Category: bottom feeding

Slightly More Rarified Bottom Feeding

Apparently all this time I thought that you wanted to be talking about what I ate for lunch, you actually just wanted to talk about The Bachelor, huh? Thanks for all the nice comments. I am happy to hear that among other things, B’s sister who I hope to charm is as much of a TV addict as I am.

And, for the record, our money’s on Emily for the finale (obviously). I’d put Chantal’s odds at ninety to one.

This has been a bad week for bottom feeders like me.  First, Charlie Sheen unleashed a sound-bite ready storm of interviews that I consumed like a cokehead trying to budget their stash. Just one video and then I’ll get to work! Well, maybe if I just watch all the videos now, then I’ll be able to get some work done. There are more videos!? Gimme my fix! Poor B, who is diligently trying to do some kind of project that involves lots of Latin translation and spreadsheet columns (I had no idea that Medieval Studies involved so much Excel) has been forced to listen to near-hourly updates on the status of Sheen’s dubious sobriety, two live-in girlfriends, and child custody.  I’m relatively certain that B wasn’t even aware that Sheen was still on television, as when I first showed him a video he made a comment about Hot Shots 2, which is digging pretty deep as far as I’m concerned. B is like an old man whose cultural references dropped off somewhere around 1995. Mention any band popular in the past five years or so and you’ll get nothing more than a blank, uncomprehending stare. Play any band popular in the last five years or so and you’ll surely have to listen to the entirety of Peter Gabriel’s So during dinner.

And if Sheen’s rapid televisual disintegration wasn’t enough, the swirling mass of controversy John Galliano’s bar fight and subsequent dismissal from Dior has kept me riveted to all fashion blogs French and American.  Part of my interest in this whole fiasco stems from the fact that La Perle, the bar where the incident took place, is a mere stone’s throw from my apartment and was a frequent setting for boozy evenings during my first year in Paris.  I’ll cop to still kind of liking it in an “ooh, look at all the beautiful people” kind of way, but B and M have made it abundantly clear that they hate La Perle in so many myriad different ways that I can’t suggest that we go there anymore. The two of them even make a point of crossing to the opposite side of the street from the bar when we walk by after eating pizza at our cherished Pink Flamingo on the same street.  If either one of them walked by La Perle without muttering something along the lines of “hipster scum” under their breath, I would die of surprise.

Anyway, we used to hang out there a lot. The booze is ridiculously cheap for the neighborhood, and if you get there early enough you can snag a booth to while away the evening. I live for bargain beers and booths. We never saw John Galliano there, though there was always the possibility that he might be around, as it is the watering hole for all the local designer ateliers. I find the description of La Perle as “a neighborhood bar” in the New York Times rather laughable, as I’ll bet you ninety-six percent of the people that go there don’t live within a twenty-block radius of the place. (Did that sound smug?  I didn’t mean it to.) In fact, I’ve bristled at most of the characterizations of the Marais that have accompanied news coverage of the Galliano event. Yes, of course this neighborhood is filled with gay bars and fancy clothing stores and falafel joints. But it’s not even faintly dangerous, nor soulless, nor hopelessly bourgeois. It’s my wonderful, weird neighborhood, one I feel more attached to than anywhere I’ve lived in recent memory. That is to say, I definitely feel like a Maraisienne these days than anything else, and you better watch what you say about my beloved marsh. Thems fightin’ words.

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I had a lovely week otherwise, the highlight of which was a girly day with M and her lovely friend AR.  The three of us had lunch at Rose Bakery, which I’ve been wanting to do for ages (it’s on the list!) and I can’t wait to tell you about (tomorrow: Clarence Goes to Tea!). Then, we did a bit of window licking in the Marais before heading to the superb “Women in the Orient” exhibition at the Musée Quai Branly. To my dear Parisian readers, I’d definitely recommend you go and see the amazing collection of historical and contemporary garments from Jordan, Syria, and Palestine curated by Christian Lacroix. I’m usually hesitant to recommend things at Quai Branly because it is so goddamn dark in there that people with bad eyesight like yours truly usually spend their whole visit worried that they are about to walk into a poorly-placed glass wall. But this exhibit is worth strapping on your pocket flashlight and venturing in.

