October 29, 2008

Kids these days and their music -- what's it called?

The graph above plots the trend in NYT coverage for two main types of rock music over the past 20 years: alternative and indie. * These terms may appear similar to outsiders, but they are deployed very differently in elite people's status competition. Just look -- alternative, and the closely related term grunge, peaked around 1994; while indie, and the closely related term post-punk, took off in popularity around 2003 and remain fashionable. (The similarity can be seen in how closely one line follows another over time.)

So, whatever you do, never use the term "alternative" around young people, unless you feel your skill at ironic delivery is irreproachable and you don't actually look like you're 35 years old. And still, 15 years is a little too soon to try to ironically resurrect a dead buzzword.

There are two more patterns worth noting in the graph. First, even after grunge / alternative had died out in popularity, it still gets mentioned at a fairly steady rate. Just because you're dead doesn't mean people will stop talking about you. However, they will probably have no reason to talk about grunge more in one year than another once it's dead, so the line hovers around a steady value. Presumably the same will happen 15 years after indie rock enters the "of historical interest" stage. Unless, that is, there's a grunge revival -- just like there was a "post-punk revival" in 2002.

Second, there's a period from 1995 to 2001 when the grunge / alternative lines are declining rapidly, and before indie / post-punk starts to take off. This part of the graph reflects how awful pop music was during the time. The kingdom of pop was then ruled by boy bands, girl groups, Ricky Martin, J-Lo, Sugar Ray, and Blink 182. I mean, just gay.

While grunge wasn't that great, the period when it was popular also saw a lot of other great rock music that shared the raw sound with it: that's when pop-punk bands Green Day and The Offspring became popular, when the Red Hot Chili Peppers released Blood Sugar Sex Magik and Lenny Kravitz put out Are You Gonna Go My Way?, when Aerosmith really came back to life, and a lot more. None of that was overly moody and depressing like grunge, and you could even bounce around to it.

I'm sure in the future there will be a '90s night craze in dance clubs, and the above music should supply them with plenty to play. Just as I rarely hear The Smiths or Motley Crue at '80s night, I hopefully won't hear much Nirvana or Dave Matthews Band at '90s night.

* Exact search terms: "alternative rock," "indie rock," "grunge," and "post-punk." All are standardized by dividing by the total number of articles appearing in the NYT for a given year. The 2008 points are estimates based on the results so far.

October 23, 2008

Class and coat length -- an amusing exception

You've probably sensed this at some point, but the upper-middle and upper classes wear longer winter coats than the lower-middle or lower classes. See for yourself by browsing the men's outerwear at the websites for Kmart, Sears, and Wal-Mart, vs. Bergdorf Goodman, Brooks Brothers, and Bloomingdales. Or watch people coming out of those stores in real life. *

However, there's a twist -- it depends on the coat's material. The stereotype is true for coats made of cotton, wool, cashmere, etc. But not if it's leather. These are the only longish coats available on the Sears and Kmart websites, and there are plenty of them, whereas there are almost no long leather coats on the affluent websites -- there, the leather outerwear is jackets, or car coats at the longest.

Who, outside of New Jersey, would have guessed it? But apparently nothing says low-class like a long leather coat. And hey, why hog all the attention to yourself there, big guy? Be a man and spread some style around to the wife and kids. This ad appears on both the Sears and Kmart websites:

Like an expert birdwatcher, you can use subtle differences like this to tell apart two otherwise similar species, such as goth people -- who are more likely to live in "neglected" areas -- and emo / scene kids -- who are more likely to be cute middle-class brats.

* This is probably part of the decline in formality that started in the 1920s, longer coats being more formal. (Indeed, even the well-to-do don't wear particularly long coats like they used to.) Still, the affluent feel they have to maintain some level of formality, while the working class guy would rather freeze than wear a long coat like some prick lawyer.

October 22, 2008

Pretty young things: higher highs, lower lows

To put some data behind a remark in the previous post about young girls' intolerable flakiness, and to temper the enthusiasm on this blog for young girls, here's a study that Jason Malloy of GNXP.com pointed me to: Wife killing: Risk to women as a function of age (PDF). Scroll down to PDF p.4 and see Figure 1, which shows rates of wife killing by the wife's age. No surprise there: a wife's risk of being killed declines geometrically as she ages. Since killing your wife is like "going postal" on your boss, this makes sense -- the rejected person is more likely to get enraged if they've become accustomed to high quality rather than low quality.

