December 31, 2010

Hooters impressions

My younger brother and I were shooting the bull at Starbucks and trying to figure out where to grab a bite to eat afterwards. He jokingly suggested Hooters, and I said I'd never been there (he'd been every now and then). I never saw the point -- there are better places to talk to cute girls, better places for food, and my assumption was that most of the other customers would be the loser foot soldiers of some frat taking a break from their 7-11 diet and 30-hour-a-week video game regimen. But what the hell, let's see what it's like.

The first thing you notice is that most of the guys there are a lot older, like 30s through 50s, and maybe a handful of older 20-somethings. I didn't see any college or high school kids there, though there were about a dozen pre-pubescent children, including some infants, taken there by their parents. Hey, they've got to get some practice flirting with girls sometime before it counts for real. Of course, given how pussified the culture has become, none of them appeared to be seizing the opportunity. *

I wouldn't mind the age distribution so much, if it didn't put the waitresses so on the defensive. As I explained awhile ago, girls are most open to flirting and in general being carefree when there is a narrow range of ages, and they keep more to themselves when there's a broad range. A 19 year-old Hooters girl doesn't feel that she belongs to the social group that the customers belong to, so she isn't so much at ease as she would be if the customers were mostly around her age. It's probably going to be easier to joke around with a chick who works at Jamba Juice, where almost everyone is under 30 and therefore where she feels more at home and comfortable.

The girls were all good-looking, nothing skanky like I feared. They seemed pretty easy-going, unlike some other girls who get hired based on good looks but don't get tipped, such as go-go dancers. They reminded me of the pretty preppy / popular girls who felt comfortable chatting with guys from any of the many tribes within the high school, and not like the fake class president wannabe who just wanted your vote. Somewhat like how airline stewardesses used to be, before lawsuits turned them into middle-aged obese martinets.

I'm surprised that dolphin shorts are still a part of the uniform (the restaurant was founded in 1983). Their heyday was the late '70s and early '80s, yet there they are. They could have used more contemporary shorts that were lower-waisted and ran farther down the leg, as long as they were still orange shorts, but they've conserved a good look. Still, to complete their image of fun-loving sex appeal, they need to wear their hair bigger and not so straight and right next to the scalp like the style has been for the past 15-20 years. The dolphin short days were before the 10-cans-of-Aqua-Net days, so they wouldn't need to have it that big -- something like Phoebe Cates in Fast Times or Gremlins, poofed out enough to catch the eye instead of tissue-thin.

As far as I could tell, the prices weren't noticeably higher than their competitors like TGIFridays, Chili's, etc., and the quality of the food was similar. Actually, the mushroom and swiss burger and BBQ burger that I had were better than what you get at their competitors -- I think the Hooters burgers had more fat, like a Whopper, unlike the 98% fat-free patties that more "health-conscious" places use, and that crumble right away because there's no fat to hold it together.

In any case, there didn't seem to be any price premium that you were paying in order to have decent-looking and friendly waitresses. They weren't competing on price, but on the quality of the interaction with your waitress, which is important enough to enough people for Hooters to suck customers away from Fridays or Chili's on that appeal alone. (And in the other direction, Chili's or whoever sucks customers away from Hooters by offering a more sophisticated and so-called healthy menu, to draw in people who care too much what their peers think about their taste level.) Unless he's a friend, I hate being served by a dude, and ditto for women who are obese, snappy, or too awkward.

Aside from the quality of the waitresses and the food, another big plus was the background noise. Often in these kinds of restaurants and sports bars, there's some loud-ass TV -- CNN in an airport restaurant, ESPN in a sports bar, or whatever. If I wanted to watch TV, I'd be back home. They had several big-screen TVs with sports coverage, but the volume was on mute -- thank god. My brother and I had gone to Friday's just a couple nights ago, and they were playing only wuss rock and whiny pop-country music. At Hooters, there was a fair amount of bla-bla '90s music, but it was at least listenable -- "Alive" by Pearl Jam, "Fields of Gold" by Sting, and so on. Still, there was more than enough rock from the '80s to make up for it, some of it on the cheesier side (like "867-5309/Jenny"), but most of it really toe-tapping ("Don't Stop Believin,' " "And She Was," "New Sensation"). They just need to replace the '90s junk with some classic rock from the '60s and '70s. Overall, though, the music was a breath of fresh air compared to just about every other public space nowadays.

Most of the decorations on the wall were pictures of the girls with various people, whether celebrities or loyal customers I couldn't tell, and some cheesy posters showing how self-aware they are about not being a place that competes on sophistication. That point could be made more subtly and clearly by having a wall-poster equivalent of their music selection: a 1967 Mustang, Michael Jordan, The Bangles, Risky Business, Paulina Porizkova in Sports Illustrated, etc., mixed in with pictures of the local Hooters girls. That mix would give it more of the feel of your room during high school and college, which is obviously when the restaurant wants to take you back to.

So, on the whole, Hooters was the best place I've eaten at in this broad category of restaurant / bar chains. I can talk to and dance with cute girls and listen to better music at '80s night, and I can eat better at a Brazilian grill, although that costs more. But for the purposes of just going out to grab a bite to eat with your brothers or friends, this place is the easiest to relax and enjoy yourselves.

