Nothing lasts forever. Take me: I used to be a medium-funny guy. You could count on me to bring a reliable number of chuckles to social occasions. I wasn’t hilarious, but I made sure to get a few solid laughs at parties, galas, potlucks, and ad hoc social gatherings.
These days, I don’t know what’s going on. Every once in a while, when I crack wise or make a seemingly-sly reference, the oddest thing happens. A few people laugh, but others just look at me, their faces like ash. In those panicky moments when I wait for the bombed joke to pass, a fear grips my bowels. Perhaps the fear:
I’m getting old.
The worst part is, I recognize the look I’m getting. It’s the same look I give my dad whenever he makes a joke that, despite having the contours of humor, doesn’t quite hit me in the gut. Even if it seems well made, it just doesn’t make me laugh. It’s too… foreign.
What’s weird about my current predicament is that I know fully well the lineage of my sense of humor. Everything that I think of as “funny” was filtered through years of loving, referencing, and digesting the comedy aesthetic of golden era Simpsons.
As a formal foundation for jokes, you could do worse. In true modernist tradition, early Simpsons episodes emphasized structure, lasting cultural references, and finely-honed layers of complexity. What’s more, everybody else was watching the same show.
“Funny” only becomes possible when people share the same points of reference. Without sympathetic context, there’s no way to subvert expectations. But nowadays, I don’t know, man. Against the modernist tendencies employed by early Simpsons, today’s internet-heavy conditions seem rabidly post-modern, with an emphasis on the eradication of structure, a flurry of rapid re-mixes, and the invention of new grammars and patois that dissolve as soon as they are understood.
Culture has moved on from The Simpsons, despite the show’s unwillingness to pass into comedy Valhalla. In other words, Simpsons is becoming dad humor: structures so well trod that they can never again surprise, no matter how perfectly crafted. The aesthetic earmarks of this mid-90s humor juggernaut are becoming as antiquated as puns and pies-in-the-face.
If this trend continues, it seems likely that it will occur in stages, as more and more young and influential people are unaware of the debt we owe to the likes of Groening, Meyer, Swartzwelder, et al. Compared to the emerging humor aesthetic, the old-school modernist approach will look like it’s for effete try-hards, instead of the cool culture-jammers of the future.
What does that mean? Where does that take us?
I don’t know about you, but my cartography’s all fucked up. I want to map out this structure, and try to see what happens when this style of joking becomes isolated and misunderstood, like dads the world over. READ MORE
Here is a weird thing about the technology section of the most important newspaper in America: A number of its biggest stars have left in recent months. While reporters at large papers frequently move around and often change beats—especially at the Times—all of these reporters continue to cover technology, just not from the tech desk. Nick Bilton, its most famous writer, who lives in the future and watched Twitter get hatched, now runs his "Disruptions" column in the Styles section; Claire Cain Miller now covers "tech + gender/work/family" at the Times' explainer site, the Upshot; Jenna Wortham, its brightest star, recently decamped for Sunday Business, where she continues to cover technology and culture; and it was announced the other week that David Stretfield, a Pulitzer Prize-winner for his work on the Times' remarkable iEconomy series about Apple's supply chain, while not technically leaving the technology desk, was taking on a "wider role as an enterprise correspondent" and would "contribute pieces to other sections of the paper, including the Sunday Magazine, and will expand his portfolio to take on topics beyond tech."
These moves are partly because the tech desk is tightly circumscribed, in both content and form, by its placement within and subservient to the business section, a structure that, to the outside world, makes less and less sense every day. This is why other sections, in particular Styles, always free to cover whatever, have been been able to colonize the far more interesting and fertile field of cultural technology coverage at a relentless pace. (Even many of the technology section's occasionally ambitious and captivating stories about how technology is changing how we live that truly intersect with business, like Vindu Goel's piece on how Facebook sold us krill oil, have been published in Sunday Business.) READ MORE
I need to tell you a story. That means this will be just like every other Ask Polly column, except this story is a little longer than usual, and at first, when you read it, you'll ask, "Where's the tepid dude of the week?" Just bear with me.
In September of 2012, after reading and admiring The Awl for years, and writing a few short humor pieces for them, I sent Choire Sicha an email.