Next, go to PDF p.7, Table 1, which shows rates of wife killing by both her and his age. As per usual, I'm only concerned with young females, so we're just looking at the first column, wives under 25. It makes no real difference to her if the husband is in her age group or if he's 25 to 34. However, her chance of being killed by him doubles if he's 35 to 44, and is nearly two-and-a-half times as large if he's 45 to 54. Still, on an absolute level, we're talking about a 4 to 8 in 100,000 chance in most cases.

This also makes sense -- the 45 to 54 guy has proven that he can get a much younger wife, but it surely was a lot tougher for him than for a guy her own age, and the search for a suitable replacement will be just as tough or tougher. When two employees are fired from a high quality firm, the one who faces far greater difficulty in getting hired by a similar firm is the one who will come back to blow up his workplace.

Anyone who's been around, dated, or been with young girls knows that the highs are much higher than for older women -- by leaps and bounds. At the same time, because they're so valuable, the sting of grief is greater after losing them -- even a simple blow-off after the first date -- compared to losing a lower-value woman.

Perhaps this is part of the greater uxoricide rate for younger wives: to get over an older woman, you can effortlessly brush her aside as a deluded old hag, but the young babe is so adorably disarming that to get over her, you really have to demonize and dehumanize her. Otherwise, it's hard to avoid the fact that you just lost big time, regardless of your prospects. And that demonization makes it easier to go through with violence if the thought enters your head.

Again, murdering your wife is extremely rare even in the worst cases, so you -- and she -- probably don't have to worry about that happening. Still, it represents the tail of a distribution of behavioral responses to relationship downs, so on average you probably will have more pronounced lows with a younger girlfriend or wife.

Is this extra grief worth the higher highs? It depends on how much of a risk-taker and excitement-seeker you are. So I'll officially add a "your mileage may vary" disclaimer to my praise of young girls, but I doubt that any play-it-safe guys were seriously thinking about chasing them anyway. Indeed, a recent study found that a man's preference for super-girly faces was positively associated with his testosterone level, and this will pick out the more risk-taking men.

October 19, 2008

A teen by any other name would not smell as sweet

I was minding my own business checking my text messages on the patio at the teen dance club, when some petite darling invaded my personal space, leaned in, and stretched out her little hand:


Oh my god, colored braces...

Can I get your numberrrrrr?

Blindsided, and having already had a shot (before I went into the club), the best playful stall I could think of was: Why, what are you going to do with it? It sounds stupid, but the delivery and facial expression were good enough.

Becaaaaaaause! You're cuuuuuuuuuute!

So we exchanged numbers, she asked my name first, and I got her female opinion on how long my newly single chick friend should wait until she goes back into the dating arena. Bla bla bla, and so what's your name?

I'm Madison!

What cruel god lobbed this adolescent grenade into the bunker of my being? You know how I feel about youthful names! Knowing that I get to give her a nickname new to my ears, like Maddie or Mad instead of Christie or Chris, totally adds half a point to her overall score.

The worst quality of girls her age is flakiness, so you always qualify them by proclaiming your suspicion about whether they're fake or not, and how you don't have time for flaky girls. Even better, her circle of friends was there and seemed to welcome me -- that's the second-biggest hurdle.

She's not stunning, but she's definitely cute. Even if she flakes, she gave me enough pre-selection and age-proofing value to make a good impression on any of the other girls on that crowded patio.

Text me, OK?!?!?!!!

I will.... Maddie.

October 18, 2008


This is a post to hold pictures for easy uploading to GNXP.

October 14, 2008

Is the cupcake craze over?

I know that most readers are thinking, "I didn't even know it had begun." Neither had I, until Lemmonex mentioned in passing here that it had taken DC so long to become infected by it. (We're pretty safe out here in the Mountain West.) And sure enough, a Google search suggests that lots of people are talking about it, and that there are even several cupcake bars open for business, indicating that White People like them (see my take here on bars that are not bars). I've never heard of a more retarded food craze than for cupcakes, so I had to check out if this was for real. Well, it is, although thankfully it looks like it's already burning out.

