Monthly Archives: September 2014

New swears for our time

As you’re probably aware, it’s 2014. But we’re still using the same ol’ cusses that were used by sailors in the 50s. We can do better, right?

No more Fs, Cs, Hs, AFGGs or Ss, let’s bring obscenity into the 21st century, ffs.

Here are some of my suggestions:

1. Fritzl – a bad person, implied to be incestuous in some way

That Osbaldo forgot to reply to the invite, and I had to chase him up. He’s a right fritzl.

2. Farquaad – a bad person, especially one who acts superior to others.

That farquaad Osbaldo won’t shut up about tomorrow evening! He oughta watch himself.

3. Saville’s Ghost!  – exclamation of annoyance.

Oi, Osbaldo where’s the meat? You didn’t bring it? Saville’s Ghost! Can’t take you anywhere, mate.

4. Byzantium – multiple uses, but mostly used as a pejorative adjective

Osbaldo, I don’t mean to be farquaad, but these eclairs are well byzantium.

5. Bake-Off! – used when asking someone to go away, get out of your face

Just Bake-Off, Osbaldo! You’re not welcome at my dinner parties any more.

6. Tory Cabinet – reproductive organs

Osbaldo wouldn’t leave until Bruce kneed him in the Tory Cabinet.

7. UKIPPING – acting in an annoying/offensive manner

Yeah he’s been ukipping all over the place since last night. I’m at my last straw.

8. Frenchie – French person

And he’s a frenchie too!

9. Jalfrezi – something that is untrue, rubbish

Now he’s trying to making it a whole incident now – which is a total pile of jalfrezi.

10. Donetsk People’s Republic – a bad place, somewhere you do not want to go

Good news. Osbaldo’s ukipped off to the Donetsk People’s Republic. So that’s the last we’ll hear from that Fritzl for a while. And the byzantium police say they won’t be following up on their initial investigation, which is a byzantium relief.

Please use these responsibly. And remember to credit me, thanks.

My Spotify playlists are awesome and you should follow them

I’ve got a bit of free time, so I thought I’d write something about music. But since I don’t really know anything about music history or the current ‘scene’ I thought I’d instead write about what I do know. And that’s me.

I’ve spent years curating my own playlists in Spotify. They’re my own little babies. Some of them are totally stupid, but I love them all. So here they are.

discovery
This is a basic list of everything I’ve “discovered” in Spotify since August 2011 (coincidentally the month I began to work at a certain music streaming service). It’s really interesting to me as a history of the music I’ve come across over the years. They’re not songs that are new as such, or even ones I hadn’t heard before, but ones that sort of became surfaced in my consciousness for some reason. So probably not that interesting for anyone else (1 follower though!).

musique
Apparently I started this one in 2010. Nice. It’s a collection of songs sung in French. There’s something about them that makes me happy. They also tend to be kind of 60s new wave things as well, so maybe it’s just an idle nostalgia for that time; back when Eurovision wasn’t the horrific spectacle it is today.

nostalgia
The title is probably ironic. These are songs that sound old. They’ve got that old crackly analogue recording sound to them, which instantly takes you back. Not that I recall listening to, say, Frank Sinatra or Billie Holiday, as a child. But it’s a kind of false nostalgia, a longing for a better time in the past (Golden Age fallacy, I know right).

Wes
A simple one. Every song on Spotify featured in Wes Anderson films. Not as straightforward as you might think though, since not all the soundtracks are uploaded and have to be reconstructed manually (it took me a while to track down the right version of The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra for the Moonrise Kingdom section).

DAMN, SON. WHERE D’YA FIND THIS?!?!
Deliberately the most ridiculous playlist. This contains the most outrageous dubstep I’ve come across on Spotify. Some people confuse this with a dubstep adoration, but it’s more of a study into the excesses of the genre (particular via the ‘brostep’ subgenre). Wubs and drops are thrown together in the most audibly offensive way imagineable, taking it to almost an artform. Fascinating.

Glaze
An attempt to kind of focus in on a particular sound I like. Technically, it’s a shoegaze playlist, but it verges into anything kind of long and noisy. It’s called “Glaze” as a shoutout to its shoegaze origins, but also because it contains songs like The Jesus And Mary Chain – Just Like Honey and The Smashing Pumpkins – Mayonaise. I like the idea that it’s these big heavy dollops of sound coming at you through your headphones. Super pretentious, yeah.

Breeze
When I Met You
Jelly
LJBB
Four similar playlists. Just playlists of DJ sets by The Avalanches and Lemon Jelly. Finding the samples and arranging them in the right order is strangely satisfying.

It’s a rap!
My rap playlist. I don’t know anything about rap, but I know what I like.

it’s a live! (version)
Live versions of songs I like by bands I like.

ha.
Comedy bits. Playlists don’t just have to be just music! I should really add more to these.

Talk To Me
Songs that have talking in them. Either as a sample or just as an introduction or something. It’s always interesting when songs do this. Bright Eyes – Firewall is a good example – that opening insane monologue is just a killer.

Covers
Covers! I love covers. Everyone loves covers.

