Last month, in order to make informed holiday gift suggestions, I trolled through every one of the 450-odd entries I've posted to Brainiac so far in 2007. In doing so, I was reminded that I've broken some very important news to Globe/Ideas/Brainiac readers... and I've also advanced some far-out yet (if you ask me) extremely convincing theories, about everything from the cause of Bruce Lee's death to the truth about Aqua Dots to the reason that Mitt Romney enjoys L. Ron Hubbard's "Battlefield Earth" so much. Mind if I share my Top Ten list with you?
10. The New Skrullicism - tie - Hitch and the Dragon. In August, hotshot intellectual blogger John Holbo introduced a shocking, revelatory new literary theory: Some of literature's greatest characters -- from Hamlet to Huck Finn -- were shape-shifting aliens. (I suggested some more characters in the comments section of Holbo's blog, The Valve.) Later that same month, I used cunning sleuthwork to track down acerbic social critic Christopher Hitchens's beloved childhood book, "Dragon Island."
9. Why American women dig burqas. (And odalisques.) In July, I pointed out that burqas and burqa-like garments were popping up in US women's fashion magazines, and wondered aloud if this meant that Americans are so worried about radical Islamist terrorists that we're slowly turning ourselves into conservative Muslims, via a process that psychologists call "identification with the aggressor." Then, in October, I noticed that Keri skin lotion had posed a model as a Muslim sex slave! I don't know what psychologists would call that...
8. Crichton's anxiety of influence. In April, I did a little digging and reported that bestselling thriller author Michael Crichton's "State of Fear" was by no means the first apocalyptic SF novel to make the case that global warming had nothing to do with man-made greenhouse gases. Though he's still on the wrong side of history!
7. Why the French hate le jogging. In July, I reported that French president Nicolas Sarkozy's American-style ambulatory habits (i.e., jogging) had sent that country's intellectuals -- left- and right-wing alike -- into paroxysms. And then, promiscuously quoting everyone from Baudelaire to Baudrillard, I explained why.
6. What really happened to Bruce Lee's brain. This is an old theory of mine, but I'd never voiced it before this past April: Bruce Lee's never-explained 1973 death by brain swelling had nothing to do with a head injury, allergic reaction, stroke, acute liver disease, cardiac arrest, drugs, or a Chinese curse. Instead, he was an early victim of hyponatremia, a sodium imbalance brought on by excess fluid consumption. You heard it here first!
5. Aqua Dots. The Aqua Dots story caused a certain amount of hysteria, in November, but I didn't buy it. Chinese-made kiddie toys coated with a date-rape drug -- for rizzle? Was this story cooked up by spin masters in the Bush administration, trying to divert attention away from Iraq? Why else, I asked at the time, would the Toronto-based North American distributor of Aqua Dots be called... wait for it... Spin Master Toys?
4. You already knew I was a geek, but this is ridiculous. In 2007, I corrected New Yorker film critic Anthony Lane's misinformed comments about zero-gravity gardens and shiny spaceships; I explained the cultural significance of the 1973-74 comic book "Prez: The First Teen President"; I noted that life imitates superhero art when it comes to toxic gas-spewing meteorites; and I speculated about the dark side of Scrabble. At one point, I even posted a photo of a 20-sided die... Somebody stop me, already.
3. The Truth About Mitt Romney and Barack Obama In May, the media freaked out when GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said that his favorite novel was "Battlefield Earth," by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard. I had a different take on the matter: Romney is a starry-eyed idealist. Meawhile, in February -- and then again in December -- I argued that Democratic presidential hopeful Barack Obama isn't a baby boomer. So what generation does he belong to? To the outrage of many readers, I've suggested that Americans born between 1954-63 are Generation Xers! In fact, I've come up with a cutting-edge, slightly crazy, but highly convincing generational periodization scheme:
BRAINIAC'S GUIDE TO AMERICA'S RECENT GENERATIONS
The Greatest Generation Partisans
The Greatest Generation The New Gods
The Silent Generation postmodern Generation
The Silent Generation Anti-Anti-Utopian Generation
1944-53: Baby Boomers
Baby Boomers OGX (Original Generation X)
Generation X PC Generation
Generation Y Net Generation
Please credit Brainiac/Joshua Glenn whenever you use this guide. Got a beef with my periodization, or different generational name suggestions? Leave a comment on this post or email me. Born between 1954 and 1993 and still unsure about whether you're a Boomer, Xer, Yer, or Millennial? Here's a handy guide.
2. Fatal Women of Boston Rock. In November, I suggested that some of this city's greatest rock songs -- including the Modern Lovers' "Modern World" and The Cars' "Just What I Needed" -- were the wounded cries of loutish rockers obsessed with hip, brainy BU coeds who wouldn't give them the time of day. I also suggested, half-seriously, that Mission of Burma's "Academy Fight Song" was written from the point of view of "a cool, educated young woman who was sick and tired of the obsessive attention paid to her by a would-be [Boston rocker] boyfriend." You decide.
1. Mooninites! (And Star Simpson.) Traffic ground to a halt, businesses sent employees home, and the bomb squad even detonated what the police called a "sophisticated electronic device" when angry-looking LED aliens were discovered all over Boston on January 31. As the Boston Phoenix was kind enough to point out, Brainiac was the first to report that it was just a guerrilla marketing campaign for the Adult Swim TV show "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." PS: Free Star Simpson!
PS: Obviously this isn't really the "Best of Brainiac," since my list contains zero posts by ex-Brainiacs Chris Shea, Jan Freeman, Evan Hughes, or John Swansburg. (In mid-October of this year, I assumed full responsibility for the Brainiac blog, which is also a weekly column in the Ideas section under my byline.) If my former colleagues let me know what their favorite posts of 2007 were, I will pass that information along, readers.
The author is solely responsible for the content.
Leon Neyfakh is the staff writer for Ideas. Amanda Katz is the deputy Ideas editor. Stephen Heuser is the Ideas editor.
Guest blogger Simon Waxman is Managing Editor of Boston Review and has written for WBUR, Alternet, McSweeney's, Jacobin, and others.
Guest blogger Elizabeth Manus is a writer living in New York City. She has been a book review editor at the Boston Phoenix, and a columnist for The New York Observer and Metro.
Guest blogger Sarah Laskow is a freelance writer and editor in New York City. She edits Smithsonian's SmartNews blog and has contributed to Salon, Good, The American Prospect, Bloomberg News, and other publications.
Guest blogger Joshua Glenn is a Boston-based writer, publisher, and freelance semiotician. He was the original Brainiac blogger, and is currently editor of the blog HiLobrow, publisher of a series of Radium Age science fiction novels, and co-author/co-editor of several books, including the story collection "Significant Objects" and the kids' field guide to life "Unbored."
Guest blogger Ruth Graham is a freelance journalist in New Hampshire, and a frequent Ideas contributor. She is a former features editor for the New York Sun, and has written for publications including Slate and the Wall Street Journal.
Joshua Rothman is a graduate student and Teaching Fellow in the Harvard English department, and an Instructor in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. He teaches novels and political writing.