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Among a smattering of other smart things that M said while we were window shopping (this girl understands a bias), she made a great observation that A.P.C. basically gets all of their design ideas from Eric Rohmer’s movies. You know, the ones where all the bobos hang out in their beach houses and talk endlessly about their romantic problems and nobody seems to have a job? Well, it hardly seems necessary to spend hundreds of euros on an aesthetic so easily obtained by just by watching the Six Moral Tales, which I intend to start doing this weekend. For your Friday afternoon looking pleasure, here are some sartorial ideas from all six:

The Bakery Girl of Monceau (1963)

Susanne’s Career (1963)

My Night at Maud’s (1969)

La Collectionneuse (1967)

Claire’s Knee (1967)

Love in the Afternoon (1972)

And, finally, French summer beach style owes everything to 1983’s Pauline at the Beach:

Happy Friday, dear reader.

Bottom Feeder

I like reality television. I know that plenty of other people like reality television too, but I usually seem to find myself graduate student circles where avowing that you like reality television often results in someone snorting and saying “Oh, god!  I got rid of my TV years ago. You really should too. I just am such a better person now that I don’t have a TV.” I used to hem and haw and feel bad about myself during these conversations. I don’t actually have a TV myself and just watch television shows and movies on the Internet. Which I always assumed counted as watching television. Which it technically does, if you are actually being honest with yourself and your God. I’ve since discovered that most of those people who snort and feel smug because they don’t own a television are doing the exact same thing I’m doing.  That is to say, the last person who gave me a hard time about TV recently told me that he spent the entire weekend watching back-to-back episodes of Lost. I now realize that all this time I’ve imagined my peers carefully studying their Heidegger in the original German or translating texts from Aramaic, most of them have are actually watching just as much shit on the boobtube as I have been. It’s kind of like those vegetarians who give you a really hard time about eating meat, then practically have an orgasm over how delicious the refried beans are at your local greasy spoon Mexican restaurant.  That’s because they are made with lard, jackass.  And watching TV shows on your computer still counts as watching TV.

Sorry, that one has been sitting on my chest for a long time.

We’ve been following a lot of reality shows lately, as the weather has been consistently grody and our warm weather evening itinerary of strolling around and exclaiming “Can you believe we live here?!” while eating gelato doesn’t really work in the rain. After some (weak) protestations, B has definitely gotten the taste for some reality shows, Top Chef in particular. I’m starting to suspect that he is really getting in to this particular genre of sloth. Back before we got together, he was one of those people who would go out of his way to explain that back in the States he owned a TV, but it wasn’t connected to the cable, so he only used it to watch DVDs of movies and television shows. To which I say again: IT STILL COUNTS.

On the weekly schedule lately has been The Bachelor Season Fifteen:  The Man Without Qualities. I’m not a huge fan of the franchise, but once I get started watching a reality show, I’m going to finish it even if it turns out to be the worst piece of junk ever produced, in the same way that it bothers me to read just one book by an author or to just read part of a magazine. Brad Womack, the current Bachelor, is a truly delightful specimen of unproductive American feel-good cognitive therapy culture. He is the first second time bachelor, as he shocked millions of fans by proposing to neither of the two finalists at the end of his first season. Apparently it was impossible to comprehend that one would be unable to find their soul mate from a prepackaged trough of thirty fame-hungry broads, or that someone wouldn’t at least be willing to go through the motions of having done so. But season two of The Man Without Qualities quickly informs us that his failure wasn’t because of those beautiful singular snowflake women! No! It was because Brad himself couldn’t open up, couldn’t put himself out there, couldn’t make himself vulnerable to being loved by another person. We are told this by Brad’s therapist, who apparently said “Professional ethics, smoshessional ethics!  Bring on the cameras!” I think my favorite part of this season are these horrendously staged “therapy sessions,” where Brad invents problems that will make him seem likable and is told to go back and work harder on his listening skills. And then we get to witness as Brad practices those very listening skills, which for him involves a lot of nodding and saying “right” when the woman pauses to take a breath. “Right” is better than “yes” in the listening skills context, because “right” means that Brad not only has paid attention, but he is hungry for more listening! Bring on the tears! After a long, exhausting listening session, Brad thanks the woman for putting herself “out there” into the nebulous space of “sharing feelings.” It’s usually the ones that have most graphically “shared themselves” that end up going home at the end of the episode, because Brad “isn’t looking for drama.” But apparently this carrot/stick dynamic is largely lost on the women.