* And yes, back in 1983 when I was just a toddler, I ran cold approach game on multiple girls when I was out in public. Children were just that way back then -- we could smell the sexual revolution in the air, and had to adapt our behavior to that environment. I don't know where I learned it from, perhaps I figured it out on my own, but in a crowded place I used to walk up to a girl or woman, take her hand without asking permission, give it a big smooch, then look up at her with my wide 3 year-old eyes and explain, "Charming!" with a smile. I only vaguely remember this, but my parents say I did it most when there were lots of targets, like walking up and down the aisles of an airplane, through the tables at the food court in a mall, etc.

Both my parents egged me on whenever we went out -- "Hey agnostic, go do 'charming!' " The girls always got a big kick out of it, smiling, laughing, rubbing my hair, etc. This shows how accepting adults were of young people growing up fast -- they knew that if the world I would confront was a wild one, I'd better get prepared for it. Hence the encouragement from my parents and the positive reinforcement from the girls I went up to. Nowadays parents would be paralyzed by the thought of what embarrassment might result, and girls would be accepting but still unsure whether it was OK to go along with it or not.

December 30, 2010

Is TV really better now?

I don't know how to answer that since I haven't watched TV for three years, and I didn't watch a whole lot from the mid-'90s onward anyway. Supposedly the quality has improved a lot, at least starting with The Sopranos, and running through today with Mad Men.

I've never seen those, so I'll just accept that they're very good TV shows. Still, that does not mean that the average show is better -- maybe there is only greater variance than before, resulting in a lot more shows at the great level but also a lot more at the garbage level. From what I did tune into during the 2000s, I definitely got the sense that there's more garbage -- lots of new, boring game shows that started with Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? and lots of nauseating reality TV shows.

As recently as the 1980s, game shows were still mildly entertaining rather than stupid -- The Price is Right, Jeopardy!, Press Your Luck, the goofy slapstick of Supermarket Sweep, etc. The only reality TV back then was Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous, and everyone's reaction was "gag me with a spoon." The first three or four seasons of MTV's The Real World (early-mid-'90s) were OK, but it already started sucking by the Miami season of 1996. I only checked in on it intermittently after that -- Hawaii in 1999, Paris in 2003, and Austin in 2005 -- and it got worse every time.

I also don't believe that there are more high-quality shows now either. The two that always come up are The Sopranos and Mad Men, and perhaps there's another one or two at that level. But that's over the course of a decade. I can find three engrossing dramas with great writing from a shorter period of the late '80s / early '90s -- The Simpsons, The Wonder Years, and Twin Peaks. Maybe throw in Tour of Duty too. The 1970s had All in the Family and M*A*S*H. Perhaps the new TV shows that get so much attention fill a previously uncolonized niche for content, look, dialog, or whatever, but there were just as many (maybe more) TV shows that had the same overall quality level.

And that's just TV for adults -- don't even start me on TV for children. With my 2 year-old nephew home for Christmas, I had to sit through a bunch of episodes of the Alec Baldwin phase of Thomas and Friends, as well as Spongebob. And it was just as bad during most of the '90s with Barney, Teletubbies, and the dork patrol that took over Nickelodeon (Doug, Rugrats, etc.). Fortunately the Netflix streaming service has the first season of Inspector Gadget, and my nephew went nuts over it. He began dancing to the catchy theme song (impossible with Thomas or Spongebob) and spontaneously kept imitating the voice of Dr. Claw while making a menacing posture (he never imitated the dweebs on those other two shows).

Pretty soon I'll get him the DVDs for Bravestarr, a well written Western set on an outer-space frontier mining town. I started watching Jem on YouTube, and it's more exciting and has better writing than the kids' cartoons of the past 20 years. But my nephew would never watch a girls' cartoon -- hell, neither did I back when it originally aired (although I always tuned in long enough to take in the Pat Benataresque theme song).

And no educational programs today try to make learning fun and cool for children. Bill Nye was all right but too gee-golly. Beakman's World drew us in with its Beetlejuice / mad scientist appeal, and Mr. Wizard's World fascinated all young boys by showing us how to set off a bottle rocket in our back yard, set stuff on fire in the kitchen, and instantly crush a thick metal jug using the different pressure levels of very hot and very cold substances inside vs. outside the container.

Getting back to the main point, it's not very hard to find as many or more high-quality shows from earlier times as from the past decade, and it's easy to show how much more garbage there has been piling up on the lower end over the past 15-20 years. If anything, it looks like TV has gotten worse.

December 27, 2010

Level of conformity across cultures, shown by car colors

Here are regional data from DuPont's 2010 Global Automotive Popularity Report that show what percent of new cars sold in 2010 had this or that paint color. Across the world, neutrals are far in the lead, a far cry from the dangerous-times explosion of color in general and including cars.

