Thursday, June 30, 2011

look away, look away

A recording of "Dixie" that's nearly 100 years old. Don't click on it if you find the song offensive.

It will surprise absolutely no one that my high school mascot was the Rebel. It was the same little guy as Ole Miss, but in our school colors of maroon and grey.

Couldn't find the right color but you get the gist

Our school seal had a Confederate flag in it, too. They flew by the dozens at our Homecoming celebration. The whole thing is antiquated and offensive and silly but it's pretty much par for the course in the South.

But I learned something interesting today.

I always learn the most interesting things at lunchtime at work. All the ladies crowd in the small kitchen and take turns microwaving their leftovers and Lean Cuisines and run their mouths about this and that while they flip through old OK magazines.

Today I learned that there are schools in Massachusetts that use the Rebel as their mascot. What?

Specifically I learned about the euphoniously named city of Walpole, MA. Walpole High School students are the Rebels just like we were. (All except the girls' field hockey team. They are the Porkers.) Until 1994, they used a Confederate flag as their symbol and sang "Dixie" in the stands. Unofficial lunchtime reports suggest the "Dixie" tradition persisted far beyond '94.

Even more confounding is the fact that a neighboring landowner has put up a gigantic Confederate flag adjacent to the field. He refuses to take it down amid much scandal.

photo from

What is happening here??? This place is well over 300 miles from the Mason Dixon line.

I really have no idea what to make of this. In Tennessee, you hear people speak of "heritage, not hate" when they explain the Confederate flags on splashed decals on their cars or superimposed over the silhouettes of busty women on their teeshirts. But how can it be "heritage, not hate" when there's no claim to the heritage? Is this an example of a weird fetishization of the South, similar to the way white culture has fetishized Native Americans as sports mascots for ages? Call me simple, but I had no idea you could find Rebels outside of Dixie.

Discussion question:
Someone please help me make sense of this.


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

so yesterday

I am sick to death with some kind of evil sore throat and all I have the energy to do is sit here in my tatty Lindsay Lohan hoodie (yes, the very same one she's wearing above) and discuss the relative merits of pop singles released by famous actresses in the 2000s.

It's a topic that's close to my heart.

Most of these songs are dreadful, it's true. But others are underappreciated pop gems that deserve a closer look.

The thumbs-down songs largely speak for themselves. What is there to say about, say, the almost eerie soullessness (and palpable sense of effort) of Gweneth Paltrow's recent foray into singing?

Or the unbearable tinny monotony of Kim Kardashian's debut single?

they playin my jam they playin my jam they playin my jam they playin my jam they playin my jam they playin my jam they playin my jam they playin my jam turn it up turn it up turn it up turn it up turn it up turn it up dj

Or even Scarlett Johansson's cover of "Falling Down" from her album of nothing but Tom Waits covers (besides the fact that it is, objectively, one of the worst songs of all time?)

Ugh. Okay. Have a little ginger or something to cleanse your palate, and get ready for the good ones.

"Stars Are Blind" by Paris Hilton (2006)

I know what you're thinking. But listen to it first.

Tell me that isn't an effortless, chill, beachy, summery song. Nice reggae vibe without trying to riff too hard on Bob. The video is a not-entirely-successful ripoff of "Wicked Game" but I gotta say, I'm not mad at it. I think this song represents Paris Hilton at her most likeable. I realize that this is a low bar but I stand by my statement. And I'm not alone on this one: critics kind of can't help but like it.

"Rumors" by Lindsay Lohan (2004)

This video was shot at the height of Lilo's voluptuous redheaded appeal. She's 18 years old, famous as all get out, and feisty as hell.

Okay, the song is kind of meh. But the video is pure mid-2000s poppery, from the blatant product placement to the miniskirt-intensive rooftop choreographed breakdown at the end.

Basically, this video is a must-watch for anyone who considers themselves a fan of either (1) shiny things or (2) boobs.

She's no Madonna, but she comes off looking pretty cool, at least by 2004 standards. Compared to her film career, I think we have to chalk this one up as a modest success. modest the right word?