QQ (why can’t I hold all these feels?)
Like a kind of playlist of sad songs. This is like a necessity on Spotify. Music to weep to.

‘intensity’
I keep changing the title of this one. It’s meant to be a reference to Lost in Translation, but that’s not at all clear. Anyway, this is songs that have a sense of urgency about them. It’s an interesting sound and I like how it’s presently differently across the genres.

Broadside Ballads
My cheesiest playlist. Mostly just a way for me to have easy access to Bonnie Tyler, etc. But some of them are ok.

seen live
An odd playlist, since the actual songs themselves don’t matter. This is just a way for me to keep track of all the bands I’ve seen live (which I previously did with a Last.Fm tag – ouch).

Music for my bookshop
One day I will have a bookshop. And this is the playlist that will play in it. I’ll probably need more than seven, so I should expand the scope beyond songs about books I suppose.

yehaw
Cowboy songs. After seeing Django Unchained I kind of went off on one with this. I should probably review this at some point.

electro-swing
This is such a tiny subgenre, pretty much dominated by Parov Stelar and The Correspondents. I’ve tried to find some other stuff, but it is all more or less the same.

coolkid
Songs that have children singing in them. A ‘challenge playlist’ because there’s not as many songs as you think.

jimmy unrustler
My relaxation playlist. This is the playlist I like to listen to in the bath. Lovely stuff.

S.P.E.L.L.I.N.G.
Another challenge playlist. I try to find songs that have people spelling things out in them. More than you think.

poetry
Poetry on Spotify! Who’d have thought there’d be so much? Anyway, these are my top picks.

disnizzle
Samples from the Walt Disnizzle mixtape.

short but sweet
Songs under two minutes, an idea I totally stole from my friend Jamie.

>10
The opposite of the above. Songs greater than 10 minutes. Lots of post-rock and things.

oOo
A ridiculously niche one. Songs that have people going “oooh!” in them. Please let me know if you have any of your own.

Females
I should probably change the title. But it’s songs I like by female-fronted bands. Female singer-songwriters don’t really count.

uni
The music I listened to in uni, back when I bought physical CDs. Since this was pre-Spotify I listened to these albums basically on repeat for three years and they’re indelibly burnt into my brain. Good memories, mostly.

plinky
Piano songs. But specifically ones that have a nice bouncy sound to them (I don’t know if there’s a proper word for that style so I opted for ‘plinky’ instead – it sounds about right).

twang
Banjo songs. The banjo is so in right now – I really need to start practising on mine again.

classics
Classical music I like. I need to put more effort into keeping this updated. I don’t look very cultured atm.

The answer is Jesus. What is the question?
A joke playlist! Based on the Stewart Lee routine of the same setup, I answer using things on Spotify.

songs what are years
As the name says, songs that are years. Obviously there are many more, but these are the ones I like the most.

There are some that I’ve had to archive since they’re seasonal: xmas (Christmas) and 2spooky (Halloween).

And that’s it! I also have about 300 other playlists I’m subscribed to or albums I’ve saved as playlists. But no way am I going through all of those.

This will be interesting for me to revisit in a year or so. So consider this a sort of time capsule. And I’d encourage you to do something similar if you’re on Spotify.

And if you’re not on Spotify, what the hell is even wrong with you.

Let’s not write all our opinion pieces like this

Something has happened in the news and I have an opinion about it. I’m going to try and convince you of my point, which you can tell because I’ve said “let’s not” in the title. This partisan polemic will be punctuated with lots of prescriptivist prose for pseudo-intellectuals to praise.

I’ll start by demonstrating how this thing that has happened in the news affects me personally. Perhaps something similar happened to me once, or I can get offended easily on someone else’s behalf. This makes me uniquely suited to telling you all what to think about it.

Next I’ll try and sum up the debate so far. I’ll go over the thing that happened in detail, even though you’re obviously already aware of what happened if you’re reading my comment. I’ll then explain what people have been saying about it so far. Look, here are some quotes from other comment-style articles! By laying out the debate like this I’m automatically making my opinion appear more valid; after all, I’ve surely considered all these opinions myself and still chosen to form my own. Patting myself on the back right now.

Now a whole paragraph in which I act as if I’m in any position to tell you how to live your life, or how government should form policy. So what if I’m massively over-simplifying how things get done? That’s not my problem. If I can write it, it can happen. I mean really, everyone would be better off if I just got put in charge of running the whole damn show.

Here are some statistics to back my point up. 25% of all statistics are used to prove points like this in comment pieces. Want a source for that statistic? Tough luck. I don’t need to back myself up, I just need to interpret the statistics in whatever way makes me look right.

But of course I wouldn’t say all this without thinking about the other side of the debate. Here are some imagined responses to my comment. Of course, they’re all straw men or ignore the nuance of real debate. But I win anyway! This makes it look like there’s no serious alternative to my point of view.

So that’s all pretty much case closed then. Here are some closing comments, even smarmier than the rest of the article. Feel free to let me know your point of view in the comments, which I have no intention of reading.

Why are all Shrek cakes so utterly hilarious?

