To be perfectly clear, Edward Bernays was not in advertising. Yes, he was hired by companies, corporations and entire industries to convince the public that they should buy a given product, but there’s a fundamental philosophical difference here. Advertisers want the public to accept a product or service, and then to pay for it. Edward Bernays made use of the public’s sense of morality or their collectively accepted world-view, then manipulated those as needed in order to get us to pay for a product or service.
The correct term for Bernays’ life’s work is ‘public relations’. To say that Bernays invented P.R. would not be an overstatement – in fact, he helped to coin the term in the early 1900’s, and subsequently taught the first course on the subject at New York University in 1923. That we presently live in a society that can be manipulated and swayed by an expertly-placed pile of verbal bullshit is, in part, Bernays’ fault.
But don’t hold it against the guy. He changed the world – and in particular the North American way of life – more than almost anybody else in the 20th century. You may have never heard of him, but you have almost certainly conformed to his machinations, even if only subconsciously. As long as he gets to you – that’s all he needs.
He even has me convinced that’s a real mustache.
Sigmund Freud, the great grand-pappy of psycho-analysis, was perched upon two branches of Edward Bernays’ family tree. His mother was Anna, Sigmund’s sister, and his father was Sigmund’s wife’s brother. As such, it is little surprise that psychology wormed its way into everything Bernays did. Beginning as a press agent in 1913, fresh out of Cornell University, Bernays tweaked the concept of the ‘press release’ (which at the time was only a few years old) into something magical. Read more…
It was the same conversation, every time I’d stay over at a friend’s place when I was a kid. Inevitably my friend’s mother would learn that I was Jewish (I was one of two in my grade, so word traveled), and she’d ask, “Will you eat [bacon/ham/shrimp, etc.]?”.
I never understood it. I was never Jewish by faith, only by chance of birth, which meant I’d accept none of the dietary restrictions, however I’d inevitably inherit a natural comedic timing and the inexplicable desire to own a media outlet. But give up on bacon? On luscious shrimp creole? On devouring my meat and cheese off the same plate? That’s blasphemy.
But it isn’t only pork and crustacean meat that my ancestry was trained to avoid, and it isn’t only the Jews who are hell-bent on depriving themselves of these protein-rich nibbles of bliss. There are taboo food and drinks across the spectrum. Some – like bacon, obviously – are ludicrously unnecessary sacrifices of outmoded traditions. Others make a little more sense.
Pork is forbidden in Jewish, Islam and even Seventh-day Adventist Christians. Even the Phoenicians, Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians steered clear of munching on our little porcine friends, perhaps because they were dirty animals (they did like to feast on their own poop), or possibly because they were revered back then. Yet despite all those cultures waving away the opportunity to savor the unworldly pleasure contained in a rack of baby-backs, the USDA reports that pork is the most widely eaten meat substance around the globe. Read more…
This could be the most important article I will ever write. Far beyond the knuckle-clacking tensions of dog people vs. cat people, Shelly Long fans vs. Kirstie Alley fans, or bacon-eaters vs. people who don’t know better, there lies the conflict of toilet paper orientation. The solution offered by both camps (the ‘over the roll’ and ‘under the roll’ dichotomy) can divide an otherwise happy household.
Toilet paper orientation is more than a product of habit; my son spent the first 18 years of his life beneath a devout over-the-roll roof, yet he prefers to mount his TP so that he’s pulling from under it. This is a domestic deal-breaker, a precarious pendulum that could sever a marriage quicker than a differing of perspectives on child-rearing.
I would have thought this to be a matter of inexplicable preference, an open-and-shut debate. But digging through the matter uncovers a wealth of psychological, anthropological and socioeconomic dissection, as well as some math. This is a legitimate topic, worthy of at least a thousand words of analysis. As I have happily devoted many of the last 910 days to the careful nit-pickery of the utterly trivial, I’m happy to unfurl the secrets of this issue.
For those in the middle, just leave it on your bathroom counter.
Notre Dame University has what sounds like a brilliant sociology course on its calendar: The Social Construction of Reality. In that course they look at the basic application of sociological principles to things like personal space, urinal etiquette and of course, toilet paper orientation. Students explore, through their own research and through the weird research of others, gender, race, age and social class distinctions in these seemingly innocuous day-to-day affairs. There is a surprising amount of research on this divisive domestic issue. Read more…
Earlier today, someone suggested to me that I pen an article about surströmming, which is a northern Swedish delicacy. As with any food that is considered a delicacy of a very specific region, yet has not made the official menu of well-known cliché ethnic foods from its nation (in Sweden’s case that would be meatballs, lingonberry sauce and whatever that whacky Muppet is cooking up), I knew it would sound gross. And it does. Surströmming is a fermented Baltic sea herring whose odor is allegedly so horrendous it has been banned from two major airlines and the Stockholm airport.