At any rate, we can see how conformist the car-buyers in a region are by looking at how much variation there is among car colors -- if all cars belong to one color, that's total conformity, while if each car had its own unique color, that's total doing-your-own-thingity. There are lots of ways to calculate variation in qualitative data, but to keep things simple, I'm just going to use the percent of all cars that fall into the four most popular colors -- the greater this percent is, the more the most popular colors show up everywhere, while the smaller this percent is, the more the non-mainstream colors enjoy success. Here's the ranking from least to most conformist:

No surprise that the birthplace of rock 'n' roll shows the lowest level of conformity in car colors, although other European groups are only slightly more conformist. Since the data are from new cars sold in 2010, I'm guessing most of the Mexican data reflect the white elite of that country. Rounding out the lowest stratum of conformity, India is not a surprise either: the "look at how hot and cool I am" enthusiasm is familiar. It's the opposite of the "we must maintain group harmony by looking the same" ethic, which we see in full force in the upper-stratum countries of China and South Korea. Japan is also more conformist than Europe, but is substantially less so than the other Northeast Asian countries, a pattern that shows up in all areas of culture. (This may be due to the very late adoption of sedentary farming in Japan, where nomadic foraging and fishing remained popular for thousands of years longer. See below on the farmer vs. herder divide.)

Joining Japan in the middle stratum are South America, Brazil, and South Africa. Again I assume those car-buyers are mostly of European ancestry, so it's odd that they're so much more conformist than their counterparts in North America and Europe -- even more so than those in Mexico. Maybe there's something about being in such racially diverse places that makes Europeans want to look highly similar, in order to maintain cohesion in the face of non-European ethnic groups that are close to or more than a majority. That would still leave Mexico unexplained, though, since the Europeans there are a minority also.

In any case, there seems to be a larger pattern of farmer vs. herder differences. Farmers in general are not very showy, whereas pastoralists, especially the nomadic ones, are much more colorful. For females in nomadic pastoralist groups, the only form of wealth that they tend to carry and pass on is gaudy jewelry, since the herds are held by and transferred to men. Men in such groups tend to be showy and boastful, since having a reputation as a shrinking violet would doom you to predation in a society where thieves can easily chase away or run off with all that belongs to you. Farmers care more about land, seeds to plant, and defensive structures to keep out trespassers, and have little need to be gregarious and show off.

It's too bad there isn't regional data for car colors in the Middle East, where a large share of the people descend from nomadic pastoralists. Still, Europe has always had a healthy mix of farmers and herders, whereas Northeast Asia has been nearly only farmers. Another great test case would be sub-Saharan Africans, but new cars are too expensive for most of them, so that data probably won't be collected for a long while. When it does, there will still probably be the sharp divide between farmers and herders that has existed there. This would control for lots of other factors too, unlike the Europeans vs. Northeast Asians comparison.

December 26, 2010

2000s were a quiet decade for video games

GameFAQs just completed a round-robin tournament of "who would win in a fight?" among 128 video games released during the 2000s. These were the most popularly nominated before the tournament began, and each match was decided by a survey with tens of thousands of respondents.

And the game of the decade is Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask, which came out so long ago -- fall 2000 -- that even I have played it, and I mostly tuned out during the boring 3D-soap-opera era of video games. If you did too, you apparently didn't miss much.

The past two holidays that I've visited home for, I've seen my brother dither away at least four hours a day on Grand Theft Auto IV multiplayer, one of the most hyped games of the past 10 years. Most of the gameplay reduces to killing someone and waiting near the area where they will re-appear, just to kill them right away when they do. Whether he's the dorkmeister doing the camping or he's on the receiving end of it, watching this "game" puts me right to sleep, and my brother too looks like a zombie playing it.

In its repetitiveness, it's not very different from the mindless marathons of leveling up that keep me away from role-playing games like the Final Fantasy or Pokemon series. No skill or challenge involved -- just logging enough hours.

I wonder who would win in a similar round-robin tournament for games of the 1990s and '80s. My bet for the '90s would be Super Metroid, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and Super Mario Bros. 3. For the '80s, it would come down to Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario Bros. 2, Metroid, and Tetris. Sadly, most video game players these days are into the putz-around-with-nothing-to-do-and-never-die style, so Ocarina of Time would probably win both the '90s and a tri-decade contest.

It's surprising how little innovation there's been in video games since the 3D era began. All of the top contenders for Game of the Decade or of All Time trace back to characters, storylines, and game concepts developed during the golden age of the late '80s and early '90s. Of course during this time there's been little or no innovation in rock music, rap music, etc., so it's not the fault of video game makers or players -- it's a really broad blandness in the entire culture. It makes you wonder what it would have been like if video games had been invented in the late '50s along with rock music. There, we went from singles-band Beatles to album-oriented Guns N' Roses. But video games only started to mature much later, and so had only a handful of years to create before the whole culture came inside from the playground and began taking a really long nap.

December 15, 2010

Food stuff: staying hungry, nuts to nuts, and the least destructive holiday desserts

- I've mentioned before that the easiest way to give yourself nightmares is to eat carbs in the evening -- that spikes your glucose, which spikes your insulin, which keeps you from burning fat for fuel while you're sleeping and after your glucose has already been burned up. (And obviously you can't snack on more carbs while you're sleeping to get another quick fix of glucose, though for many this simply causes them to get up in the middle of the night for some chips, popcorn, bread, cookies, etc.) So refraining from eating carbs later in the day will drastically improve your sleep, if you're used to eating potatoes, muffins, soda, pizza, pasta, etc. in the evening.