I searched the NYT for "cupcakes" in the first and second six months of each year, from 1981 through the first half of 2008, and divided the number of resulting articles by the number of articles on any topic whatsoever for the entire year, to control for overall output. (For 2008, I used the number for thus far and extrapolated to the end of the year). I went with the NYT because it's easy to search, and also because the newspaper is not specifically for gourmands -- if some trend shows up in coverage even for the non-foodie plebes, it must be real.

Here is a graph of the cupcake craze:

An exponential increase model accounts for 63% of the time-to-time variation; it's not as much as usual since there's somewhat of a cycle aside from pure increase. Usually the fall-winter time has more articles on cupcakes, probably reflecting the presence of Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas then.

In any case, there's a steady, small amount of coverage up until 1998, when the upward trend begins. The peak lasts from fall-winter 2006 to fall-winter 2007. The spring-summer 2008 data-point is the lowest since fall-winter 2005, so -- at least for right now -- it may not be wise to start up that cupcake bar you've always been dreaming of owning. It's just slightly more prudent to invest in something whose shelf-life isn't obviously going to be two years or less.

Lastly, this graph only reflects how obsessed the cultural elite is with cupcakes -- sales data may or may not agree with this -- but at least among the foodies, this silly fad has passed out of fashion.

Generation X is just as dopey and loud as the Baby Boomers

If you thought that Gen X-ers would continue their "whatever" attitude into middle age -- guess again. They're becoming just as attention-whoring as the Boomers. Here is a great example this year from Time:

Where, he wondered, amid all this news about "the mating habits of AARP members" and their offspring's "bloggy, bling-bling birdsong of me-me-me-me-me sounds" were the cover stories about Generation X turning 40?

You've got to love someone who tars a rival generation as me-me-me, while whining about not getting a fair turn to hog the spotlight and bore everyone with their life's details -- I mean, that's what blogs are for.

Sandwiched between 80 million baby boomers and 78 million millennials, Generation X — roughly defined as anyone born between 1965 and 1980 — has just 46 million members, making it a dark-horse demographic "condemned by numbers alone to nicheville," as Gordinier puts it in the book.

The truly marginal generation, of course, is the one born between 1960 and 1964. I've never heard of a common name for them -- perhaps the Disco/Punk generation, or the Original Yuppies? They include the internet celebrities Tyler Cowen, Steve Sailer, and Alias Clio (if I've guessed correctly), the original line-up of The Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Barack Obama. Whatever you call them, they're pretty cool, as far as generations go. Unlike the Boomers above and X-ers below, this group doesn't storm on stage to snatch the microphone and rant about the injustice of being ignored -- at least, qua belonging to their generation.

"I don't really understand the tyranny of the boomer moment," Gordinier says. "Great, you had a party in Haight-Ashbury in 1967, I'm thrilled for you. Can we hear about the flappers in the 1920s instead? How about the Great Depression? There's other times in history that are interesting."

Yeah, and in Seattle in 1992, you held your girlfriend's purse at a Take Back the Night rally -- BFD.

"[Millenials] just love stuff. They love celebrities. They love technology. They love brand names. . . . They're happy to do whatever advertising tells them to do. So what if they can't manage to read anything longer than an instant message?"

Like you dingbats had much longer attention-spans when you were 19 year-olds. And look at how much Gen X fawned over the celebrities Kevin Smith and Winona Ryder.

Xers witnessed the rise of the yuppie and the burst of the dot-com bubble.

No, by the time the typical Gen X-er -- born in 1971 -- graduated college and entered the workforce in the early 1990s, the yuppie culture was dead. Judging from when the term first appears in the NYT, Time, and Newsweek, yuppies first burst onto the scene in 1983 or 1984, when even the oldest Gen X-ers were still underclassmen in college.

"Instead of getting free love, we got AIDS," says Douglas Rushkoff, author of 1993's GenX Reader . "We didn't believe the same kind of things as boomers. It was much harder to fool us."

I've got to write this post in under 30 minutes, so I'll let the readers fill in the blank: "Sure, it's not like you totally fell for ______."

