Monday, December 6, 2010

This happened.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Google Reader


When asked to read a five-minute essay about a social space for my Fieldwork and Ethnography seminar, this is what I came up with. (Keep in mind I was trying to explain it to people who have never heard of it.)

I’m being followed by fifty-nine people. I’m following all of them, too; each relationship is more or less reciprocal. All of us routinely visit the bazaar-like space of Google Reader, an online community in the guise of an RSS aggregator. The point of an RSS aggregator is simple: bringing the diverse content of numerous blogs, news sources, and entertainment sites together in one place for convenient, personalized consumption. Google Reader takes this idea a step further by allowing each user to share especially interesting content with friends and to view and comment on content shared by others. As a result, the application is as much a form of social networking as it is a way to catch up on headlines, media reviews, and ridiculous pictures of cats. I started out by following only the content posted by real-life friends and acquaintances--my roommate, my boyfriend, my co-workers, and so on. However, after we commented on each other’s shares enough, we began to notice that friends of friends seemed to share our interests and make us laugh, too. It wasn’t long before my small list of friends grew to include not only friends of friends, but complete strangers. Among my “sharebros” (our term for people who follow each other), I can count a few of the internet hipster blogger elite, quite a few salespeople and writers, a number of musicians, and various academics who represent nearly all disciplines, ages, and regions. Many have become friends as a direct result of our finding common bonds through Reader--sometimes in the ways our research topics intersect, or in a basic shared love of food, fashion, or unusual humor.

Describing the actual experience of Reader is an elusive task, mainly because its contents represent myriad forms of authorship and appropriation that defy easy definition. The interface is simple enough: the source feeds a user subscribes to are listed by title on the left side of the screen, and the user can view a source’s content by clicking on its entry in the list. Immediately above the list of feeds is a list of people that a user follows. It is possible to view each sharebro’s “shares” in the same way; clicking on a person’s name reveals everything he or she has chosen to post. Both the user list and the source list stay in one place; users can scroll through content in the main frame of the window. Whether content is from a blog or a friend, one has the option to “Like,” “Share,” or “Share with Note” on each post. If the post is from a sharebro, one can also add comments; however, “liking” or “resharing” someone else’s content is high praise. Socially speaking, it cements the bond of your shared interests and shows public approval of someone else’s choice.

When I browse Reader, there is comfort in familiar motion. My fingers somehow automatically know to press “J” if I want to read ahead, and “K” if I want to go back to something. Touching the smooth keys of my laptop in repeated, measured form is a kind of cyborg meditation; I’m not clearing my mind, but filling it and training for my day of processing and responding to information. It’s the perfect exercise to pair with drinking coffee. Although I read enough blogs that I rarely have time for them all, beginning my day with headlines, jokes, and camaraderie is soothing. I feel not only informed, but reassured. Staring at a screen before entering the world affirms that wherever I am, I am aware of what’s going on around me and I’m part of an easily accessible, familiar social network.

Users, at least among my Reader contacts, have one main trait in common: we spend a lot of time on the internet and we value very specific informational and cultural literacies. Although we differ on many points, there are some things most of us agree upon, like terminology. “#gg,” for example, stands for “grandma glance.” The term is derived from the Fabolous song “Not Give a Fuck,” in which the speaker claims to wear a throwback jersey “so old it’ll make your grandma glance” (RapGenius 2010). Basically, writing “#gg” on another person’s share is a diss, because it means everyone--even someone less hip to online culture, like a stereotypical grandma--has seen it. On the flip side, if someone awards you a series of plus signs in a comment, you’ve said something supremely witty. But Reader’s not just mindless novelty. Newness is important, but only because it presupposes existing, shared knowledge. We have inside jokes, like malaprops and one sharebro’s bizarre obsession with the JFK assassination. Avoiding a #gg is a bit about prestige, but it’s also about respecting our sharebros’ history together. As friends, we remember each other’s interests, and share things “@” each other with those interests in mind. For example, shares @ me might make fun of my fascination with LaToya Jackson, but they might also be vintage clothing ads that people know I will like, or even links to projects that might help inform my thesis research.

