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Best of Brainiac, 1st half of 2008

Posted by Joshua Glenn  June 17, 2008 10:40 AM

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In January, I posted a Best of Brainiac '07 list.

To be clear, this was not a list of the best Brainiac posts from 2007 -- just the best ones (in my not-humble-at-all opinion) that I'd written. Before we turned the blog into a one-person operation, at some point last year, fellow Brainiac founders Chris Shea, Jan Freeman, Evan Hughes, and John Swansburg also wrote many, many excellent posts.

As you know, I'm turning Brainiac over to Chris Shea at the end of this month. So I figured I'd go ahead and list those posts since the beginning of the year of which I'm most proud. (Even if you don't care, it's a helpful exercise for me.) Without further ado, here are my Top Ten favorite posts since January 1, 2008.


10) Post-Apocalyptic Juvie Lit -- tie with -- Post-Apocalyptic Kiddie Movies. When I was a schoolboy -- at the Trotter, Hennigan, and King Schools, in the mid-to-late 1970s -- Scholastic Books seemed to offer one post-apocalyptic book for children after another. I read 'em all, and still read 'em when I find new ones; I consider myself an expert when it comes to this literary genre.


9) The A-Frame Design Virus. Over the past half-century or so, hundreds of pulp novels, magazine covers, and movie posters have forced us to peer through someone's spread legs at the object of the legs' owner's gaze. It seems to me that these images can be categorized according to the variety of subject-object relation on display. Plus, they're fun to look at.


8) Boston's Micro-neighborhoods. When Yahoo! Maps announced that it had added more "granular" neighborhood data for Boston, I compared Yahoo!'s idea of Jamaica Plain's micro-neighborhoods with my own (I grew up in JP). Verdict: Needs improvement.


7) Cobain's Chucks. Converse is producing a series of limited-edition Chuck Taylors inspired by Kurt Cobain, which seems distasteful, to me. However, this apotheosis of Cobain's footwear provided me with the opportunity to clear up a 17-year-old literary mystery. Namely, the secret meaning of a particular verse from "Come As You Are," the second-most popular song (after "Smells Like Teen Spirit") from Nirvana's 1991 album, "Nevermind."


6) The Library of Congress's Flickr Photoset. When the LoC posted thousands of mysterious photos to Flickr, and asked Flickr users to help them determine their significance, I passed the request along to Brainiac readers. Together, we figured out who Eva Morrison was (a long-distance swimmer from Roxbury); and we pinpointed the location of a long-gone Massachusetts luncheonette called Sylvia Sweets Tea Room (Brockton). Perhaps most impressively, we deduced where a group of early 20th-century Marines were marching off to (temporary foreign shore service in Cuba, in March 1911).


5) Friends of China. It takes guts, these days, to be a friend of China. As anti-China activists protested in cities that hosted the Olympic torch relay, I pointed out that a handful of American intellectuals and journalists were quietly and stubbornly resisting the opportunity for moral grandstanding.


4) Great Works for a Hooker Booker. When the Eliot Spitzer/Emperor's Club V.I.P. story broke, one of the subplots was that of Temeka Rachelle Lewis, the so-called "hooker booker" who arranged the Washington, DC tryst between Client 9 and Ashley Alexandra Dupré (aka Kristen). The New York Times discovered that Lewis had graduated from the University of Virginia in 1997 with a B.A. in English Lit. "It seems unlikely," the Times sniffed, "that anything in the great works of fiction she studied in college would have prepared [Lewis] for the gritty realities of playing air traffic controller to high-flying young women meeting men in hotels." I begged to differ. In fact, prostitutes and the men who want to redeem or be redeemed by them, to rescue or dominate them, feature in so many classic works of English-language literature that I had to divide the results of my research into three entries: Hooker Booker research 1 |
Hooker Booker research 2
| Hooker Booker research 3.


3) Iron Man: A Lowbrow Literary Mystery. The trailer for "Iron Man" features the instantly recognizable guitar riff and thundering bass drum intro from the British heavy metal act Black Sabbath's signature tune, "Iron Man." Which begs a question: What, exactly, is Black Sabbath's infamous song about? Do the lyrics -- "Now the time is here/For Iron Man to spread fear/Vengeance from the grave/Kills the people he once saved" -- refer to the iconic Marvel Comics superhero, as we American metalheads tend to assume? Or might "The Iron Man," an English children’s book published in 1968, around the time that Geezer Butler, Sabbath's lyricist, was writing the song, have been the influence? NB: Another lowbrow literary mystery: Did Steve Ditko rip off the appearance of Marvel Comics' Dr. Strange from a cheesy horror movie in which Vincent Price plays a magician named Dr. Erasmus Craven? No sooner did I pose this question than a friend of mine sent movie stills that suggest the answer is... well, you decide.


2) The Keeping My Baby Meme. Why does it feel like screenwriters have come a long way, in the wrong direction, since the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision? Why, that is to say, is abortion no longer a real option for American women on TV and in the movies? While "Juno" was in the news, I researched half a century's worth of TV shows and movies that have dealt with unwanted pregnancies and -- I'm proud to report -- pinpointed the emergence of the Keeping My Baby meme. Three additional Brainiac posts chronicle the research I did. One post covers The Fifties, Sixties, and Seventies; a second covers the Eighties; a third covers the Nineties and Oughts (i.e., now).


1) Brainiac's Guide to Recent American Generations. Rewriting the consensus on US generations is something in which I first dabbled in 1992, in the first few issues of a zine called Hermenaut. On December 30 of 2007 and January 1 of this year, I posted two items (one about Postmodernists, the other about Anti-Anti-Utopians) arguing against the taken-for-granted notion that Americans born between 1925 and 1942 make up a "Silent Generation." Now, generation-spotting is a pseudo-science at best, marketing bullshit at worst. I know that! Still, I decided that I was onto something. Since January 1, then, I've also written about the Baby Boomers, the Original Generation X, the PC Generation, the Net Generation, the Millennials, the New Gods, the Partisans, the Hardboiled Generation, and the New Kids. Whew! Thank you, readers, for your perspicacious comments on this project.

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About brainiac Brainiac is the daily blog of the Globe's Sunday Ideas section, covering news and delights from the worlds of art, science, literature, history, design, and more. You can follow us on Twitter @GlobeIdeas.
Brainiac blogger Kevin Hartnett is a writer in Columbia, South Carolina. He can be reached here.

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.


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