The season has been predictably formulaic, with genuinely crazy women sticking around for far longer than you might expect in an effort to produce amusing television, though not of course to the point of hometown visits. Because no matter what, ABC is a family values kind of network, and by the time families are involved we are in serious matrimonial territory. The incidence per episode of Brad saying “I’m here to find my wife!” increases exponentially. This shloppy seriousness also includes asking four different fathers for permission for their four different daughter’s hand in marriage. Which, let’s just say it: barf. The only saving grace of the hometown episode came when Brad met Chantal O’s father, who is basically Brad’s all-grown-up doppleganger.  And, I suspect, an extremely successful car salesman. (I just Googled this and he was actually a professional athlete turned successful car dealer. I’m on fire.) Chantal O’s father showed Brad a giant sculpture of a man carving himself out of a sculpture and explained that it was a metaphor for being a self-made man. Then Brad talked about how he came from nothing, and Chantal O’s father talked about HE came from nothing, and then Brad talked about his deadbeat dad, and then Chantal O’s father talked about HIS deadbeat dad, and then they sat in silence, blinking at one another in recognition of how uncanny it all was.

The real game-buster of this season, however, is the fact that there is a genuine ringer on the show.  Emily is a petite Southern blonde with a young daughter and some made-up job that involves event planning and a children’s hospital.  The only great love of her life (and Ricky-Bobby’s daddy) was a Nascar-racing dreamboat that died in a tragic plane crash before Emily even knew she was pregnant. You can’t write this stuff, unless of course, somebody at The Bachelor did, in which case, bravo young writer!  You’ll go far in this sad world! Emily is so sweet and beautiful and tragic that nobody can compete with her, and Brad has now begun breaking the rules and telling her in advance of the rose ceremony that she is going on to the next round. Emily has already won this game, and the other women seem to know it and are just battling it out for second place and the possibility of their own season of The Bachelorette, which regrettably none of them are likely to get.

B didn’t quite yet understand the various formulas of the show at the beginning, and so I was able to win several weeks of the “whose going home tonight” pool that we lay out at the beginning of every episode with my veteran understanding of the producers’ system. Last week, however, B furrowed his brow then said “I think that the funeral director is going home tonight. She fits perfectly into the category ‘normal enough until they get to the hometown and then WOAH WHAT A WEIRDO!’” My heart swelled with pride.

Clarence Will Go Your Way, Lenny: Al Taglio Pizza

First off, these kinds of things never fail to amuse the hell out of me:

Lordy, France.  Get it together already.  One minute you are deporting Gypsies, the next you are making racially-oriented gaffes that only a handful of people in the geriatric population in the United States make.

Luckily, for the win we have this:

Oh man, Pierre Hermé is my hot sometime-lover that my actual boyfriend doesn’t disapprove of me hooking up with.  Or something like that.  My fave new, alchemical, and hopefully not temporary flavor is the green tea with ginger and red bean. There’s an actual red bean buried the center of the macaroon. Holy smokes, Batman.  Now that is a P’tit Oriental this fat kid can get behind.

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In other news, I have a bit of a new crew on account of various American friends accruing to teach this academic year in Paris.  While they certainly can’t replace S, BC, and J, whom I miss terribly, this new batch of fresh, vaguely hipster blood from the States has been a lot of fun to hang out with lately.  Especially after the long summer I spent virtually alone with B, in which we developed a private language of grunts and whines that we now exclusively use for communication at home.

One recent arrival is a good friend of mine from California, who we’ll call the Prairie Wolf, departing from our usual pseudo-anonymous naming system here at Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background. Prairie Wolf was the name bestowed upon my friend by our graduate department’s intermural softball team, a group whose very name is so deeply fraught with dorkdom and benchwarming that I’m tempted to reveal it to the internets at large for a laugh at the expense of some dear friends. Don’t worry, friends, your secret is safe with me.  Anyway, of all the things that came out of my department’s brief foray into athleticism (including grown men going fisticuffs with various underage referees and long drunken nights listening to play by play recounts of the bloodbath), perhaps the best was the moniker of Prairie Wolf.  He’s wily, quick, and has the coloring of the high plains. I’m pleased he’s moved to France.

Another great development is the arrival of M’s friend ME (system fail) from Pittsburg, a really lovely guy who has brought along his teenage daughter E. Oh man, I know I hang out with teenagers all day and am totally enchanted by a lot of them, but this one is really special. You know those teenagers that you meet that are so cool and self-possessed and sharp and funny that they cause you to shudder to think how much easier your life would have been if you had had your shit together like that when you were 14? Yeah, she’s one of those. She’s a fencer, which immediately charmed B, and a serious pop-culture critic, which made me want to invite her over for a sleepover so she could tell me all the best reality shows to watch this fall. Anyway, if I ever have a kid, I hope she turns out like this. It seems like a lot of the conversation in the zeitgeist lately is about how American teenagerdom is horrible and leveling. It’s great to meet a young woman who I can’t wait to hang out with again.