Subject: Existential advice column
That's what I should be writing for The Awl.
Come on, pay me a tiny bit and it's yours! Just enough $ so my husband doesn't roll his eyes and spit whenever he hears the word "Awl."
Choire's one-word reply was:
Two days later, I sent in my first column and The Awl published it, and thus began one of the best gigs of my career. My first editor, Carrie Frye, let the term "pious fuckwinder' run in my second column. My second editor, Choire, was even more tolerant of dubious strings of adjectives. (He also once forgot to pay me for five months, but when I responded with a three-thousand-word screed on the madness of freelance writing, he sent me a check and published my screed and paid me for that, too.) My third editor, Matt Buchanan, let the term "dickweasel" run. In a world full of pious fuckwinders and dickweasels, in other words, The Awl is an island of sanity, and originality, and humility. I had hoped to never leave. READ MORE
“A girl told me today that I would be a lot prettier if I got my eyebrows threaded. So I told her she’d be a lot prettier if she got surgery to turn her fivehead into a forehead!!”
File that one under the “swing and a miss” column of my sick burn top hits listicle, but biting wit notwithstanding, my mother was unperturbed.
“Maybe you should start threading your eyebrows,” she conceded, staring fervently at the thicket perched above my nose like it was an unsolvable calculus problem.
I was not expecting that response. I was nine.
Any article trending on the Internet right now can tell you how difficult growing up female is, but let me make it clear: growing up female and Indian is about 100x worse. Thanks to my follicular birthright, I was covered in body hair – not just that adorable little unibrow, or even the wispy mustache that would put prepubescent teenage boys to shame, but wrist to shoulder, leg to ladypart thick black hair. The longest relationship I’ve ever been in, 16 years and counting, has been with the nice Indian lady who threads and waxes me bare – a woman who, despite being so skilled at hair removal she made it a career, once commented, “I just don’t understand why your chin hair is so stubborn.” (Me either, Roma Auntie, but I agree with you, it does seem like laser hair removal has really helped, right?)
If you were interviewing me to be an entry-level management consultant at your top four firm, and – in lieu of asking me how many ping pong balls I thought could fit into a Boeing-737 – asked how many hours I’ve spent in my life removing body hair, I wouldn’t just estimate that shit to show you my thinking. I can give you cold hard numbers. 18 years, seven minutes of leg shaving every three days, one hour of arm waxing, eyebrow threading, and myriad other ways to “clean up” the rest of my face every three weeks, and I’m staring down the barrel of 723 and one half hours. Throw on another half hour of laser hair removal (saying nothing of the time I spent crying in the car after laser hair removal, because it hurts that badly), and that’s 30 days of my life dedicated to maintaining the image that I was, as Leonardo DiCaprio puts it in The Wolf of Wall Street, “hairless from the eyebrows down.” READ MORE
A nice counterpoint to Weaver's "Promises" and "OctaHate." Never quite an anthem but not nearly a downer.
★★★★ Sun found the splinter or stray cactus spine in a finger, a tiny golden spark for the tweezers (turning to avoid the tweezer-shadows) to surround and snuff. Pine cones lay everywhere; the two-year-old had to be dissuaded from expanding his collection of them to three and beyond. The ocean was rougher than before, with chunks of seaweed in it and a bobbing lump of foam garbage, but out beyond the churn it was still soothing to float in. At the trolley stop in the afternoon, the sun experimented with severity, but was mollified by a cloud. A rabbit sprinted alongside the trolley for a few strides, then veered off. The trolley rolled past trim, modest houses, then past an unfinished ostentatious house. A cool breeze blew through the wooden interior. A hawk flapped by with one wing notched by a missing primary. Out on the boardwalk, the air moved in warm and cold layers, like the water. The two-year-old went on a stomping run, xylophonic footsteps advancing down the boards. Across from the concrete pillars of the seaside hotel construction site, two goldfinches, plumage unreal in its schematic boldness, perched on bobbing grass stems at the crest of the dunes.