Most comments are friendly, even in the context of lively debate, and the right joke or insight can even earn new friends. The strange thing about debate on Reader is there’s not much attention to scale; we can fight just as earnestly and fiercely about Morrissey as we can about education reform. And it’s not always polite. Even though I am linked to people I see everyday “IRL” (in real life), I’m also connected to strangers with very different values--some of whom still see the internet as a somewhat anonymous space for recreational antagonism. At this point, most of us try to stay out of the most intense fights. A year ago today, most of us were involved in the worst flame war I’ve ever seen, and I was at the center of it. Unlike most debates, this had little to do with politics or tastes, and everything to do with an innocuous less-than-three-style heart. I’d written the heart on many especially cool shares, but some strangers--friends of my sharebro--said that writing things like that was pointless and irritating. (In this particular case, I had started a comment thread with the far less glamorous "Cooool," but my friend and roommate immediately followed with the ubiquitous heart.) Although lots of people hurried to our defense, the thread somehow devolved into mean-spirited comments about my appearance, and battle lines were drawn according to the old rap delineations of “East Coast,” “West Coast,” and “Dirty South.” People with real life connections stayed loyal to each other online, and a comment that seemed frivolous translated into a lot of IRL emotions. A weird side effect of this fight, though, was that a lot of strangers became friends. When the absurdity of the whole thing reached its logical limits, a guy from New York whom I didn’t know posted a picture of a heart flanked by a city skyline and American flags with the caption “10/7 Never Forget.” Those who either sympathized with me or were simply appalled by the length and intensity of such a trivial fight banded together. We just started making jokes again.

The diversity of Reader is both its triumph and its curse: we learn a lot, but we also fight over everything. Still, most of us would argue that our engagement is worth the payoffs. Users are able to share content from all over the internet, sometimes of their own creation, and they also can edit and reshape others’ content to be more concise or, occasionally, more funny or editorial. As consumers, we’re appropriating content in ways that amuse each other and critique the world we live in.

While some shares are more serious than others, many of us have been able to translate our relationships into useful social connections and tangible public action. Our connections spill not only into other social media like Facebook and Twitter, but also into our real-world lives. During my last trip to New York, I met two sharebros for the first time. We spent a total of seven hours consuming pizza and beer and stories, and it felt like hanging out with any of my other friends. On other occasions, we’ve used Reader as a way to organize academic collaborations across the country, and even mount formal protests on a more local basis. The first ever Sharebro Census was taken a few months ago, and just this week, one guy used our user information to make a map of where we’re all located. Even though I still haven’t met many of my favorite online friends, our relationships are no less real than those I have with people I see in person every day. It’s possible, for instance, to miss people I’ve only ever chatted with. Ultimately, Reader is a highly creative medium for curation. It’s a way of proving one’s own cultural capital by blurring the distinctions between high and low culture, and it forces us to accept a weird brand of democracy.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Eclectic Ladyland

No recipes or outfits today, but I feel compelled to share some awesome flotsam and jetsam I received from two of my favorite ladies, Lady Z and Professor Tango. Both have been going on exciting international travels, and both sent me magical presents.

The first package contained two books Lady Z picked up in London, complete with instructions that Laine and I use them to further the "ladification of the New World." Here they are:

Recipes for High Class Cookery is a pretty comprehensive guide to Edwardian cuisine. About half of these things sound delicious, and about half of them sound hilariously difficult and possibly inedible. In any case, it's now required reading for our cooking staff, and I have full faith in their ability to recognize what is #Lady and what is not. In any case, the styling on this book is gorgeous, and the contents are totally fascinating.