So anyway, these new folk along with B, M, and I (ha! system double fail!) all converged on Sunday night at Al Taglio (2 bis rue Neuve Popincourt, 75011 Paris, Métro Oberkampf), a pizza place that I had been lustily reading about in Le Fooding for months.  By now you must realize, dear reader, that I am a pretty devoted pizza-eater, and my allegiances have been torn by the deep excellence of both La Briciola and Pink Flamingo Pizza, both of which are within walking distance of own apartment  and make me quiver with desire.  I hardly expected that Al Taglio (which means “by the slice”) could possibly compete with my already over-full dance card of Right Bank pizza joints.

Woah, ho ho, was I wrong. It’s fantastic. Instead of ordering of a menu, you go to the counter and pick from pizzas that are available, which are cut into squares and priced by weight.  I’ll admit that part of my admiration for this system is that the pizza (in look and texture alone) vaguely resembles the Little Caesar’s Sicilian-style pizza of my childhood. Oh, how far this little foodie has come! I say “in look and texture alone” because the toppings at Al Taglio are slightly more chic than those of my dearly departed rural Colorado Little Caesars (Pizza Pizza!).  Rather than make any decision, we simply ordered an assortment of different pizzas. And then we ordered some more. And some more after that. We, uh, somehow managed to eat 155 euros worth of pizza and red wine.  I guess there were six of us, but still, it’s kind of ridiculous how much of this pizza we managed to eat.

But the toppings! The toppings! How about roasted zucchini, sun-dried tomatoes, and kalamata olives? Or carbonara-style pizza with crispy pancetta, shaved parmesean, and creamy egg yolks?  Maybe you would rather have a slice with gorgonzola and pinenuts? Black trumpet mushrooms and fontina cheese? The table’s favorite was a pie with roasted asparagus and black truffle cream sauce.  Yup, I said black truffle cream sauce, dear reader. I wish you could have been there, too. Come over later and we’ll go for a slice, my treat.

After our second tableful of quickly-devoured slices, B went inside to order another round of pizza and a third (or fourth?) carafe of the house red. He came back, shaking his head in amusement at a conversation between an American couple that he had inadvertently been eavesdropping on while he waited to order.  The guy was apparently reassuring his beautiful lady-companion that he wasn’t actually cheating on her, but that having lots of other girls around was “part of the game.” As in, “don’t hate the player, hate the game.” Yucko. Anyway, it would have been a nothing kind of observation except that when we all went inside to pay for our epic pizza feast, M noticed that the gentleman player in question was none other than LENNY KRAVITZ, who does indeed keep an apartment somewhere in the Marais and whose picture and endorsement graces all L’As du Fallafel paraphernalia. I got a bit twitterpated, obviously, because it’s LENNY KRAVITZ, and uh, he looks pretty great for 46! I’m going to assume that his secret is a steady diet of falafel and Al Taglio pizza and work hard to follow this regimen.

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Finally, I know I’ve been a total loser lately when it comes to posting on a regular basis.  I suck and totally don’t deserve you. I wish I could say it was because I’ve been hard at work writing my magnum academic opus, but it’s probably more likely because I’ve discovered the TLC shows Sister Wives and Hoarding: Buried Alive and spend most of my time watching slack-jawed and smug. I also admit that I got kind of discouraged about blogging (Where’s my travel-guide book deal already, Universe?), an endeavor that on my worst days seems to be just one more thing I’ve managed to contrive to avoid doing my “real” work, you know, that stuff that gathers dust on those days when I write thirty-thousand words about cheeses I want to put in my mouth. But I recently stumbled on a new blog by a friend of mine (who is apparently too cool to publicize these things), the charming Ducks and Turtles. It seems my dear friend AV has moved to Los Angeles and is spending some quality time photographing local ducks (awesome) and writing about things he eats (more awesome). You should definitely check his site out, especially if you are sick of old content here and want to read someone waaay smarter than I’ll ever write. He said something amazingly sweet about this here blog and it’s a compliment that I don’t deserve but I’ll take anyway, ’cause I’m not dumb. In response to that, I’ll note that my blog’s name is a rather obscure Wyndham Lewis reference that nobody would ever recognize in two million years, so don’t go underestimating your scope, dearest AV. I bet you don’t sit around all day fantasizing about punching some reality star polygamist repeatedly in the face. But thanks anyway for the compliment, you really made my day.