The two-way path between government, politics, and private industry, densely shaded by lush money trees, is so well-worn it seems to have been carved by the finger of God, a well-known capitalist, long ago. And yet, fresh trade routes establish themselves all the time. David Plouffe, the man who successfully convinced a majority of the United States in 2008 that Barack Obama would change the country for the better, is now going to make the same argument for Uber, a service that seeks to deeply weave itself into the infrastructure of cities in order to make as much money as possible. Meanwhile, Kara Swisher notes, former Obama press secretary Jay Carney "is still in the running to take over the top comms job at Apple."
This was inevitable; we were warned. Silcon Valley once believed that—whether by dint of its vast sums of money, its increasingly intimate role in the lives of a billion people, or mass delusion—that it was beyond the reach of politics. It has discovered, perhaps via machine learning, that it is like any other titanic industry that has come before it: Why evade power when you can wield it?
We dudes can be a confusing, emotionally constipated, nearly-illiterate group of horndogs with smartphones. And since it’s 2014 and most people are paralyzed by the idea of speaking into a phone receiver, we must fumble our path to fornication via cryptic texts which barely constitute as flirting, let alone communication, most of the time.
But hey! I’m a dumb dude with thumbs and a libido! So let me pull back the Old Spice-scented curtain and let you peek inside the mind of the modern bro’s texting intentions:
hey = I am scared, unfathomably scared.
sup? = Please do not discover my insane insecurities, I do not feel cool. Ever.
what are you up to tonight? = I can’t even begin to explain the intense, deep loneliness brewing within me and one more night alone, eating cheeseburgers in my underwear, watching The Wire (have you seen The Wire?) is such a daunting dive into the abyss that I will undoubtedly break. READ MORE
There's a rat. The intercom woman speaks: "The next stop is 47th–50th Streets, Rockefeller Center." The rat is walking in your direction. The train across the platform—other way—is about to leave. "Stand clear of the closing doors, please." The rat is trotting like a wolf. A loud clattering sound: A suitcase down the stairs? Repairs? The rat doesn't care. The rat is galloping. The rat is here. The rat bites. Get off my subway platform, human. Your time is over.
Michael Lansu has been a crime reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times for the past decade. Since October 2013 his role has been more specific: editor of the Sun-Times’ Homicide Watch blog, where he reports on every homicide in a city which had five hundred murders in 2012.
Each victim receives a landing page on Michael’s blog. Some are bare-bones, just a news brief on their death. Others—where the victim’s family was more talkative, or the prosecution more successful—are elaborate, Facebook-like pages, with in memoriam posts and updates on suspects’ court dates. The overall effect is strangely human: part crime reporting, part obituary.
Summer is the busiest season for Michael—there were and eighty-two shootings over July 4th weekend—but he made time to meet me at Starbucks and share his thoughts on his work and violence in Chicago.
Your blog’s mission is to humanize Chicago's murders, as opposed to lumping them together into statistics. Can you talk a little about homicides that have deviated from the typical, statistics-driven Chicago crime narrative?
Well, first I want to say that statistics are good. They give you a good idea of which neighborhoods are seeing the highest volume of murders, like Austin, South Shore, Grand Crossing. Really, any murder that happens in the lower-crime neighborhoods is one of the outliers.
Age is another dimension—people outside the eighteen-to-twenty range are kind of outliers. Michael Sullivan, he was an older guy who was walking to work when someone shot and killed him in a robbery. Others that were unique: Endia Martin this year, a fourteen-year-old girl, was shot and killed by another fourteen-year-old girl in a fight over a boy. That was out of the ordinary, because of her age and because she was a girl. Shamiya Adams, an eleven-year-old girl, was killed by a stray bullet a couple weeks ago on the West Side, while she was at a sleepover.
But I really try not to think, oh, just because this one goes against the numbers, I should focus on it more than the others. That goes against what I want to do. Homicide coverage in Chicago has gotten much better, especially with social media making it easier, but it’s still really hard to know which murder is interesting when you’re not making an effort to talk to people. Just because somebody was nineteen years old and in an alley at 3 a.m. doesn’t mean it’s not an interesting story.
Kelela, sounding pained but calm. Le1f, floating easily in P. Morris's murky production. A good song for staring blankly into the middle distance! [Via]
Part one of a series, wherein the author attempts to answer the question, "Can I produce A NYC burlesque show without losing my shirt?"