If you know me at all, you know how much I love my thesis topic (fallout shelters); therefore, it should be no surprise that Advising the Householder on Protection against Nuclear Attack has got me pretty excited. It's a little hardcover version of a 1963 British civil defense pamphlet, which was formerly known as Protect and Survive. Protect and Survive was also translated into a twenty-episode series of short films, which in turn spawned countless parodies and critiques.

Here, for example, is what the Dubliners had to say:

The other package I got was from Professor Tango, who has been teaching elementary school in Korea since last fall. I wish my job resulted in photographs like this one:


Anyway, the Professor proposed before she left that if people would send her English books, she would send awesome ephemera and treats. I started by sending her Slouching Towards Bethlehem and A Good Man is Hard to Find. In exchange, she sent me an amazing haul of insanity from Seoul and from her trip to Tokyo.

For starters, there's this CD case:

And if you think the front is great, take a look at the back:

She captioned this one "GIRL U KNOW IT'S TRU."

She also sent me this banner from a Buddhist temple:

If any of you know Korean, and can tell me what this says (or at least that I've got it oriented correctly), I would be truly appreciative.

Next, there's the candy:

Ohhhh, the candy.

It's true that the little man in the suit with the sword is delightful, and it's true that these look delicious, and it's true that I am impressed that this bag is resealable. NOTHING, however, is truer than Laine's statement that one should never eat what one cannot identify. All signs (except the Japanese, which I cannot vouch for, nor can I find on the internets) point to this stuff being wonderful. My mouth, which is still in shock from the intense bitterness of these candies, begs to differ.

Then there was this:

Sorry for the iPhone-quality photos.
The important thing here is that you know that this appears to be LADY-flavored.

The gum itself was a surprising color:

It tasted more or less like a mixture of saccharine and
roses, which I guess is characteristic of some ladies.

This requires a palate cleanser:

Much better.

The funniest and safest of the candies was this:

So, you know, I would recommend getting Crunky.

And last, but certainly not least, postcards and stickers!

Tokyo Cat is from Tokyo!

And Seoul is full of Power Rangers.

This is confusing, but as good a time as any to think about that part
at the end of Waiting for Guffman where Corky St. Clair says "OW ARE OU?!"

Now THAT'S a bookmark.

And best of all, this giant decal:
Again, sorry for the photo quality.
From left to right, top to bottom: Wonder Woman, Superman, Wonder Woman, The Bionic Woman (?), The Rockford Files (?), Charlie's Angels, CHiPs, Fred Savage, Airwolf, The A-Team, The Greatest American Hero, MacGyver, V, The Facts of Life (?), V, Knight Rider (?), The Incredible Hulk, V, The Incredible Hulk, Knight Rider(?)

This concludes today's jaunt through Eclectic Ladyland. Thanks for the awesome stuff!

Monday, May 24, 2010

The End (LOST Spoilers Ahead)

I didn't start watching LOST until we had an ice storm about a year and a half ago and I had nothing else to do. I raced through the first season and immediately started watching season five with my friends and filled in the gaps as quickly as possible in what spare time I had. Since then, LOST night has been an institution that usually involves a lot of heckling and homemade snack foods. Even though basically everyone in the free world (except for Shaun) agrees that the show has not achieved its former greatness in several years, the social traditions we've built around LOST have kept us watching. As you might expect, last night's two-and-a-half-hour series finale was a pretty big deal.

Now it seems like the whole internet is in an argument between people who love the finale, people who h8 the finale, and people who are flailing their arms around going, "WHAT? I DON'T UNDERSTAND!" For me, all the finale proved was that Unitarians have a lot more patience for these angsty bitches than I do. It was like being hit in the face with a stained glass version of this:

and THEN being forced to endure Matthew Fox's crying face (© Claire Danes, 1994).

This wasn't SO surprising, but let's be real: LOST is totally Catholic. But not in the know-your-catechism, pious kind of way. (Mr. Eko was a testament to that.) It's Catholic in the drunk-on-guilt-and-maybe-liquor, apologetic kind of way, the kind of way that makes you hope it's Purgatory and continues to intrigue you even though you can't really explain why. And the details! There's so many that they could NEVER all be explained, and frankly, a lot of people prefer it that way.


