Category: funny

The elephant is that a lot of newsrooms are full of, or run by, anti-intellectual bullies who think they’re the smartest people on the planet. People who don’t know what they don’t know don’t respect the intelligence of their sources or their audience, and stuff like this happens:


Oy gevalt. Via Twitter user @ablaze.

Of course, I don’t actually believe traditional media deserves everything it’s getting. This isn’t just the newsroom nerd rubbing her hands together at the fate everyone who ever said, “Those protesters have no idea what they’re talking about” (which always meant “I have no idea what those protesters are talking about, and I’m not going to bother to look into it”) or attached a deceptive, moronic headline to a complicated story. Downsizing — which had been going on, steadily, in newsrooms for decades before Craigslist purportedly ruined everything — doesn’t create a culture where journalists have the time and the support to get really good at their jobs. I’m not sure what will, though there are some awesome organizations out there doing really cool projects and earnest efforts to change media business models so they work — spaces that deserve more attention than they are getting. (Yes, you may have noticed that I am here bitching about a dumb headline, and not posting about cool, in-depth reporting projects. Hello everybody! My name is Christen, and I am part of the problem.)

I’ve been thinking about this stuff a lot this past week, because of the Supreme Court decision regarding the Affordable Care Act. (Speaking of, here is the obligatory: SERIOUSLY, CNN. AND FOX.) I write about various implications of the ACA all the time, but I realized — looking around at Facebook and Twitter — that I have no idea what people don’t know about health care reform in this country.

I’m not talking about aggressively uninformed folks who showed up to Town Halls with misspelled signs, or people who operate with their own facts, or at least pretend to. I’m pretty well resigned to never being able to reach certain people; for instance, 2012 me just gives rude teenagers the Mom look and goes back to reading, rather than fret about a missed teachable moment. I’m talking about people I know who are fairly intelligent, well-informed and reasonable (regardless of political affiliation), who didn’t know about subsidies for low-income folks, or about the end of discrimination for pre-existing conditions. I write for a nichier, wonkier audience than most of my friends belong to; still, the non-nichey, non-wonky, but still educable people out there have got the short shrift of a fractured, superficial media landscape and a wonkier one they aren’t trying to find (sometimes also using cynicism as a justification for ignorance) and that isn’t really trying to find them.

Every year on the Fourth I re-read the Declaration of Independence — aloud, if I have an audience. To me, it’s a sobering reminder that democracy isn’t inevitable, isn’t static and wasn’t ever perfect. It’s something we have to keep doing and getting better at.


There’s a new episode of Think Again, My Friend up today whose theme, Family Restaurants, prompted more anecdotes than we could squeeze into the unusually long recording. The “Who said it: Herman Cain or Homer Simpson?” quiz did make the cut; on not one quote was there consensus on the source. I’m pretty happy about that.

Here’s an anecdote I saved up just for the Message: I Cariots (as my grandmother always said, just because almost nobody reads your blog doesn’t mean you can’t invent a stupid, cutesy name for those who do). It’s neither about me, nor especially family friendly, so be advised.

This story might make you never want fettucine alfredo again. That would be stupid, though. Unless you’re vegan.

A few months ago I was on my lunch break, in the middle of a volunteer shift at a clinic that mostly provides reproductive health services, and a staff member I’d never met before told us this story, which she said had been told to her on a camping trip that weekend.

The friend from the camping trip had eaten at [family restaurant] at least a few months previous, and eaten fettuccine alfredo. Restaurant portions being what they are, she took leftovers home. and shortly after gone to the doctor with a sore throat. The doc diagnosed her with gonorrhea.Which came as a sufficient enough surprise that the doc had the alfredo sauce tested. Its true contents? The semen of three different young men.

My colleague reported that her friend was receiving a monthly check to keep her mouth shut about the whole ordeal; it’s enough that she never has to work again.