It wasn't long after I became friends with burlesque star and producer Calamity Chang through freelance work that I came up with the idea for Beylesque, a Beyoncé burlesque show to take place on or around the pop diva's 33rd birthday. "It could be huge!" I said. "It's underground meets mainstream pop. You could serve birthday cupcakes and have a dance-off/twerkout during intermission."
See, I'm great at coming up with ideas that I absolutely, 100% guaranteed will never follow through with — TV commercials, reality shows, a jewelry line — and then pushing said ideas onto people who might actually be able to pull them off.
Calamity wasn't sold on my Beyoncé burlesque idea at first, but that didn't keep me from suggesting it a few more times. And then she said, "Okay, we're doing it." We? I haven't planned an event involving more than a handful of friends since my debauchery-free, free pizza-ful days as a college RA.
Beylesque is now a real thing and it's happening Saturday, September 6, at 11 pm! Here's how we're pulling it off, so far.
Calamity and I needed a show name that would scream "Beyoncé" without warranting a cease and desist letter. We also thought of our target audience. "All the Single Ladies" it was. Runners-up: "Crazy in Love," "Bootylicious," and "We Bey All Night." READ MORE
The Post has come out boldly in favor of catcalling. Some of the essay's core points, adjusted for clarity:
I realize most women with healthy self-confidence don’t court unwanted male [THREATS AND VERBAL ASSAULT]. In fact, most women seem to hate it. It’s not brain science — when a total stranger [DEMEANS AND INTIMIDATES] you, it’s validating. Enjoying male [VIOLENCE] doesn’t make you a traitor to your gender.
The saddest thing about these unimaginatively provocative stories—the DON'T HATE ME FOR MY PRIVILEGE essays, the CALM DOWN, PEOPLE! rants—is that the best-case outcome is the education of one person: The writer-subject, who will become either permanently entrenched or emotionally broken as a result of the ensuing backlash. Otherwise, the ripples don't even make it to the edge of the pond. Some readers nod their heads and turn the page; others click, think "oh [hell] no," and generate some angry social media. It's first and foremost a human sacrifice intended to insert a small thrill into the paper: the private thrill of reading your horrible opinion expressed in public at no personal cost (there but for the grace of god!), or the more public thrill of identifying something utterly and completely wrong.
NowThisNews was started a couple years ago as a "brand new video network built from scratch for people who get their news on mobile devices and through social streams." It was given five million dollars. Its early videos were short YouTube-style news bulletins; most of the old embeds seem to be gone. Now, a few PIVOTS later, the company is focusing on publishing news directly to apps, including Vine and Instagram. This concept—bypassing websites, going directly to other companies' channels—is something that a lot of people will start trying over the next year, because the internet is broken.
NowThisNews is also publishing directly to Snapchat, the ephemeral texting and video app. Here is what Snapnews looks like in its primitive form: A ninety-second reel, divided into small units, each composed by finger or stylus. Who knew! This is NowThisNews's Monday stream in its entirety: READ MORE
People often say that their hometowns or favorite cities are unique. "There’s no place like New York," they declare. This is true, up to a point—no two cities are exactly alike—but, broadly speaking, it’s nonsense. Almost every modern city is like New York, because nearly every city is substantially like every other city: There are traffic jams and suburbs and hip, formerly industrial neighborhoods and decaying ones. But Venice? Venice is different. There’s no place like Venice.
The same quality that made the Queen of the Adriatic a world power in medieval and Renaissance Europe—her amphibious nature, unassailably positioned out in a lagoon, her finger on the pulse of Mediterranean trade—has made her a singularly ornamental city in the twenty-first century. Some old imperial capitals have sprawled uninterrupted into modern metropolises, like London and Moscow, while many of Venice’s onetime rivals have shrunk into sleepy little provincial resorts, like the Republic of Ragusa—now Dubrovnik, Croatia—or developed into modern centers of trade and industry, like La Serenissima’s nemesis, Genoa. Venice is too big and spectacular to fade away, too constrained to sprawl, too peculiar to reinvent itself. It’s a relic, left behind by the shifting currents of trade and history: as Portugal and Spain opened naval routes to Asia and the Americas, Venice went from being a crossroads of international trade to a relative backwater; as technology advanced, the Arsenale went from being the world’s greatest and most sophisticated industrial facility to an antiquated shipyard incapable of launching modern vessels.