In which I somehow artfully segue from a rant about American Apparel into a tender farewell

Is anybody else following these Gawker-led assaults on American Apparel?  To be honest, I’m kinda conflicted about the whole thing.  I shop there on a regular basis, as do most of my friends. I even recently encouraged a reluctant B to shop there for the first time when he needed some new t-shirts. None of us would be considered particularly “on-brand” from the perspective of AA corporate style. Most of us take serious issue with how material consumption structures life in contemporary society. Not to generalize for the people I’m close to, but I think the logic that we all share is that AA produces logo-free, decent-quality, sweatshop-free basics. I guess the last part is the most important to me on some level, as I’ve certainly encountered the occasional lapse in quality in AA products and find their aesthetic to be increasingly visible in its branding, if not to my parent’s generation certainly to people in my own peer group. But I’ve felt somewhat better about buying from AA based on their well-publicized mode of semi-ethical production. I’ve at least felt like it isn’t the worst place to buy an article of clothing if you have some sense of remorse about your object world being brought to you on the backs of the poor.

While I’ve certainly heard accounts of the snobbishness that goes on toward customers at AA stores, I’ve never felt particularly ill-treated while shopping there. That said, I tend to like being ignored when I’m buying things, so if you wanted legitimate help from a sales clerk I probably would steer you elsewhere. Some of the clothes have felt frustratingly ill-sized and I’ll admit it’s maddening to be a size 4 and feel like everything is too small. My local AA’s in Southern California seemed relatively diverse in their staffing, so I was surprised to read in these tell-all forums about the seemingly rampant discrimination that takes place behind the scenes. I have found AA employees to be uniformly good-looking and hyper-conformist to the brand aesthetic, which seems to support the accounts of a horrifying staffing process that involves constant photographing of both potential and current employees. I was under the impression that this sort of thing was illegal. However, I just watched a woman on a reality show on national television ask a potential assistant during a job interview if he slept around a lot, so apparently I’m just out of touch with how worker’s rights have devolved in the past decade or so. I guess I’m rather curious if AA is really an exceptional case, or if the lookism that they perpetuate part of most clothing stores’s modus operandi at this point in time.  That is to say, I don’t see any unattractive, off-brand employees at most high-end retailers. Is the issue here that AA brands itself as an ethical company in its advertising while resorting to retrograde hiring practices behind the scenes? I see scores of angry commenters on Gawker calling for the end of American Apparel – is it better to shop somewhere with better retail hiring practices and more ethically problematic ones at the level of production? I’m genuinely asking this question, in part because I don’t see any other retailers at the level of mass production and  distribution that sell domestically-produced, sweatshop-free clothing, manufactured by factory workers who are given access to low-cost meal programs and medical care. Is it an incredibly ugly truth that these standards are a radical departure from the manufacturing protocols of most other major US clothing retailers? Yes. Should the AA retail employees unionize (or at least organize) and disrupt the chain of distribution until they are afforded the basic rights of all taxpaying workers in the US? Absolutely. Are the anonymous Gawker forums the place to do such a thing? I kinda doubt it. If you are seeing chronic sexism, lookism, and other kinds of discrimination in your workplace as high as the corporate level, get legal representation and put your name on your complaint. While the US system isn’t designed to help, speak for, or even acknowledge the existence of the people who work in those clothing factories, it has become incredibly adept at addressing the issues of middle-class and upper-middle class workers suffering from discrimination in the past few decades, especially in a context this photogenic and media-friendly. I’m a little burnt out on news stories about the banker who was fired because she was too pretty (and also posting sexy photographs of herself on the internet).  Or the online plaints of the AA employee who was fired because her nail polish was chipped. I’ll bet you that’s nothing compared to the labor practices at your friendly neighborhood Chinese megafactory that produces the 3 dollar t-shirts that fill your local Wal-Mart (or, for that matter, the labor practices at your friendly neighborhood Wal-Mart).

What sayeth ye, dearest reader? I’m totally ready to face the accusation that I’m merely providing a palliative rationale for my own consumption to appease the gnawing worry that buying anything makes me part of the problem. I’ll say it upfront: I’m probably providing a palliative rationale for my own consumption to appease the gnawing worry that by buying anything, I’m already a part of the problem.  I’m also ready to face the music on the fact that while I complain about the reality-television-ification of our culture that extends to the way in which our news is framed and delivered, I’m also one of it’s greediest consumers. Is this an impasse? Am I always-already a hypocrite?