I’d like to skip ahead in time a bit to the part where I think, Wait a minute, what? and wander over to Snopes, where several variations on this story appear in contaminated, semen-y glory. The most recent and prominent of these involved the very chain named in my colleague’s story: the Olive Garden.

In the moment, though, my reaction — largely shared by the others in the room — was more along the lines of:

1) Ew ew ew ew ew I’ll never eat at the Olive Garden again. (I don’t go there often these days anyway, but that’s not really the point.)

2) Oh, but gonorrhea? That’s totally treatable. A sore throat and a course of antibiotics is a small price to pay for never having to work again. (One of the providers pointed out that researchers have found antibiotic-resistant strains of STDs that used to be really treatable, including gonorrhea, bringing all my eat-contaminated-food-and-retire-young fantasies to a hasty, unpleasant end.)

3) Have you read/heard about The Help? (The movie was just a few weeks from release.) Because, apparently, POOP PIE.

It was the story’s tidy, conspiratorial ending (THAT’S WHY YOU’VE NEVER HEARD ABOUT THIS) that made me curious enough to look it up.

What I didn’t even consider was how implausible the story was from a medical perspective. (Yes, I’m even overlooking the fact that semen and alfredo sauce really have distinct tastes, unless you’re my grandmother and you’re reading this, in which case I have no idea what I’m talking about.)I have chronic sinus issues with post-nasal drip, which means at least once every couple of years I get one really horrid, lingering sore throat that lasts long enough to warrant a strep test. Throat swabs for chlamydia and gonorrhea are available, but as far as I can tell, rarely offered unless there’s reason for the provider or patient to believe an STD would be the cause of the patient’s irritation (i.e. she also has symptoms of gonorrhea in the genitals, tells the provider she’s performed oral sex recently on an infected partner).

Absent that, additional testing would happen after strep had been ruled out. It takes a few days for gonorrhea symptoms to appear in the throat — so it could be up to a couple of weeks before the proper diagnosis was handed down. At which point, it’s not impossible the patient would still have had leftovers in her fridge to sample for DNA testing, but it’s pushing the edge of plausibility. Besides, it would take a serious leap for the provider to say, “Oh, well now. Maybe it was just something you ate! We’ll get it tested and everything will be copacetic as heck, lady!”

There’s also the part where I have no idea if the bacteria would live in refrigeration. There’s also the slut-shamey and highly suspect how-could-I-possibly-have-an-STD? mechanism, but I think you get the point, which is that it’s a whack as hell story.

For at least those few minutes of conversation, though, we all bought it, or were polite enough to accept it on its own terms. Even though I suspect we all — even those with minimal training on the subject, like me — know enough about how STDs are actually diagnosed and treated to know better. This isn’t a story about how stupid people are, that they believe stupid things. It’s how a compelling narrative can knock down all you know, if for minute.

On the podcast I asked a question about a toddler at Applebee’s who was served a Long Island iced tea in a sippy cup. That’s not only true, but apparently a Thing there, which I find perversely reassuring. Whether or not bored, disgruntled Olive Garden employees are by turns jerking off into vats of pasta sauce, you can all rest assured the world is still a terrifying place, one hell-bound on poisoning and corrupting the innocent, one sippy cup Margarita at a time.

In college I wrote a paper that talked about The Rocky Horror Picture Show live-screen acting phenomenon as part of a larger discussion about what makes a movie a “cult movie.” This was partly because while I’d wanted to write about exploitation movies, it turned out to be way harder to locate research materials on that topic in time for my deadline than to find academic writing about Rocky Horror, of which there is an actual fuckton at your local university library.

I got very smart about the topic: the way the movie aped all the different genres of midnight movies before becoming the midnight movie. I interviewed a guy who’d played Meat Loaf’s character in a live production in the south. And my brain is still full of annoying Rocky Horror trivia, like, “Did you know the Portland Rocky Horror is the longest continuously running Rocky Horror in the country?” (It’s actually a very close second, but we need our dubious distinctions.)