So today, Venice relies overwhelmingly on tourism; half of the city’s economic activity is directly tied to it, and almost everything else relies, if indirectly, on tourists’ money. The one substantial sector of the economy that isn’t tourism-related is education, and at the intersection of tourism and the academy lies the city’s modern specialty, cultural events—the world-famous film festival, boat races, conferences, and the Biennale.
When somebody says "Venice Biennale," you probably think of the Art Biennale, picturing great hordes of glamorous art-world people drifting from debauched party to debauched party, Bellinis in hand. Maybe you read Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi? The Architecture Biennale is a little different. There are still some glamorous, fashionable art-world types, but replace about seventy percent of them, in your mind’s eye, with frumpy, middle-aged white guys. Then replace all those Bellinis with Aperol spritzes and tone down the revelry; people are relatively sober, treating the occasion more like a professional conference than a carnival.
★★★★ Blue gaps opened in the cloud cover. The little glimpse of ocean off through the pines was gray. The sun burned through on the way to the farmer's market, making the walk back bright and hot enough for the children to complain about. Out on the beach, the waves spread cool air as they broke. Now the water was the green of good olives, and where it broke it was the green that appears now in late-rmodel cars. The swells were gentle, though people still swarmed the water with their artificial floating planks, sub-surfboards, as if some excitement might happen. A wind roared over wet ears on the way back up onto the shore, and a gust uprooted the beach umbrella and flung it five or ten yards, where it hit a stranger from behind. Inland, crape myrtles were in bloom on the supermarket lot. Even on the barren asphalt, the heat was less than painful. A gray cloud moving through the blue released a drop or three of rain as the grill smoked and fought to get going. The wind kept the smoke moving to every quarter. The clouds drifted briskly. A pile of them out to sea began to turn purple and gold.
No body part inspires puritanical pearl-clutching in decent Americans quite as much as the humble nipple. Ten years ago, Janet Jackson slipped the nipple heard ‘round the world, prompting comic levels of outrage and morality policing. This summer, the MPAA banned Eva Green’s Sin City 2 poster for hinting at the possible existence of a nipple through her sheer robe. In between, there was a decade’s worth of similar incidents regarding this particular brand of anatomical exposure:
Janet Jackson at Super Bowl XXXVIII
The nipple-baring that started the national conversation about wardrobe malfunctions took place at the 2004 Super Bowl XXXVIII halftime show. When Justin Timberlake dance-ripped Jackson’s top, viewers caught a glimpse of Jackson’s nipple for 9/16th of a second. 1.4 million people went on to complain to the Federal Communications Commission about the supposedly indecent exposure. (Yes, Americans complained more about 9/16th of a second of nipple on CBS rather than the 10+ years of Two and a Half Men they’ve been airing.) CBS was fined $550,000 by the FCC, and Jackson’s career arguably suffered after the fact. Timberlake is doing just fine for himself.
Nancy Grace on Dancing with the Stars
In 2011, justice-seeker Nancy Grace’s Dancing with the Stars routine ended up exposing one of her nipples briefly — as one can do when partaking in a vigorous physical activity while wearing a deep-cut dress. Grace vehemently denies it to this day. Meanwhile, contestants are getting entirely naked on Dancing with the Stars’ equivalent in Argentina.
The New Yorker on Facebook
When Mike Stevens posted a cartoon (below) on The New Yorker’s Facebook page in 2012, the magazine was temporarily banned from the site for violating their terms of service.
How the media talked about a dead teenager, fifty years ago last month:
The shooting occurred at 9:20 A.M. outside a six-story white brick apartment house at 215 East 76th Street, opposite the Senator Robert F. Wagner Junior High School, where summer school classes were in progress
The dead boy was James Powell, a student at the school, who lived at 1686 Randall Avenue, the Bronx. The police said the youth had been shot twice, in the right hand and in the abdomen, by Lieut. Thomas Gilligan of Brooklyn's 14th Division.
The trouble began when Patrick Lynch, superintendent of the building at 215 East 76th Street, sprayed water on three youths, while he was washing down the sidewalk, according to Deputy Chief Inspector Joseph Coyle.
