It’s that wonderful time of year where I stop commenting on the awards given out to the deserving and undeserving alike and establish my own beliefs about who should be awarded things: it’s the 2017 Trainie Awards!
This year was a banner year for the Hot Take, and while none of these observations should qualify as that sort of abomination, it is true that many of them are about Hot Takes. The “Takes” environment has been welling up for awhile, and it seems to not be slowing down – it’s not a new thing to observe that the need to clamour for attention has made it seem necessary to respond to everything very quickly, and in a way that values the “uniqueness” of the statement over the quality of the statement.
All of which is to sort of explain the fact that this year most of the Trainies are for media events rather than genuine events (although a couple of them are genuine events, and stay tuned for the last one), and that two of them, specifically, are about warring tribes of Hot Takers, Taking Hotly.
Without any further ado, here we go.
Outstanding Achievement in Completely Inexplicable Blind Rage
This one starts with a Change.Org petition over a year ago to shut down the review-aggregation site rottentomatoes.com over their collection of terrible reviews for Suicide Squad 1. The petition was kind of funny 2, but the idea really took hold of a subset of the internet, with youtube videos and reddit posts 3 alike declaring that RT is biased against DC movies. This statement is where the thing develops at least three layers of silliness.
The first layer is, of course, the notion that not liking a movie is only possible as a result of conspiracy. The DCU movies (generally – Wonder Woman proved to be a welcome exception) are the sort of heavily-stylized, world-heavy but plot- (and logic-. And character-) light expedition into a very specific kind of grimdark thought process that is certainly a known way to appeal to a certain kind of fan. It doesn’t surprise me at all that the movies have fervent defenders 4. What remains a shock to me is that people are still able to convince themselves that their opinions are the only opinions, and that the presence of any other opinion is not because people disagree with them, but because they are being willfully misled. The second layer of silliness, then, is about the misleading itself – Rotten Tomatoes is not a site that reviews movies, it is a site that aggregates other people reviewing movies. Getting mad at RT for the demonstrable fact that critics don’t like a movie on the record is like getting mad at your windows because it’s raining outside. It’s classic “shoot the messenger” thinking, except it’s one step removed even from the messenger – it’s shooting the person who made you aware of the existence of messengers.
Which brings us, then, to the third layer of silliness: this is deciding that an aggregator is somehow the tool of destruction for the studio that has an ownership stake in the aggregator. It’s, thus, a perfect storm of not understanding what it is you’re saying: you’re accusing Warner Bros of setting up a system whereby they’re hamstringing their own work for…some reason.
Like most conspiracy theories, this one falls apart when one tries to figure out what the benefit is for the people “conspiring.” What is the advantage of running down DC movies for the film critics thus aggregated? The idea that an entire class of people would be devoted to ruining the days of a few Batman fans is as hilariously misguided as it is outright baffling.
Outstanding Achievement in Deciding Something is So Good That It Is Actually Something Else
So Bob Dylan won the Nobel prize for literature, specifically for his song lyrics. This, despite song lyrics 5 not actually being literature. The second half of that statement seems to be the problem, but it shouldn’t be.
At the root of the problem, we have the basic fact that this is exactly the sort of “everything is everything” thinking that hegemonic thinkers are guilty of all the time – “I like it, therefore it is good, therefore it is the same as all other good things, and is therefore capable of being all good things.” This is extremely belittling to most things! Thus, it is difficult for me to see the praise for Bob Dylan’s Nobel win as anything other than an insult to Bob Dylan’s work.
Bob Dylan definitely set out to be a dude that made art using words, no question. But he didn’t set out to be a poet – he didn’t set out to make literature – he set out to be a singer. His words were used in a specific manner, and that manner has a specific context and idiom. That manner is created to be appreciated in a context with a specific result – Bob Dylan wrote songs (and not other things) in order to communicate something with his songs (and not other things) that could be communicated via songs (and not other things). To take a part of his art – the words to the songs, divorced from the performance or even the notation – and say “this portion of this thing is a completely different thing” is to debase both literature 6 and the very same folk/rock/songwriting traditions that Bob Dylan himself chose to work in 7. Whether Bob Dylan’s lyrics are good enough is not actually the thing that has been so honored here – it’s that Bob Dylan’s lyrics must somehow be converted to something they aren’t in order to win an award that goes to people whose intentions and set of decisions are in no way the same.
I have a cat who I like a great deal. Let’s call him William 8. He’s adorable and fuzzy, and he has a tendency to attack and devour things that are smaller than him 9. He’s pretty much in the top, like, five cats in the world, but I’m going to elevate him, for our purposes here, to call him the best cat 10. He sleeps a lot, he’s always hungry, and he straight-up-murderizes anything smaller than him that happens across his territory. But no matter how good he is at being territorial, predatory and hungry, he’s never going to be a bear. Because he’s a cat, and not a bear.