Shirking the media myth that Xers are slackers, Gordinier argues that Generation X has — to borrow a '60s term — changed the world. Citing Gen-X icons like Quentin Tarantino and Jon Stewart, along with Gen-X triumphs like Google, YouTube, and Amazon, among others, Gordinier argues that not only are Xers far from over, they might be the most unsung and influential generation of all time. "

Leaving aside how you can shirk a myth, Google and other internet companies represent the next step along a path well-paved by the WWII generation and everyone since then. That's how technology works. As for the parts of culture that do differ a lot by generation, Jon Stewart has never been funny. The Boomers at least produced a lot of funny people, even when Gen X was in the spotlight during the '90s -- the creators of Seinfeld and The Simpsons are all Boomers -- and the Disco/Punk generation produced most of the memorable cast of In Living Color, including Jim Carrey.

And what of the legacy that millennials inherited from Generation X? Aren't Gen-X creations like YouTube and MySpace largely responsible for millennial narcissim? Didn't punk rock begat Rock Band? Perhaps. "We've created all these great Websites that now millennials waste their lives on," Gordinier says with a laugh.

Narcissism has not increased in recent decades, contrary to media reports -- although the last I checked, the media are at least covering the other research in this area, which shows no change.

And punk rock is definitely not a product of Gen X. Even the oldest ones were 17 in 1982 when punk was more or less gone from the center stage.

Gordinier wants to be clear about one thing: X Saves the World isn't personal. "A lot of what I'm doing is channeling all these things I would hear about millennials in the office, or boomers forcing their history down our throats," he tells TIME. "It's more about radar. It's more about antennae. These are signals I'm picking up."

In other words, you haven't bothered to fact-check these self-serving rumors and hearsay from a rival tribe, and instead you've just swallowed it whole. The more things change...

October 6, 2008

Delusion about aging, in graph form

Apparently I'm not the only smartass who thinks that 20 is the new 30. * Most people, though, are warmingly deluded about aging -- imagine the size of the deprogrammer army you'd need to stamp out the "40 is the new 20" cult. But at what age are people the most clueless? Let's see:

The number for each year, Y, is the number of hits for a Google search of the form "Y is the new ___". If the year in the blank is less than Y -- say, "60 is the new 40" -- I counted it as deluded, including all years ending in 0, down to a minimum of 20. I counted it as cynical if the blank year was greater than Y, including all years ending in 0, up to a maximum of 90. For example, the deluded group for 50 is "50 is the new 40 / 30 / 20," while the cynical group is "50 is the new 60 / 70 / 80 / 90."

No matter what age they're talking about, people are always more deluded than cynical -- no surprise there. It's pretty bad as people approach 30, and gets steadily worse up to the peak at 50. After that, reality becomes undeniable, so awareness increases. Although with all these goddamned Baby Boomers around, the peak of delusion may simply track their mean age. (Too bad we don't have Google results from 20 years ago for comparison, although some other data source might.) At any rate, after a gloomy trend during the 60s and 70s, there is an uptick for the "80 is the new ___" group -- I suppose if I make it through my 70s alive, I'll be pretty optimistic too.

* If you don't believe me, look at this semi-NSFW photo (no full / partial nudity) that I found via a Google image search for "jailbait." The host site claims to lift them from other websites where teenagers upload pictures publicly (MySpace, Facebook, etc.). When was the last time you saw a female in her mid-20s or older who had skin that supple? And luminescent! -- the light bounces off her flesh as though reflecting off a ready-to-burst tomato. I'm sure the same is true for males, but fortunately our worth isn't affected by how taut our skin is (I avoid the sun just to be on the safe side, though).

October 3, 2008

Simple pleasures

As opposed to pleasures I'm supposed to feel guilty about...

* Cruising at night with The Yeah Yeah Yeahs playing, remembering how fun pop music sounded again in 2003 to 2005.

* My 19 year-old close friend nodding off in the car at 2:15 on the way home from '80s night, and remarking how tired she is in that tone of voice like "Hey Daddy, I'm too tired to walk -- can you carry me inside?"

* The refreshing aroma of ovulation that she leaves in my car. And later noticing the smell of her sweat on my forearms, from dancing close. Pretty young girls can't smell bad even when perspiring. (Of course I'll never tell them this -- it would spoil them.)

* Changing into a new undershirt, socks, and underwear after sweating off about five pounds in the nightclub. It's like when you were 10 and rushed in from sledding all day to throw on some dry long-johns.

* The perfect hangover-prevention snack: gooey chocolate with chocolate chip cookies and watered down pomegranate juice.