Truly Guilty Pleasures

So today I’m going to tell you all about some pleasures I indulge in that are really and truly embarrassing. This isn’t going to be a post about eating chocolate and watching The Bachelor (I’m so BAD you guys!). This is a post about listening to the Dave Ramsey Show and watching Alaska: The Last Frontier. I know. I know.

First up, the lesser of the two evils:

This a show about a clan of homesteaders who live off the land in Homer, Alaska. Most of the Kilchers live in cabins without modern plumbing or electricity. Each episode is basically people saying over and over again how important it is to provide for yourself and [emphasis theirs] your family with, as the opening song says, “blood, sweat and tears.” The evils of meat purchased in plastic packaging (as opposed to meat that you kill yourself) at the grocery store are invoked on a regular basis. This show is basically Little House on the Prairie with good-looking libertarian hippies. Why is it so appealing to me? Because it is basically Little House on the Prairie with good-looking hippies.*

Next up is possibly the most embarrassing culture I consume:

According to his website, Dave Ramsey “lost everything”** and then got out of debt trouble by working hard and living on “beans and rice” for two years. He produces a lot of media, but my poison of choice is his call-in radio show which is Dave telling people to pull themselves up by their bootstraps over and over again. It is really difficult to acknowledge the reasons I like listening to this show regularly. I tell myself that it’s because he uses “butt” and “rip” as expletives in a way that fires up my nostalgia for all of the Baptist men of my youth.

But the real reason I regularly consume both of these shows is awful: I love escaping into the fantasy that individuals (like me!) have complete control over their own lives. It’s comforting to have someone tell me over and over again that all I have to do to become rich is stick to a barebones budget for a couple of years and pay off every cent of my debt. Work hard, these shows tell me, and I’ll be okay in the end. Delay gratification for a few years, and I’ll be set:

These shows are doing a lot of terrible things on a cultural level. The worst, though, is that they obscure the role of wider communities and/or systems in individuals’ lives. The Kilchers are filmed growing their own produce, butchering their own livestock and clearing land for a new cabin. But of course we never see them filling their ATVs’ gas tanks or buying their Carhartt coveralls.*** Dave talks about how he started with “nothing” and became a millionaire by 26 through his own hard work. He of course fails to mention his wealthy parents and supportive wife. I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t even occur to him to talk about his built-in race/gender/health privileges. Really, it’s probably too much to expect a conservative like him to publicly acknowledge any of his myriad privileges.**** However, I do think it’s irresponsible and downright cruel to tell literally millions of poor people that the only thing keeping them from being rich is themselves. Okay, I’ve talked myself into un-subscribing again. But I’m keeping my Alaska episodes.

Do y’all have a taste for evil culture?

-C

*It’s worth mentioning that while looking for clips, I was for some time distracted by another, potentially worse guilty pleasure:

**The rich white dude version of losing everything, which is getting into massive amounts of debt in real estate holdings.

***To be fair, though, they often talk about bartering with neighbors and many of the episodes feature the three families helping one another out. Also, they do a lot of Depression-era-style recycling. This makes it okay that I have purchased not one, but two season passes, right?

****He could actually have acknowledged this stuff by talking about his “blessings.” Are “blessings” the conservative’s version of privileges?

The Serial of YouTube

If you were already a podcast person, listening to podcast newbies drone on and on to you about the podcast Serial was pretty rough. I knew Podcasts were great before Serial. But the truth is that Serial is sort of different from most podcasts. It is highly researched, produced, and it unravels in a much larger narrative arch than even its forefather This American Life. But if you listen to say, The Slate Culture Gabfest, you were unsurprised by the intimacy of Serial’s format. The way a certain voice in your earphones becomes like a friend you walk around with.