If someday they decide to have a best bear contest, and I enter William into it because I think that, frankly, he’s so good at doing bear stuff that he counts as a bear, I will be laughed out of the room, because obviously William is not a bear. This is exactly and precisely how we should feel about Bob Dylan’s Nobel prize – a song is not literature, literature is not songs, and you can’t be so good at one that it makes it the other. I am compelled here to point out, almost certainly unnecessarily, that I love songs, and also literature, and that I even like Bob Dylan. That’s why I’m making this argument: I think that it cheapens everyone’s ability to enjoy one or the other to insist that everything must, instead of being exactly what it is, instead be everything.
Outstanding Achievement in Assuming That People are, in Fact, So Dumb That if The Thesis Statement Were True Then We Never Would Have Survived as a Species
Human beings have been eating food for 200,000 years. This has given human beings a pretty sensitive and effective means to detect when something is good to eat or not, generally speaking. We have been cooking food for, at the absolute minimum, 20,000 years 11, which means that we have a pretty extensive grasp, again, collectively, of the various ways heat can be applied to food products. We have been writing down recipes for about 3,700 years.
Admittedly, something like 3,000 people 12 still manage to die of foodborne illness every year. That’s 0.1% of all deaths in America annually. So all of that experience is imperfect. If this study from North Carolina State (published in the British Food Journal) is to be believed, all 3,000 of those people are cooking that last, deadly meal from a cookbook that doesn’t include proper food safety instructions with every single recipe.
Now, this study isn’t itself the winner of the Trainie, but it’s necessary to spend a little bit of time talking about what it’s doing here. The methodology (see the link in FN12) involved going through individual recipes from NYT best-selling cookbooks to see if every single recipe contained food safety information. 8% of the recipes listed a final safe cooking temperature within the recipe, and 34 of the recipes gave outright unsafe information 13. I have no doubt this is true. It does not allow for two things, however. The first is tremendously prosaic: a quick survey of the few dozen cookbooks in my possession (plus a handful at the library) shows that most of them do contain safety information – including safe temperatures – at the beginning, or as a table in the endpaper or something. The second thing that it fails to control for is that the cookbooks in my 14 observations that don’t have this kind of information are hardly the kind of cookbooks that you’d expect a beginner – the class of people who are most likely to not know what they’re doing in that regard – to be cooking out of.
But more than either of those things, it also completely fails to address just why, exactly, it’s approaching this from the notion that every recipe should contain the necessary food safety instruction. That did not stop the reporting on this study, however, from running with the results. Livescience decided that the results themselves were not enough, and had to, in addition to the usual out-of-proportion Hot Taking, add the fact that saying “cook for three hours or to a specific temperature” was somehow contradictory information 15. Taking a different tack, Food and Wine decided to lay all of the blame for everything at the feet of Gwyneth Paltrow, who had recently published her own cookbook, which is definitely a version of reality that does not exist, but could if you squint I guess!
Food safety is, of course, a matter of great importance, and obviously people should take every precaution necessary to not get sick. But choosing a portion of a book and deciding that it represents the entirety of that book and then yelling about it not including a thing (when that thing is probably elsewhere in the book) is pretty silly, but even more than that, pretending like that study is finding some sort of catastrophic tragedy is being even MORE silly.
Outstanding Achievement in Intergenerational Warfare
Millennials, in case you haven’t heard, are the worst, most irresponsible, least-attached, most disappointing generation in the history of generations. They are, of course, responsible not just for everything that is wrong with everything, but also they are responsible for it by dint of being so darn self-centered and frivolous. We can insert something about participation ribbons and snowflakes and stuff. You know how this goes.
This, the worst discourse in the world, found its very own apotheosis in the form of this completely un-self-aware, completely insane rant from Australia. The guy posits that home ownership is the foremost desire of all people, then suggests that the reason that millennials don’t own homes is because of their crazy food obsessions – in this case, avocado toast specifically.
There are a handful of things that are sort of buried in this cockamamie argument: that young people don’t have the same values as old people because of some failure on their part 16, that young people are so obsessed with the optics of their food consumption that they are unable to be sensible, and that avocado toast is the outward-most intersection of these two things.
There isn’t much to say here except: someone will have to work very hard next year to take the .spot of “dumbest Take on millennials” from this guy. This is even dumber than last year’s business about cereal! It sort of comes all the way back around from a position that seems execrable and infuriating to almost being kind of cute.
Outstanding Achievement in Using the Internet For Its Exact Ideal Purpose
Jim Davis said, innocuously, two years ago, in an interview for a Mental Floss article, that part of Garfield’s appeal was that Garfield was a cipher – he had no human correspondence. When he listed the qualities that Garfield didn’t possess he included gender – “he’s not really male or female,” the most successful cartoonist in history says about his most successful creation. Virgil Texas from the excellent Chapo Trap House podcast noticed that he had said this, and immediately updated WIkipedia to reflect Garfield’s status as not having a specific gender.