But I've been playing around with not eating anything in the evening every now and then, just to see if there's anything to the intermittent fasting idea. Whenever I do this, I always wake up and get out of bed right away, and never feel more energized. Having used this strategy to great success this morning when I had to wake up at 7am to take a final exam -- and I am not a morning person -- I'm going to stick with it.

How does it work? Let's remember what a meal is -- it's an information signal to your body when it's planning what to do in the near term. Food is not fuel in the short term. If it were, then after eating a decent-sized or large meal, you'd be brimming over with fuel and feel like or at least be capable of lots of activity. In reality, eating a big meal lays you out and nothing could be more impossible than vigorous activity. This mistaken view of food's role comes from our rationalistic worldview, where we impose our own reasons on how the world works, rather than study it empirically. Someone thought up the analogy between food for the body and fuel for the lantern or car, and others found this plausible enough, not bothering to run a basic reality check.

Food does provide fuel for the longer term, but it takes quite awhile for your digestive system to process and store it. Similarly, it's not like when you eat a large amount of salmon, you grow bigger muscles within a matter of hours. In the near term, a meal is an information signal that tells your body that its main job -- finding and eating food -- has been taken care of, so don't bother yourself too much with the types of activities that are involved in getting your next meal, such as physical exertion. (On a mechanistic level, digestion activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which controls the "chill out" functions and inhibits the sympathetic nervous system, which controls the "fight, flight, fright, and fuck" functions.)

If a meal tells your body to shut down and relax until your next big meal needs to be tracked down, then hunger tells your body the opposite -- be prepared to exert yourself and use up however much energy it takes to bring down the giraffe, climb up a tree to steal eggs, or whatever. Especially if you go to bed hungry, you'll have no trouble waking up on time or even early -- your body wants you to waste no time in securing food. If you go to bed with a really full stomach, your body figures you can sleep through and waddle around the better part of the next day and still be fine for fuel, given how much will be in reserve.

These effects all come without the use of caffeine or stronger stimulants.

- For the past several weeks I've experimented by including a lot more nuts and seeds into my diet to see what happened. I've concluded that I'm junking them altogether, aside from a handful here or there throughout the week -- nothing like a couple ounces a day. I was eating mostly almonds and pistachios, though also hazelnuts, and sometimes almond butter. It's hard for me to remember a time since I started low-carb eating when I haven't had many nuts or seeds, but it was like that at first, and then and now I feel better overall. During my high-nuts-and-seeds period, there were times when I'd just feel tired and out of it; thankfully that's gone.

The reason seems to be the high levels of phytic acid in nuts and seeds -- it's also high in pulses, legumes, and grains, but I don't touch that junk in the first place. It interferes with the absorption of many vitamins (including A and D, crucial to the immune system) and minerals, as well as hindering the processing of amino acids (protein). Unfortunately humans lack the enzymes that would break it down. So although nuts and seeds are a lot better than grains and legumes and pulses with respect to carb count, fat profile, and so on, they still have incredibly high levels of phytic acid. It doesn't even take eating pounds of almonds to do it; even moderate levels will interfere with digestion.

Most people around the world who eat such things find ways of getting rid of the phytic acid, mostly by soaking and drying them. But I don't have the patience to soak almonds for 12 hours, dry them properly so they don't get infected, bla bla bla. It's easier to simply find something else to eat. By the way, lots of spice seeds have high levels of phytic acid, but I'm not sure how much of the whole seed finds its way into various condiments. Nevertheless, I've cut mustard out of my diet, and without feeling that I'm really missing anything.

If you're looking for ways to get some carbs into your otherwise low-carb diet, non-starchy vegetables and non-saccharine fruits are a better way to go than nuts and seeds, as they don't have much phytic acid at all.

- With Christmas celebrations just around the corner, I thought I'd pass along some impressions on which desserts have been less destructive in my low-carb experience. Desserts that are all grains and sugars are obviously the worst -- I don't know why I even bothered to eat some (gluten-free) cupcakes at my mother's birthday party two years ago, but I've never felt so sick from food unrelated to pathogens. Cakes, cookies, donuts, muffins -- all that stuff is terrible. Not only is it almost entirely made from glucose-spiking junk, but related to the above point, it's full of phytic acid from the grains that make up the dough, the peanuts if there are any of those, etc.

Next are cakes, pies, etc., with a good amount of dairy in them, such as cheesecakes, carrot cake, and so on. Fat inherently tastes good, so by working a good deal of fat into the dessert -- a lot of it saturated, no less -- we don't need for there to be as much sweetness in order to feel an intense taste. There are proteins in animal milk that we don't digest, and that are probably causally related to acne breakouts (Loren Cordain reviewed evidence of the dairy-acne relationship), but it's typically nothing terrible. And as another plus, dairy lacks high levels of phytic acid.

At the top are two different groups of desserts, but they almost always go together during the holidays that I'm lumping them together -- fruit pies and ice cream. For the reasons above, and because I'm fairly lactose intolerant anyway, I skip dairy-based ice cream (they usually have a ton more sugar) and go for the coconut milk-based ones (avoid soy, almond, and rice -- too much carbs and/or phytic acid). The ones by Coconut Bliss are the best because they're denser and have more fat, so they're richer than the other brands, and taste remarkably like dairy ice cream. They're sweetened with agave syrup, which is very high in fructose and will therefore overload your liver (and give you gout) if you eat too much of it, but if it's just for a dessert or two, no big deal.