"So Yesterday" by Hilary Duff (2003)

Hilary Duff was sixteen when "So Yesterday" came out, and I think it's surprisingly age-appropriate.

Can you believe how dressed she is in the video? After watching "Rumors," Hilary looks like a nun in her jeans and long-sleeved jacket.

What can I say? Ever since I first heard this song's clever phrasing and reassuring message, it's been one of my secret go-to cheer-me-up songs.

(Confidential to Hilary Duff: The teeshirt thing was creepy.)

Readers, I leave you with a quandry. A Jennifer Love quandry.

If you don't remember this song, don't fret. It's not early dementia. This song peaked at 124 on the American pop charts in 2002. I am fairly certain that I am probably one of twelve people on Earth who are aware of this song.

I truly can't decide if this song should be chalked up as a win or a lose for Jennifer Love Hewitt. The song is pretty bad, as is the video. But, she's wearing a fierce outfit and seems to be trying out a little bit of an edge, which is commendable. Most importantly, I heard this song probably three times when it came out in 2002 and I've never forgotten it. As an editor, I know that "memorable" is one of the best compliments you can give to a piece of artwork.

JLH has a pretty illustrious acting career. She was on Kids Incorporated, for pete's sake. Does "BareNaked" [editor's note: yes, this is actually how the title of the song is styled] live up to her acting resume?

Your vote.

Discussion Question:
"BareNaked" by Jennifer Love Hewitt: a Jennifer Love win or a Jennifer Love lose?

quidquid quidquid, always tackling today's relevant issues.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Guest post: The Outsider's Guide to the New Englander

Today's guest post comes to us from my friend Molly of Wicked Cheap in Boston, who could no longer stand idly by as I maligned her native culture with my Southern ramblings. She offers a valuable counterpoint to my extensive whining documentation of my culture shock as a native Southerner living in Boston.

I grew up in New Hampshire, and took the 60 mile trek south to land in Boston for college and beyond. I've been away from New England for a total of less than two months of my entire life. I like it here. I like the people. I usually like the weather. So when somebody starts to talk smack on my native land I take it personally.

I've heard it all - New Englanders are rude, Boston drivers are clueless, Southie accents are horrible, Red Sox fans are the worst. I'm here to tell you IT'S WRONG. ALL OF IT. (Except maybe the drivers part.)

So, because I'm so nice and not-rude, I've put together a little something to help you all (excuse me, "y'all") out:

Molly's Wicked Awesome Outsider's Guide To The New Englander

1. What you may deem as "rude" is really just a general distaste for small talk.

Now, I like to think of myself as a polite and friendly person. But I am not about to start making conversation with a stranger just for the sake of talking. It's simply not in my genes. If someone asks me a question (I'm a magnet for lost tourists needing directions), I'll gladly answer, maybe even ask where they're from. But chit chatting about the weather or "how about those Sox?" No. NOOO.

I know I share this trait with a great many of my fellow New Englanders. I have my theories as to why. We walk, talk, generally function a little bit faster up here because you never know when the next blizzard is about to hit. It may be June but a Nor'Easter is just around the bend and I have to get my lawn chairs and orange cones out to block my parking space I DON'T HAVE TIME TO TALK. I like to think of it less as rudeness and more as EFFICIENCY. (Though it could go either way in the example of my dad ending every phone call with an abrupt "good enough!" and a click.)

The best compliment I ever received from a stranger came a few years ago. Waiting at a bus stop, an older gentleman walked over and sat by me. I was nose deep in a book (an extremely popular "this means I don't want to talk to you" device), when he said, "excuse me, I won't bother you anymore after I say this, but you have really beautiful hair." Now THAT is how you compliment a New Englander. The promise that the forced conversation does not have to follow. Straight and to the point. And not at all rude.

If you're wearing any Yankees paraphernalia, all bets are off. You asked for it.