At 30, I was probably the world’s most precocious Rocky Horror virgin.

I’d seen bits and pieces of the movie on television, but I refused to watch the whole thing until I could see it live, because that, as far as I could tell, was how it was done. But I missed the boat. I grew up in an isolated community in southern Idaho, and Boise doesn’t have a consistent live RHPS performance (I think it might happen at Halloween sometimes). Then I went off to school in Corvallis, where I had a car, and no curfew, and lots of friends, and we talked about getting a posse together to go to Portland and see it, but didn’t ever do it.

And even though, for three years, I’ve lived a short walk away from the Clinton Street Theater, I’ve generally had other entertainment priorities, like getting in endless and pointless comment wars in various corners of the Internet, finally reading some Jane Austen so I don’t get kicked out of being a girl (or get my English degree revoked), and complaining about Burning Man people. So I went uninitiated despite ongoing vocal curiosity about the whole business, until this weekend, when my boyfriend decided it was time for me to lose my Rocky Horror virginity.

Once, when I was in college, I sat and tittered uncontrollably while one of my male housemates listed the funniest, most disgusting euphemisms for semen he could think of. These included “man mustard” and “baby batter.” I still find both those expressions hilarious for the total ick factor. My freshman year roommate used to fake loud orgasms in the background every time I talked on the phone to my parents (or my boss). I was annoyed by this, but not very, and returned the favor from time to time. The same roommate and I liked to get dressed up in the weirdest, tackiest outfits we could put together, and too much makeup, and go to the $2 movie theater to heckle the films loudly. The point being, there was a time when I would have thought dressing up in a shiny bikini and fishnets and yelling “Cum Dumpster!” and “Slut!” at a movie screen the height of Saturday-night fun.

But those days are over, and I don’t think I miss the person I was then very much. She’s been replaced by someone who probably isn’t any more likeable — someone who, if she goes seven hours without eating, alternates between nodding off and fantasizing about biting people in their faces then starts growling incoherently about burritos. The latter prompted my gentleman friend to whisk me across the street to Dot’s and put a burrito and a beer in front of me, and that is the story of how every teenager in Portland did not get murdered last Saturday night.

I generally support the notion that you’ve never too old for a happy childhood or a miserable, awkward, fumbling adolescence. That there are some adolescent shenanigans that never go out of style, like fooling around in a graveyard or in a booth at The Original Hotcake House at 3 a.m., or stealing a bunch of pears you don’t need and writing a book about it. (See, I didn’t just read academic studies of Rocky Horror in school.) My own 30th birthday was prom themed! But some things just don’t work in an adult context, like reading The Catcher in the Rye or pulling all-nighters or, apparently, Rocky Horror.

A couple of weeks ago Mike and I were having dinner on Hawthorne and he said Portland isn’t so much where young people go to retire as it is the place you go when you figure out that once you grow up, you can eat all the candy you want. There were, of course, as he said this, several dozen people in pirate costumes running what appeared to be a pirate marathon. He said, “I’m not quite done with that thought. But I’m almost done with it, and I’m ready to move on to another thought, but I don’t know what yet.”

Puberty takes so long to complete these days that I’d half hoped to see a bunch of grim, pathetic lifers Saturday. Instead, I’m pretty sure I’m technically old enough to have given birth to a couple members of the cast, and that’s Fine. It’s weirdly relieving. It’s nice that some things still just belong to the young, and that I’m not young, and that I missed out on some stuff, and I won’t be able to properly experience that stuff ever.

Anyway, I’ve also never seen Star Wars, so you should probably go ahead and freak out and trash me in the comments.