So, I'm okay with the ending. I didn't love it, but let's face it, it could have been MUCH worse. If I had had my way, it would have ended like this:

And then Hurley and Lapidus would get high and laugh for two hours.
And then Ben would say something extra creepy:

Instead, it ended up being like this:

My sixth-grade self was VERY surprised.

I hate Jack and Kate so much. SO MUCH.

Anyway, we had snacks. Fish biscuits, fruit salsa and chocolate cake, all on white octagon Dharma-esque plates. Admittedly, the "fish biscuits" were more like this than this, but I love cheesy snack crackers, damn it.

The salsa is one of my favorites, too.

1/3 pineapple
1 large mango
1 orange
1/3 red onion
a LOT of cilantro
1/2 tsp Marie Sharp's Grapefruit Pulp Habañero Hot Sauce
(if you can't get Marie Sharp's, substitute regular habanero sauce and extra citrus)

The cake was dedicated to our LOSTbros' H8K8 Consortium, which is one of the most fun aspects of our group viewings. It bears repeating, however, that Evangeline Lilly, before playing Kate, starred in quite a few Live Links commercials.

To commemorate her acting history (because she has such a good acting face), I made this:

I relied heavily on fondant here, because I H8 it almost as much as I H8K8.

Anyway, here is the whole spread:

Here is Amy B displaying her intense K8H8:

And here's what I was wearing:

Dress: Carole Little Petites (part of an uber-90s skirt set stolen from Mom)
Glitter belt: Found it...

Earrings: Vintage, inherited from Great-Grandma Irene

Shoes: Antonio Melani


Sunday, May 9, 2010

The Top Ten Greatest Convenience Foods of the Modern Age

First of all, sorry things have been so slow around here, but finals week and the subsequent grade-a-thon chewed us up and spit us out, and now we're back. Although we focus on food and fashion, I like to think what sets this blog apart (aside from being at the mercy of the academic calendar) is a willingness to engage wholeheartedly with the lowbrow. Thus, this post is dedicated to that great staple of the school year's end, convenience food.*

Don't get me wrong: there are many, many delicious, cheap, and easy** meals out there, but I've tried to narrow it down to the most comforting, tried-and-true favorites. I suspect Laine and I might disagree on several of these. But as far as I'm concerned, these are the Top Ten Greatest Convenience Foods of the Modern Age.***

10) Michelina's Fettucine Alfredo

Okay, so it's not the best fettucine alfredo. But let's say you're in a hurry and you just want to eat something that is the perfect mix of comforting and maudlin--this is the appropriate dish. Make sure you put it in the microwave for a bit longer that the recommended cook time; this will ensure that the noodles are soft and that the edges are just golden brown and crunchy enough to be totally satisfying.

9) Smucker's Uncrustables (Grape)

You might be thinking "It's sort of pathetic to purchase frozen PBJ. How fucking lazy are you?!" The answer is totally lazy. And I'll have you know that it's deliciously pathetic. The beauty of these things is that you literally do nothing. You take them out of the freezer, put them into your bag, and by lunch time, they are room temperature. No sogginess, no gooey Ziploc bags--only tender, crustless magic that you can devour in four bites before the heinous student you have to meet with rushes into your office.

8) El Monterey Taquitos (Chicken & Cheese, Flour Tortillas)

I can't remember who the patron saint of drunk college girls is (St. Catherine of Alexandria? St. Jude?), but if ever there were a good offering, this is it. Apparently these taquitos have an Award Winning Taste! I believe it. A friend insisted that we get these one Saturday, and I acquiesced. Ever since, I occasionally crave these, and on those occasions, NOTHING ELSE WILL DO.