It’s an “acquired taste”, I’ve been told. This is a puzzling psychological concept to me, and would make for a more interesting kilograph than some terrorist cousin of the anchovy family.* There are foods I have tried and loved from the first bite – Kobe steak tartar, key lime pie, crème brulé, among others. But it’s true that sometimes a particular gustatory journey requires baby steps before the palette can truly hit its stride. Why is that?
Even beer. When my beloved aunt and uncle gave me my first can of O’Keefe’s Extra Old Stock (my father passed on this rite of traditional bonding; he was more a drinker of wine and A&W Cream Soda), I hated it. Maybe that was because it was crappy beer, but I really think my tongue just needed some training wheels before it could appreciate what hops and malt could become. It’s a curious thing.
* Actually, the airlines claim they feared the tins might explode, it had nothing to do with the smell. Right.
Babies are born with a predilection for sweet foods and a natural disdain for bitter or sour stuff. We don’t generally lean toward salty eats until about four months, but once we leap off the boob into a heaping bowl of solid foods we become suddenly very adventurous. This might explain why those little two-nub pieces of Lego can so easily find their way into a toddler’s gullet (though I suspect Freud would say that has more to do with a penis obsession, the sick bastard). Not long afterward, neophobia sets in. Read more…
As soon as I am catapulted to the pinnacle of my fame (which should be any day now I’m sure), I fear that the omnipresent gaggle of “star analysts”, “celeb-watchers” and “yammering space-fillers” will be particularly cruel when they analyze my sense of style. I am intentionally one of the most tedious dressers I know, opting for a rotating selection of blue jeans, grey socks and non-descript, logo-less T-shirts. I dress for comfort and convenience, with a rickety line in the sand that keeps me clear of anything stained or torn. Usually.
I can appreciate nice-looking fashion, to a point. I simply have no desire to strain the limits of my bank account to impress others, nor am I a fit for the Goodwill-ultra-value hipster wear. Years of sampling bacon and beer (for research, of course) has led to a modest expansion of my mid-section, so when I dress in an antiquated cardigan and form-fitting pant-wear I look less stylish and more like I should be selling used office furniture from the back of a van.
Perhaps I should expand my horizons and seek out a new look. My wife – who always looks better than me, though I blame nature for that one – has expressed a handsome disdain for my monotonous frockery, and she applauds fiercely when I deign to sport something with a subtle whiff of snazz when we go somewhere nice. It might be time for a drastic leap into the world of the macaroni.
Before there were metrosexuals, before flamboyance became a cocktail for the masses, there was the macaroni. These were young men, hungry to wrap their tendrils around the extremities of weirdness with no shame about flaunting it all to the public. Years ago (and I relish the opportunity to dip back into when this project was in the double-digits) I wrote of the Grand Tour, a rite of passage among northern European men in the 18th century. These men would venture into the cradle of art and culture – through Spain, Italy, Greece, and faraway locales that most Englishmen would never see. This is where it all began. Read more…
There are souls who live lives of absolute anonymity, only to achieve the briefest flicker of fame through their final moments on the planet. For all the millions who have succumbed to heart disease, auto accidents and auto-erotic asphyxiation, somewhere there’s a story of a drunken teenager who died playing chicken in a Big Wheels trike against his buddy’s pickup truck. As readers of these tales we exert a tiny flex of our “Huh. Interesting” muscle – the same one that endures a passive workout as we blindly flip through a piece of Buzzfeed ‘journalism’. But we usually stop short of worrying about the same wonky demise happening to us.
In this sense, the modern case of the unusual death serves less as a cautionary tale and more as a temporal distraction akin to a cat video, or a six-second vine of a 13-year-old boy getting caught twerking against a cardboard stand-up Frankie Muniz in his bedroom. But while I wholly condone chuckling away at the ancient tales of strange offings, like how Draco the ancient Greek lawmaker was smothered to death by a showering of cloaks and hats as gifts by a grateful stadium of citizens (mostly because I don’t believe that really happened), I advise mustering up at least a smidgen of empathy for the more substantiated tales.
After all, it could be you next, you never know. One minute you might be walking home from the store, three packs of powdered mini-donuts and a week-old Hustler tucked under your arm, when suddenly your skull is cracked open by an airborne tortoise.
Our first is about a guy whose skull was totally cracked open by an airborne tortoise. His name was Aeschylus, and along with Sophocles and Euripides he is one of the three great tragedy-writers of Ancient Greece whose works are still performed today. His trademark was the trilogy, but his most famous works had a huge impact on theatre. His influence resonated over millennia, affecting dramatic expression, literature, and even music. Read more…
Those who know me (or who have read enough of my articles to have observed when my jokes and references get tired and therefore repeated) know that I love to write about bacon. Today I’m offering a new take on the topic; in fact, I’m refocussing my literary lens on a wholly different variety of bacon.