"The lieutenant warned him but the youth raised the knife," [said Coyle].
Inspector Coyle said that Lieutenant Gilligan had been cut on a finger as he and Powell closed in on each other.
Lieutenant Gilligan, who is 36 years old and lives in Manhattan, has received 19 citations for outstanding police work since he joined the force.
Shirley Robinson, a 14-year-old Negro student at the Wagner summer school, said that the superintendent had provoked the boys by deliberated spraying water on them.
"The superintendent then said—and I heard him—'I'm going to wash all the black off you.'"
"I saw the boy go into the building and he didn't have any knife then," she said. "When he came out, he was even laughing and kind of like running."
Officials of several civil rights groups went to the East 67th Street station house to learn the facts of the shooting.
Neighbors and friends described the youth as "a nice guy" who never got into trouble
— NEGRO BOY KILLED; 300 HARASS POLICE; Teen-Agers Hurl Cans and Bottles After Shooting by Off-Duty Officer Lieutenant Kills Negro Youth, The New York Times, July 17th, 1964.
People drop things on the Internet and run all the time. So we have to ask. In this edition, comedy writer (and interim Hairpin editor!) Michelle Markowitz tells us more about contemporary dating communications etiquette.
Swingers, 2014. (Addendum: none of my advice to guy friends has ever actually worked) pic.twitter.com/vVRYYLQjb9
— Michelle Markowitz (@michmarkowitz) August 7, 2014
Michelle! So what happened here?
One of my guy friends was telling me about a girl that he was going to ask out. He was asking if he should text her to ask when she could talk on the phone, thinking that if the phone call went well, he would ask her out. I’m not a huge fan of this for a couple reasons. I know our generation prefers to schedule phone calls, and there’s nothing more jarring than your phone ringing unexpectedly from someone called “Dan, patchy beard, Crown Heights??” but I think it’s better to just text to set up a first date. Plus, the pre-date phone call is tricky because aside from our parents, we are all so out of practice with actually talking on the phone to other human beings, much less trying to impress them with our easy going nature and love of John Candy’s early works (anyone else? just me?).
I think it’s much better to just text asking a girl out right away. We all like whiskey! How bad could it be?
But if you’ve been out several times, I personally (and many of my late millennial/Gen Y cohorts) love phone calls as part of early courtship. It’s like making out in cars or eating a lot of carbs—it’s sweet and brings back memories of something we used to love doing. Unfortunately, the guys of our generation would rather do anything other than talk on the phone—but still, on the whole, these are amazing times we live in.
My friend ended up texting the girl asking when they could talk, and they talked the next day for 20 minutes, and he said it was “just alright, I dunno?” They are hanging out this week, I believe. I asked if he’s ever had an amazing first phone call with someone he barely knew, and he said he had, but it never resulted in an equally amazing first date. Ultimately no one really knows what they are doing, but we all act as if we do to somehow seem like we have control over something really ephemeral.
That said, there is nothing I enjoy more than giving advice and setting people up (which somehow has never resulted in an actual loving human relationship, but has resulted in several tepid dates!).
What other invaluable dating advice gems have you doled out via text/gchat/etc?
Let’s see, if there’s any chance you want to hang out with a person again, you have to text the next morning/early afternoon at the latest. After any first date you are somewhat excited about, as soon as you finish recapping the night to your friends (“He said he’s into hiking and the outdoors, but I think we could work through it?”) they immediately ask if he’s texted yet.
Just do the industry standard desperately grasping for an inside joke from the night before text. Adorable! I think it’s cute even to do the “had a great time/[joke referencing something obscure from the night]/hope you got home ok” text that night, but I personally like that sort of thing.
Other advice: If you actually like a girl, just text her first before you do a ton of tweets the next morning. Fav her stuff. RT her if you’re really smitten. Try not to like other women’s beach Instagrams. Walk the line, etc. Make solid plans. Ask her how her day is going. The usual.
Lesson learned (if any)?
Almost a hundred percent of advice you give over gchat/text/brunch will never actually be listened to. But we’ll all keep giving it, and trying to figure it all out, cause you know.
Just one more thing.
Guys of New York: You’re killing us with all the tote bags this summer. Love you, though.
Matthew J.X. Malady is a writer and editor in New York.