesy of Mary Baschoff McCarthy.

Sign seen at the Commerce St. Creamery and Coffee Shop. Courtesy of Mary Baschoff McCarthy.

Why is bacon in vogue?

I asked an office friend this question, and he said it’s because bacon is easy to use, versatile, and most of all, very tasty.  But I don’t think that’s the whole story.  This explanation describes why bacon is popular, but not why it’s become a stylish and quirky trend.  Milkshakes are tasty too.  So are French fries. But neither of these unhealthy treats are in vogue.

Rex Roof, Wikipedia

The Elvis Sandwich.

So, in what way is bacon in vogue?  For one thing, food establishments of all “brow” levels are ramping up the decadence level on their menus with bacon.  Check out this list of New York’s Most Insane Bacon Dishes to see everything from a kimchi bacon rice bowl to bacon donuts.  Elegant steakhouses, like Manny’s in Minneapolis,  are serving gourmet bacon as an appetizer.  More casual eateries, like Centreville, Maryland’s Commerce Street Creamery, boast about the addition of bacon to their sandwiches (“We Have Bacon and We’re Not Afraid to Use It.”)  State Fairs are selling concoctions like country-fried bacon, and upscale weddings are featuring bacon bars.  And the Elvis sandwich–peanut butter, banana, and bacon–has made a resurgence.

In the world of geekdom, bacon has become as trendy as Game of Thrones. Walk around a science fiction convention these days and you’ll see a plethora of “bacon pride” T-shirts proclaiming  sentiments like “Come to the Dark Side–We Have Bacon” or “I Find Your Lack of Bacon Disturbing.”  On Thinkgeek.com, shoppers can express their love of bacon by purchasing a full line of bacon-themed products, including bacon wrapping paper, bacon strips adhesive bandages, and a frightening-looking food substance called “baconnaise.”

But you don’t have to be a science fiction fan or a self-proclaimed geek to love bacon.  Bacon blogs and bacon-themed products are all over the Web.

A bacon bouquet.

A bacon bouquet.

Check out BaconToday for your one-stop shop for bacon news, recipes like bacon margarita cupcakes, and a ridiculous selection of bacon-flavored edibles like bacon brittle and bacon pickles. And you can learn how to make a bacon bouquet.

Now, in the interest of full-disclosure, I need to confess:  I don’t like bacon. I know that makes me an unusual American, much like my daughter’s sweet friend down the street who doesn’t like chocolate.  So why don’t I like bacon?  It’s not because I’m a semi-vegetarian.  It’s not because I’ve been making an effort to eat healthier. It’s not because I’m Jewish.  (Side note: only about 15 percent of American Jews keep kosher–so please don’t be one of those people who assume I keep kosher because I’m Jewish.) I’m just one of those weird people who think that bacon doesn’t taste good and has an icky texture.  Not that I don’t eat plenty of other foods that aren’t good for me.  It’s just that bacon isn’t one of them.

So, as a non-bacon eater, I am even more perplexed.  Where is this emphatic love of bacon coming from?

Some of it certainly has to be a backlash against the movement in our culture towards natural, healthier foods that aren’t chock full of nitrates and pork fat.  Of course, there are healthier bacon options out there, like turkey bacon and nitrate-free bacon.  But somehow, I don’t think these are the options that bacon-lovers are heralding.

Our culture is full of messages–and perhaps pressure– about the benefits of eating more healthfully.  Once it was just alternative granola-types who shopped at co-ops and farmers markets and touted the merits of natural foods. These days, you no longer have to go to Whole Foods or a co-op to see aisles full of quinoa and organic veggies, as everyday grocery stores are stocked with these options.  On the news, we have Michelle Obama rallying for healthier school lunches, and Michael Bloomberg legislating against Big Gulps.  We keep hearing that processed meats are really, really bad for us, like in this NPR report.  And of course, everywhere we look are messages about how we’re all getting fatter and fatter.

The result?  People latching onto the growing Bacon Pride movement.  Bacon, the poster-child of the unhealthy food that’s making us fat, has found itself a cult following. “Screw you, Michael Bloomberg!”  the bacon lovers declare.  “I’ll give you my bacon when you pry it away from my cold, dead, greasy hands!”

So, is this a bad thing?  On the one hand, I love a good oppositional movement that challenges cultural norms.  Women refusing to shave their legs?  Awesome.  Gay people coopting the word “queer” and the pink triangle?  Awesome.

People eating bacon to rebel against changing norms about our diet?  I hesitate to embrace this in the same way.  Bacon isn’t exactly a grassroots thing.  Sure, once upon a time it was the product of small farmers.  But more often than not, today’s bacon is a product made by the food corporations who have made a fortune off of the obesity epidemic and our dependence on processed foods.  Wearing a Bacon Pride T-shirt is a little bit like wearing a Nike swoosh or an Abercrombie T-shirt.   You’re advertising a corporate product, and one that’s hurt our collective health.

And yet, well, I suppose there is something to calling Bacon Pride a rebellion of sorts.

And of course, there’s the plain old decadence factor.  When you declare that something is really unhealthy and a bit taboo, people want it more.  It becomes sexy.  It becomes bold and daring to throw caution to the wind and eat bacon.  Serving gourmet bacon appetizers has become the equivalent of serving “death by chocolate” for dessert.  It’s about treating your dining guest to a unforgettably decadent experience.  It’s food porn.

So, is the Bacon Pride movement here to stay, or is just a fad?  It’s hard to say.  It seems to me that bacon will always be a beloved food, so while we might be eating less of it in the future, I doubt it’s going anywhere.  But how much longer will bacon be in vogue?  Only swine will tell.

Feminism and Processed Foods (and Breastfeeding): A Conundrum?

Veggies

So these days, in my kitchen, I’m making an effort to use fewer processed foods. I’ve read my Michael Pollan and I’m sold on the concept that we should be eating things that would be recognizable to our great-grandmothers as “food.” Moreover, I’m thoroughly disgusted by the ways that the American food industry has transformed the way we eat by normalizing processed, unhealthy foods that are full of fat, sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and an array of unpronounceable non-food substances.

1950s Housewife in KitchenBut here’s the conundrum. I’m trying to eat more like people in my great-grandmother’s day. But would I trade places with her? Of course not. My options would be so much more limited than they are today. If I were my great-grandmother, I’d probably be a full time homemaker, whether I wanted to be one or not.

Much of my “decision” to be a homemaker would be dictated by social pressures. But some of this would have to do with food. One hundred years ago, food preparation was a whole lot more time consuming than it is today. I’d be baking breads, cutting apart whole chickens (if not slaughtering them), rolling out pie crusts, canning vegetables, and whole lot of other tedious tasks. I probably wouldn’t even have a refrigerator.

These days, many women work because of changing social norms—but also because of changing domestic duties. Thanks to modern conveniences, taking care of a house and cooking no longer has to be a full time job. My husband and I work full time, and at the end of the day, we have time to cook a healthy meal together. (Of course, the “cooking together” part is one luxury my great-grandmother didn’t get—and that many women today still don’t get!)

Read more…

Postmodern Snobbery: We’re All Snobs about Different Things

snob

Here’s the truth. We’re all snobs.

I mean, some of us are less snobby than others.  Many of us try our best to be open-minded.  But when it comes right down to it, all of us have some thing that’s important to us, and we look down at certain other people when they don’t share that thing.  You may be an open-minded person, but admit it, on some level, you’re a snob. Because, as much as I hate to admit it, so am I.

People have always been snobs. The curious thing about today’s snobbery is that we’re surrounded by diverse people with different and conflicting snobberies.  It used to be that people belonged to tight-knit groups where community members looked down at the same kinds of people.  Sometimes those people belonged to a different race or religion, or maybe those people drove the wrong kinds of cars or let their daughters act the wrong kind of way.  Of course, this sucked for the people in these groups who didn’t conform to the norms of group snobbery.  But for those who did, there was a sense of belonging.

These days, it’s rare to be part of a homogenous group and have no contact with people from different groups.  We come into contact with people with different snobberies every day.  The good thing about this is that this makes us more open-minded.  The difficult thing about this is that no matter what we do, we’re bound to trigger someone’s snobbery.  That’s not always bad, because it makes us build a thicker skin, but there are sometimes that I find these conflicting snobberies downright exhausting.

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Food TV, Sex, and Hunger: The Entertainment Value of Basic Needs in the First World

First World Problem:  not enough butter in the fridge to make a hummingbird cake!

First World Problem: not enough butter in the fridge to make Paula Deen’s hummingbird cake.

According to the United Nations, about a billion people on the planet Earth—or one out of every seven of our fellow human beings—do not get enough to eat. Some of these people live in my community. My daughter’s second grade teacher provides snacks every day because she knows that some of the kids really need a snack.

And yet, here in the First World, we just love using food as a form of entertainment. Between the Food Network and Top Chef and all the hours we spend reviewing and reading about restaurants on Yelp, food isn’t just nutrients—or at least for us First World denizens with cable and high speed Internet.  Food is fun.  We even call ourselves foodies.

I suppose it’s no surprise that humans have turned one of our basic needs into entertainment. We’ve done the same with sex.  For most animals, sex is exclusively a procreative survival mechanism.  Humans are one of the only species for whom sex is recreational.  And oh, how recreational it is.  If we’re not currently doing it, we’re just an Internet click away from seeing someone else doing it.

Food and sex are certainly our two most pleasurably awesome basic needs.  There’s a reason why there’s no Water Channel or Air Channel. (The Oxygen Network doesn’t count.)  I suppose there is a Shelter Channel, in the form of HGTV, where First World people expound on the need for granite countertops while many of the world’s citizens are homeless or close to it.  But mostly, it’s sex and food that top our media representations of basic needs.

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My Annual Science Fiction Convention Angst, or, Is it Normal to Not Fit in Anywhere?

dalek

This weekend, my family and I are heading to MarsCon, a local science fiction convention.  So it’s time for my annual “I don’t fit in anywhere” existential angst.

So, here’s my experience with sci fi conventions.  They’re fun. They’re more my husband’s thing than mine, since he’s the true fan.  I am only a lowercase-f kind of fan of some science fiction books, movies, and TV shows.  I am not a true part of “fandom,” the subculture (and in some cases, the lifestyle) that’s formed around the love of this genre.

So I go to sci fi conventions, and sometimes I have fun.  And a lot of times, I feel sad because I don’t fit in.  Here’s a subculture that many people gravitate towards because they feel like they don’t fit into mainstream society.  After feeling like outcasts in high school or work or wherever, they’ve found a group where they do fit in.  So here I am, wandering amongst the outcast subculture, feeling exactly like I did when I was in middle school—like an outcast.

I do have friends in fandom, and I’ve met some great people at conventions.  I’ve also encountered people who have been standoffish towards me—in some cases because they lack social skills, I suppose, but in other cases because they feel like I don’t fit into their “I don’t fit in” culture.  I’ll never forget sitting down with a group of people at a convention, and an acquaintance said to the group with genuine disdain in her voice, “She’s more normal than the rest of us.”  I was officially snubbed by the geek in-crowd.

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