My friends BC and S would probably say yes, if I can put words in their mouths.  BC, S, B and I have been hanging out a lot in the past two weeks, as we’ve been trying to jam in quality time before S’s departure from Paris today (sob). The four of us gotten into a lot of heated debates, eaten some delicious meals at Rouammit and Le Hangar, watched some football and aired some ugly patriotism, prepared and consumed a gumbo feast, drank several bottles of French-branded tequila and whiskey, and reviewed our respective coming-of-age via hip-hop music for hours and hours on end (well, that was the boys, not me). It’s been pretty great and I’ve been in my sweet spot of being the girl who gets to hang out with all the cool guys, something that my inner geeky seventh grader never fails to enjoy. I’m so happy to know these guys and to be even remotely hip enough to roll with them.

As for S:  Man, are we sad to see you go! I know you are returning to your überlovely girlfriend in the second (or third, depending on how you count) best city in the world, but we sure wish you could have stuck around here for a bit longer. I’m so pleased that somehow in the last few months we went from being exceedingly polite strangers to ragging on one another like old friends. Please feel free to think of this blog as a surrogate for Facebook whenever you like.  We here at Keeping the Bear Garden in the Background should be so lucky. Vaya con dios, brah. You will be missed.

She was a particular description of woman; he was fortunate to have found her.

Me:  I just can’t believe this guy.  Who behaves like this?

B:  He sounds like that guy on The Hills.

Me:  You watch The Hills?  Actually, I think the question would be better framed as: “You are aware that The Hills exists as a popular cultural phenomenon?  How did Lauren and Heidi manage to puncture through all of the medieval esoterica, Baudelaire translation, and compulsive watching of TED talks?”

B:  Ex-girlfriend.

Me:  Ah.

B:  Anyway, your ex sounds like that one guy on The Hills.  The annoying one.

Me:  Justin-Bobby?  Totally.  I think that’s why I dated him.  God, I live for Justin-Bobby.  If there was a channel that was only that kid going about his day, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, I would quit my whole life to watch it.  I’m not even joking around.

B:  No, not that one.

Me:  Not that show?

B:  No, not that guy on The Hills.  The other one.  The really annoying blond one with the flesh-colored beard.

Me:  Spencer!?

B:  Yeah.  Your ex-boyfriend is like Spencer.

Me:  Wow.  I think that is like the meanest thing you could possibly say about somebody.

B:  I tried.

You know it’s true love when…

I recently fell down the rabbit hole that I will call (for lack of a better word) home-extraction porn on Youtube.  By this, I mean the entire genre of Youtube videos that have sprung up around pimple-popping, cyst-extraction, and boil-lancing, with what I would call subgenres for eyelid pore inflammation and cauliflower ear.  When I first read about this phenomenon on Jezebel in 2008, the genre was just getting off the ground and the videos were still somewhat tame.  Beware, however, clicking any of the videos on the Jezebel link or googling “pimple popping” on Youtube is not for the faint of heart.  If the internets can teach us anything, it is that no matter how gross your ailment may seem, there is someone out there whose situation is even grosser.

Like any film genre, there are certain conventions now in place in extraction porn.  First, we usually begin with a shirtless young guy with a humongous pimple/cyst/boil on his back or chest.  Bonus points if he continues to wear a baseball cap despite being shirtless.  A woman, probably a girlfriend or wife, usually does the extraction, though we rarely see the face of the person doing the squeezing.  There are varying degrees of hygiene involved in these proceedings, though people aren’t usually sensible enough to disinfect their tools.  Some of the women wear gloves, though I amusingly noticed that one extractor appeared to be using dish-washing gloves she pulled directly from the sink.  The hygiene measures that are taken are usually less about the threat of infection and more about not getting pus on the person doing the squeezing.  (A brief caveat, all of the medical sites I visited advised infections resulting from home cyst and boil extraction and draining are not to be taken lightly and that you really ought to see a doctor for this sort of thing.  In fact, I think all the evidence we need in favor of socialized health care can come from a single Youtube search of “giant cyst.”)  As the cysts have gotten larger in the genre, people have now begun using Exacto-knives, most of which do not appear to be disinfected.  I think that this actually technically qualifies as surgery (bodily incision with instruments).  There is the initial gasp from the squeezer and video-camera holder when pus begins to ooze out of the pimple/cyst/boil, followed by the scream when something pops out with some momentum behind it.  Ironically, while many people in these videos are talking about the genre as a whole (“We love these videos!” “We decided to make this video because of the World’s Biggest Pimple video that went viral last year!” etc.), every single one seems to be genuinely shocked about two inevitable events:  1) that pus occasionally spurts out with a great deal of force and an uncertain trajectory and 2) that this kind of thing smells bad, I mean, really bad.  I would say that the final genre conventions include statements of incredulity that the human body can produce such monstrosity (“I can’t believe how far that one shot!” “What if we are just pulling all the fat and tissue out of his back?”  “I don’t think fat smells like this!” “What if it stretches all the way to my leg?” and my personal favorite, “Oh my god, I think it has a brain!”) and the sound of gagging in the background.  As far as I know, nobody actually pukes in these videos, but the smell is indeed terrible enough to make wretching noises a requisite part of the proceedings.

