Friday, December 06, 2013

Daily Links 12-6-13

Happy Friday! Here's a roundup of links for your weekend reading pleasure: how Alton Brown created one of the Food Network's signature shows, Undercover Boss and hard work,


Of all the shows that have aired on Food Network, Good Eats is still considered one of the most popular. It was also one of the network's most original shows because it broke all the rules when it came to cooking shows:

Underneath the complex gizmos and jokey foofaraw, almost every episode of Good Eats boils down to one ingredient, or sometimes a process—let’s call it a building block. The show doesn’t maintain the illusion that viewers are following along at home, à la the dump-and-stir instructional shows that came before it, but it isn’t an entirely passive experience, like the current crop of entertainment-minded Food Network shows, either. To watch Good Eats is to take a 22-minute cooking class—a very entertaining, frequently quite silly cooking class, but a generally effective one nonetheless. Like Mr. Wizard and Bill Nye before him, Brown—who wrote, directed, and starred in every episode of Good Eats—was a master of edutainment, of dressing complicated ideas up in foam rubber, dioramas, and deceptively childlike mnemonic devices. Longtime Good Eats viewers probably can’t think of yeast without picturing the burping sock puppets Brown used to represent the wee little beasties, and could probably sketch a reasonable representation of a protein chain or sucrose molecule, thanks to the numerous craft-store-abetted models Brown created over the years. Repetition is key to making an idea stick, and Brown knew that, judging from the recurring catchphrases, models, and characters he trotted out again and again in service of different foods and recipes that were all, in the end, built on the same scientific building blocks. 
That repetition was useful in terms of education, but it also strongly bolstered to the show’s entertainment value. It’s doubtful someone could watch Good Eats for years without absorbing at least a little culinary knowledge, but even if they didn’t, they’d at least be well versed in the unique little world of Good Eats. Not many cooking shows bother with things like world-building, but Good Eats exists in its own universe, one as distinctive and well-defined as those of many narrative series. There’s the character of “Alton Brown” at the center—not far removed from the actual Brown, but with a certain lovable, crazy-recluse vibe tacked on—but also an established cast of supporting players both fictional (kitchen-gear specialist “W,” disembodied helping hand Thing, long-suffering intern/assistant Paul) and real (nutritional anthropologist Deborah Duchon, dietitian Carolyn O’Neil, a.k.a. “The Lady Of The Refrigerator,” and other various experts and food professionals). And while Brown’s kitchen set serves as the nexus of the show, his fictional home sprawls into a bunch of nooks and crannies of dubious verisimilitude, including a dungeon basement (where Igor lives, ready to provide his master with implements of culinary torture, such as meat tenderizers and tortilla presses) and a virtual-reality chamber where Brown can practice his ordering skills at a fictional sushi restaurant. Then there are the countless recurring phrases and gags and callbacks—not to mention more Dutch angles than you can shake a wooden spoon at—enough for the show to warrant its own extensive page on TV Tropes. None of these things are necessary, or arguably even very desirable, on a cooking program, but they all contribute to the sense of play at the heart of Good Eats.


How Undercover Boss restores our faith in humanity:

At the end of each episode, a couple of stand-out employees, often people who have overcome some sort of adversity or who are dealing with some personal struggle, realize the “new guy” is actually the head-honcho, and are rewarded generously with promotions, raises, cars, homes, etcetera, tailored to the personal need of the employee. One single mom of three can’t pay the rent. She gets a forty percent raise and her boss pays her rent and bills for a year. Nearly every single employee breaks down and cries, and the emotion is not canned.
Their stories are the authentic stories of everyday human suffering: A young girl whose mother is in prison and whose brother died at 14 because their mother used drugs while she was pregnant with him, a young man who grew up never knowing his parents but wants to go to design school, an immigrant who works hard so his children can attend prestigious schools far away, causing him to miss them terribly.
Their jobs are not glamorous, they sell strip-mall wedding dresses, wipe the tables at frozen yogurt shops, deliver pizzas.
Yet the profiled employees somehow manage to elevate the mundane aspects of their work with their cheerful spirits, their thankful attitudes, and their professional integrity. They embody the virtues of handwork, perseverance, and ambition that characterize the type of American capitalism that made America great. They do their work with pride, always looking for the next opportunity and never expecting anything more than a fair chance.

The idea of a cool pastor is just plain disturbing.


Links to a 1983 article in Muppet Magazine featuring a fascinating interview with author Isaac Asimov.


The fallacy of replacing faith with positive thinking:

American Christians tend to forget it because so many have had it so easy for so long. Many mix their faith with the national cult of positive thinking. The result is a hybrid religion that's less Christianity than complacency, watering down the actual Christian faith and adding a large dose of  everything-will-work-out-OK optimism. God wants you to have it all in this life, so you will: It's just a matter of time.

If you think this way, you're building a faith on a false foundation — and if you encourage others to think this way, you're urging them to do the same. Far from fostering a faith that will last, you're promoting one that will crumble under pressure. What will they do if the hard times come and last a very long time without getting better? If the good job never comes, or is lost and never comes back? If they get well into their 30s and 40s and the spouse and children they'd hoped and prayed for never come along?


A collection of five obscure Looney Tunes cartoons. I confess I have never heard of any of these films.


Here's a real find: 92Y has posted thousands of audio and video interviews from their archives online:

Kurt Vonnegut once commented, in an interview with Joseph Heller, that the best audience he had ever encountered was at the 92nd Street Y in New York. “Those people know everything. They are wide awake and responsive.” 
Located at the corner of 92nd Street and Lexington Avenue, the 92Y has a venerable history of public performance, conversation, poetry and beyond. Vonnegut himself appeared at the 92Y seven times to read aloud from his own work. (Including this reading from Breakfast of Champions three years before the book was published.) 
Cultural programming has been a focus at the 92Y since it opened in 1874. Originally, it served mostly German-Jewish men (note, it isn’t a YMCA, but a YM-YWHA—Young Men’s and Women’s Hebrew Association). But the Kaufmann Concert Hall opened in 1930, and that’s where a veritable Who’s Who of noted entertainment, politics, sports, and science figures have appeared over the years, speaking to that “wide awake and responsive” audience. 
Lucky for the rest of us, the 92Y recorded the vast majority of those performances. And now 1,000 recordings appear on a new site, 92Y On Demand. It’s a fantastic archive of audio and video files, searchable by topic, year or performer name.

This is the kind of site I could get lost on for hours at a time.

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