This is my third post now either concerning or referencing Shrek. And that’s obviously not a bad thing at all.

So during my research on Shrek I came across a strange phenomenon. It seems that Shrek is a popular subject of birthday cakes. And why not? I mean, kids love it (and adults too!) so why not bake a cake of our Ogrelord?

Except the thing is, people don’t seem very good at it. Example:

I don’t remember Shrek having huge feminine eyelashes. But hey, maybe this is fine. Artistic license and that. Maybe it’s for some poor chap with big bushy eyebrows and lady lashes, who gets called Shrek as an affection in-joke. Without knowing the whole story, who are we to judge.

But then you have this:

Something’s just clearly gone wrong here. It barely looks like anything, let alone Shrek.  A cake that has truly gone wrong.

This is more like it. This actually looks like Shrek (if you can’t tell, just compare it to the Shrek fairy cakes orbiting Shrek Prime). He’s almost too expressive though, in an ‘uncanny valley’ kind of way. Haunting.

Hope you like nightmares, Killian! (Also, KILLian? This kid confirmed for serial killer in the making).

Not even going to fix that lazy eye then? Fine, I won’t judge!
I will however judge the floatation ring around Shrek. Utterly baffling.

Plain. Simple. Terrible. Sorry, Ammar!

Maybe if Shrek was put in a wind tunnel he’d look like this. But he hasn’t been, and doesn’t look like this. I have no further comment.

A rare ‘full body’ Shrek. The proportions are all wrong though. But I do appreciate the happily jaunty angle.

This Shrek comes from the eight dimension, where they communicate only in varying extents of pain.

Fat Shrek cake.

Kudos on the Super Mario Bros pipes as ears. This cake sucks at everything else. I’m not even sure if it’s meant to be Shrek.

My personal favourite. A lot of love and care has gone into those teeth.

This Shrek has a melted face.

Probably the most accurate attempt in this list. However, I doubt a one year old is going to be able to appreciate that fact.

Everyone involved with the production of this cake was dead within the month.

Wrong green. He looks sad.

Unbelievable.

No ears on this one. He can’t hear your screams.

Well, at least he’s smiling! Sort of.

This one is just all chin.

Hey yeah, I’d like to order a Shrek cake please. Shrek. Yes, Shrek. The ogre from Shrek. But could you also make him a tiny bit cross-eyed? Not noticeably so, but like so that if you looked at it for a while you’d be like ‘those pupils don’t quite sit right with me’? That’d be great, ta.

Great shading! Terrible everything.

Seriously, how many of these are there?

HAHAHA WHAT KIND OF 25 YEAR OLD GETS A SHREK CAKE FOR THEIR BIRTHDAY? I MEAN, LOOO-

Oh wait, that was my 25th. It was made by my Mother and I think you’ll agree that it’s the best of the bunch. My Mother is a fantastic baker, and will literally make any cake you ask for.

RIP HARAMBE

How I learned to start worrying and hate my genes

Genes! We’ve all got them. But what do they actually do? And can they predict the future?

Earlier this year I was reading a news story about how such-and-such genes can increase your risk of such-and-such. And I couldn’t help but find that terrifying. I mean, having it hard-coded into your DNA (literally speaking, not the horrible way this is used everywhere now) that you’re susceptible to things more than other people, and knowing there’s nothing you can do about it, is pretty terrifying. A real life fatalist nightmare.

And worse still, unless you get tested there’s no way of knowing what your genes are. You could be sitting on a ticking time bomb of cancer risk genes right now and not even know it. Hell, you could wake up one day and have your head just suddenly explode! With genes, anything could happen.

As such, I couldn’t help but take interest when I noticed people talking about online gene analysis sites. Specifically, I saw some buzz around the site 23andMe – an online genetics report site, so called for the 23 pairs of chromosomes we have. With far too much time on my hands, I decided to give it a go.

Ordering the kit was a bit fiddly, since it was coming from America. The $99 for the kit wasn’t so bad, but I had to basically pay that again in shipping fees. But the kit arrived promptly within a few days.

I then had had the tricky task of using the kit. This involved snapping a load of tags and flasks and beakers and fluids and things, and spitting into a test tube. Not just a little spit either, like enough to fill a large dish. Seriously, it took me like 20 minutes and was pretty disgusting.

Next up, I had to return the thing. This took a few days as I had to schedule a DHL Express pickup and fill out a load of customs forms. I also had to answer the difficult question of what was in the package a few times, to which I just replied “er.. genetics..stuff?” The package itself had this written on it, which made it look even more suspicious:

2014-08-20 19.43.16-1

In any case, it seemed to arrive back at the lab without any trouble.

Now, I was in this for the whole health information aspect – I wanna know how I’m gonna die. But 23andMe has a strong focus on genealogy and all that, using the markers in your DNA to tell you where your ancestors came from. That’s all pretty interesting I guess, but it’s not that big of a deal for me. However, it quickly turned out that I should have done a bit more research, as the FDA shut down all other aspects of 23andme’s service. This meant they could only offer the genealogy stuff, and not the health stuff. Oops!