It’s rare, very rare, for me to buy a print magazine of any kind these days, but I totally got suckered into buying GQ last month because, uh, Zach Galifianakis was on the cover. Actually, it was worse than that: they were doing this collect-all-three-covers thing to trick me into buying three copies, and it almost worked except I never have impure thoughts about Tracy Morgan, and I couldn’t really justify buying two of the same thing just because Paul Rudd’s face was also available. I’m not calling this nonsense nonsense by way of claiming that I’m somehow above it; to the contrary, I’m letting you know that I considered it very strongly, because I’d really prefer it if all of you lost all respect for me right this second.

Where was I? Yeah, so I bought an issue of GQ. Now, I should explain that I used to really love GQ. For a couple of years in my early 20s, it was the only print magazine I subscribed to. It would be more accurate, actually, to say I was moderately obsessed with the gentleman’s !Quarterly. It started out innocently enough: I was on break during my last week of work at a bowling alley in a resort, had finished my book and as the alley was absolutely dead, decided I needed additional reading material. The gift shop upstairs lacked for any of the sorts of magazines preferred by upper-middle-class, latte-drinking, Saab-driving liberals (and also, people who work in bowling alleys but read the exact same magazines as those people). In the absence of Harper‘s, or the New Yorker, or even Vanity Fair or Vogue, I was growing a tad desperate. Then I noticed that the new issue of GQ — a special, fat anniversary issue — boasted pieces by James Ellroy, Michael Paterniti, and Jeffrey Euginedes. Of course, the cover also featured a photo of Heidi Klum wearing a whip cream bikini. It was sort of mortifying to haul the thing around, but these are the sacrifices we make in this life.

Of course, while there were almost always at least two or three unrepentantly gorgeously-written and -researched articles about, uh, Issues or whatever, I was also obsessed with the way the magazine presented the World of Men. It turned out I could read about bespoke suits and brush and soap shaves and how to win at craps all day long. I’m not sure why this is, really. I have a similar fascination with good sportswriting — the rhythm and voice of it rivets me even when I have no idea what the writer is going on about, or if I just don’t care. Granted, shaving and tailoring are actually things I do know a thing or two about, as a shaver of my own legs and a sewer of some of my own jackets. Still, these topics are never presented to women in the same way. Women’s magazines talk to you about bikini waxes or new blazers in a way that tries to make them sound exciting or just presents a new variation that’s cheaper or more convenient (or, you know, deconstructs that we have to bother with these things at all). Men’s magazines talk about these things as if they’re initiating the reader into a newer, classier, sexier way to live. They spoke to my own struggling, middle-class aspirations in a way that, oh, say, Vogue or Cosmo never could. And a brush and soap shave is just flat out sexy.

But like a lot of people my age, and maybe a lot of people in general, I sort of stopped buying print magazines years ago; I haven’t subcribed to a newspaper since I last wrote for one (in mid-2005). I’ve never been a “print is dead” person, since it’s my general observation that declaring things dead, or declaring other things The Future, is a great way to look like an idiot in two years. (People said “the future of content is online” a lot in 2000, and then look what happened to the Internet. I mean, right after that. Not in the long term. Shut up. You know what I mean. Also I had a friend in high school who was fond of saying that Apple was doing ti disappear within a year, and 10 bucks says that guy is seething through a Genius Bar appointment as I write these very words.) Still, I was a little surprised by the information presented in a, um, two-page advertorial spread extolling the virtues of Magazines, saying that Contrary to What You May Have Heard, magazine circulations are going up! Especially among 18-to-34-year-olds! They had a point! I’m 18-to-34 years old, and I was reading a magazine right that minute. However, the fact that this magazine felt the need to call my attention to the fact that I was doing this, and presumably also the reassure advertisers who might be thumbing through the magazine that, definitely, people like me were doing this…it felt a little sad and uncomfortable for everybody, really.