With all that fat already in the dessert, you can eat a less sweet pie (and less of it). Unlike cakes or muffins, most fruit pies have their first ingredient as the fruit itself, followed by butter -- more fat! There's still some bad grains in the crust, but this is about as low as you can get your grain consumption while still enjoying holiday desserts. Fortunately, most of the fruits used in pies are among the least saccharine -- there are all sorts of berry pies, as well as cherry, apple, and peach, whereas there are no widely available banana or mango or fig pies. If you're gluten intolerant, Whole Foods makes their own, and they're great. Over Thanksgiving I tried cherry, apple, and peach, and they were all fantastic. Just break them apart a little, heat them in the toaster oven, and have them with some vanilla-flavored coconut milk ice cream -- delicious.

The pies are about 5 or 6 inches across at the top, and maybe 2 inches tall. If you take a quarter of one of these, that's about 40 g of net carbs for the apple, peach, and cherry pies (a bit more for the pecan one, and even more for pumpkin). Add to that a quarter of a pint of the ice cream, and that's another 16 g, so that the entire dessert would have 56 g of net carbs. Just make sure you don't eat grains, starches, or sugars elsewhere in the day and you're still doing pretty well by low-carb standards (40-60 g or less per day is the goal). Hell, even if you splurge and have two of these desserts in a day, that's slightly over 100 g of net carbs. By comparison, two of those gluten-free cupcakes I had would contain 128 g -- and would not have tasted nearly as great as half of a smallish pie and half a pint of ice cream.

December 13, 2010

Two major waves in the history of junk mail

Here is the prevalence of the term "junk mail" in the NYT, starting with its first occurrence in 1954 (data are in 5-year blocks, plotted at the mid-year):

I'm not surprised by the upward trend, but I didn't expect to see two distinct periods. Usage of the term surges through the '50s and first half of the '60s, but even by the second half of the '60s the increase flattens out, and there's mostly a plateau through the first half of the '80s. Since the prevalence of the term reflects people's perceptions of how bad the problem is, it looks like they'd gotten more or less used to junk mail by then.

However, the second half of the '80s sees another surge upward that began to plateau somewhere around 2000. This is another case of "obviously not due to the internet," as it preceded the internet and email, and the post-internet world shows a shallower rise in usage of the term. Either senders of junk mail started ramping up the volume, which the post office likes because it increases their revenue, or despite a mild change in volume people just got more fed up with it.

I have no recollection of what junk mail was like during the first half of the '80s, and was not even alive before then, so I have no idea what distinguishes these two phases. Anyone out there care to clue us in to what the first wave of the junk mail deluge was like?

December 11, 2010

The rise of the gay friend and its consequences

Yesterday at '80s night I saw even more disgusting evidence of the displacement of guys from a girl's social circle and gays moving in to take their place. As female attitudes toward guys came to be dominated by suspicion, fear, unease, and so on, they began to cut normal males out of their world and allow in only the non-guyish guys -- namely gays.

When this trend began in the '90s, the gay friend at first took over only the most female-typical roles of the guy he was replacing, such as talking about her relationship problems over the phone or accompanying her on shopping trips. Gradually he took over roles that were increasingly closer to the heart of a guy-girl friendship, such as going out for coffee and lunch during the day, or drinks and night-clubbing at night.

Over the past few years, I've seen the gay friends not just tagging along with the girls when they go out at night, but being more or less the only ones they dance with. Last night I saw them intrude even further onto the turf of the straight guy -- by being the only one that she would grind on (i.e. give a standing lapdance to), and the one who would pick her up and hold her around the waist while she put her legs around his sides.

Really, what's next? -- girls who only feel comfortable fucking when it's with their gay friend?

It's worth looking at the origins and spread of this phenomenon, as most Millennials will find it hard to believe that there was a time in the recent past when gays were completely off a girl's radar, and a good deal of pre-Millennials have already forgotten what they've lived through, as is typical. First, the prevalence of the term "gay friends" in the newspaper of record:

The points are of 5-year blocks and plotted at the middle year of the block, so that the 2000-2004 period is shown as a point at 2002. There are no instances of this term before the 1970s, except for some cases in the '40s and earlier when "gay" still meant "cheery" instead of "homosexual." I used the plural instead of the singular because this gave a larger sample size.

During all of the '70s and '80s, there are only 14 occurrences, or on average less than one a year, and no upward trend during these 20 years. In fact, there wasn't a single instance of the term from 1980 through '85. Suddenly during the early-mid-'90s the prevalence shoots up to 10 times the average from the '70s and '80s, and inches up a bit more during the late '90s. The 2000s saw another surge in usage, so that during the 2005-2009 period it was over 20 times as prevalent as the '70s-'80s average.

This picture confirms my earlier hunch based on the appearance of the gay friend in TV and movies. Here is a recent NYT article about some loathsome new TV show that will focus exclusively on the now-mainstream girl-gay friendship, compared to earlier shows where there may have been a single girl-gay friendship, and that may not have been very central to the plot. The reporter is correct to point out that fag hags are no longer drawn only from the dregs, but now from a wide range of the fair sex.