7) Maruchan Instant Lunch (Lime Chili Flavor with Shrimp)

So, it's cold outside, you have a stuffy nose, and you have seven pages to write before tomorrow? This little Styrofoam cup (with the addition of hot curry or cayenne pepper) will give you the strength to power through. It has the added bonus of costing less than thirty minutes of campus parking.

6) Red Baron Deep Dish Singles (4 Cheese)

These are awesome. They taste like what those personal pan pizzas from your high school cafeteria would taste like if your school was trying to piss off Jamie Oliver for being such a condescending little bitch by making the pizzas even more delicious.**** Put the little cooking tray on a plate, or your microwave will be covered in melted cheese. Delicious, delicious melted cheese.

5) Kashi Frozen Entrees Lemongrass Coconut Chicken

For the singular hippie type. Surprisingly convincing as an adequate, tasty meal, as long as you put it on a plate.

4) Campbell's Condensed Tomato Soup

Perhaps the most famous convenience food of all, and for good reason. Tomato soup and grilled cheese will never not make you feel better. Too lazy even to make grilled cheese? Throw a handful of Cheez-Its in your soup. Seriously, it's upsettingly amazing.

3) Morningstar Farms Chik Patties Original

Despite the truly horrible name, the conceptual offensiveness of imitation meat, and the alarmist horror of those who haven't Wikipedia'd hexane, these sandwich patties are truly delectable. Literally everyone I know, vegetarian or not, is totally thrilled whenever these appear at a cookout. They, too, have an Award Winning Taste.

2) Stouffer's Macaroni and Cheese

I don't know why they even bother advertising. Everyone knows this shit is good.

1) Eggo Waffles (Homestyle)

As Tina would say, these are simply the best. When I was a little kid, my favorite part of the day was waking up at 5:30 AM, eating Eggo waffles, and watching Jem reruns with my dad. I even sent away for an Eggosaurus watch. When I was in junior high, we had to do this project for math class that involved gridding off the box from some kind of food product and making a larger scale model. That's right: I drew and colored an ENTIRE Eggo box, and I enjoyed every second of it. When I had to take the Little Rock city bus to work the summer after high school, I ran out the door every single day with two Eggo waffles slathered with Nutella and peanut butter and stuck together like a sandwich. Whenever I go home, I eat these for breakfast with vanilla yogurt and fresh berries on top. I guess what I'm trying to say, Eggo, is thanks for all the memories.

And for those of you who doubt the cultural importance of convenience foods, watch this:

I'm well aware that people all over the internet have rants about nutrition, environmental degradation, classiness, and the emotional importance of sharing good food with people you love. While these rants are often justifiable, I am going to admit that I simply cannot muster the energy to care at this time of year. For those that want to judge or tell me that these foods can't compare to their homemade versions (duh), I encourage you to take three classes, teach three, attempt to have a social life, nurse a questionably healthy addiction to putting one's hair in complicated updos, and THEN make me a damned paella. There's a good chance that there are humans who do this, but I'm willing to admit my inferiority to them and/or their robot taskmasters.

**I bet you thought I was going to say "your mom." But I won't, because it's Mothers' Day. Hi, Mom! <3

***It occurs to me that "convenience foods" is a pretty general category. For the purposes of this list, I've tried to make things comparable by limiting myself to things that are acceptable as a meal. Also, I'm not advocating that you try to subsist on these things; I'm just saying that if you are a consenting adult, you should be allowed to choose what you put in your body, including some bullshit from the microwave on occasion.

****I'm all for healthier foods in school cafeterias, and I'll leave blogging on food politics to Laine, who's better informed than I am. However, I'm convinced that it's possible to encourage positive change without resorting to namecalling and shaming tactics.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Guest Post: Aprilween Capers and Crafts by Amy B

This past weekend, Laine and I celebrated our favorite holiday of all, APRILWEEN! Here to talk you through the festivities is our dear friend, first guest blogger, and hostessss with the mostessss, Amy B. Here's what she sent us:

Raspberry-blackberry Champagne punch

It all starts on my vacation to Portland, Oregon, on my way to the 24-Hour Church of Elvis.