Tracie Egan of Jezebel rightly points out that there was a definite gender component to these videos, namely that it is usually a woman doing the extraction on the body of her boyfriend.  While the genre has expanded exponentially and now there are a variety of kinship structures represented in this strange ritual—including families and bachelor parties—it does seem that cohabitating heterosexual couples film the majority of these videos.  It seems that lancing your lover’s boil and posting a video of it on the internet is a way of demonstrating not only your commitment, but also your love and intimacy with another person.

Lest you try and write this off as a fringe phenomenon, many of these videos have view-counts in the hundreds of thousands.  Lots of people are making these videos, and even more people are watching them (yours truly included).  While most of them are just flat-out gross, I did find myself intrigued by the relationships that lead to this kind of bodily intimacy.  I’ve only reached the pimple-popping level with a few boyfriends and I largely regret it – I think that maintaining a certain level of physical mystery in one’s relationships can go a long way in prolonging desire.  But I’m single, and many of my happily partnered and married friends go at each other like gorillas:  picking, squeezing, and even lancing their partner with great love and attention. And as now a mild connoisseur of home-extraction porn, I’ll say that there is nothing sadder than the guy filming himself lancing his own boil, alone.  The camera angle is always off, the sound is never quite right, and you can’t help but wish that the poor guy had some pus-crazy girlfriend to help him out.  God help him if the thing is on his back.  There are certain things one shouldn’t be alone for and the mother of all back-cysts certainly is one of them.

David Sedaris has a lovely piece about his partner Hugh in this capacity that ends with a boil-lancing that is downright tender.  It’s definitely worth a read, and a much better articulation of this kind of bizarre kind of physical intimacy than sifting through a million Youtube videos might yield you.  But if you are still interested in the Youtube videos and could care less about the shades of deep intersubjective rapport signaled by all this pus, then I suggest you start with the search “biggest pimple in the world.”  You’re welcome.

Bottom feeding with John Mayer

It’s no secret around here that I am a fan of the worst of the worst that pop culture serves up in terms of low-brow entertainment. I had a party to celebrate the finale of the second season of Rock of Love. I watch The Hills with a kind of rabid devotion. That said, I try to keep these fixations entirely separate from my academic life. I find academics who write about Britney Spears and Pierre Bourdieu to be entirely distasteful. Should you find yourself in my classroom (poor soul), I won’t try to explain the society of the spectacle to you via TMZ. Well, maybe I will, but I’ll try to also get some Shakespeare in there as well. I do staunchly believe in the idea of serious art and serious literature and while I do believe that our cultural definitions of such are always in a state of flux, I do believe that there is such a thing as a transcendent aesthetic production and that it is something worth defending. If that makes me an elitist, well, I also have some arugula in my fridge. It was only a matter of time.

To return to my extra-curricular bottom feeding, however, I’ve been following the press antics (semantic antics! whee!) of John Mayer for a while now. I’ve always thought the guy was kind of a sub-par celebrity—both in looks and talent—though I’ll admit that when I went to one of his concerts because an ex-boyfriend was a fan (red flag!), I didn’t have an entirely awful time. For those of you that live under a rock, Mayer has made quite a name for himself as an enfant terrible in the past few years, mainly by dating and manhandling the likes of Jennifer Aniston and Jessica Simpson and making insanely quotable comments about those relationships to the press. I started reading his Twitter and some of his interviews because there is something really compelling about this guy’s ability to be glib and offensive. Say what you will about the recent spate of bad press that Mayer has received on account of his comments in Playboy on the n-word, his ex-girlfriends, and his masturbatory habits, it takes a certain kind of savoir-faire to produce these endlessly riveting sound bytes. I’m not going to address Mayer’s comments on race – others have done it more adeptly than I could – though I will say that I think Jon Caramanica of the New York Times is right to point out that there is something unsettling about the perniciousness that undergirds Mayer’s naïveté on this subject.