And that wasn’t the only thing that felt sad and uncomfortable about that experience. I really ennjoyed a lot of the magazine, really. The piece about Garry Shandling (who I’ve adored since I was about six) was both fascinating and off-putting; I enjoyed learning that Bill Murray is just as brilliant and just as much of a dick as I always imagined (and also a little bit of a dirty old man!), and because I’ve always been a sucker for the Interview magazine, circle-jerk style of article where a pair or group of famous people talk to each other about stuff I may or may not care about, I enjoyed the article where the three cover boys talked about the future of comedy. I just realized that I sound like I’m being sarcastic here. No. I really do like Bill Murray being a jerk, and celebrities being gross with each other. I told you. I’m an idiot.

Still. This goddamn magazine. As I said, I always got and liked that GQ was about the world of men, and that that world seemed so exotic and strange compared to the world I lived in! I loved it! And either I’ve outgrown my fascination with brush and soap shaves, or GQ — and other men’s magazines, I’m surmising — haven’t really caught up to the world around them. I’d say something snotty about the three-month lead time, except that really isn’t it. Even Vanity Fair, after running that stupid piece wherein Christopher Hitchens ripped off something John Belushi said 30 goddamn years ago , decided that actually, quite a few women these days are pretty funny! And ran a cover story about them. There were valid criticisms to be made of that; first, that some really fascinating high-profile comedy ladies were omitted; second, the way all the cover ladies were sexualized (and I get that, because comedy ladies used to be so desexualized based only on their funniness, even if they were actually pretty good-looking); third, that, OK, you get it. It was all still way better than the stupid Hitchens piece or the time VF decided Maureen Dowd should get to write 10,000 words about how Tina Fey used to be fat. (And hairy! And also fat! But men found her attractive. Even though she was fat! And hairy! And also fat! There, I just saved you the chore of actually Googling and reading this thing.) It all felt a little like 1992 being the year of the woman or whenever the hell that was. A little token.

But GQ’s comedy issue, on the other hand? You want tokenism? Try a half-page feature on five up-and-coming female comics, with about ten sentences devoted to each. While it’s I guess a little annoying that Olivia Munn is described as a “bro with breasts” (even though I’ve been described in similar terms by many a man-friend) and Rashida Jones is so pretty-yet-nonthreatening that “your girlfriend wants to make out with her” (zzzzZZZZzzz), I’m not even quite irritated at the reductiveness and the oh-yeah-guess-we-should-talk-about-female-comicsness of the feature. For the same reason that when I stumbled upon a one-page, front-of-the-book feature from a woman explaining that it’s actually totally OK to make dirty jokes in front of us, and in fact some of us get really peeved if you don’t. Not because I disagreed; it’s just that, in a world where everyone who can afford a GQ subscription can also afford an Internet connection, torrent all the Sarah Silverman routines they like and read countless potty-mouthed blogs by potty-mouthed ladybloggers, the idea that women can, in fact, actually deal with dick jokes is…um, not front-page news.

Might this be the reason that expressions like “front-page news” are merely metaphor? I mean, it’s entirely possible that I’ve become so cool that these magazines have nothing to teach me anymore. Or that I’m not really as much of a bro as I might have imagined. Granted, Judd Apatow himself has yet to figure out that there’s no legal injunction against assigning more than five funny lines per movie to a female character — nor does he realize that while there are plenty of men and boys like the ones his movies portray out in the real world, a lot of those men and boys have women friends, not all of whom they’re trying to sleep with, who can be just as weird and irresponsible and insecure as their male counterparts.

I mean, maybe I’m too deep in my own self-selected Internet universe here, with all its feministy blogs and Garfunkel & Oates videos, but it hardly seems that anyone with half a brain these days is really unaware of the fact that women can be quite funny! Oh, it’s true, many people I know who have more than half a brain are wildly dismissive of books written by ladies about lady stuff, or of music made by ladies, but I really thought we had this whole funny-ladies business thing down. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe GQ‘s not wildly out of touch. I hope I’m wrong. But if I’m not, I guess there’s something I can clip out and hand to the next gentleman who stops himself from making a fart joke just because I’m in the room.

Though it would be so much easier to send him a link…