Another article covers several surveys on Americans' attitudes and interactions with gays, which have changed quite a bit even during the 2000s: from 2003 to 2010, "the proportion of people who reported having a gay friend or relative rose 10 percentage points." Since gays are not shooting up that fast in the overall population, this is not due to people having more gay relatives but rather searching out or welcoming in gay friends.

As I mentioned earlier, the gay friend trend is part of a larger shift toward extreme sex segregation after the peak of the violence rate in 1992, and in its broad contours mirrors the sex segregation of the 1950s, '40s, and even the later '30s, which were another period of falling crime. Boys and girls want to play with each other more when the violence level swings upward, as during the '60s through the '80s, as well as the first three decades of the 20th C., peaking during the Roaring Twenties.

Since male desire to hang around females is fairly stable, the real change shows up in female preferences. During dangerous times, they want to hang out more with males for a variety of reasons. They are in greater need of protectors and avengers, and female friends aren't going to do any good there (and neither are gays in general). Also, they tend to be more boy-crazy and promiscuous, for reasons described elsewhere, and having more guys in your social circle makes that easier to act on.

Moreover, when times are more dangerous, you expect to live a shorter life, so you feel the impulse to grow up earlier rather than live life as a perpetual toddler. I remember first being seduced into an adventure of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" by a girl who was hiding under a tablecloth-protected workspace during naptime at a daycare center -- when I was only 3 or 4. Ah, the early-mid-'80s... sure won't find a toddler girl planning that out today.

I still vividly recall my first school dance in the fall of 1992, when I was 11 or perhaps 12. Sure at first there was the typical picture of "girls along this wall and boys along the opposite wall" of the cafeteria, but it didn't last more than 10 or 15 minutes. Someone broke out and everyone else followed. We were barely entering puberty then, yet we were behaving more wildly than the infantilized college students I observe and interact with every week at '80s night. In particular, the girls back then were horny as billy goats and wanted so bad to dance up-close with boys.

Periodically the adult monitors waded through the sea of sweaty sixth-grade bodies to break us apart and insist that we maintain a certain distance with our dance partner. Today those busybody killjoys would be out of work, since most girls don't want to dance at all, let alone face to face and belly to belly, preferring instead to jiggle their shit in order to steal the spotlight without having to touch or be touched by boys, a la Fergie. (Grinding does not count, as I've explained in detail elsewhere. There's no connection or tendency to stay together; rather it's fleeting and prone to the girl just up and walking away without even making eye-contact.)

We were also more rebellious back then -- even when we were split up, we snapped right back together when the old lady had moved on. Compare that to the girl in the club today who's dancing with a boy, gets pulled away by her cockblocking friends, and then just goes along with the abduction rather than tell them to get a life of their own as she goes back to her partner.

And greater sex segregation is just one piece of the larger picture of girls becoming more boring during falling-crime times, namely as a result of not hanging around the more wild and exciting sex -- guys. Fag hags try to rationalize their snore-inducing friendships with gays by imagining that these relationships are transgressive and liberating. Back on planet Earth, the gay friend is the ultimate desexualized male, and hence poses no threat to her safe cocoon at all. He plays the role that the eunuch used to play with harem girls, although his lack of interest in girls was forced upon him then, and these days the female's cloistering is of her own choice. He has a faint protector role, nothing on the order of a knight who has to defend the castle, and spends most of the time in utterly asexual activities and conversation. Today's girls who like boys who like boys are no more shackle-breaking or square-shocking than a slave girl imprisoned under the guard of a ball-less watchman.

Shoot, I saw more carnivalesque behavior among the elementary school girls who joined in with the boys for a game of duck-duck-goose or state tag. like, omigod, you mean i have to touch a boy to tag him out, and he might touch me to tag me out???!! well... i guess so -- i mean, it does look FUN! On the bright side, once that late-'80s level of violence in the wider society returns, we'll see the rebirth of cool chicks as they start ditching their gay pet/friend and hanging out with the boys again.

December 7, 2010

Girls more likely to dig coming of age movies, even ones about boys

Just fooling around on and noticed that coming of age movies just about always get higher ratings from females than males. That's not an effect of girls rating everything higher, as though they were merely gentler when judging. And it's not just for movies that they can relate to directly through a female lead character, like My Girl or Labyrinth, or with mixed-sex casts like Dirty Dancing or The Goonies. Even ones focusing only on boys get higher ratings -- including ones with non-dreamy and barely pubescent boys like Stand By Me, The Sandlot, and Lord of the Flies (! -- though only by a hair), as well as the ones packed with teenage heartthrobs like The Outsiders.

Time was when a boy dreamed of becoming a man, and couldn't devour enough of these rite of passage stories. Yet these days girls are more into them. I think this is due to the institutional squelching of male-on-male violence. That takes away a lot of the anxiety, as well as the appeal, of becoming a man -- you no longer expect to physically defend yourself, your kin, and your friends, since there's a policeman, a bouncer, or a school security guard who's supposed to take care of that business for you. What's left for you to do in the job description of man's work? Get a job and provide for your kids, perhaps, but that might as well be another lifetime when you're a teenager. It's no wonder adolescent boys are in such an existential drift, aside from the previous wave of crime during the '60s through the '80s, when they were suddenly needed again as protectors and avengers. Now it's back to studying hard and dorking around with gadgets, like during the 1950s.

Girls, on the other hand, have no protection from society's institutions when their enemies plot against them. It's mostly verbal, not physical, and it's typically done behind their back in the hallway or in secret in the girls' locker room, not like a brawl that erupts in the middle of the cafeteria. It's just about impossible for authority figures to locate the attack, let alone contain or ameliorate the harm once it's begun -- are they going to erase the memories of every girl who's heard and passed along the rumor that so-and-so really slutted it up last Saturday and slept with two guys in one night?

So while modern institutions may have tamed male aggression a good deal, females still live in as much of a dog-eat-dog world as they always have. It's only natural then that they'd get sucked into a good narrative about rites of passage, even ones about violent boys that are outside their first-hand experiences.

December 6, 2010

Tame-rated movies flourish during safer times

As a follow-up to last week's post about the decline of nudity in movies tracking the overall decline in cultural wildness (including the crime rate), let's look at what ratings the top 10 movies at the box office have had over the same time period (click to enlarge):

Back before the sexual counter-revolution of the early 1990s, there were three years where an X-rated movie broke into the top 10: 1969 with Midnight Cowboy, 1971 with A Clockwork Orange, and 1973 with Last Tango in Paris. Chances of that happening in the age of Barney the Dinosaur and Harry Potter? Zero. (1973 was also noteworthy for the #1 spot being held by a horror movie, The Exorcist.) At the other extreme, G-rated movies don't seem to show a strong pattern over time, probably because their target audience can't voice an opinion about what they want to see. There's some roughly constant share of box office dollars that parents shell out to take their toddlers to the movies, whether they like it or not.

The two big changes are the decline of R-rated movies starting in the late '80s or early '90s, and PG-13 replacing PG as the typical not-quite-R rating. The second change isn't hard to understand, since a lot of those earlier PG-rated movies have a decent amount of blood, gore, "sexual situations" as they're called, and so on. Once a more fine-grained rating came out, some movies that would have been rated PG before remained that way, but a good deal of others got PG-13.

The disappearance of R-rated movies is apparent already by the late '80s / early '90s but is overwhelmingly clear from 1995 onward, when most years have 2 or fewer R movies in the top 10, in contrast to only a handful of rising-crime years that have a small number of R movies. Indeed, during the falling-crime years after 1992, there are four years where not even a single blockbuster was rated R (let alone X) -- 2002, 2005, 2006, and 2008.

This vanishing of R and X-rated movies, and their replacement with PG-13 movies, is another example of greater cultural homogeneity during safer times, which I illustrated in the post below about hair styles. These days, movies are so neutered in what they can show because the audience's tastes have shifted so strongly in a "don't go there" direction. When the world gets more dangerous, people relax that disapproval because the order of the universe looks like it's coming undone and how else can we figure a way through it unless we explore a lot more of the cultural frontier to give us some ideas? Trial-and-error can't work if you aren't willing to experiment in the first place.

Also, when the future looks more violent, you don't expect to live as long, so you discount the harm to your reputation from going to see and raving about R or X-rated movies. When the world gets safer, your care more about your long-term reputation and start worrying more about what other people will think if you give them reason to believe you're the type of person who likes R-rated movies more than the socially approved PG-13 alternatives.

It's too bad that there was never a rating board for plays, novels, or poetry, or else we could have done a much deeper historical survey. Still, if movie versions were made that the author would approve of, you can bet there would've been a lot more R and X-rated movies during the previous three major periods of rising crime -- the later 14th C (just look at the Pasolini adaptations of The Canterbury Tales and Decameron), the Elizabethan/Jacobean period of ca. 1580 to 1630, and the Gothic/Romantic period of ca. 1780 to 1830. They've got it all -- body counts, violating sexual taboos, gory or grotesque characters, demonic influences on mankind, you name it -- not to mention a suite of forces opposed to these, creating a more apocalyptic atmosphere. And on the other hand, you would have seen more PG or at most PG-13 movies from the falling-crime periods in between, exemplified by Renaissance Humanism, the Age of Reason, and the Victorian era.

Based on the universal popularity of the Bible and Shakespeare, it seems clear which type of movies will endure as classics.

December 3, 2010

Variance in hairstyles as a measure of cultural conformity

In the comments to the post on nudity in movies, I noted that of all the things that girls are willing to change about their appearance when they play dress-up for '80s night, their hairstyle is off limits. Maybe they'll put it in a ponytail to one side, but that's it. In three years of almost weekly attendance, I've seen a girl with crimped hair less than 5 times. They just won't alter the length, how straight vs. wavy it is, or how close to the scalp vs. how mane-like it is. Of all ethnic markers, hairstyle must be one of the most inviolable.

Just to remind those who were there, or bring it to the attention of those who weren't, here's what we imagine when the hairstyles of the wild times come to mind. They're all examples of Big Hair, whether from the '60s or the very early '90s:

Then that died off and was replaced by more moderate length, super-straight, and hugging-the-scalp hairdos during the mid-late '90s (already evident by the time Clueless came out in 1995) and the 2000s (one of my tutorees around 2006 said that she and her friends, before going out for the night, were going to make their hair "super super straight... like, Mean Girls straight").

So my first thought was that there's something about Big vs. Small Hair that responds to how wild the culture is. But that would imply that the '90s and 2000s should have been known for very short hair, and they weren't. In fact, when you think of cropped hair, you also think of the '60s through the '80s:

You also saw this split between the rising-crime era of the Jazz Age, when bobbed hair exploded in popularity alongside more luxuriant styles, vs. the mid-'30s through late '50s period of plummeting crime.

So how do hairstyles respond to the level of wildness in society? There's no strong shift toward either Big or Small Hair on average. Rather, the variance increases when crime soars and people are more wild. The average girl may have a pretty similar hairstyle during dangerous times, but there are a lot fewer people at that average level and a lot more who've ventured out into the extremes of tent-like hair as well as boyishly cropped hair.

This is one example of greater cultural and social conformity when times are getting safer, the chief example there being most of the 1950s, and this decade will probably be just about as bad. When the world gets more dangerous, people discount the future more, and part of that means not caring as much about how their present actions will affect their reputation down the line, in general. Being less constrained by worries about what everyone else will think about them, people let loose, branch out, and do their own thing more in dangerous times.

In safer times, people do get more varied in some areas, but this is not due to a shrinking concern for what others think -- rather, it is due to the opposite, whereby sheltered and complacent people spend more effort trying to broadcast their epic authentic uniqueness in an attempt to climb one rung higher on the status ladder. If they truly did care less than before about what others thought of their behavior, then they'd be more promiscuous. But as I've pointed out forever, promiscuity surges during dangerous times, the logic of which I elaborated on in a post below.

It would be worth quantifying this effect. You could take the covers of Vogue, or Playboy playmates, or something, and measure the volume of hair on girls' heads. Lump girls of a single year of Vogue (or whatever) into one group, and then find the variance in their hair volume. Plot that over time, alongside the homicide rate, and see how close the impression comes to reality.

December 1, 2010

When more choices leads to less variety

From a recent NPD press release about Americans' changing eating habits over the past 30 years: "The average number of food items used per meal decreased from 4.44 in the 1980s to 3.5 in 2010."

Anyone who remembers supermarkets from the 1980s or before vs. the '90s, especially the mid-'90s, and later, will have observed an explosion in the choices available to the average American. There was no way that in 1985 you were going to find sun-dried tomatoes, olive oils from at least five different countries, or Thai green curry paste at the typical American supermarket. Now those things and so many more are commonplace. The only exceptions are food items for kids, as the '80s were the golden age for kids' culture in general. I walk through the breakfast cereal or candy aisles today and see probably 1/4 as many product lines as I would've seen when I was in elementary school.

The NPD story is that people value convenience and time-saving measures much more now than 30 years ago, as we're so much more over-burdened today. I wonder about that, though. Adults in the 1980s may not have been as crushed by boring or rat-race activities as they have been for the past 15 to 20 years, but that doesn't mean they were just sitting around with lots of idle time. Strange as it may seem in the era of helicopter parents, grown-ups used to have a busy social life of their own in the '80s and before. When new wave music exploded circa 1983, my mother went out to dance clubs every weekend, dragging my father along whenever she could budge him into dancing, and leaving me and my two younger brothers in the care of a now-vanished person called the babysitter.

So, a larger portion of adults' schedules may be taken up by stressing-out activities, but how much time they have to fix meals can't have changed that much. The shift toward convenience and therefore less variety in meal ingredients doesn't have to do with having less free time but with having so much more stress, which fixing a more elaborate meal would only compound. Back when adults were enjoying more carefree, though no less "full" schedules, adding another element or two to their dinner wasn't going to be the straw that broke the camel's back that night and send them on a postal rage the next day.

This shift is an extension of the trend over thousands of years whereby people who hunt and gather eat a far wider variety of foods than do people who are settled and have a cornucopia of items available for purchase through market exchanges.

The vast spectrum of choices at the supermarket is misleading when it comes to what a single person eats. Most of that diversity is due to variety between groups of people, and not at all to the variety that a single person in one of those groups eats. For example, if a supermarket has lots of animal products and lots of grain and plant products, you might conclude that the average consumer is an omnivore. But it could also be that there are two sub-groups of customers -- carnivores and vegans -- who have much less variety in their own diets than an omnivore does.

That's just what we see in today's super-stocked supermarket. There are a bunch of food tribes that have little variety in their own diets, but they all shop at the same supermarket. So there's the gluten-free area, the vegan area, the Hispanic area, the Mediterranean area, the frat boy 7-11 diet area, the TV dinner area, etc. Any individual who shops there has a very limited diet (one of the above), rather than have a diet that draws from all of those areas.

The same pattern shows up wherever hyper-mega-markets have replaced lots of smaller specialty stores. There's an incomprehensibly large number of choices of songs on iTunes, but the average music listener today takes in an extremely narrow "diet" of music. It's just that there are a billion different narrowly focused tribes, all of whom shop at iTunes. Same with the variety of books at Amazon and the more blinkered reading culture, or TV channels and programs and the more homogeneous range of shows that viewers watch these days.