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The Ultimate Battle of Yours Truly’s Adopted Home Cities

A little over a year ago, I made a choice to throw my life into a major upheaval. After graduating from the prerequisite courses I needed to peruse an education in physical therapy, I decided that I wanted a drastic change of scenery before starting the proper certification program and moved to Seattle. That made Seattle my third city of residence, after Buffalo and Chicago. The adjustment period wasn’t easy, and Seattle proved to be a more closed-off place than I expected, but I managed to get through it, and it’s home now. I’ll be here quite a bit longer no matter what happens.

It’s not making me forget about my other adopted home, though, by which I mean Chicago. (I’m a native of Buffalo; therefore, it doesn’t count.) That’s not because of some ill grudge I’m holding against Seattle, however. It’s because of the conditions under which I was forced to leave Chicago, which leave it as a sort of question mark. I had a life there which I had to leave in a sudden fashion. If it weren’t for social media, no one there would have known I left, or what happened that I had to leave. It’s also because of how much living there changed me. It blew my mind open and awakened me to my own potential as a person, setting me off in a few directions that I hope to continue walking while in Seattle. Also, a lot of the friends I made in Chicago had regular runs to and from Seattle. They had friends and contacts here, and a few made regular visits. Naturally, I decided that warranted an entry in my Ultimate Battle series: The Windy City against Rain City. The Second City against The Emerald City. So let’s do this! Chicago vs. Seattle. One day, I’ll learn.

City Layout
The first thing you notice about both Chicago and Seattle is that both of them use directions to designate their street layouts. Every street in Chicago will be either north, south, east, or west. The point where the directions change confuses me, though; at least in the way that the east/west axis doesn’t make any damn sense. State Street is the dividing line between east and west, which is weird because the placement of State Street limits the east side. The east is fairly prominent if you’re on the South Side, but as you go north, it starts to get blocked by Lake Michigan. The east addresses start to limit themselves to double digits, and when you get up to Lincoln Park, State Street stops and there are no more addresses on the east. Despite this, though, Chicago’s layout is a logical grid, and although a few diagonal streets there can throw you off, it’s pretty easy to navigate and to pick a street you know and follow it down to the end. Seattle uses a fairly simple pattern of numbered streets: 1st Street is the one closest to Puget Sound, and they progress numerically. Unfortunately, Seattle sits on a thin little strip of land between Puget Sound and Lake Washington and gets interrupted by Lake Union, and instead of just building around them, they all got in on the layout and have a habit of tripping things up just when you think you’re starting to understand the pattern. If you’re on the western half of Seattle and try to head north, you’re in for a treat. West Seattle is cut off by Puget Sound the same way Lake Michigan leaves Chicago’s east side. Then when you make your directional adjustment and go through downtown Seattle, the whole grid makes a sudden shift to the northwest when you reach Denny Way. And when you throw in the fact that there are streets with north, south, east, west, northwest, northeast, southwest, and southeast designations that otherwise have nothing in common with each other, you’re defining the street layout in Seattle as “a mess.”
Winner
Chicago. And it doesn’t help Seattle’s case any that no one there seems to know how to build a bridge. The number of bridges connecting popular northern neighborhoods like Fremont and Ballard to the business districts is limited and part of the reason traffic there can trip you up at midnight. In Chicago, the bridges crossing the Chicago River are nothing more than extensions of the street – you pick the street you’re looking for and drive into the sunset.

Transit
If you don’t like ferrying yourself back and forth, a good transit system is necessary to a city’s infrastructure. Although widely derided within the city limits, the Chicago Transit Authority – the CTA – usually comes through in spades. Consisting of an expansive bus network and a very good subway called the L – which has the unique quality that most of it is perched two levels over the ground instead of under it – the CTA has its problems, but it’s usually there when you need it. Nothing related to the CTA stops running, although they run with less frequency during lower travel hours. During peak hours, you’ll never worry about missing your bus or train because they come by so often that seeing one go by only means you have to wait ten minutes for the next one. The CTA is augmented by a commuter train network called Metra, which sends trains hourly to and from suburbs both close and distant. If you’re going into a near suburb, there’s a separate bus network called Pace which can help you around, but Pace is far from reliable. It runs only a few routes that don’t start to cover places you may need to get to. Seattle enjoys, well, I’m not sure what services are there. It’s not because I don’t know or have little experience using them, but because there are so damn many of them. There’s SoundTransit, which runs inter county buses, a lightrail called the Link, and a commuter train called the Sounder. There’s King County Metro, which is the bus system all to Seattle… And someone there also runs a streetcar system (which has two lines), a speed bus system called Rapidride, and a trolley system which is really comprised of electric buses. The advantage of Seattle’s transit system is that there’s a significant range which stretches into the local suburbs, which include more independent networks going in Snohomish and Skagit and Pierce counties. They’re not as effective as they could be, but they work, and they give people in those places a rung into Seattle. They’re also working together to simplify travel between those places, so they’re at least not as confusing as it seems. Seattle’s iconic Monorail doesn’t have anything to do with any of them – it’s a tourist trap used to get visitors in a time crunch between Westlake Park and Seattle Center quickly.
Winner
Chicago. Despite having eleventy billion public transit networks, there’s a reason Seattle’s traffic is so harsh: It’s because everyone who lives in the area knows you’re pretty much sunk if you don’t own a car. After years of being a holdout radical, I’ve decided to finally bite the bullet myself and get one. If you’re using the inter county buses, they have limited hours, and those hours are stupid. The SoundTransit doesn’t give a shit about you if you’re trying to go anywhere at noon; you’ll have to wait until the evening to get to Snohomish county. There’s a cute nickname for anyone living anywhere in Everett where the closest bus line is one of the circulators: “Walker.” The Sounder is next to useless. It goes all the way down to Tacoma. Are you planning to use it for a weekend trip to a Tacoma Dome concert or a Rainiers game? No you’re not – trust me on that.

Architecture
One of the important things to remember about architecture is that cities in the eastern and western United States are defined by different styles. There’s a lot more neoclassical architecture in Chicago and cities like Chicago. The west tends to favor more glass and steel superstructures. Although there’s no avoiding the neoclassical buildings in Chicago, the city uses a wide mix of architectural styles. Its tallest building, the Sears Tower, is done in what’s called the international style – a style identified by its square shape, grid-like windows, and facade angles of 90 degrees. Neoclassical shows up in Tribune Tower and the Wrigley Building. Merchandise Mart combines three building types: The skyscraper, the warehouse, and the department store. The John Hancock Tower is an example of structural expressionism. The architects that have graced Chicago include luminaries like Louis Sullivan, Frank Lloyd Wright, Fazlur Rahman Khan, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. The crown jewel of Seattle’s skyline would be the Space Needle, an observation tower with a rotating restaurant that was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Seattle also has numerous styles – its well-known Smith Building was once the tallest building on the west coast, and it’s a neoclassical structure. Seattle’s architects have included greats like Frank Gehry, Lawrence Halprin, and the architect of the new library, Rem Koolhaas. Seattle’s architecture has a way of blending into the rest of the city without a problem, while Chicago’s buildings look like they’re trying to fight each other for attention.
Winner
Chicago. I love and respect most of the architecture I see in Seattle, but there are two factors deciding this for me: One is that there is an entire school of architecture named for Chicago, which is frequently called commercial style. Commercial style has managed to spread out of Chicago and found itself in Australia and New Zealand. The other is the nasty wave of gentrification in Seattle turning decent neighborhoods into Tetris block structures, which is a clunky, unseemly, and very unpleasant way to look no matter where it is.