Youtube, like podcasts, is also a cultural medium that only a committed (and younger) audience consume. Old people are boggled by the appeal of amateur videos about people’s makeup hauls and voice-overs of video game sessions. But I have been waiting for the Youtuber (Youtube content creator) who can actually cross over the way that Serial did for podcasts. I have found him! Behold Casey Neistat:

Casey Neistat is basically a professional ad director, but he actually follows the conventions of Youtube pretty closely. He rarely uses a camera man, instead opting for his own point and shoot. He has DIY’s, travel vlogs, and windows into his banal life, but most importantly he makes videos about consumer objects that feel like a intimate conversation with a friend instead of a manipulative sales pitch. These are all classic Youtube sub-genres. The only difference is that he is an actual film maker and thus he brings the sly finesse of a professional to this intimate form. I think this breaks Youtube wide open. Many people have tried making traditional tv shows on Youtube, but Youtube is a medium with its own formal logic (much like podcasts), and Neistat has embraced those limitations. On top of all that, Neistat is a very fancy person. I want to buy all the products he casually destroys so that I can be just like him. And I am hooked into the product videos by the tear jerking over shares.

Like Serial, Neistat’s videos draw on a much longer history of “research” than most creators in his medium. Because he has been making videos since he was a teenager, his new videos contain old footage that extends the temporal arc of his narratives back in time–making the fragmentary and spontaneous element of his Youtube videos feel more “important.”

 

This is how Youtube will take over your eyeballs.

 

-D

Sometimes I pause Taylor Swift and listen to this

 

-D

2014 Gift Guide

I am perplexed by the gift guides that seem to pervade the media at this time of year. Do men really want “the perfect whiskey cup”? And why would they only want one? That is, except for the GOOP gift guide, which is a gift in itself. It combines the excess of the FAO Schwarz catalog and the storytelling pizazz of the J. Peterman catalog in the nineties. Actually GOOP’s good-but-minimal copy plus a jumble of shiny images really just borrows from the genius of US weekly, now that I think of it.

First of all, I would like to say that if you have no children in your family currently, or if they are too young to know what Christmas is, consider not giving presents at all. It only works if everyone really agrees to it, but the effect is lovely. A general level of stress dissipates and suddenly the whole family can really focus on what matters = the movie you can all go to on Christmas day because there are no presents to open.

But if you are forced to do Christmas gift-giving here are my suggestions.

For your husband: This is a tough one because it actually requires you to have been paying attention all year. What did he say he wanted but he didn’t buy for himself because he is responsible? I don’t know. Ask for a list. Don’t be a hero.

For your best friend: This is so easy. Whatever you want for yourself! Duh. But the obvious answer is Women in Clothes.

For your male best friend: Whiskey (try Four Roses–cheap and good)

For your nieces and nephews: MOney$$$$$$

For your children: An FAO Schwarz catalog! Give them the gift of flaneurship in hard copy. Teach them early that wanting is always more satisfying than having.

For your mom: Whiskey (try Buffalo Trace–reasonably priced and sweet)

For your dad: Whiskey (try McCarthy’s Oregon Single Malt–delicious, obscure and really more like a Scotch)

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A pretty accurate depiction of the past week

We Got Us a Gilmores Virgin

The Gilmores have dropped on Netflix. Those of us who already know and love Lorelai, Rory, Emily, Sookie, Lane and the rest of the gang have probably already blocked off a few weeks on their calendars to binge watch all seven seasons. For those of you who are new to the show, who maybe disdained it in high school or college but are ready to give it a second chance, I’d like to make a couple of suggestions.

Don’t start with season one. Look, I’m not saying skip it altogether. But like all network shows, the first set of episodes isn’t exactly the Platonic ideal of Gilmorianness. It’s very much a WB teen drama in the first year. It’s great, but you’ve got a fair bit of surly teen attitude from Rory, which the writers thankfully do away with season two. The town characters aren’t allowed to be as character-y yet. Sean Gunn isn’t Kirk until episode 5. Kelly Bishop’s makeup and hair are weird.

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The One Tree Hill guy hasn’t jumped ship yet. Lane inexplicably becomes a cheerleader. Lorelai and Rory uncharacteristically are into the same Macy Gray song. As a whole, season one is still 10 times better than any other show that aired in 2000, but it’s best not to have this be your first impression.