I think that what everyone finds especially bothersome (and what I find perversely intriguing) about Mayer’s Playboy interview is that the guy isn’t dumb. Not by a long shot. Despite the chorus of reprisal and admonition that has arisen in response to Mayer’s statements—much of it charged with pathos and some of it even articulate and astute—it appears that like it or not, Mayer’s bons mots are the most tenacious phrases in this conversation, the most likely to survive the tendency of popular culture to turn everything into grist for the mill. That is to say, there is something really smart about Mayer’s stupidity, as it utterly resists apology, critique, or explaining away. As Avital Ronell writes in the introduction to her genius book on this very subject, “stupidity has evinced a mute resistance to political urgency, an instance of an unaccountable ethical hiatus.  In fact, stupidity, purveyor of self-assured assertiveness mutes just about everything that would seek to disturb its impervious hierarchies.” There’s nothing smart to be said as a critique of Mayer’s interview, because the din of his stupid commentary will always be louder. Moreover, there’s no talking back to this kind of thing because it’s merely a symptom of something larger, something that Ronell calls modernity (I might call it the Sarah Palin effect).  As Ronell writes,

“Stupidity, the indelible tag of modernity, is our symptom. Marking an original humiliation of the subject, stupidity resolves into the low-energy, everyday life trauma with which we live. It throws us. Following Barthes, it functions as the Thing to the extent that it wards off the symbolization that it also demands. Like life itself, stupidity, according to Flaubert, cannot be summed up or properly understood but resembles a natural object – a stone or a mountain. One cannot understand a stone or a mountain, or offer a critique or a twelve-step program to change their descriptions.”

Yes, while Mayer’s statements are at once symptomatic of racism, misogyny, malignant narcissism, and (perhaps most offensively) bad taste, they nevertheless aren’t capable of being effectively diagnosed by any of these counterfoils. And as for the consequences, the requisite twelve-step program? Mayer’s apology came in the form of a seemingly heartfelt and teary speech to his fans and bandmates at a recent concert (Google it if you are curious, again, I’ve got six readers and Broseph’s got a yacht.) The habitual public relations prescription of swift withdrawal from the public and a short stint in self-gratifying American therapy followed by a well-rehearsed apology spiel on the talk-show circuit appears to have already gone into effect. Mayer is suddenly uncharacteristically mum despite the whirlwind of commentary in which he now finds himself at the center. I for one wish that he would keep talking, but my motivations towards the popular cultural objects of my affection are anything but pure.

I haven’t quoted any of the interview for you here. My reasons for not doing so are mixed, but I didn’t want this to be a mere rehashing of things you’ve likely read before. There is one moment in the interview, however, that I find to be pretty genius and worth the e-ink. It’s gotten a lot of press, as it is the moment in which Mayer recounts his sexual relationship with Jessica Simpson and describes her as “sexual napalm.” He gives a standard-issue self-congratulatory smart guy dismissal of Simpson, saying something about how before he met Simpson, he had never been the kind of guy to date a girl like that (I’m sure none of them are). Following a vague description of Simpson’s incendiary sexual prowess, he says: “There are people in the world who have the power to change our values. Have you ever been with a girl who made you want to quit the rest of your life? Did you ever say, ‘I want to quit my life and just f***in’ snort you? If you charged me $10,000 to f**k you, I would start selling all my s**t just to keep f***ing you.'” An inane formulation, yes, but it’s also a startlingly adept articulation of a peculiar kind of object relation, the one where the subject is confronted with an object so mesmerizing in its ridiculousness as to be worth dismantling his life over in order to feed the addiction. Can I tell you, dear reader, how entirely thrown I was by this statement? I’ve experienced this kind of thing. Have you? Have people written about this? Since I read the interview it’s practically all I can think about. I’ve also taken to using the phrase “______ makes me want to quit my whole life and just f***in’ snort it” to describe things like rhubarb jam and the Dirty Projectors’ most recent album.  Mayer’s phrase might not have the fortitude that “heaving” has, but right out of the gate I’m really enjoying it.