Food
Chicago has one of the most famous food scenes in the world. The people there aren’t the pickiest eaters, but Chicago cuisine involves staples like the Chicago-style hot dog, Italian beef, and deep dish pizza. Although you can find pretty much any kind of food in Chicago, those three stand out as Chicago’s edible exports to the entire world. The pizza stands out – it’s not in everyone’s taste, but it’s known for being almost cake-like in its depth. If you’re curious about it, you can flag down Uno’s, which was founded in Chicago and brought it out on the national level both in restaurants and frozen foods. The hot dog has turned Chicago into a city of snobs who are almost cultish in their devotion – the bun needs poppy seeds, and the hot dog needs to be Vienna beef before they’ll talk to you. But Chicago is also home to the most famous hamburger in the world – McDonald’s is headquartered in Oak Brook, and the corporation has designs on moving into Chicago proper soon. I know that’s barely an argument, but Chicago also has the inarguable burgers served by the famous Billy Goat Tavern, a local chain which grills burgers plain and lets you dress them however you see fit. Seattle is a city that still holds strong to its marine heritage, and that means its food icons were all pulled out of the ocean not too long ago. Fish and chips with tartar sauce, lemon, and ketchup are a common dish. Salmon is a signature of all people in the city, whether they’re decorating it with caviar or cooking it at a backyard barbecue. Smoked, grilled, or turned into chowder, salmon is something that’s going down your gullet at some point. If it’s a quick fix you’re looking for, you can find Asian food everywhere. The argument then turns into what kind of Asian food you’re after. Teriyaki or pho? Also, Seattle is one of the world’s leading producers and sellers of chocolate.
Winner
Chicago. I give Seattle a lot of credit for having healthier options overall, but all those seafoods tend to strain the account after awhile. Also, Chicago’s foods are more versatile (except the food snobs’ fucking hot dogs); they can be cooked in more ways, include different kinds of ingredients and toppings, and leave more room for experimentation. Yes, Seattle’s chocolate is an enormous strength, but if a decent chef in Chicago gets ahold of the right stuff, you can bet your ass they’ll find a way to cook it into a pizza.

Drinks
Chicago’s reputation for liquid nourishment comes from two sources: Intelligentsia coffee and Goose Island beer. You’re not going to find very many detractors of either brand. Goose Island brews 312, a signature beer they named for Chicago’s area code. Frankly, there’s not a weak spot in Goose Island’s beer lineup, and most of their stuff is comparable – and even preferable – to other popular microbrews, including Ohio’s beloved Great Lakes. Intelligentsia was founded in Chicago in 1995, and it spread out to locations on both coasts since then. Of course, those locations are New York City and Los Angeles. Although it’s pretty hard to place anything official on a review of Intelligentsia, their coffee is generally held in high regard. As for Seattle, it can counter Goose Island with, well… Microbrews. Dozens of them, if not hundreds. I haven’t found a defining Seattle brew since I moved to the northwest, but I think that’s because the city is renowned as one of the microbrew capitols of the United States, and people can argue about their favorites the same way they argue about their favorite teriyaki joints. As for coffee, Seattle has, you know, Starbucks! Around Seattle, Starbucks is known as the coffee everyone loves but are ashamed to admit it. Starbucks is basically the coffee god, which you can say about a chain with over 23,000 locations everywhere in the world. For those who not only claim to hate Starbucks but attempt to act on that hate and avoid it (HA!), they have to contend with Seattle’s Best, a subsidiary of guess who! Starbucks! And Seattle’s Best has also managed to penetrate Burger King, Delta Airlines, and Borders back when that was a thing. If you’re trying to avoid Starbucks, there’s also Tully’s, a chain which was started in Seattle and is now trickling into prominent cities in the western United States.
Winner
Seattle. Chicago never stood a chance here. The biggest statement to Seattle’s power here is that you don’t find many people in Chicago going out of their way to get to an Intelligentsia bar if there’s a nearby Starbucks… And Starbucks has a presence in Chicago which is almost as ubiquitous as it is in Seattle. While Goose Island seems to have designs on becoming a go-to brew on a national level the way Samuel Adams has, it still has to compete with Samuel Adams, and don’t think for a second that it’s ever going to catch on in Seattle.

People
I trust everyone reading this is familiar with the classic Chicagoan stereotype: Tough, takes no shit, but friendly in a midwestern way and able to ward off the most epic bad weather there is. Yep, it’s a long-running narrative, and there’s a good reason for that: It’s because it’s pushed endlessly by overgrown frat megadouchebros who graduated from Big 10 schools and used their lineage and connections to grab six-figure jobs immediately. You see them in Chicago all the time, even though they’re concentrated around Lincoln Park and Wrigleyville. The tough person angle gets pushed because those are the guys running the Sun-Times and the Tribune, and writing Redeye, the city’s most prominent free rag. Seattle has an image attached to its people as well: Friendly, but a little bit standoffish and hard to crack. But educated. There’s a good case to be made that Seattleites really are like that, but if you walk up to any random person and end up striking up a few words, they can be pretty chirpy as well. And while there aren’t any weather stereotypes that go with Seattle’s residents, let me say this: I’ve never seen people more resilient to a straight-up drenching. They may not run around announcing their waterproofing to the rest of the world, but why should they? You, the transplant, knew the city was rainy when you moved here. If you’re not willing to learn how to deal with it, tough shit.
Winner
Seattle. There’s no gentile way to say this: Chicago’s people are just dicks. Despite everything you hear about their national reputation, they get so caught up in trying to act HARD that it can be difficult to get straight answers out of people you don’t know. And that’s all the hardness is: An act. Stand your ground against any of those posers and they’ll back down. If they try to start a scuffle, get in their faces and watch them run. The weather toughness is bullshit as well; ten inches of snow and these people buy out the grocery stores before locking themselves up for the next month. Chicago would let itself get invaded by an army of hipsters. It was two or three years before people stopped trying to impress me with how tough and broad-shouldered and cold-weathered Chicago was. When they did, they fell back on the old excuse that hey, they’re sure it’s nothing compared to Buffalo. Which it isn’t, so they better drop the fucking act and stop bragging about their toughness or they need to start fucking backing it up! I don’t pretend Seattle’s people are flawless, but they do know how they are, don’t delude themselves into thinking otherwise, and make the effort to improve.

Weather
Let me clear up a couple of things: First, Chicago’s brutal winters are old hat to anyone who has ever spent any considerable length of time living in a cold weather area. Seattle’s rain is manageable because so much of it comes in droplets, sprinkles, and mist rather than the all-out downpours we northeasterners have come to associate with the wet stuff. That being said, both cities have their reputations for good reason. It gets cold in Chicago and rainy in Seattle. Both places brag about their summers, though, but it’s only Seattle that really gives its people reason to do so; Chicago’s summers are steam baths, and unlike Buffalo, it doesn’t have the Lake Effect there to air condition the city when the harsher summer elements set in. The jet stream blows to the east, and Chicago is situated on the west side of Lake Michigan, so the cool breezes that prevent Buffalo from becoming a sauna are nowhere to be found in Chicago. Seattle’s weak season is the winter, which is the rainy season. Winters in Seattle can bring rain every day for weeks, to the extent that meteorologists talk about Sun Breaks. But the corollary is that Seattle’s climate is pretty temperate for most of the year. There’s none of the incredible extremes that regularly terrorize Chicago. And for a rainy city, there’s surprisingly little humidity.
Winner
Seattle. The rain can barely be called rain, and between that and the moderate climate, it makes for yearlong bicycling weather. It helps that when Seattle isn’t raining, the weather is the next best thing to perfect.