What followed was, quite simply, the greatest Wikipedia edit war in history. The edit history is there, of course, but it’s perhaps this Washington Post article that sets everything up the clearest. Please understand that I am not exaggerating when I say: this is my favorite kind of thing, and the reason why I believe we need an internet.
Each side – the people that want Garfield to be gender-fluid and the traditionalists that insist that he is referred to as male, and therefore is male – contains people who are clearly enjoying the joke, and people who seem – to all outward appearances – to be completely serious about this. An enormous, motivated group of people all activated to roll on Wikipedia with a war that ended in four citations for Garfield’s gender, all because of a literalist comedian who read an article in Mental Floss.
This is, sometimes, a beautiful world full of beautiful people. That said: everybody knows that the real gender fluidity questions revolve around Nermal.
Outstanding Achievement in Just Generally the Coolest Thing That Could Happen to Anybody
Lynda Barry draws comics. She’s the kind of artist that I’m forever championing in this space – fiercely her own thing, doing it for her own reasons and getting her own fulfillment out of it. She worked very hard in some very challenging areas to create a comic that combines a childlike art style 17 with mental and emotional truths that are possible to identify with, but not in a way that makes one feel good about all that.
Lynda Barry also loves Family Circus. Her words on the matter are:
“My absolute favorite comic of all time is…are you ready? It’s Family Circus…The reason why I loved Family Circus so much was because I came from a very difficult, violent, horrible home and I look in that circle and see a happy little life. And I always wanted to get to it. And I realized when I shook [Bil Keane’s] hand that I had come through the circle. I was on the other side. And the way I did it was by drawing a picture.”
This is pretty well-explained 18, but it also represents an important idea, and is in fact where I formed my belief that it is an important one: people come from all sorts of places. I’m no fan of Family Circus, but if Family Circus forms a bit of the firmament that gave us Ernie Pook or What It Is, then Family Circus is indispensable.
But more than that, Lynda Barry did a thing that people aren’t always willing to do: she said she had a favorite. An actual by-god favorite. She didn’t hedge by saying “one of” or “among my” or any of that. She connected deeply with a piece of cartooning in such a way that it was her (singular, public, avowed) favorite.
And earlier this year, she appeared in Family Circus. Her tumblr post on the matter is here, and it includes the cartoon, and, well, it’s pretty hard to imagine being happier for a person that I’ve never met than I am for Lynda Barry that this happened.
Sometimes it’s a beautiful world, full of beautiful people.
- a movie that is, even despite its rt score, more well-reviewed than it should be. Lordy that movie is awful. ↩
- it is unclear now if it was meant as a joke or not. It seems likely that it is a kind of Schroedinger’s joke, where the reaction of the public to the statement dictates how seriously it was meant. ↩
- these two are far from the only examples, they’re only here as a representative sample. ↩
- partly because, as I’ve mentioned multiple times before, I came of age during the end of the original grimdark dork age, so I’ve been aware that the DCU-style NONE MORE GRIM, NONE MORE DARK method of storytelling is a thing that appeals to a set of the comic-book-related populous for basically my entire life. ↩
and, of course, leaving aside the idea of melody entirely, with which song lyrics should be inextricably intertwined but which they are not, because, well, here we are.
- it is now, as of this precedent, possible to be an award-winning literarian without in fact creating anything literary, but instead by creating something which is, via tortuous reasoning, declared literary due to its popular impact in a completely different medium. ↩
- it is now, as of this precedent, possible to be so good at writing songs that they somehow cease to be songs at all. ↩
- because his name is William. ↩
- mostly bugs, but once a mouse, and once a dustbunny made of his own fur that he (and I) thought was a mouse. ↩
- because he is the best cat ↩
- this New Scientist article sheds some light on it, but the fact remains that we only have hard evidence as of 20,000 years ago, although it’s likely that we’ve been cooking for much longer than that. ↩
- according to the CDC. ↩
- that one number is expressed as a percentage and the other is expressed as a numeric data point is its own weird problem, but we’re not going to worry overmuch about it here. ↩
- admittedly self-selected, anecdotal, and extremely non-scientific ↩
- quick refresher on English’s shortest conjunction: “or” is exclusionary! It means either one thing or the other! So it can’t possibly mean both! Which means that a sentence that hinges on the word “or” cannot contain contradictory information on either side of the “or”! ↩
- a belief/argument that is as old as old people, frankly. The world changes over a lifetime, and the first time somebody hit, say, sixty, they turned around and said “all you dumb kids are doing it wrong”. And then they cooked food and killed each other because they didn’t have recipes with specific instructions on how not to do so. ↩
- actually it’s only superficially childlike. Lynda Barry has incredible control over her pen, and a sense of composition that is deeply under-rated ↩
- although it doesn’t address that Bil Keane also had a very organized, clean compositional sense, and a very sure line, both of which are things I just praised LB for exhibiting, although they don’t share much in common beyond that. ↩