Season three is where you need to begin (as D has pointed out before, this is true of most shows). The most important aspect of the show, Rory and Lorelai’s banter, is LOCKED IN. There are problems to be sure, beginning with [spoiler alert] the most boooooooring backdoor pilot ever where Jess goes to California to meet his dad and Twins Peak stepmom. For the most part, though, the show has really found its groove. Lauren Graham KILLS every scene she is in:

In one of my favorite episodes, Lorelai and Rory manage to make the old “multiple Thanksgivings” sitcom storyline charming:

You may then proceed chronologically to season four, where you will meet Lorelai’s true soulmate, Chris Eigemann as Jason “Digger” Stiles. This season also finds Rory man-less, which actually really works.

From there, you may go back to seasons one and two. Marvel at Rory’s baby face and Lorelai’s late-90s dark berry lipsticks and mini-skirt suit sets. Understand how lucky the creators were to have cast Melissa McCarthy as Sookie instead of Alex Borstein (who makes a cameo as Drella the harpist). Cycling back this way also allows you to get a second viewing of seasons three and four. And yes, watching these seasons again is necessary, because there will be about five hundred jokes you missed the first time around. Also, Rory’s graduation speech is way more poignant after watching her grow up.

Watching the show this way also gives you a nice, long buffer before the heartbreak that awaits you in seasons six and seven.

ENJOY

-C

Favorites

I failed summer this year. No barbeques, no picnics, no lakeside retreats. I think I ate tomatoes twice. There are still two weeks left, and maybe I’ll get it together and go to a farmers market. But really my summer favorites have been pretty un-Instgrammable.

First, things I do in dark rooms when it is nice out:

Summer continues to punish me with the lack of television but thank god for Married and Masters of Sex. If you are a fan of Judy Greer and Nat Faxon, the show is basically just a showcase for their charm. There are some cringe comedy elements but people fundamentally love each other on the show. Masters of Sex only gets better and better, and if you were bored by the first few episodes just push through. They are doing things on this show that rival Mad Men’s deft approach to history.

All I did this summer was go to movies. Guardians of the galaxy, Obvious Child, and Boyhood boyhood blew my mind while also delivering pure pleasure.

To be totally honest, the single greatest conveyor of pleasure has been Vivianna Does Makeup’s weekly vlogs on Youtube. The scenes of London, her perfect boyfriend, her delicious meals–so good.

For some reason August has been cool and lovely in New York, so I also have garnered some pleasure from leaving my house:

God answered my prayers and opened up a Kimchi Taco restaurant outside our closest subway stop.

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Pork, fish and fried chicken tacos.

 

Red Hook, our neighborhood, is just generally charming and calm.

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And, the nicest Pakastani family has opened up a Dunkin Donuts on the way to kickboxing. This place sparkles.

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Finally, I have found the ideal way to deal with the excess, heat, and general grossness of Manhattan. I go into the Soho Equinox gym and order an “Acai Bowl,” which is basically this genius thick smoothie in a bowl with toppings. And as I enjoy my cool treat I watch celebrities leave the gym looking sweaty and beautiful.

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So far Dom from “Looking” was the prettiest.

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-D

 

 

 

 

 

Ladies of Habit Prep: Emily Gould

In preparation for our next book “Friendship” by Emily Gould, here is a little review session on the much hated author:

Julie Klausner’s recent interview with Emily Gould, in which Gould was totally charming, made me want to understand why everyone hates Emily Gould for exposing herself on the internet. I read her big cover piece in The New York Times Magazine in which she chronicles her time at Gawker and rise to internet fame, I read her article on how she blew through her $200,000 advance on her first book, I read several of the hate pieces on her, and I have gotten on the list for her new novel Friendship.

Most people (commenters) think she is narcissitic and without substance. Actual literary and cultural critics pile on the qualifications before they call her shallow. “Of course young women should be able to write about the minutia of their lives and feelings.” “Men used to do it all the time and we rewarded them for it . . . BUT . .” And then the critiques are basically the same as the commenters: she writes about a very narrow experience, she has no sense of a world outside of herself, and her problems are boring.

As for the NYTM article, if you haven’t read it since it was published in 2008, it is an interesting piece to re-read. Her life does sound a bit Hannah Horvath-ish in that she keeps doing things she regrets and learns little from these experiences. Many of her mistakes include publishing personal things about loved ones on the internet. My pet theory is that the real reason people were repulsed by her is that she was describing a professional blogger’s lifestyle, which sounded very weird in 2008. Who knew a professional blogger in 2008? Who knows a professional blogger now? Very few people. But the truth is that even less people know a young published print writer like Hannah Horvath either. Hannah Horvath/Lena Dunham (who I think of the celebrated version of Emily Gould) is much more appealing because she still falls into the romantic vision of a young artist who wants to write BOOKS, not blogs, Youtube videos or “content” for Buzzfeed.

Dunham smartly created a modern portrait of young womanhood that still draws on old fashioned tropes of artistry. But God I would love to watch a Lena Dunham youtube channel.

Despite the vitriolic claims that Gould’s description of working for Gawker was a narrow view of the world, it is simply a narrow view of the world that we have not romanticized yet.

But the real issue is whether there is something boring or unseemly about the kind of unstructured way Gould expresses her feelings, a style that feels eerily familiar to any lady of habit who keeps a journal, a blog, or simply shares too much about their exercise routine at dinner parties. Gould raises great questions about whether lady issues are less important than manly existential problems; and secondarily, do these lady feelings require framing that signals their narrowness while also making connections to more universal experiences?

A want to say no. I want to say all lady feelings deserve a New York Times Magazine cover story as much as any other topic. But I think the great lady feelings sharers of our day–Lena Dunham, Maria Bamford, Taylor Swift–all are great because they don’t sound “bloggy” or narrow at all. Their work is on some level fictionalized, and broadened, through the development of alter egos.

So I look forward to Gould’s novel, because it is a novel and not a memoir and thus through the simple process of fictionalizing her experiences I think she might find more translatable ideas. Or maybe the novel will finally make us feel okay about Emily Gould’s bloggyness. Let’s see!

-D

Travel

It is time for my summer holiday, and I am going to LA for a long weekend to stay with a friend.

My travel rules for vacations:

Bring nothing, buy everything.

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This amazing Patagonia luggage can have nothing or everything inside its magical compartments. It also has backpack straps.

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I did bring my running shoes so I can hike up that hill that celebrities get their photos taken on.

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Although it appears you can do it in clogs.

But I also plan on utilizing my time in Silverlake and taking this class:

A few other plans: try to buy this week’s US Weekly and last week’s in the airport, buy all the expensive airport food and don’t worry about it, put about a half lb. of duty-free designer hand lotion on my legs.

In LA, I plan on eating every taco in every food truck that GOOP suggested.

Finally, my travel outfit.

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I did it. I bought Birkenstocks. It is actually your fault and not mine. No one gave me enough points for not buying them, so I decided to go all in and get the loudest color available.

-D

 

Ladies of Habit Book Club: The Vacationers

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Synopsis: fancy New York people go to Majorca on vacation, daughter’s last summer before going to Brown, discord between long married parents, lots of descriptions of food and what it feels like to sit next to swimming pools.

I liked this book. This is not quite as good as Seating Arrangements, but for a book that is being marketed as chick lit summer vacation reading, it satisfies my needs.

It is strange however to read this book about New Yorkers escaping the muggy city while being stuck in said muggy city.

To her credit Straub does not try to trouble my basic understanding of the world: Majorca is a nicer place to be than New York in the summer, rich people have fun vacations even when they have familial problems, and the one poor person stuck with the rich people can see their foibles clearly.

All the characters are specific, human, and their interactions are laced with very funny dialogue. This book will not mess up your vacation by making you feel sad and if you aren’t going on vacation you will appreciate the transporting descriptions of white stone villas and young AND old people sex.

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