I was wasting a few hours until a lunch date, and a strobe of pink and black caught my eye-- a Betsey Johnson boutique! I'd only touched a Betsey dress once at Dillard's, so to see a whole store of it, tangible and try-on-able, I was ecstatic. The saleslady was a little too good at her job, and when I told her I really didn't have a lot of money and was mostly day-dreaming, asked me if I had a camera so I could at least take away a picture of myself in my favorite dress.

The devil made me do it.

She brought me more dresses, some awesome rhinestone bow-tie shoes to try them on with, and kept things light, and an hour later I was leaving all of my spending money with her and taking two awesome dresses (on sale!) with me.

The problem with buying designer dresses is that 1) they need shoes and 2) someplace to wear them. I tried to remedy the situation while I was still in PDX, and bought a pair of vintage heels with silver/brown leaf applicques and small rhinestones. I haven't worn these yet, as they need some work done on the busted-out elastics.

Via some huge thrift shop on Division

When I got back home, I scoured eBay for a used pair of the shoes I'd worn at the store. Fail! I cannot find that pair anywhere, even on the Betsey site. I did a quick search on eBay and found something better-- silver pumps with a clear plastic upper. (Someone referred to these as stripper heels, but I think they're more like bridesmaid shoes.) I trotted to Hobby Lobby and found both sequined trim and shiny silver fabric, as well as some white lace ribbon to match the blue dress.

How to make a bow? I've been pretty averse to bows since I stopped wearing them in my hair, but Instructables had a pretty easy tutorial. The sequined trim looked too much like a clown accessory, so I stuck with the silver, white lace, and some red satin left over from a strange charity craft project. And voila!

Betsey Johnson knock-offs a la Hobby Lobby

Blue dress by Betsey Johnson and Lace shoes

Close-up on shoes

Cherry shoes!

You'll notice the over-sized cherry-- that is an Aprilween product. I had to wear my pink Betsey dress somewhere, so a party in my own home seemed a safe bet. Aprilween is a tradition beloved by my husband Justin and Sam King. A month warmer than October, this means no coats over your beautiful costume. So as not to eclipse the dress, I choose to simply adorn myself with a cherry hat and go as a cupcake (or a strawberry sundae, if you please). I made red satin bows for the bridesmaid shoes and did a simple papier-maché job on a balloon. Other materials included a coat hanger, electrical tape, red glitter and elastic. Also quite a few layers of decoupage.

From Portland, OR to Fayetteville, AR, it felt pretty perfect.

Pretty pretty please, with a cherry on top.

Dress: Betsey Johnson
Shoes: Palovio with adornments by A. Brown
Earrings: Forever 21
Hat: A. Brown

I am lucky to have friends who not only love costume parties, but the craft of costume-making and organizing. Case in point: the lovely Laine and Dolly of Purity and Danger put together a spot-on group costume of the cast of Heathers, including a whole set of croquet mallets, taper candle dynamite, lunchtime survey clipboard and two men in drag to complete the Heather triumvirate:

Veronica Sawyer and JD:

Heather Chandler:

Heather Duke :

Heather McNamara:

Laine and Dolly were also the perpetrators of the Being Sam Kingovitch birthday theme that ran parallel to Aprilween:

I also made Justin's costume, The Call Center of Cthulhu, which we came up with jointly. Three colors of green felt, two colors of embroidery and a little elastic:

and you get an Elder God who still doesn't know where to transfer your call:

As for food, I spent the majority of my time crafting costumes and putting up streamers. We hit up Aldi for some cheap salty and sweets, and broke out the punch bowl for some raspberry-champagne goodness. The only fancy thing was the trifle, brought by Laine and Dolly [Eds.--And prepared by our friend Andrew, who can make magical treats out of thin air!]

And muted streamers and balloons in honor of Sam King.

Thanks, Amy! This one goes out to you: