My musings on the mainstream media and culture.

Drunk TV, or What if All TV was like Drunk History?

Drunk History
Think that history documentaries are too stodgy? Clearly you haven’t been watching Drunk History. On this new Comedy Central sensation, historical events are recounted to the audience by graduate students who are extremely drunk.  Famous actors are cast to star in the drunken storytellers’ tales.

To me, the humorous part about Drunk History isn’t that the storytellers are drunk.  It’s the juxtaposition.  Drunk History is done in the format of a crusty history documentary. You know, those documentaries that are narrated by professors blazer sleeve patches and monocles?  Replace the narrator with someone who’s falling down drunk, and you have humor through juxtaposition.  Here’s a scene from the early days of Drunk History, before it made its way to Comedy Central:

Of course, it’s not for everybody. My mother, a former social studies teacher, watched Drunk History for about three minutes and promptly left the room.

But this makes me wonder. What if all TV were like Drunk History?  Maybe Comedy Central has kicked off a new genre.  Maybe we’re all so fed up with Reality TV that we’re ready for a paradigm shift to Drunk TV. Here are just a few of the many possibilities for Drunk TV.

Drunk Cable News

Wolf Blitzed?

Wolf Blitzed?

Filling up 24 hours with news is next to impossible, so a good deal of that time is devoted to people yelling loudly at each other about their opinions.  That’s old already.  Instead, why not replace the Sean Hannitys of the world with drunk commentators who say things like,

“Dude, what the f**k are we gonna do about the Middle East?”

“I know, man!  We’ve been fighting one f**king war after another there since that Ayatollah sh*t!”

“It’s all about oil, dude!  It’s all about f**ing oil!”

Note:  this would work better with some commentators than others.  Wolf “Blitzed” Blitzer would be a riot.  So would Rachel Maddow.  But we probably don’t want to see Sean Hannity drunk.  The rage potential would be just plain dangerous.

Drunk Food Network

I know, some of the Food Network stars already seem a little drunk, like Rachael Ray, and don’t even get me started about Guy Fieri:

guy fieri drunk

But wouldn’t it be more fun if the cooks on the Food Network really were drunk?  “OK, dude.  What was I doing here?  Oh yeah, making pesto.  It looks kinda like it”s missing something.  Oh yeah, let’s add some parmesan cheese.  Just throw it right in the blender, as much as you want, like three or four pounds or so.  Now let’s press the button on the blender… OH S**T!!!  @#$%!!! I forgot to put the top on the blender.  That’s going to be a mother****ing mess to clean up.”

Try not to vomit on the antiques.

Try not to vomit on the antiques.

Drunk Antiques Roadshow

Antiques Roadshow is a great concept.  People dig up old stuff from their attics and bring them to this travelling roadshow of stodgy appraisers.  The appraisers tell them how much their junk is worth, and sometimes it’s worth quite a bit.

The problem with Antiques Roadshow is that it’s on for about 8,430 hours per day, and PBS really needs to mix things up.  Why not hand out cocktails to the appraisers and the junk-wielding masses before the show?

“Dude, I found this piece of c**p chair in my attic.  I didn’t think it was worth s**t, but my old lady made me bring it in.”

“Well, your old lady is one smart lady!  This chair is from the Eduardo period.”

“Dude!  The Eduardo period?  Does that mean it’s worth, like, millions and zillions of dollars?”

“Indeed!  Millions and zillions of dollars indeed… but oh dear.  The value is now greatly decreased, now that you’ve vomited all over it.”

Drunk House Hunters

"B**ch, that's one ugly f***ing house!"

“B**ch, that’s one ugly f***ing house!”

As I’ve written before, House Hunters is predictable and boring.  Most of the people buying houses want the exact same kind of countertops, bathroom fixtures, and floors.  As they walk through the houses, couples make the same “witty,” gender-stereotyped comments over and over again.  “Oh, honey, look at that massive walk-in closet.  it will hold all my stuff.  But where will your stuff go?”

it would be a whole lot more interesting and honest if the House Hunters looked for houses while drunk.

“Oh, honey, look at that big walk-in closet. It will fit all my shoes.”

“Huh. We’d have plenty of room for your shoes if you hadn’t spent half the down-payment on your f***Ing designer shoe collection.”

“What the f**k is that supposed to mean?  How much f***ing money do you spend on beer?”

“I wouldn’t have to drink so much if I didn’t have to listen to you talk about your f***Ing shopping sprees all the time.”

Drunk Weather Channel

Weather TV is weird.  Once in awhile, something huge like a tornado or a hurricane happens, and people are glued to their TVs.  But most of the time, Weather TV is just a bunch of people talking about the weather and saying inane things like, “Well, it’s going be another scorcher out there today!”  These inane things would be a whole lot more funny if the meteorologists were blasted.

Of course, this might be closer to reality than we think.  Search for “drunk weatherman” on YouTube, and you get a surprising number of real weather clips:

Drunk Sportscasters

beer at baseball gameSome of the best sports commentators out there are drunk guys.  They’ve had a few beers at the ballpark and they’ve got something say to that @#$% outfielder who belongs in the Little League and that @#$% manager.  Some of these guys are actually pretty funny.  Maybe they ought to be covering actual broadcasts.

This would be especially effective in covering baseball games, which last on average for 4,380 hours.  Even the best color commentators run out of interesting obscure statistics to discuss, so why not liven things up with some drunk guys?

Drunk C-SPAN

I need a drink just looking at this image.

I need a drink just looking at this image.

Our electorate would be much more well-informed if we only watched more C-SPAN.  Unfortunately, other than watching suburban city council meetings on Cable Access Channel 17, there’s nothing more dry imaginable.  About the only thing that would drive up C-SPAN’s ratings would be drunkenness.

Drunken commentators, drunken Senators, it doesn’t matter.  Drunk political debates would be especially cool.  Especially Vice Presidential debates.

So… Drunk TV Anyone?

Of course, this is all just wild and silly speculation.  Or is it?  There are an awful lot of cable TV hours in need of content.  Is Drunk TV any less likely than the fact that there are dozens of shows about pawn shops, prison life, redneck child pageant queens, and cupcakes?  And hey, they’re already using alcohol to get reality TV contestants on shows like The Bachelor to act like idiots.  Sadly, the intelligence level of so much of our TV is so low that getting everyone on TV drunk may not be that big of a change.

My Take on Minnesota Nice, or, A Few Requests to My Fellow Minnesotans


Dear Kind Fellow Minnesotans,

I have been living in your lovely state for a total of thirteen years now. Although I was born in Northfield, I spend most of my childhood in New Jersey, so living here is something I chose. Overall, I’m proud to live here. We have lakes, good schools, progressive attitudes, and these days, even gay marriage.  My father, who grew up in Minnesota and has no love for the place, often nags me to move back out east.  But I don’t because this is home.

But now and then, as a transplant, a few things about Minnesota truly get on my nerves. Like most transplants, this “Minnesota Nice” stuff gets to me. If you’re not from here, you might not understand that Minnesota Nice is different from bona fide niceness. “Minnesota Nice” means that people are courteous and helpful and give lots of money to charity, and that (unlike in New Jersey), the middle finger isn’t a commonly used traffic signal. But Minnesota Nice also means that people are reserved, not particularly warm, and slow to warm up to strangers. It means they talk behind your back instead of telling you how they feel. It’s passive-aggressiveness to an art.

This ee-card says it bluntly:

minnesota nice

So, Minnesotans, here are a few gentle things I’ve been wanting to say to you for some time. Feel free to post comments, as opposed to talking about me behind my back.

1. Strangers are Potential Friendsstrangers

Having talked to lots of transplants, this may be the number one complaint I hear.  Minnesotans do not seem the least bit eager to make new friends.  They make friends in elementary school, and maybe as grownups they make a few new friends at their church.  But they aren’t eager to make new friends who are outside their immediate, well-established circles.  As a transplant, this makes it very difficult to make new friends.

So, Minnesotans, I am wondering if you could try to be a little less cliquish. It’s great that you have well-established friendships. But if you’ve ever been a Girl Scout, you’ve no doubt sung the little ditty, “Make new friends, but keep the old.”  If you’ve only been doing the second part, try out the first part.

2. Conversation is a Give and Take

give and takeThis request is related to my first request.  People who aren’t accustomed to looking at strangers as potential friends aren’t very good at small talk.  After all, why make small talk if you don’t intend to know people outside your circle?

Here’s how Minnesota Conversation Deficiency goes. I’m at a party, and I ask questions of the person I’m chatting with. Where do you work? Where are you from?   I often try to look for common ground with the person I’m speaking with.  “Oh, you have an eight-year-old daughter?  Me too.  Where does your daughter go to school?”

If she’s good at conversation, my small talk companion will answer, and then say, “So where does your daughter go to school?” That’s give and take.

But here in Minnesota, that often doesn’t happen.  You ask questions of strangers at a party.  They answer politely.  Then they walk away.   I’ve considered walking up to people with Minnesota Conversation Deficiency later in the evening and saying, “Oh, by the way, I’m an instructional designer, and I grew up in New Jersey, and my daughter goes to elementary school in St. Louis Park. Thank you so much for making me feel welcome here at this party.”  I suppose it’s possible that I’m just a really, really boring person, and that no one could possibly be the least bit interested in my profession, my background, or my child.  But I tend to think not.

So, fellow Minnesotans, since I know you don’t want to make people feel invisible, please take the time and reciprocate conversational questions.  You might find that your fellow strangers are more interesting than you thought.

3. Learn to Be Direct

directHere’s the thing about Minnesota.  People aren’t direct.  And when it comes to indirect communication, there’s a whole complex set of social cues, rules, and norms you need to understand to know how to function.  After 13 years, I understand these cues — some of the time.  But for transplants like me, failing to understand what Minnesotans really mean is kind of like having something I’ll call Minnesota-Situational Asperger’s Syndome.

People who have real Asperger’s Syndrome have difficulty processing social cues.  For example, a person with Aspberger’s may not understand that the person they are speaking to wants to leave the conversation.  The other person may be nodding, glancing around the room, and making frequent, “uh-huh” sounds, but a person with Asperger’s misses these kinds of social cues.   In the workplace, people with Asperger’s have trouble reading subtle clues that they’re expected to do X,Y, and Z.  Naturally, a person with Asperger’s would have an easier time with direct communication — like a boss saying, “I expect you to do X, Y, and Z.”

So what is Minnesota-Situational Asperger’s Syndrome? The feeling experienced by transplants that it’s really, really hard to understand the complex set of Minnesota social cues.  Like when you ask your hostess if she wants help with the dishes, and she says no.  That doesn’t mean no.  It means you’re expected to offer your help two more times so that she can “reluctantly” accept your help.

So, Minnesotans, can you please just learn to say what you actually want?  And also, as a corollary to that…

4. Learn to Be Direct Nicely

happy minnesotaMinnesotans don’t get enough practice actually being direct.  Therefore, when a situation comes up when they have to be direct, they don’t know how to do so without being a jerk. They don’t know how to say, “I’m sorry, but no.”

Here’s an example.  I sent an email to a woman at a local school district, asking if my out-of-district daughter was eligible for some services in her district.  She wasn’t actually eligible.  The direct-but-polite answer to my question would have been, “I’m sorry, but she’s not eligible,”

However, in the world in Minnesota Nice, this isn’t the way people respond.  Instead, the woman sent me this long, weird administrative discussion of policy that made little sense, and never actually contained the word, “No.”  So I truly had no idea what the answer was.

So, i wrote back the following, “Could you please not be Minnesota Nice with me?  From your response, I think the answer to my question is no, but I can’t tell that for sure. Can you please give me a direct yes or no answer?”

Well, the woman flipped.  In icy cold language she informed me that no child outside the district was permitted into this program.  Her ultra-curt response contained neither a greeting nor a signature.  If she could have done so without getting fired, I’m sure she would have called me a bitch.

So, Minnesotans, please learn how to be direct without flipping out.  Practice the following mantra.  “I’m sorry, but no.”  Which brings me to yet another request:

5.  Learn How to Say No

Out of fear of being non-Nice, many Minnesotans refuse to say no.  Sometimes this is out of genuine kindness.  Unfortunately, for those of us afflicted with Minnesota-Situational Asperger’s Syndrome, we do not always recognize that your vague, beating-around-the-bush responses mean no.  And that can lead to embarrassment and other problems,  Let me give you an example.No

Let’s just say, hypothetically, that I’m hanging out with relatives.  Another relative is coming to town soon, and she’s having a milestone birthday. So let’s just say, hypothetically, that I excitedly get the idea that we ought to throw her a surprise party.  Whee! What do you say, everyone?

Well, “everyone” doesn’t like this idea one bit.  But they don’t want to be rude, so they give some vague responses that I was supposed to interpret as no.  However, since I don’t speak Minnesota Nice, I never hear “no” and send out a big email with explicit instructions to various people on when to arrive at the surprise party.

The first I hear that this is not actually a surprise party is when the guest of honor shows up, hours early, because the other family members have told her that we’re throwing her a birthday party and she wants to help us set up.

And yes, this is not really hypothetical, and I do know the parties involved absolutely did not mean harm.  But a simple “No” would have saved me a lot of embarrassment.

6. Stop Resolving Problems by Reporting them to Higher-Ups

Having a problem with a coworker?  The best approach is to talk to the coworker directly about the problem, right?  Well, no, not in Minnesota.  Since it’s rude to confront people directly with issues, a problem with a coworker can only be resolved in two ways: (a) be nice to your coworker to his face, and take out your frustrations by talking about him behind his back, or (b) report the problem to his supervisor.

The same goes for other problems.  Having an issue with your child’s teacher?  Tell the principal.  Unhappy with your restaurant server?  Tell the manager.

This doesn’t mean that you should never report problems to a higher-up.  There are plenty of good reasons to do this.  But using this as the default way of dealing with conflict is dysfunctional.  Yes, I know it’s awkward to confront people, even for us New Jersey-bred individuals.  But if you don’t confront someone because you’re worried that he’s going to be upset, well, think of how upset this person will be when it gets back to him that you were nice to his face and then reported him to management.

7. Different is Good

differentSo what do you Minnesotans say when someone wears something you don’t like?  Or serves a dish that’s not to your taste?  Or speaks of some lifestyle choice you don’t approve of?  Do you say, “Oh.  I don’t care for that.”

Nope.  You say, “Oh.  That’s different.”

I’ve heard other transplants complain about this use of “different” as well.  It takes us transplants awhile to figure out that “different” is euphemistic for “bad.”  Or “weird.”  Or “not normal, and therefore suspect.”

Minnesotans, please get out of the habit using the term “different” this way.  I mean, do you truly believe that anything that’s not “normal” is suspect?  No?  Then stop misusing this term. Different is good.

8. Opinions are Good

Hey, Minnesotans.  It’s okay to have an opinion about political issues.  And, under reasonable circumstances, it’s okay to politely express your opinions in public.  No, this doesn’t mean it’s a good thing to go stark raving mad at strangers on Facebook pages and in Comment boxes.  But please understand that there’s a big difference between engaging in a flame war and saying, “Well, personally, I feel strongly in favor of Issue X. What do you think?”

I learned this the hard way when I was teaching at several different Minnesota colleges. I would present multiple sides of an issue that was relevant to the course topic, and then ask the class, “So, what’s your opinion about this issue?”

Silence. Pulling teeth.  No one wanted to be “rude” and debate the issue at hand.  Students told me sometimes, “I don’t want to come across as opinionated,” as if expressing one’s opinion openly automatically earns the negative “opinionated” designation.

Having opinions, and expressing those opinions, is a crucial part of how democracy works.  Change of any kind will never happen if we’re all too polite to talk about it, and if nobody ever gets exposure to opinions different from their own, we all stagnate.  So, hey, Minnesotans, could you please practice voicing your opinions now and then?

9. So, Hey, Minnesotans, Thanks for the Lakes and All…

I know this post is blunt and not the least bit Minnesota Nice. I’d like to add again that I really do like this place.  It’s not perfect (and don’t even get me started on the winters or the current state of the Minnesota Twins), but like I said, I chose this place as home.  But hey, Minnesotans, you could sure be a little more direct once in awhile, dontcha know?

“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.

The Bachelorette: Haiku Recap for May 27, 2013

roseDesiree proclaims,
“I feel like Cinderella!”
A million tears fall.

Shiny silver dress!
Bangs: like Sean, a memory.
Des: dressed up for love.

Meet the new suitors!
Bryden: Montana Marine.
Will: token black guy.

Drew: fan of hair gel.
Nick: Chi-town magic tailor.
Zak: Naked Texan.

Robert: spin that sign!
Mike: dentist, blinding white teeth.
Brandon: has baggage.

Twenty-five bachelors
All here for the “right reasons.”
(Ha ha ha ha ha!)

Time for the limos.
Humiliation contest?
The contenders are:

Zak, minus his shirt.
Diogo: armor? Really?
Nick: token poet.

Dr. Larry: rrrrrrip.
Kasey: hashtag #wtf?
Jonathan: horny.

Ben brings his cute son.
Questionable parenting,
but he gets a rose.

Cocktail party time.
Zak takes off his pants this time.
Potential husband?

“Fantasy suite time,”
cries Jonathan. “Love tank full!”
Des: “Begone, frat boy.”

Rose ceremony.
Sorry, rejects. Journey’s done.
Next week: more fun, Des!

Watching the Media Report on Our Own Local Tragedy

thumbnail ph

This was a terrible week here in St. Louis Park, Minnesota that I will never forget.  On Wednesday, two fourth grade boys at Peter Hobart Elementary School, where my daughter is a second grader, were killed on a field trip. They were at Lilydale Park, a popular local field trip destination, hunting for fossils.  To everyone’s shock, there was a landslide, burying ten-year-old Mohammed Fofana and nine-year-old Haysem Sani under multiple feet of sand and gravel. Two other boys were injured, one of them seriously.

As soon as I heard what happened, I sat there at work trying not to cry as I tried to remember which of my daughter’s friends have older siblings in fourth grade. At home, I burst into tears and held my daughter as she comforted me, and then proceeded to spoil her for the evening with McDonald’s and TV and a super late bedtime and endless snuggles.

When something like this hits so close to home, it means something different than other news stories.  Of course I was in horrified when a madman killed a room full of first-graders in Connecticut, and when I stared at photos of that eight-year old boy who was killed at the Boston Marathon bombings.  This very week, ten children were killed in an Oklahoma tornado, many of them at their elementary school.  When the news brings us word that children have died, we pause in horror, and those of us who are parents know that somewhere, there’s a parent who’s experiencing the worst possible thing imaginable. But our lives go on, because awful as it is, we couldn’t function if we let every story in the news affect us as much as it could.

Community memorial in front of Peter Hobart.

Community memorial in front of Peter Hobart.

When two children from your child’s school die on a field trip, suddenly it’s not just another news story anymore. Suddenly your child’s school is being flashed across the screen as the region’s top news story for three days.  Suddenly, the worst possible thing imaginable is not so hard to imagine.  In my very community, two families sent their little boys to school, and they never came home.

I don’t watch the local news very often, or even read the local paper as much as I should, but of course we were glued to the local news the first few nights.  At first I felt grateful for the news for providing us with information, what little there was. But over the course of the next few days, I quickly stopped thinking of the local media as a friend of our community.

The scene in front of my daughter’s school:  media vans everywhere, taking pictures, and aggressively trying to speak with anyone child or parent or teacher they could find.  When the school bus returned to the school with the uninjured children, the staff had to be on hand to shield the kids from the mobs of reporters trying to sneak photos.

The worst of it was the next day, when the principal gave a press conference in front of the school.  Some of the reporters were there to play the blame game — and namely, point the finger at the principal for sending the kids on a field trip to the bluffs at Lilydale Park after there’d been a lot of rain this week.  After answering some angry questions, the frazzled principal ended the press conference abruptly and walked away.  One reporter yelled at her as she left, “Seriously?  This is a press conference!” On Channel 9 News, there was no pretense of “fair and balanced” that evening when they reporters expressed their disgust at Principal Nielsen for resisting their attempts to sensationalize this tragedy.

Sorry, Fox 9 news.  The people in my community do not blame the principal for a landslide at a park where children have gone on field trips for decades.  Rather, the people in this community know how much pain this woman and her staff must feel.  It’s just like the news reports of the Oklahoma tornado this week, where reporters have been asking whether or not the principal and teachers were at fault at a school where children were killed.

When it comes to an F5 tornado, or a landslide, the scary truth is that there’s no one to blame.  Sometimes life just sucks.  But when you’re a corporate media outlet trying to hook as many viewers as possible, why not try to sensationalize a tragedy as much a possible?  Random tragedy isn’t nearly as newsworthy as a scapegoat.

I also had a weird encounter with the media of my own, when I got a call from someone at the Star Tribune. He’d seen a post I’d made on Facebook in a public St. Louis Park school room.  I considered ignoring his message, but called him back only because I have respect for the Star Tribune.  (I wouldn’t have called back Fox 9.)

The conversation we had was puzzling.  The reporter been assigned to write a story on parents’ reaction to the event, and he told me that he was “going at it blind” and didn’t know how to start.  Feeling oddly like a teacher helping a student with a difficult assignment, I suggested that he call the head of the parent teacher association. He informed me that he already had and that she had screamed at him for 45 minutes (or so he said) because someone else had misquoted her in the paper.  He asked me for other parent’s phone numbers, which of course I did not give him.

I kind of felt sorry for the reporter — but only a little bit.  I knew where the frustration was coming from:  he desperately wanted to talk to frantic parents and children who had a direct connection to the event, and no one was willing to talk to him. But imagine that.  If your child witnessed a terrifying fatal accident on a field trip, would you want reporters talking to her that evening?  Of course not.  But in our corporate, ratings-driven media system, there’s no healthy balance between “what people want to see” and the privacy of individuals and a community.

I can only hope that this is as close as my family and I will ever get to a tragedy that dominates media coverage.  The next time there’s a horrible story about a child in the media, I’ll have a greater frame of reference for understanding the magnitude of what happened.  And sadly, I’ll have a greater frame of reference for understanding the irresponsibility of the news media.

“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, 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.

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