2. Just give the accent a chance

First: The Harvard Yard is not a parking lot. That's not cute anymore. Second: the thick Boston accent is not nearly as prevalent or as exaggerated as Hollywood would have you believe.

Leo, I love you, but lets leave the dropped R's to Marky Mark.

Let me show you how it's done.

But I promise, just listen to some townies for a while, you'll learn to love it.

3. While we're on the subject of speech - nobody in Beantown actually calls it Beantown

We do say wicked, but never "wicked pissah." I have no idea where that even came from. If you're in the 'burbs, you get your Sam Adams at the Packy (though in the city its still called a Liquor Store because we don't want to confuse the college kids). The T includes the subway, bus, commuter rail and ferries but most people are just referring to the subway (which is awful). Ask for a reguluh coffee at Dunk's and they'll give you cream and sugar. The B's and C's both play in the Gahdin, but the Sox are over at Fenway Pahk. All set?

4. If you haven't tried candlepin bowling yet, you really should

5. Nobody cares about you, soccer

Yes, New England has a professional soccer team (and lacrosse for that matter). No, I've never met or heard of anyone who cares about them. It's all about Red Sox, Bruins, Celtics, Patriots. If you're gonna live here, choose one or more and stick with it. Or at least respect the fact that you moved to a sports culture and things are gonna get FIERCE. Boston sports teams go through long phases of being just awful. Then improving for a few years, then breaking our hearts again. There's a whole psyche around being a Sox fan. I may or may not have a baseball related tattoo. I'm just saying. Fans can get rambunctious and annoying at times, but it doesn't last forever. Enjoy it, get involved, paint your face.


And that, friends, is all you need to know. Now get outta my way and quit hogging the sidewalk.

Discussion Question:
What would you want an outsider to know about your native culture?

Monday, June 13, 2011

the true meaning of "all set"

In this post from last month, one of many discussions on this blog about my experience as a lifelong Southerner moving to Boston, I mentioned the odd way that Bostonians use the phrase "all set."

I had definitely heard people say "all set" before I moved up here and, I probably even said it myself from time to time. But I had never heard it used with such a frequency until I moved up here. Bostonians say it CONSTANTLY. You might hear the following conversation at Dunkin Donuts.

CUSTOMER: I'll have a coffee.
CASHIER: You want a donut or are you all set?
CUSTOMER: No I'm all set.
CASHIER: Okay that's $1.25.
[money and coffee are exchanged]
CUSTOMER: Okay am I all set?
CASHIER: You're all set.

Am I exaggerating? Not really.

As I mentioned in the aforementioned post, I did some Googling and found several discussions online about this peculiarity of Bostonian speech, both on Urban Dictionary and on message boards.

There's a lot of discussion online about how difficult non-Bostonians find it to understand the many shades of meaning of the phrase. After all, the word set has 464 definitions in English, making it the word with the most definitions out of all the hundreds of thousands of words in our strange language. The phrase literally could not be more ambiguous.

"All set" seems to have a range of meanings, from "okay as I am" to "ready" to "finished." This site even cites a third-generation South Bostonian who uses it when people break up: Teresa's all set with that guy, he was an ahhshole.

I had a major realization the other day. All of the many meanings of "all set" converge into one single idea: not wanting to interact with someone any further.

Yes, it's true. This phrase is used constantly in Boston because everyone hates to talk to strangers.

"Are we all set?" means "Can we stop talking now?"

"I'm all set." means "I would like to stop talking to you now." or even "Stop talking to me."

Let's revisit the Dunkin Donuts scene.

CUSTOMER: I'll have a coffee.
CASHIER: You want a donut or are are we almost finished talking?
CUSTOMER: No donut, just stop talking please.
CASHIER: Okay that's $1.25.
[money is exchanged, coffee is handed.]
CUSTOMER: Okay are we done interacting?
CASHIER: Yes thank God.

Oh, New England. Y'all crazy.

It's 55 degrees and raining today. I think I'm all set with this weather.

Discussion Question:
What's your favorite regional verbal tic?