So anyway, the latest is that they’ve received my…sample and analysis has begun. Surprise surprise my genetic history is from Europe/Middle East, much like most people in Europe. Well, that’s kind of a letdown.

But it doesn’t end there. Turns out you can export the raw genetic data from 23andMe to other sites. Take THAT, FDA! Yay! So for a small £5 fee I sent my genetic code off to the good people at Promethease. 20 minutes later, I had my results.

And this is where it gets interesting.

The data is a bit hard to work through, as it’s all very technical and cross-referenced with actual genetic research sites. But Promethease do a pretty ok job of allowing you to navigate your results to find what you want. A lot of it looks like this:

Screen Shot 2014-09-13 at 20.28.38

I don’t know what this means but it has a “Repute” value of bad. And that’s bad. And filtering by “Good”, “Bad” and neutral, I was able to get a good idea of what’s going on with my genome. Here are some highlights.

Starting with the Neither Good nor Bad:

  • GS144 – Male. Great! So at least we know this thing’s accurate.
  • GS114 – Western Europe Haplogroup Y. Again, yup! Pretty cool you can figure out where I’m from based on DNA.
  • RS1426654 – probably light-skinned. Bingo!
  • GS157 – more stimulated by coffee. Yeah, ok! I suppose. Maybe..
  • GS256 – blue eyes. Er, no? Apparently though “there seems to be a distinction between the dark brown eyes typical for asian and african ancestry, and ‘blue’ for lighter eyes found in europeans” so they get this one.
  • GS285 – you will lose 2.5x as much weight on a low fat diet. Cool, diet advice!
  • RS3124314 – straighter hair. Nice.
  • RS4570625 – higher scores on anxiety-related personality traits. It’s like they’re reading my mind!

And so on. These were all spookily accurate, giving me confidence in the other results too.

Next, the “Good”:

  • GS273 – Lowest risk (13% of white women) of Atrial Fibrillation reported by 23andMe. Yay!
  • RS9536314 – intelligence; longevity. Woo!
  • RS1815739 – Mix of muscle types. Likely sprinter. Erm, well I probably have done a sprint in my life at some point?
  • GS101 – probably able to digest milk. Uh, yeah, probably.
  • RS1042725 – ~0.4cm taller. Ladies.
  • RS671 – Alcohol Flush: Normal, doesn’t flush. Normal hangovers. Normal risk of Alcoholism. Normal risk of Esophageal Cancer. Disulfiram is effective for alcoholism. Cool.

And so on. Some less accurate stuff there, but pretty radical nonetheless.

Now the, er, “Bad”:

  • RS1333049 – 1.9x increased risk for CAD (Coronary Artery Disease). Well that sucks. Nothing I can do about it, looks like I’m gonna die of some huge heart attack 🙁
  • RS738409 – higher odds of alcoholic liver disease, increased liver fat. Combined with the whole “you’re good at alcohol” thing above, this kinda sucks too.
  • RS1021737 – significantly higher plasma total homocysteine concentration. GODDAMIT (?!)
  • RS1801282 – watch out for high fat in diet. Shut up, genes!
  • RS1042522 – Slightly shorter lifespan ;(
  • RS2180439 – Increased risk of Male Pattern Baldness. At this point, I stopped reading. My hair is my life.

There were a lot more scary ones too, which I didn’t like so much.

Can you genes tell you how you’re going to die? Well…. probably not. The results above are really just “x amount of people in this survey with this gene showed a tendency for y”. And lots of these are super common anyway (I think pretty much everyone is going to die of heart disease it seems).

So it’s kinda scary, but not really the worst thing ever. I’ll live!

Still kinda miffed about my homocysteine concentration though. Really thought I had that nailed down.

Review: Mouth Sounds by Neil Cicierega

JAN 2017 UPDATE: MOUTH MOODS ALSO NOW AVAILBLE HERE OMGGGG

Today I’d like to do my first music review on this blog. And it’s something rather special.

I’ll be reviewing “Mouth Sounds” by Neil Cicierega. It’s a 56 minute mashup of popular culture, with All Star by Smashmouth as a recurrent motif throughout. Sounds good, right?

Give it a listen here:

The first thing to say is that I’m already a huge fan of this format. I think that The Avalanches’ Gimix is one of the greatest musical works of all time. If you haven’t heard it before, give it a listen. It’s 45 minutes of pure aural bliss.

I’m also a huge fan of Walt Disnizzle by ARKHAM.p77, a more focussed mashup piece, which blends disney songs with rap. As with Gimix, it’s all samples but the composition makes it work wonderfully.

I’ve even had a go at the genre myself, with my own 27 1/2 minute mix receiving absolutely no critical acclaim whatsoever. But enough about that.

Mouth Sounds, then, is my latest infatuation. There’s also a sister mix Mouth Silence that you can check out, but here we’re just talking about the original, created by Neil Cicierega.

But who is this Neil Cicierega anyway? Well, chances are you’ve already heard of him, but didn’t know it. Ever heard of Potter Puppet Pals? Yup, Cicierega.