By now I’m sure everyone has heard of the game/meme/phenomenon that is Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. If you’ve somehow escaped this snippet of pop culture, or if you only ever visit the internet to read this site and play solitaire (hi mom!), this is a game in which you try to match any actor or actress to Kevin Bacon through their film and television appearances, using as few steps as possible. For example, Brian Dennehy was in Annie Oakley with Jamie Lee Curtis, who starred with Bacon in 8. Two degrees.
Even if you dip into the more obscure actors it’s hard to find a connection that requires more than three steps. I looked up Loni Nest, who had a small uncredited role as “child in window” in the 1925 silent German horror classic Nosferatu, and still it was only three paces away from Bacon (via Lil Dagover in Harakiri, who appeared with Max Schell in The Pedestrian, who appeared with Bacon in Telling Lies In America). It’s a little weird, really.
The game is based on the small world theory, that everyone is at most six steps away from everyone else via acquaintances. Its origins lie in a January, 1994 interview Bacon gave to Premiere magazine whilst hyping his new flick, The River Wild. He jokingly commented that he had worked with everyone in Hollywood, or at least with someone who had worked with them. Three months later the newsgroup rec.arts.movies began a lengthy discussion about Kevin Bacon as the ‘Center of the Universe’. Read more…
It’s surprising how often I find myself stopped on the street by a complete stranger – often a fan of my articles and almost always totally imaginary – asking me why I don’t write an article about the Magna Carta. These folks invariably get my mind-wheels turning; all I know about that particular historic document is that it’s generally taught at the beginning of most modern history courses and forgotten about by the time the final exam is written, and that it had something to do with telling the king to be a little bit less of an asshole.
Well, a little bit of actual reading has taught me that this piece of paper very nearly caused a string of domino-ish events that could have led the crown of England on a permanent (inasmuch as anything in history is “permanent”) road trip to France. These people were so pissed off at their king they almost kicked their kingdom’s entire history square in the proverbial nut-sack.
If there is a moral to the story of the First Barons’ War, it might be that if you’re going to try to mellow out your king, you’d probably be better off just beheading him and starting fresh. Maybe the moral here is that partnering with your enemy will come back to bite your ass eventually. As with many snippets of history, it could be that there is no moral – it’s just some stuff that happened.
On June 15, 1215, King John of England was forced to slap the royal seal on something called The Articles of the Barons. This was a lengthy bitch-scroll penned by a number of wealthy British barons who were pissed off at the king’s rotten leadership and his despot-like iron-fist rule of the land. Screw that – these barons worked hard for their wealth (okay, they inherited it. But it took a lot of long hours waiting for their folks to die), and the king still had supreme control over the land. That wouldn’t do. Read more…
I’m not one to toot my own genetic horn, but I have yet to discover a language more palette-ticklingly entertaining than Yiddish. I may have been raised in a Jewish home whose only strict adherence to the faith involved my father slightly furrowing his brow when I’d order a bacon cheeseburger at a restaurant, but I still feel connected somehow to those roots, at least to the comedy synthesized within them. Sure, it took me years before I understood what Laverne & Shirley meant by “Schlemiel, Schlimazel” (and I still have no idea what “Hasenpfeffer Incorporated” means), but dammit I learned.
Yiddishisms have spiraled outward from the Lower East Side to become a part of our national (and I’m in Canada, so it’s safe to say international) lexicon. Those words ring out with the clarity of a brilliant punchline: “putz” splats against the wall in high definition, “schmuck” delivers a crisp, voiceless velar uppercut, and “plotz” speckles our aural ceiling with the sonic lucidity of what it means to convey.
I love these words, both as a Jew and as a writer. Carved from the euphonic stones of an ancient dialect, they pepper our language with capricious consonants and cough-vented vowels. A few days ago I wrote about ‘leet’ – the pseudo-language of the old-timey computer era, concocted to massage a false sense of elitism and smug superiority. But Yiddish – in particular the words that have become commonplace in English – is all about fun, spice, and delivering a laugh with the deftness of Jackie Mason.
But remember, just saying “putz” doesn’t make you Jackie Mason. The rest of the joke still has to be funny.
Let’s start with the schmuck. You might use this to describe a guy who leaves his shopping cart seemingly strategically so that it blocks off two spaces in the parking lot. You might as well call him a dick, because that’s what the original Yiddish definition of a schmuck is. In German, the word translates to ‘jewelry’, whereas they’d use the word ‘shmok’ (which is actually closer to the original Yiddish pronunciation) if they want to employ it the way that we do. Actually – and I’m not making this up – this is cited as one way the term ‘family jewels’ came to represent the male dong. Read more…