He’s also the creator of The Ultimate Showdown of Ultimate Destiny, one of my favourite youtube videos. If you’re not familiar with it, it’s a flash animation about an all-out battle royale between various characters in pop culture. Godzilla fighting Shaquille O’Neal, that kind of thing.

Aside from being a catchy song, and extremely catchy, I loved TUSOUD for the way it called out pop culture figures. It’s like a game where you have to try and see how many references you can get (‘Spock, The Rock, Doc Oc, and Hulk Hogan’ is a fantastic line). It’s a masterful blend of these references as well as being a celebration of their fandoms. I don’t feel guilty for being able to recognise all these characters, despite them all being pretty nerdy. Instead it’s turned into something actually cool through the medium of song.

I think that last point might not be the clearest one I’ve ever made, but luckily I’ve got two great illustrations. And yes, they’re also mashups.

First up, Pop Culture by Madeon.

And secondly, the Golden Age of Video by Ricardo Autobahn.

What do these all have in common? Well, they throw together dozens of short clips from various sources in an exciting and entertaining way. Just like a cover of a song can breathe new life into it, these mashups re-present elements we’re super familiar with as part of a new, larger arrangement. “We came, we saw, we kicked its ass!” as the refrain of TGAOV works perfectly, but in the most unexpected way – for instance.

And placed into the wider context, the samples become a celebration of the genres they’re taken from. Pop Culture is great for this. The clips are all from pop songs, which tend to get a pretty bad rap. And sure, I don’t like a lot of the original source songs. But arranged together in the way they are, they become part of the best pop song ever. Likewise with TGAOV, we assume an overall perspective over the whole of video/film, and can see what is is we love about it: crazy characters, badass moments, excitement and fun.

Going back to Ultimate Showdown for a second. That was a celebration of a more specific culture: cult followings. Things like Monty Python and Big Trouble in Little China have dedicated cult followings and this video is a great showcase of them, but also for the concept of ‘cult’ in general. We watch it and feel great about Godzilla and Jackie Chan, we’re so lucky to have them! Screw the haters, this is a love letter to anyone who’s ever loved something out of the mainstream. Nerd culture can be beautiful too.

It should be pretty obvious then how this ties back into Mouth Sounds. You see, Mouth Sounds is another example of a cultural mashup. Here are a few of the things it samples:

  • Smashmouth – All Star
  • Modest Mouse – Float On
  • Homer Simpson
  • Austin Powers
  • Dave Matthews Band – Ants Marching
  • Talking Heads – Once in a Lifetime
  • Sir Mix-A-Lot  – Baby Got Back
  • Will Smith – Men in Black

And that’s just the first ten minutes.

At first glance, it might look like the focus here is less targeted than the above mashups. And sure, the range is wider but I’d argue that it’s because the target here isn’t meant to be a specific band of popular culture – but instead popular culture itself.

That’s why we get clips from music, film, television (one song ends with just the outros of various TV networks) and the internet (of course Chocolate Rain makes an appearance). The source of the samples matters just as much as the samples themselves. And the achieved effect is a greater appreciation of how all these things entertain us in their own ways.

I should also point out that it’s funny as hell. The mashup is playful and teasing in parts, such as playing the theme from Full House followed by an Alanis Morisette song, before segueing right back into Full House again – which, as flamboyant saxaphone fills go, is hilariously jarring in its own right. And the lack of an obvious theme makes this even more effective – you never know where the next sample is going to come from so it hits you even harder when it does.

All Star sung to the tune of Imagine by John Lennon? You couldn’t predict that, and it’s just the best thing ever. I feel bad even telling you that actually, like spoiling the ending of a good book, the surprise is so effective throughout.

Why the focus on All Star though? Well, I’ve written about Shrek in popular culture before, and I’ve  argued that Shrek has become a fundamental part of our cultural zeitgeist. I’ve even gone so far as to argue that All Star was the song of the decade it came out in. It seems that there’s an echo of this in Mouth Sounds. Most the samples do come from the 90s/early 00s (though not all) so it’d make sense for the song to be as prominent as it is, should my theory concerning Mouth Sounds as a cultural retrospective be valid.

All Star is just a great song too, as well. It seems to go with everything.

Mouth Sounds also has the element I enjoyed from TUSOUD of playing the game of trying to spot all the references. It rewards frequent replays and a keen attention to the detail of the songs. I spent ages trying to track down the original source of the Full House theme used (it’s like an instrumental version of one of the outros, from what I can tell), and had a great time doing so.

So in conclusion, Mouth Sounds is a fantastic achievement. The pure technical skill in location, arranging and mixing the samples alone is at least as impressive as anything done by The Avalanches, etc. Added onto that you’ve got the skill of making something that makes me laugh every single time I listen to it.

It’s also an important work of art in terms of making a statement. The statement it makes, as far as I can tell, is that our popular culture (specifically, western media in the late nineties and early noughties) may be crass, kitch and just plain dumb, but that’s great. It’s put us where we are today and we shouldn’t shy away from our cultural heritage.

Not when it can sound this good.

 

Guy Fieri: the greatest celebrity chef of all time

HI I’M GUY FIERI AND WELCOME TO ANOTHER EPISODE OF DINERS, DRIVE-INS AND DIVES.

With these immortal words, Guy Fieri begins a new episode of what aficionados of the show lovingly refer to as Triple-D (to you – Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives). He’s a cult figure of sorts here in the UK, though often ridiculed for his loudly expressive presenting style, monstrous haircut, and tendency to aim for the lowest common denominator when it comes to cuisine. But I believe Guy gets a bad rap and intend to argue that Guy deserves more respect. Not only is he a fine chef in his own right, his show democratises cuisine for the masses. For this reason, as well as the comparably low quality of the alternatives, a case can be made that Guy Fieri is the greatest celebrity chef of all time.

My argument for this is simple. We’ll start with an overview of who Guy is and his rise to fame. We’ll then examine a typical episode of his flagship show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and see how it’s not just educational about food but also entertaining in a unique and progressive way. We’ll then conclude with a comparison of Guy as a public figure, taking a moment to reflect on the very concept of a “celebrity chef” and comparing DDD to other cookery shows such as The Great British Bake Off and Masterchef.

But first, a little background about why I’m so interesting in this at all.

I: How I Met Guy

I first encountered Guy Fieri in the same way that most people reading this will have. In the UK, Freeview lets you watch a number of channels beyond the traditional 5 terrestrial ones. Most of these are unwatchable trash, but one stood out to me above all others – Food Network. On this channel, endless episodes are shown of shows where people either make, eat or talk about food. You’ve got cake shows for instance (Ace of Cakes, Last Cake Standing, Have Cake Will Travel, Amazing Wedding Cakes) which are endlessly absorbing in their own right.

But two shows really stood out to me above the others: Man V. Food and Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. I’d like to give Man V. Food an honourable mention in this essay, because it really is very good. MVF premiered in 2008 and DDD in 2007, so it can’t be said that Richman laid the foundations for Fieri or anything like that; but I do believe that he played an important auxiliary role in Fieri’s rise to power.

If you compare and contrast MVF and DDD you’ll notice some striking similarities. Richman will travel to a couple of places in each show and try out the food there. It’ll be things like burgers and pizzas, with the emphasis being on some kind of challenge element. I.e. hottest pizza, biggest steak, most oysters, and so on. Richman caps the episodes off with an attempt at the challenge itself, which he’ll then win or lose. In DDD, Fieri also travels around to what are essentially fast-food places, but without the emphasis on challenge. As Fieri himself states, what they’re looking for in DDD is dedication.

And this is the key difference. Richman’s Man V. Food show is essentially just a spectacle. You watch him struggle to eat a huge burger and either enjoy his success or feel bad when he fails. But it’s simply a performance. He’s more of an actor than a chef in this regard. And it’s worth mentioning that in later series Richman doesn’t even do the challenges himself – he began crowdsourcing them out to local food heroes as of Man V. Food Nation in 2011. Fieri has never made any such compromise.

Back on topic, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives quickly became my all time favourite show. Not just on the Food Network, but all on television in general. Go ahead and watch an episode – I guarantee you’ll be hooked (for reasons we’ll explain in greater detail in part III). However, it was the character of Guy himself that fascinated me most of all. But who is this bleached-hair food-loving man-troll? Let’s take a few steps back and size him up.

II: Fieri Begins

Guy Fieri’s real name is actually Guy Ferry. I was personally disappointed when I found that out, but it turns out that he reverted to Fieri when he got married in 1995 as a way to honour his Italian immigrant grandfather. This demonstrates that Guy is a culturally aware figure, not wanting to hide his personal life but actually bring it out into the open. This honesty is also a trait that he brings into his attitude towards cooking, as we’ll go on to see.

Fieri’s early history involves successfully opening a few restaurants with his business partner Steve Gruber. But it wasn’t until Fieri entered a US show entitled Food Network Star that his career began to skyrocket. Check out this clip for an edit of Guy’s appearances within the finals of the second season. Notice that even at this early stage Guy is already sporting his trademark spiked blonde hair – proving that his personal branding has remained consistent since his earliest days. Guy of course won the show and as such was granted a six-episode run by Food Network for a cooking show Guy’s Big Bite.

Food Network doesn’t show Guy’s Big Bite here in the UK, which is a shame. I believe UK audiences would benefit greatly from Guy’s primetime cooking show, which is now in its thirteenth season in the US. The show also contains one of my personal all time-favourite Fieri moments – Guy meets Matthew McConaughey. And in a way, Guy Fieri is very much the Matthew McConaughey of cooking. For a long time nobody cared about him or took him seriously, but right now he’s at the top of his game and leading the way forward for others in his field.

Currently, the Food Network remains focussed on Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. We’ll now take a deeper look to see what about this show makes it so culturally significant and what that tells us about Fieri’s career.

III: Triple-D

Recently, Buzzfeed wrote a surprising good article in which they outlined “what happens in every single “Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives.” Ghost Court also did a stellar job of that here. I don’t want to go over the same ground as those guys, but it’s worth just sketching out the basics again – just for reference:

  • Guy Fieri shouts at you whilst driving his big red car.
  • Guy Fieri visits two restaurants locally renowned for their dishes.
  • Guy Fieri watches as the head chef prepares the dish. Quick flash cuts to customers talking about how amazing it is.
  • Said dish is invariably some kind of burger that contains more salt than could possibly be necessary.
  • Guy Fieri eats the dish and is complimentary about it.
  • Show ends.

Obviously there is more to it than that, but that is the basic skeleton. It looks simple, and it really is – and that’s the charm. Every episode is exactly the same, just with different restaurants and dishes slotted into the gap. There’s never any attempt to mix up the formula too much, nothing wacky. And this keeps the focus on the things that matter: the food, the restaurant, and Guy. Nothing gets compromised.

The show has plenty else going for it as well as its simplicity. Just look at how it opens, with Guy in his car. It’s extremely welcoming and friendly – you’re invited to come along with Guy for the ride, literally! It assumes no knowledge of cooking or anything, there’s nothing elitist about it whatsoever, just a love of the food and flavours themselves. I mentioned before that I believe Guy Fieri has helped “democratise’ food, and this is the point I’m demonstrating here. The format itself is incredibly simple, but in being so it’s instantly accessible to everyone.

Even the food on display backs this up. Often the show is criticised for just being a showcase for horrible fast-food joints. And to an extent this is true, Guy tends to visit places that deal in cooked red meat primarily – and rarely does he get excited about a vegetarian option. But again, this is Guy deliberately choosing to highlight dishes that we can all relate to. It’s not like he couldn’t do otherwise either; the “Flavour Town Feature” on the Johnny Garlics’ website (Guy’s restaurant chain) right now is Crispy Parmesan Zucchini Planks. But Guy’s well aware that few people are interested in fried courgette. Guy’s honesty shines through again here. He’s saying “look, this is what people actually eat – let’s focus on that!” And Guy’s concern to cater for the audiences tastes (puns not intended) should not go unappreciated.

The way the show is shot and edited is also worthy of a mention. There’s a cut roughly every seconds, if not more often, and this means your attention never wanes. In fact, it’s not possible for your attention to wane because your brain is constantly taking in new information. It’s arguable how much influence Guy Fieri actually has over the post-production process of DDD, but I think it’s fair to say it has his trademark on it. Nobody wants to sit and watch someone knead out some dough for the full length of time it would take to do so and Fieri doesn’t waste his viewer’s time by showing that kind of thing off. Cookery on DDD is reduced to usually throwing a selection of herbs and spices into a bowl, rubbing it into some meat, cooking it and eating it. It’s simple, and it’s tasty. That’s all that matters to us, so Guy makes it all that matters in his show.

And a final point to make in this section is the way that Guy presents it: wholly positively. Throughout he moves the narrative forward with an unrelenting momentum. Everything builds up to him tasting the famous dish for himself, and then being uniformly positive about it. Some commentators have pointed out that Fieri is disingenuous in this regard, for it’s highly statistically unlikely that every dish that Fieri tastes would be as delicious as he claims it to be, but if you watch carefully that’s not at all what he does. Instead of being one of those food critics who focusses solely on the negatives of a dish, he’ll bring to the forefront what good can be said about it. So instead of saying “you really overdid the tomato in this one” he’ll say something more like “mmm, you can really taste the tomato!”

To the trained ear, it’s obvious what he’s saying. But he pays the chef, and us the audience, the courtesy of always acting impressed. And this is extremely important. For cooking, especially at the level expected of a chef, can be a high-pressure affair. If you get it wrong, the consequences are immediate and dire – and it’s so easy to get it wrong. This puts a lot of people off cooking in the first place, the fear of it all going wrong. And most cookery shows reinforce this fear by structures of judging and scoring. Fieri totally dissolves this conceit and demonstrates that there’s something good in every dish. Once again, he’s making it accessible to everyone, by turning it into something non-confrontational. He just wants you to start cooking, and after watching him action you want to cook too.

So in this way, DDD beautifully combines entertainment and education. We love the show and get hooked on watching it. Yet at the same time we’re learning about cooking, and specifically exposing ourselves to unique flavour combinations uncovered by Guy. This is what makes DDD one of the best shows on television. It’s good wholesome viewing that truly inspires you, without ever compromising itself in terms of honesty or resorting to gimmicks to keep you interested.

Moving on from the show itself then, I’d like to finish with a few remarks about Guy as a figure, and also how what he’s doing compares to everything else currently on offer.

IV: Guy Fieri v. The World

So we’ve seen so far that Guy Fieri’s show Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives holds a special place on our television screens by delivering great content in a uniquely enjoyable package. But it would be nothing without Guy himself, and everything we’ve said about the show should be seen as being a reflection of how we ought to value him as a figure in the world of cuisine.

Because it’s quickly becoming a crowded marketplace – in the UK especially. Here we have Great British Bake Off and Masterchef being shown every year on the BBC. And there’s also Sunday Brunch and Saturday Morning Kitchen beaming into our living rooms every weekend. Not to mention years of celebrity chef TV shows stretching back decades: Nigel Slater, Delia Smith, Gary Rhodes, Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Heston Blumenthal, and so on. The aim of all of these has been the same: to make cookery popular.

And they’ve had relative success. Jamie Oliver, for example, managed to revolutionise school meals in the UK, and introduce a whole generation to cooking simply by taking a more casual approach to methodology and measurements (“chuck in a dollop of this!”). But how do we measure the success of a celebrity chef, or cookery show? There’s obviously a measure of sheer entertainment value to take into account – but more importantly we need to think about the success they’ve had in bringing cookery to the masses.

In both aspects it is clear that Guy Fieri is a success. From the entertainment standpoint the case is open and shut – we have already demonstrated that Triple-D is a wildly entertaining show. I personally prefer it to anything else on television and happily watch it for hours on end. I can’t say the same for Bake Off or Masterchef – which must speak volumes. But thinking about the primary criteria – bringing cookery to the masses – the case isn’t immediately obviously won. But it still can be.

I believe that via DDD, Guy Fieri has succeeded in brining cookery to the people more successfully than anything else on television. But I make this point extremely carefully. I’m not arguing that every single person who watches it will immediately be inspired to go out and start a burger joint, but rather simply that it does the best  job of making cooking accessible. And most importantly of all, it makes it fun.

To flesh out this point a little more, just compare DDD to any other cooking show. The Great British Bake Off is a great one to pick. It’s extremely popular amongst a certain crowd, and as a baking fan myself it’s often fun to watch how someone is going to tackle a certain flatbread or similar challenge. But it’s in no way as consistently engaging as DDD. We mentioned before how DDD is edited in a way that means you never lose interest with what’s happening on the screen; well, the same unfortunately cannot be said for Bake Off. Watching someone watch an oven door, fretting about whether their bread will rise or collapse, just isn’t compelling to watch. In the five minutes we spend hearing about the history of so-and-so’s baked alaska recipe, Guy Fieri has already introduced, cooked, and tasted a whole meal at a restaurant. It’s a greater volume of content, delivered in a more digestible (no pun intended) format. Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, DDD is making up pliable to the idea of making food ourselves – far more than GBBO ever does.

GBBO also features an off-putting competitive element. The imposing figures of skeleton-lookalike Mary Berry and the suntanned Shrek Paul Hollywood are there only to criticise. The same is true, and worse yet, on Masterchef. All that is great about cooking is brought down by this format, where what has been produced isn’t celebrated for what it is but held up for inspection and criticism. Any flaws become amplified to above and beyond an appropriate extent. A perfectly nice bread loaf on GBBO, for instance, that just happens to have a big of a “soggy bottom” (which will happen if you’re rushing it for a TV show, of course) will have all of its positives overshadowed by the one downer.

This is where Guy Fieri stands out from the crowd. As we have shown already, he only ever focuses on the good in food – almost to the point of deliberate naivety – and in doing so makes cookery a non-threatening experience that we should all want to become involved in.

Conclusion

We have seen then that Guy Fieri is a very different kind of figure to those currently occupying the mainstream in TV cookery. The tendency in most shows nowadays is to go for competition or gimmickry over a genuine appreciation for the act of cooking a tasty meal. Guy Fieri strips that all away and produces shows that appear simplistic, and indeed are simplistic, but in doing so reveal cookery for what it really is. The same honesty that he brings with him via his flamboyant public persona (he really does look and dress like that, that’s genuinely who he is) is carried forward into his attitude towards cookery.

The result is the truest on-screen representation possible of passion and dedication to cookery. And because the format itself is so engaging, we can’t help but love it. Guy unquestionably succeeds in bringing cookery to the masses – the only barrier being that not a lot of people have ever taken the taken the time to actually watch the Food Network channel – let alone Triple-D itself. If they did, I think they’d be pleasantly surprised.

Guy Fieri isn’t just a great celebrity chef. He’s the greatest celebrity chef of all time.

The Year of the David Foster Wallace Tribute

So at the moment I’m reading Infinite Jest. If you haven’t read it already, READ IT NOW. Like, STOP READING THIS AND GO READ INFINITE JEST.

Ok, now that it’s six months later, let’s talk.

September 12th will be the sixth anniversary of David Foster Wallace’s death. As a tribute, I’ve thought up a little writing exercise.

One of my favourite ideas in Infinite Jest is subsidized time. In short, the US tries to make up for a balance of payments deficit by allowing corporations to sponsor years. Yep, it’s incredibly genius and a great example of Wallace predicting a consumer-frenzied future. Really, it’s only a matter of time until this kind of thing starts happening for reals.

So with that in mind, let’s consider what some of those future years might be…

2014: Year of Wendy’s Right Price Right Size Menu
2015: Year of the John Lewis Christmas Ad
2016: Year of the iPhone 8
2017: Year of the 30-Day Spotify Premium Free Trial
2018: Year of the XFINITY Double Pay with X1
2019: Year of the Oreo
2020: Year of the Microsoft Windows Vista Ultimate UPGRADE Limited Numbered Signature Edition
2021: Year of Shrek

I for one welcome our commericalised future.