Sports
Okay, let me be clear about something here: When I say sports, I don’t mean the number of teams or championships won by the area. I mean knowledgeability and reaction to the local sports teams. Chicago has teams in all of the big four, plus MLS, and they’re one of two (three if you count Los Angeles) cities with two baseball teams. With the Cubs’ World Series victory, every team in Chicago has won at least one title during my lifetime, and they’ve all racked up respectable totals: The Bears have nine titles – one Super Bowl – which is good for the second-most in the NFL; the Bulls have six, which is better than all but two teams in the NBA; the Blackhawks add another six, tied for fourth-best in the NHL; and the White Sox and Cubs both have three, the third of which came for both after extended droughts. We can add an extra if we want to count the titles the Arizona Cardinals won when they were still Chicago’s team. Of course, the big question is more: Are the fans aware of all that? Well, during the time I lived in Chicago, I received more unwanted information about the 1985 Bears than about the current Bears, or any Bears for that matter. They think 1985 is still the trump card in a bar argument. The Blackhawks spent the last six seasons fielding what advanced stats proved is one of the greatest dynasties in NHL history, but before the 2010 Stanley Cup victory that kicked it off, people forgot the Hawks existed at all, and I’m not saying that as a colloquialism; I wore Blackhawks gear around the city during the last couple of bad years, and people constantly asked me what happened to the team. There was a large chunk of fans who thought they moved, and many other people thought the city’s AHL team, the Wolves, was the primary team in the city. To their credit, though, Chicago’s baseball fans are the best I’ve ever seen. Seattle has teams in two of the big four, plus an MLS team. The more dominant team of them is the NFL’s Seahawks; they’ve visited three Super Bowls, winning one with the most dominant defense since the 1985 Bears. They’ve also been robbed of a storied NBA team which had also been a champion at one point. Their MLB team is the Mariners, who have a large group of core diehards and a contingent of foreign fans due to their willingness to sign Japanese players. The MLS team, the Sounders, is one of the league’s most popular teams, and Seattle is also familiar with its sports history: There are fans who still wear Sonics gear, and I’ve even seen a Metropolitans shirt or two. The Seattle Metropolitans were the first American hockey team to win the Stanley Cup before folding sometime in the 1920’s. But that doesn’t mean the people of Seattle have forgotten their hockey history. This is a hockey city that just happens to not have a team.
Winner
Seattle. Big sports fans is another one of those megadouchebro-fueled myths that started with the frat people running the Chicago media and got around the country. While Chicago’s baseball fan base is unquestionably one of the best in the country, they don’t make up for Chicago’s “fan” missteps: They know nothing of football at all outside the ’85 Bears. They literally forgot they had an NHL team. I guarantee the dumbasses writing for Redeye have discounted the 2016 Golden State Warriors from any discussion because their 73-9 team lost the Finals while Chicago’s 72-10 team won the title. In Seattle, no one forgot the Seahawks’ 2014 title against Denver, and they know their team well enough to take on any Bears fan, but have already put that behind them to enjoy some of the best football in the league waiting for the next one. Seattle hasn’t had a major league hockey team since the 1920’s, but there are hockey fans in Seattle and they recognize my Nordiques and Whalers logos when I wear them; both of those teams have been defunct for at least 20 years. In short, Seattle’s fans may not have Chicago’s exposure or accolades, but they know about and appreciate what they’ve got.

Accompanying Body of Water
Chicago, of course, has Lake Michigan. Lake Michigan is one of the Great Lakes, which – if you can believe this – is the largest collection of freshwater bodies in the world. Back when the Rust Belt was the undisputed trading route of the country, Chicago was the largest city on the Lakes, and so a lot of ships have come in and out of Chicago, and there are even a few famous shipwrecks at the bottom of the lake. Seattle is located on the eastern bank of Puget Sound, an inlet of the Salish Sea that eventually opens up into the Pacific Ocean. Given Seattle’s location in the northwest, that location made Seattle an ideal transportation hub and port. The mariner culture which grew up around and in Seattle is still prevalent.
Winner
Seattle. It’s clear that the culture of sailing had far more of an influence on Seattle than on Chicago. Puget Sound also has a much more direct route to the ocean. A ship on Lake Michigan has to go east through the other Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence Seaway, so there are limits on the kinds of ships that can get there. That means Seattle has also hosted a wider variety of ships than Chicago – Puget Sound has had Nimitz-style aircraft carriers dock, and those are ships the Great Lakes are too shallow to let pass. You may make the argument that since Lake Michigan is freshwater and Puget Sound is saltwater, you can drink the water in Lake Michigan. As someone who’s spent most of his life so far in Freshwater Nation, I don’t buy it. Chicago’s location and history mean Lake Michigan spent decades as an industrial hub which shamelessly polluted the water with every chemical known to man. It wasn’t until less than ten years ago that fisherman were given the all-clear to actually eat the fish they caught in any of the Great Lakes, and even now, you’re an idiot if you actually try to do that.

Popular Culture
Here’s the question of how well Chicago and Seattle have been represented in popular culture. Chicago has a huge early start here, since most of the population of the country was scattered throughout the northeast and northern midwest back at the start of the 20th century, and Chicago – after having been burned to a crisp during the 1870’s – grabbed its spot as the second-largest city in the country and didn’t let it go until Los Angeles pulled itself into second during the 80’s. Not that Chicago lost very much – it’s still firmly in third, which means that anything on a worldwide tour WILL make it there. That means Chicago is a place which has had a good century and a half to capture the imaginations of producers and entertainers everywhere. First, there’s no getting around Chicago’s comedy scene, especially if you want to specialize in sketch or improv; you’ll pass through Chicago at some point before a decent troupe even considers you. Sketch and improv are to Chicago what theater and music are in New York City or screen entertainment is in Los Angeles. The list of musicians who have written songs glorifying Chicago is long and includes heavyweights like Django Reinhardt, Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Wilco, Common, Elvis Presley, Weird Al Yankovic, Brian Wilson, Buddy Guy, The Doors, and Frank Zappa. Books set there include The Razor’s Edge, The Time-Traveler’s Wife, and Upton Sinclair’s law-changing classic The Jungle. Plays include American Buffalo, A Raisin in the Sun, and Glengarry Glen Ross. Films are too numerous to even begin to cover, but include classics like Ordinary People, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, High Fidelity, The Fugitive, The Blues Brothers, Eight Men Out, A League of Their Own, Risky Business, and almost everything John Hughes had anything to do with. TV shows set in Chicago include The Bob Newhart Show, Chicago Hope, Early Edition, ER, Family Matters, Married… With Children, Perfect Strangers, and The Untouchables. Seattle hasn’t gotten the attention going back that far; right until the 60’s, all Seattle had to draw attention to itself was Boeing. Attention was pretty slow to find Seattle, and the remains of the old industrial identity are still all over the place. But during the second half of the last century, Seattle started getting more people until it began to boom. The cultural tributes to Seattle aren’t even close to what they are with Chicago, but there’s some definite quality to it. Songs about Seattle include Arthur O. Dillon’s “Seattle the Peerless City,” which is the city’s official song. It was written in 1909. After that, save a couple of odd time signature appearances in the 70’s and 80’s, Seattle falls off the map until – yeah, you guessed it – the 90’s. At that point, the music scene exploded, and Seattle found itself with numerous songs shouting out to it by the Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Macklemore, Sir Mix-A-Lot, Queensryche, Harvey Danger, Duff McKagan, Soundgarden, and Marcy Playground. Sherman Alexie emerged as a popular literary voice for places all over Washington, including Seattle. The list of movies set in Seattle is long and very respectable. It includes Singles, Sleepless in Seattle, 10 Things I Hate About You, The Ring, Wargames, Say Anything, The Fabulous Baker Boys, and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle. TV Shows include Frasier, The 4400, Millennium, Reaper, Six Feet Under, Twin Peaks, and Weeds.
Winner
Chicago. Come on, even if Chicago’s insane head start was factored out, it’s still going to swamp Seattle. Although Seattle’s music scene is a who’s who that can fight blow for blow with anyone – for god’s sake, Ray Charles and Jimi Hendrix came out of Seattle before it was cool – there are surprisingly few songs ABOUT Seattle. Seattle isn’t a referential must or a place comics move to hone their skills in anything, while the influence of Chicago’s comedy is apparent in almost every variety and sketch comedy on the air. I couldn’t find any live theater set in Seattle; they NAMED a whole musical after Chicago. (Even if it was a lousy musical.) The most important book set in Chicago changed food regulations to make sure corporate greed didn’t make us sick. True, Seattle’s TV settings are damn good – Frasier remains one of the best and best-aged sitcoms there is and one of the few real adult sitcoms ever made; Reaper was an experiment with an edge that was popular on the WB when it was here but which wider audiences just weren’t ready for; Six Feet Under and Weeds were popular everywhere; and Twin Peaks is a beloved cult classic which there are constant rumors of a revival of. Chicago’s TV shows were popular, but a lot of them were popcorn schmaltz – Miller/Boyett liked to set sitcoms there. But even if we cut off Chicago before 1962 – which is the year of Seattle’s World’s Fair, which was sort of the city’s coming out when the Monorail and Space Needle opened – Seattle is still getting washed out.

Landmarks
Neither city is lacking here. Chicago has the Sears Tower, the tallest building in the country (yes, it’s called the Sears Tower, and no, a panel of New York City-connected architects handing its title to Freedom Tower doesn’t change how tall it is), and Seattle has the Space Needle. Chicago has the John Hancock Tower, Seattle has the Smith Building, which was the tallest building on the west coast for decades. Seattle has the Monorail, Seattle Center, and Pike Place Market while Chicago has Lincoln Park… You know what?
Winner
Fuck it, this one is a tie. I’ll let Seattleites defend their landmarks and Chicagoans whine about how I didn’t give this to them all they want, but this really is one of those fanboy things. Both cities stand out.

Bicycling
Bicycling has been making a hard charge to establish itself as a viable form of transportation in recent years. That means cities have been racing – okay, well, more or less, anyway, in Buffalo it’s WAY less – to set up a workable infrastructure for cyclists. Chicago activated a plan a couple of years ago to set up a citywide network of bicycle paths, and progress so far is pretty good – I spotted traffic lights during my last trip to Chicago which were there strictly for bicycle traffic. But that’s nothing compared to Seattle, which already has every possible line painted on its streets and every possible trail set up for bicycling back and forth. Of course, if civil rights can teach you anything, it’s that even if the laws change, the people don’t necessarily go along with them without kicking and screaming. Especially in Chicago, where the people specialize in kicking and screaming. While I was living in Chicago, the city barely did anything to adapt to cyclists beyond painting a few lines on the side of the road. Bicycle lanes still don’t exist for a lot of streets, including the most prominent street in the city, which is Western Avenue. I’ve already noted that the people in Chicago are whiny little assholes about a lot of things, and cycling is one of them. Pedestrians still don’t look around when flinging open car doors. If the need should arise to get onto the sidewalk – and it will – don’t be surprised by physical assault. Yes, there’s the Lake Shore bicycle path, but that’s pretty well out of the way, and the floating trail which cuts through Wicker Park isn’t that long. Seattle, of course, is in the place that spearheaded the return of bicycling – the pacific northwest. It shows, too – trails and lanes are a dime a dozen around the city, and they’re pretty much everywhere in the park system. Despite the difference in terrain – Chicago is flat while Seattle is replete with spectacular hills and inclines – Seattle has managed to normalize bicycling to such an extent that Seattleites had to come back around from the other direction to make it niche again: The Naked Bicycle Ride was created in Fremont! Yes, there is a share of people who hate cycling in Seattle too, and no doubt there are those who like to assault cyclists, but Seattle as a whole is recognized as one of the best cities in the United States to commute by bicycle.
Winner
Seattle. Chicago isn’t outwardly hostile toward bicyclists, but its been playing a huge game of Follow the Leader. There isn’t anything Chicago has done yet that wasn’t done – and likely done better – in other bicycle-friendly cities already. The fact that it took Rahm Emanuel to sign the current bicycle plan into law should tell you just how far Chicago is behind its contemporaries.

Destructive Historical Fire
Because a good city should have a good comeback story, okay? Chicago’s fire ran from nine at night on October 8, 1871 to October 10. If you’ve ever been to Chicago, you already know the tale of Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow, but for those outside the Chicago bubble, here’s the story. Or the sentence, rather: The was a family called O’Leary. The Wife, Catherine, owned a cow. The cow kicked over a lamp and the fire spread out of control. That’s the popular tale, anyway. Another version blames a group of gamblers who happened to be using James O’Leary’s barn. The most common cause is probably related to a bunch of other fires that were going on in the midwest that day, but the truth is that no one ever determined who or what started the fire. What we do know is that the popular building material in Chicago at the time was wood. Held together with tar. During an unusually dry summer. In trying to control the fire, watchman Matthias Schaffer sent the department to the wrong place, and the fire destroyed damn near everything in Chicago, killing 300 and leaving 100,000 people homeless. But in stunning contrast to the way the people of Chicago today would have reacted to such a disaster – they would kick, whine, and scream about never becoming a world-class city LIKE NEW YORK CITY before spreading to places in Illinois, Missouri, and Wisconsin and leaving the remains to rot – Chicagoans back then WERE tough. I like to imagine two Chicagoans looking at each other in the ashes. One asks, “Well, what now?” The other replies, “Get some tools and start buildin’.” The way Chicago built itself back from the dead is the reason it’s called The Second City. Only five structures from then are still up: St. Ignatius College Prep, St. Michael’s Church, the Chicago Water Tower, Chicago Avenue Pumping Station, and a cottage at 2121 North Hudson. Seattle’s fire happened on June 6, 1889. Seattle was going through an unusually dry summer – not that rain would have helped, because the rain would only have spread out the thin turpentine all over the floor when the fire started. See, the fire was started by an assistant named John Black at the woodworking business of one Victor Clairmont in Pioneer Square. Black was trying to heat glue over a gas fire, but the glue boiled over, caught fire, and spread all over the turpentine and wood chips strewn about the floor. Seattle’s fire department did get there on time, but there was so much smoke that no one could find the source of the fire. So the fire was free to spread to a nearby liquor store, which of course blew the fuck up, which presumably helped spread the fire to… At least two saloons. The booze fire quickly wrecked an entire block. Attempts to fight the fire were inadvertently thwarted by Seattle’s own sewer system, because the pipes back then were made of wood. You can guess how that went. An attempt to stop the fire by blowing up a block went wrong when the fire skipped that block. After burning for two hours, everyone knew downtown Seattle was going to be a weird rumor very soon. Smoke was visible from Tacoma. The fire finally fettered out at three in the morning, and by then, 120 acres of Seattle were ash. Although thousands of people were displaced, damage was between $8 million and $20 million, and 5000 workers now had to find new jobs, the actual loss of life was apparently pretty low. But like Chicago, no one spent too long complaining. Not only did Seattle rebuild, the people also raised the street levels by 22 feet. In the year right after the fire, the population doubled, which made Seattle the largest city in Washington and a leading contender in being the terminus of the Great Northern Railway.
Winner
Both of these are awesome stories, but I’m giving the edge to Chicago. For one thing, it’s really cool that there are tours of the underground which take people through old Seattle from before the fire. But one of the remaining structures of old Chicago, the Water Tower, has become one of the city’s civic icons, and so it sits perched in a prime sightseeing area right at the northern end of Michigan Avenue. Also, we know the exact cause and trajectory of the Seattle Fire. We don’t have nearly as much info about the Chicago Fire, and there’s just something about that which screams CHICAGO! Perhaps it’s the fact that no one ever found the real culprit, and that the reporter who wrote the story – a fellow by the name of Michael Ahern – admitted in 1893 that he pulled the O’Leary’s cow out of his ass just to find a reason to bitch about the Irish. While the family was never charged with anything, the poor cow was so entrenched in local mythology that the city took the ridiculous step of exonerating the O’Learys and the cow in 1997. But the myth still lives on to such a point that the Chicago Fire Academy is located at its start (speculated) starting point. Besides, the Chicago Fire did more damage to its city. The four square miles it destroyed was pretty much all of Chicago.

Okay, this one is getting a bit too epic even for my tastes. We have a tie at six apiece with one draw, and I don’t want to be bothered anymore with trying to get one of these cities to lose this thing. If anything, I think I’ve sufficiently proved that no matter how many other ways you can think of to measure these two cities against each other, neither is a loser. Although I do have one note to give to one of them:

Chicago, stop whining. NO ONE finds your inferiority complex with New York City endearing.

The 2016 Extinct List

The 2016 Extinct List

And so, after a year off so I could relocate and get settled, it’s time to start writing my annual shit list again. Yes, I know this is something I would ordinarily save until the proper time – that being December – but 2016 has been unique in how rotten it was. (Besides, I always wrote these at the beginning of the year anyway until now. From now on, it goes properly near the end of the year so no one gets confused. Especially me.) All the early Christmas shit is driving me crazy, but if anything can serve to hasten its arrival and signal the end of the year, I’m all for it. Hence, I’m doing this a little bit earlier this year in the hope that there’s going to be some weird Back to the Future Part II timeline split. Why not? The Chicago Cubs just won the World Series, after all. If you’ve seen Back to the Future Part II, you know that Marty McFly took a trip to the year 2015 and saw a headline where the Cubs won the Series. Michael J. Fox, who played Marty McFly, tweeted after the Fall Classic this year that the movie was only off by a year. (“Not bad!” he said. Of course, in the movie the Cubs beat Miami for the title; there wasn’t a team in Miami when the movie was made, and even though there is now, they won’t play against each other in the World Series because they’re both National League teams.)

So today, my list of little things that drive us all nuts through our everyday lives. These aren’t necessarily big problems, but they’re the things you get exposed to often enough that they get under your skin, no matter where you live. That means they tend to hit home on a more primal level and have an existing probability of creating a version of you that wanders out into the world and starts creating the bigger problems.

The Simpsons
It’s over. Done. Kaput. With any long-running show, you’re going to get a few bad episodes, and there are reasons for that: Writers lose interest in a story, draw out the quirkier aspects of their formerly well-rounded characters, get Writer’s Block, fly off into segues, or have an idea fly off in a direction they didn’t see before. But The Simpsons raised this into an art form DECADES ago, and I’m being literal when I say “decades.” It doesn’t help that, since The Simpsons is an animated show, the characters don’t grow, mature, or age, and the revolving door of writers has to keep up with the changing youth culture. What does that mean? That The Simpsons hasn’t been good in a long time. I don’t know how the show keeps lurching on by now. There’s no way around it: The Simpsons is so far past its fresh date that it has turned into craptacular show in the overall picture that just happened to start with a few good seasons. You can’t bring seasons two through eight to the forefront as a case for what The Simpsons can do anymore because those were seven seasons out of well over 20, and they get swamped by everything else. You can watch a daylong marathon of The Simpsons and not stumble into one of the show’s classic episodes. It’s time that someone hit Matt Groening over the head with a hammer a few times. Anything to get this shitshow off the air.

Travel Food
You do realize there are places that hold food licenses from professionals, right? Your favorite means of travel don’t seem to be one of them. Freeze-dried quick-heater snacks seem to be the order of the day while you’re on the road, and all of it is overpriced. The more you eat while traveling on a train or plane, the more you start to think the food available there has one purpose: To keep you awake so they can get you off the vehicle in a hurry once you’re wherever you’re going. This is the kind of food that gets in and out quickly. Most, if not all, of it is staleWhen it gets heated, it’s not for the warmth; it’s to make it soft so you can chew it. Once it’s warm, you then have a limited window to get it into your body before it goes from soft and chewy enough to be edible to being tooth-breaking again. Most travel places also offer a grab bag of junk food which is also wildly overpriced, but it’s probably better to go with that anyway because at least you have a better idea of where it came from.

The United States Flag Code
You know all those little rules you think you know about how to respect the flag of the United States? Yeah, someone sat down, thought about, and then had the spare time to write that shit up and have it edited and published. And now, when you’re not wearing the flag – which is a direct violation of the Flag Code – you revere it and treat it like you would your third kid. The fucking Flag Code has come to mean so much that you have the most powerful professional sports league in the country trying to feed us the idea that a kneeling quarterback is the reason why its ratings are down. You know this story: A quarterback doesn’t like the way his people are being treated, and so he rebelled by practicing his right as a patriotic American to not perform a meaningless gesture at a time when a piece of cloth is being waved. This says something about us. None of us stopped watching football when the NFL was lenient in cases of spousal and child abuse. Guy beats his wife, he gets a two-game suspension from the league and the fans don’t give a shit. A player beats his kid, and the league didn’t do anything – it was his team that took action, by suspending him for one game. We keep watching football and don’t mind. A quarterback takes a knee and NOW we want to forget the NFL? You do realize those flags are made in China, right?

Quentin Tarantino Imitators
God love his movies, but as says the mythology of Highlander, there can be only one. The problem with redefining filmmaking is that it can spawn a glut of imitators, and Tarantino’s imitators have always been on the egregious side. Your script isn’t good or imaginative just because you’re taking the time to place all the emphasis on every curse word and forbidden slur and anatomical term on the planet. Your movie isn’t cool just because you’re wrecking the structure on purpose. Placing a few funk tunes here and there isn’t going to spark a style revolution. If you want to enter the world of independent movies, you have to understand a couple of things about Quentin Tarantino: First, his movies in the 90’s worked because he was able to create a style from merging foreign directors which placed punctuation in every scene and every shot. Second, his style works because of a merging of factors which Tarantino happens to be good at. The style of his 90’s movies never went away. Even though he moved beyond his 90’s movies to create more period, epic work, he still sticks his own trademarks into his movies and they work just fine for him. If you’re trying to imitate him, that’s what you’re going to look like: An imitator.

Air Pockets on Painting Surfaces
These things can drive you crazy if you’re ever done any construction or decorative painting. The paint you’re using for the job has to get all over everything and into every nook, because if it doesn’t, you’re going to end up with a series of little tiny dots all over your new surface. Getting everything entails spraining your hand and your wrist in order to make sure your paint of choice gets into everything so the surface looks covered, and the next thing you know, you now have carpal tunnel syndrome without ever having touched a keyboard and you’re soaking your hand in a bowl of ice. You would think that with all the modern technology we have, it would be possible to get a perfectly flat surface without any of those annoying little pockets, but nope. Or a paint that could get into those pockets without you having to press your hand against the surface so hard that you’re practically drilling into it.

Automatic Spell Correction on Computers
If you write a lot, this is something that can drive you crazy. If you spell a word wrong, it automatically corrects the word you misspelled. It seems like a great idea, right? The problem is, the people who program these things don’t get every word in the language. They don’t get every slang word in the language, which is a bigger problem when you realize how much your writing style depends on slang and made-up words in order to make it pop. Worse are those times wen you don’t know how to spell the word you’re trying to use. You type it in, expecting the computer to get at it and correct it right off the bat, and you know you don’t have it right, and the computer properly calls you on it. Yet, it doesn’t correct you – it only points out that you got it wrong. But when you go back and start trying to type in every possible alternate spelling, the computer still points out the error rather than just correcting it because it can’t figure out what you’re getting at, no matter how common the word is.

Daylight Savings Time
There’s no use in trying to save energy by kicking the clock back an hour once a year anymore. The way we use energy has changed too much since those days, and the only thing daylight savings is worth these days is an hour of lost sleep. So why do we still do it? I guess that’s because somewhere along the line, it became a tradition, and since people are a bunch of fucking sheep, we stopped questioning tradition and just assume they’re right and that things have always been this way. The main thing I want to know is that, since daylight savings was created during World War I as a way to save energy, how the hell was it not outlawed the second the war was over? Who did all the governments that adopted it think they were saving energy for?

Tribute Records
There’s only one reason these things are floating around: Money. Tribute records are a bad idea by their very nature. Think about it: You take a legendary rock back that hasn’t done anything in awhile and probably lost a few key members to a decades-long cocaine binge. Then you take of bunch of cool singers and bands du jour who everyone knows now – talent optional – and get them to sing the old rock band’s tunes, which you then compile and toss together on some ridiculous compilation CD. The first thing to object to on these things is obvious: Exploitation of the band itself. The second is also obvious: Exploitation of a group of fans which is probably too smart to fall for the trick. The third is with the songs themselves. All of the songs from the original band were meant to be performed in a certain tone to convey a particular meaning. A song that goes into immortality is remembered because of the way it’s performed as much for just the music and lyrics. And when you’re making a record that strictly sounds like the original, a lot of that gets lost. Yes, there are successful covers of songs, but when a good cover works, it’s because the new artist found a meaning hidden in the original that opened up a new way of hearing it – think Bob Dylan throwing out his own version of “All Along the Watchtower” to start performing Jimi Hendrix’s cover or Trent Reznor saying “Hurt” wasn’t his anymore after hearing Johnny Cash’s cover.

Belts
I just don’t like them.

Six Hot Dog Buns Per Pack and Eight Hot Dogs Per Pack
You can tell this was a thing that caught on before anyone had any idea what math was. Or what parallel meant. But you would have to buy four packs of buns and three packs of hot dogs before the ratio was properly aligned. It’s one of those what-the-hell things that can, once again, be chalked up to useless tradition and no one being smart enough to say, “Hey, wait a minute, what are you guys trying to pull here?” You have to wonder if this is something that came out of some kind of collusion or whether the two industries just started a war with each other which the consumers just got stuck in the middle of. It seems to me like the hot dog bun industry should start losing ground to the bread industry because of this, but that would probably invite a whole new slew of problems. Of course, maybe this is just me, and everyone else is too busy eating to pay attention.

(Year-Late) Dispatches From The Rose City

(Year-Late) Dispatches From The Rose City

Where I took my first breath of the pacific northwest’s crisp air is more a point of contention than one would realize. It has a lot to do with the idea of just where the Rocky Mountains end and the pacific northwest begins. Is it the divide between Idaho and Montana, which would place the popular university city of Boise in Cascadia? Or is it the cultural divide at the Cascade Mountains that splits the western hipsterville from ‘Murica 30 miles out? Some people would say that my first exposure to the elements in the great northwest came in a tired daze, when I awoke in the early AM hours in Spokane and stumbled off my train to stretch while it was making a water stop and splitting in half to take travelers to respective destinations in Oregon and Washington. Or perhaps it was a stop in Pasco, Washington, as the Amtrak crept along the bottom of the Columbia Gorge when I stepped off into the thickest mist and most humid air I’ve ever felt, which soaked my skin and clothes in a pleasant layer of dew. The one part of my journey that comes without argument is that it ended on an early Monday morning in Portland, where I left the Amtrak and took my greeting steps into a part of the country which, until that moment, had never existed as anything but a rumor.

My final stop before my excursion into Oregon was, of course, Chicago. My home for five years of my life was also the only real home I had ever come to know; during my years there, I finally learned to stop hiding. Buffalo was merely a city I lived in for a long time. Although my nativity there gave me access that tourists and n00bs wouldn’t find without an effort, my radical ways of thinking forced Buffalo into defensive mode. As a result, the city was never able to get its arms around me, so my relationship with The Nickel City – always strained a little bit – got outright rocky after the welcome my community in Chicago gave me. Chicago was my shining beacon on a hill. It was there that my true potential started to surface. Chicago became the bar by which I judged every place I’ve been since, and nowhere compared. So it was on this journey that I promised to stop making comparisons of any other city to it.

That being said, Portland made it a hell of a contest. My placements of Portland and Chicago on my list of favorite cities are first and second, and which goes where depends on my mood. I only developed two problems with Portland: One was that crossing the Willamette River was a pain in the ass. The other was the lack of PTA programs where I could finish the line of education I’m pursuing. The first one I was willing to put up with. The second one was more of an issue, which disappointed me because had there been the educational opportunity I needed, I would have cast my anchor right there.

The train station in Portland was set close to the cute, quaint little village part that every city on the west coast seems to have. The first thing I did was hop into a cab and have it take me to my hostel on Hawthorne. Giving the driver my money after the ride, I was delighted to be handed a rare two-dollar bill as part of my change. I was so sure it was a joke that I went to two different stores afterward to ask if it was real, and was assured everywhere that yes, it was legit currency.

Portland was a city of many surprises. It was proof that somewhere, a city planner cracked my skull open and pulled out the “ideal city” folder, then got to work. My hostel was run on rainwater, there were two iconic donut shops and one very large used bookstore, I didn’t pay any sales taxes, there were locally-owned businesses everywhere, there were microbreweries everywhere, cyclists glided fearlessly in small mobs, the street layout made perfect sense, the transit system worked, and it was easy to find good coffee cafes where I could sit down and watch the world go by. In the last couple of years, I’ve fallen in love with the TV show Portlandia. I was aware of Portland’s reputation as an outpost for the quirky and weird. I knew the cliches: Keep Portland weird. Portland, where young people go to retire. Portland, where the dream of the 90’s is alive. But that was TV, so I tried to keep my expectations reigned in. When I got to Portland, though, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein were making less of an affectionate parody and more of a travel documentary. Anyone who’s been to Portland can’t look at me and tell me they would be surprised if a 3D printer just popped up along the Willamette River. And that there wouldn’t be people in Portland trying to build their houses one plastic brick at a time using it!

The freaks and vagrants are magnetized to Portland, and it was easy to see why. As long as you were a decent person, anything you believed or did would be met with a quick shrug and a “that’s cool, man.” I can’t help but believe Portland exists in its own bubble, but I despise that description because it implies the dominance of a narrow set of beliefs that never got penetrated by the larger world. (And we all know what city I have in mind when I say that.) Portland wants the riffraff and will reject any corporation that tries to drop in with the sales pitch of making the city more “normal” or “family-oriented.” They’ll ignore Walmart, but they’ll be happy to accept Wall Marte as long as the profits all circulated in their own city. They hate Domino’s, but if someone thought to set up a Donny Moe’s, that’s okay as long as the pizza is edible. Even my hostel bunkmates were on the far side, even by the standards of hostel people. Politicking punks were typical hosteler fare there. One night, a very friendly surfer-like kid asked me if I wanted to learn how to ride a unicycle. I took him up on the offer, of course. Turns out that riding a unicycle isn’t quite as hard as it looks once you get a sense of balance for it. And it’s not as dangerous, either; if you fall over, your feet will almost automatically be the first parts of your body to hit the ground, and from there it’s easy to right yourself. The kid who was giving me my lesson said there was nothing to worry about. He had taught many people to ride unicycles, and only one of them had gotten hurt. The one who got hurt also happened to be drunk off his ass.

I spent my time in Portland trying to hit up good coffee and microbrew places suggested by a friend who lived in the area, but I also discovered a few spots of my own. I liked Blue Star Donuts, which makes French-style brioche donuts. They took 18 hours to make and were done every day by hand, and turned into unique flavors like Blueberry Bourbon Basil. I also came to understand the fierce rivalry between Blue Star Donuts and the more established and prevalent Voodoo Donuts. As I read and drank my way through the city, I kept getting thrown off by the lack of a sales tax. Oregon is one of five states that doesn’t have a sales tax, and it’s probably the best-known one. Like every other American, I learned early on to hate the sales tax with a passion because it’s a hidden cost. It’s being intentionally dishonest about the price a place will have on a product in order to try to squeeze out a little extra money. It was tempting to end all my monetary transactions with the question, “Are you SURE?!” and that did slip out of my mouth a few times.

I don’t go out of my way to visit kitschy attractions when I travel. I travel to see what’s interesting and unique about places and interact with the people who live there. But Portland had Mill Ends Park, a public park space consisting of a single evergreen tree and 452 square inches of space. No, “inches” is not a typo. The park is a single circle, two feet in diameter, sitting on SW Naito Parkway. It’s the smallest public park in the world, and a part of the best park system in America. But that was the only must-see thing on my Portland List. Everything else, I just went out and happened to stumble into. The Library, the Courthouse, Portland State University, Providence Park, and everywhere I found beer and coffee was a place I happened to walk into. Not that I’m complaining, because the lack of corporatization made every corner in the city look unique. Between that and the easy layout of the city, Portland is a place where it’s difficult to get lost. On the off chance you do manage to get lost, the people there are the types who are friendly enough to give you directions.

It was halfway through the week when I got the chance to see a friend I hadn’t seen in years. I let her know where my dates for being in Portland were set in stone, and she took pains to throw a wedge into an obviously busy schedule in order to see me and catch up. She was also a big help in letting me know what was worth trying, coming through a series of Facebook messages she sent me while I was on my way into the city. Apparently, Portland had stayed fluid even during the years since she moved there. We went to one of the local breweries, and even in there changes were always happening. She explained that the last time she went to that particular brewery, they didn’t serve food, and the place had been smaller at the time.

In Portland, I found something I didn’t think existed: A city that was tailor-made to my own specific tastes. Unfortunately, a possible move there may still be a few years off. I have a specific educational goal to finish pursuing which Portland didn’t offer. Maybe one day, though… In the meantime, I think I’ve found my new favorite vacation spot. You can keep your corporatized McDisney family tourist shit. I’ll go to Portland.

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: The Most Important Television Show… Ever

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: The Most Important Television Show… Ever

It’s hard to describe my relationship with The Daily Show. This isn’t something that should have attracted me the way it did – its been a very long time since I was able to call myself a straight liberal, and let’s face it: Jon Stewart is basically a liberal pundit. He attacks his ideological enemies, preaching mainly to the people who are already converted, and I wonder if I could qualify as a person who’s already converted. I used to be converted, but I turned my back on liberalism out of pure frustration: On social issues, I find the left is adept at either burning straw men or not going nearly as far as it needs to. On fiscal issues, I find liberalism lets itself get burned too often when giving the government more money just results in either more of it going the wrong way or the creation of a bigger vacuum for the money to get sucked into. Anyone who follows me on Facebook knows that I rail against government spending on sports stadiums quite a bit; that’s because they’re case point A for everything wrong about letting the government use our money.

Still though, Jon Stewart seemed to be in touch with everything about the larger world that pissed me off. Although he was fully aware of what he was, he still made use of a finely-honed bullshit detector. It’s true the left had its pundits before Stewart took over The Daily Show from the insufferable Craig Kilborn in 1999, but all the big ones suffered major problems of their own: Alan Colmes was nothing but a piece of token resistance to a dumbass political sparring partner; Keith Olbermann is basically the left’s version of Bill O’Reilly, a raging lunatic who frequently ranted more than he spoke to his audience and used personal attacks; and Michael Moore, who liked to resort to the same kinds of fact rearrangement and omission that plagues right wing propaganda. With the exception of Rachel Maddow, the left’s pundits all have the combined charisma of an eel. Although they tried to fight the righty fire with flame attacks of their own, their volleys and streams always carried with them a sense of smugness that asked everyone “why the hell should I have to take the time to fucking explain this to the likes of you fucking morons?” This is a part of the reason why so many of them have been blanked from relevance, and why the images of the limousine liberal and the rich Ivy League know-it-all have such a firm grip on the conservative imagination.

Jon Stewart came off as a lot more affable than any of them. Although that was a part of his charm, he caught on because he was the true attack dog liberals were lacking. Instead of trying to shout sound bites at the top of his lungs in attempts to get attention, though, Stewart used his sense of humor to disarm and mock his ideological opponents. And it worked – although Fox News and its proponents would probably deny it, Stewart scared them shitless. Fox News began periodic campaigns of attacking Stewart for his “war on conservatives,” and they never seemed to be taken seriously. Even Stewart himself seemed more amused than anything by their attacks and accusations. He directly responded to them on more than one occasion, mocking them out of it with the same tenacity he used on politicians and media. The irony here is that Fox News helped draw attention to The Daily Show by trying to discredit it; they could have written it off pretty easily as the nebbishy ranting of a misguided comedian and attacked more irrelevant liberal pundits every night. By picking a fight with The Daily Show, Fox News announced to the world that Jon Stewart was a political force to be reckoned with.

It’s probably through attacks by conservative pundits and politicians that The Daily Show was able to morph from a side footnote on a somewhat obscure basic cable network into the mini-hydra. A lot of talent streamed off The Daily Show, but the the three most notable gifts it left to people fed up with the state of American politics are Larry Wilmore of The Nightly Show, John Oliver of Last Week Tonight, and until recently, the brilliant Stephen Colbert, who invoked the ghost of Andy Kaufman but with a political slant. Colbert spent nine years headlining The Colbert Report, a show which arguably bested The Daily Show as a political commentary, or at least as a spoof of punditry.

Even more telling than the ire of Faux News was the numerous awards The Daily Show took back to Comedy Central. The show’s Emmy line alone is pretty damned impressive – it won eight Emmys for Outstanding Writing for a Variety, Music, or Comedy Program and from 2003 to 2012, it took home the Emmy for Outstanding Variety, Music, or Comedy Program every year – but it also won the Orwell Award in 2005, which is given out to writers who have made the biggest contributions to “critical analysis of public discourse.” Even more impressive is the fact that The Daily Show managed to win two Peabody Awards for its coverage of the 2000 and 2004 Presidential elections. The Peabody’s are the highest awards journalists can win, and the fact that The Daily Show won them twice for election coverage probably says a lot about both The Daily Show itself and the sorry state of political coverage in actual media.

Jon Stewart’s replacement, Trevor Noah, has a hell of a job in front of him. I’m looking forward to seeing where he takes the most sane half-hour on TV, but don’t make any mistakes here: A long era of critical commentary and bullshit detection is in the rearview. I hope Noah can succeed in presenting his nightly commentary as Trevor Noah, because that alone will be his success. Trying to act as Jon Stewart’s better or his outright replacement isn’t going to end well for him if not.

The 2015 Extinct List

The 2015 Extinct List

Now is the time of year when we can begin anew, and nothing needs renewal more than society itself. There are a ton of aspects of living in society that just plain suck, and I don’t just mean the usual suspects. I mean things which enable the usual suspects, or cause perfectly smart people to do stupid things, or the little things that can end up building up and building up until they break your back. Yeah, war and famine and economic inequality are all terrible things, but what I’m talking about are the little things that I’ve frequently – and inconsistently – referred to as the 17 less-deadly sins. The big problems are all necessary to wipe out, but it’s the small ones that keep getting up in our faces and driving us crazy. They’re the things we immediately think about and talk about whenever we go out for coffee with our friends, the ones that compose the bulk of our days, the ones we’re most likely to mention when we complain about our day, and, in some cases, they’re also the ones that can really cause the big ones when they’re compounded. So, without further ado, here’s the list of Things I Would Like to See go Extinct in 2015.

GIFs
What’s this, now? I don’t want to watch some video you’ve embedded in some article you wrote, but it’s apparently so important that you’re forcing me to watch an inferior, shorter version of it without any sound? That’s basically what GIFs are. They have a bad habit of taking forever to load, slowing down your computer, and, gee, you know, not having any kind of option to shut it off. They’re annoying enough when there’s just one that you have to sit and wait for your computer fight with itself to load through, but worse than that, there are also a bunch of websites – Deadspin and Buzzfeed are particularly egregious offenders, with Whatculture and Cracked being occasional havens – that pack them into their articles at every possible opportunity. There’s no such thing as a video which is good enough that you have to outright remove the option of letting the reader not watch it. So just stop before I start loading up your email with spam, okay?

SATs
I was against these things before being against them was cool. Now, to everyone who thought I was crazy for questioning their purpose, I look like a damn visionary. The SATs were Common Core before Common Core became Common Core. Is there are particular purpose they serve? Not really. Maybe they’re there as some kind of excuse for people to insist that all the education in the United States is on equal footing, but if that truly is the case, they’ve been a spectacular failure because they prove once and for all that from the inner city just don’t have the resources to keep up with better-equipped schools in middle-class suburbs. I happen to think it’s a little unfair to make everyone take the same test, especially when your future is supposedly riding on it. And really, isn’t the very idea of a future riding on this one little test a little nonsensical anyway? We have regular school, complete with final exams, to decide progress. Despite the supposed importance of them, bad SAT scores don’t hold students back in grades or prevent them from graduating, and these days, colleges are starting to ignore them altogether.

Giving Pets as Christmas Gifts
I think we might have the Disney classic Lady and the Tramp to blame for making this look cute. Wrap up a cuddly little kitty or puppy in a nice Christmas package and offer it to a loved one as a gift. And if your loved one doesn’t actually like it, they can always return it to the pound for cash or store credit, right? Yeah, see, that’s exactly the problem. Every Christmas, there are far too many reports of animal shelters taking in new animals which were given away as gifts because they were treated exactly like gifts – as disposable items. A pet isn’t something you can just buy, give away, and throw away. Pets are major commitments. They’re going to need attention whether or not the person you’re giving the pet to is bored with them or not, and negligence of pets is (rightfully) a crime. So if you decide to give away a pet as a Christmas gift, make sure the person you’re giving it to is has the right mindset to know that. Also, don’t wrap it up in a package and give it away as a surprise – come Christmas, tell your friend the gift will be a pet, then choose a particular day and time to visit the shelter to find a pet that bonds well with your friend and pick up the equipment.

The NFL
The worst of a bad bunch of professional sports leagues in the United States, I honestly don’t know how anyone can swear any kind of allegiance to an NFL team anymore. The NFL has mistaken itself for a moral authority and become hell-bent on wiping out everything remotely human that could possibly appear in a football game. I guess we could have seen it coming first with instant replay, which turned every play into a technicality of minutia. They’ve also raised ticket prices to such a level that most fans can’t afford them. Actually, between the injury scandals and recent incidents with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson, it’s hard to believe the NFL cares about people at all. They make politics of hosting the Super Bowl, and in that regard, they’re nearly as bad as FIFA or the Olympics, which is really saying something. Then there are the constant threats: Fork over ten billion dollars in tax cash for a stadium which has to replace a decrepit bowl which was around for the last 15 years, or say bye bye to the local team while they move to Los Angeles, Toronto, or London. I’ll tell you what: The NFL wants to be in Los Angeles so badly, why don’t we wipe out any pretenses and ship every team to Hollywood, where they can all play in front of a live studio audience every Sunday. Just get it out of my sight and away from my money.

The Music Media
Yes, we’re all aware of the fact that maybe three artists went platinum in sales this year, and that one of them was Taylor Swift. We all know that U2 gave away their new album for free on iTunes after receiving a big payoff from Apple. The big problem is that I have not yet received a single good explanation as to why I should care. The music media seems sympathetic to a group of high-powered executives who made life difficult for fans who wanted to get ahold of non-mainstream artists, be able to go to an occasional concert, and jacked up the prices of CDs when there was barely anything put into them. Now, with indie artists getting more attention than they were before thanks to the internet, the music media is trying to convince us that the artists with the most exposure need handouts.

Pundits
Is there any kind of pundit this planet wouldn’t be better off without? The job of a pundit isn’t to pass on new information – it’s to condense current information down into a ten-second sound bite, manipulated to be easily digested for people who don’t understand political nuance. Naturally, the job of a pundit creates an atmosphere of fear, false information, and mistrust. They call this the Information Age; it’s actually the Paranoid Age, or the Age Where You can Believe Anything You Want. I can’t help but feel like punditry is serving to dumb us all down. I’m not just talking about political pundits here; there are sports pundits – namely Skip Bayless – who try to step up as guardians and blow things up to humongous proportions, and entertainment pundits who basically do the same thing. (Really, the political pundits are the most honest about what exactly they do, and that’s pretty disturbing.)

Cheap TV Deaths
Done correctly, killing a beloved character on a popular TV show can be affecting. But it’s getting to be so common now that it’s turning into betting pool fodder. Take a pair of polar opposites that happened in the last year: The Simpsons used the death of “a beloved character” as an incentive to get people to watch. The character in question turned out to be Hyman Krustofski, Krusty the Clown’s pop. Even if you’ve spent the last decade tuning out from The Simpsons, you have to know Hyman Krustofski’s death isn’t going to alter the series. Rabbi Krustofski was introduced in a classic episode in an early season in which he was reunited with his son, and he appeared sporadically after that and was never a real factor in the show’s continuity. On the other side, there was the death of Tracy McConnell in How I Met Your Mother, which was written off as a wild fan conspiracy theory right up until it actually happened. This was a significant moment for a few reasons: First, Tracy was the show’s titular character. Her death was based on a gross miscalculation on the creators’ part; it brought out the worst aspects of the main character; and it retconned a ton of the show’s canon. Deaths on TV are a fine line to walk, but it looks like too many TV writers are just knocking characters off out of personal convenience or attempts to be bold.

Friends vs. How I Met Your Mother: The Ultimate Battle!

Friends vs. How I Met Your Mother: The Ultimate Battle!

It just had to be that this year’s finale of How I Met Your Mother was going to share space with the 20th anniversary of the debut of Friends, didn’t it? It seems pretty appropriate; the two sitcoms have been favorably compared to each other through most of their runs. Hell, its even been argued that the two of them might as well be the same show. They both star characters who live in a parallel universe’s version of New York City where there is no diversity and rent control is a thing. Both of them feature years-long story arcs about the romance between two particular characters; both are brought up in efforts to define their generations through pop culture. At first glance, there is some definite evidence that How I Met Your Mother was taking its cues from Friends. When you try to really compare the two of them side by side, though, the real differences start blaring at you, and you’re then forced into one of those corners where you have to take a Beatles/Elvis stance: You only get one pick and you have to hate the other one.

Fine. That’s not something I have too big a problem with. My problem begins with the fact that so many writers seem so eager to automatically throw the statue at Friends, mostly because they grew up watching it. It’s an interesting phenomenon; it’s one thing to believe everything was better back in your day, but it’s another thing completely to refuse to acknowledge if something may or may not be better based strictly on nostalgia for childhood heroes. So now, it’s time to look at both of these shows as empirically as possible. To prepare, I’m binge-watching DVDs and online streams of as many episodes of both shows as I can. I doubt I’ll get to them all, but I can get to an enormous chunk of both. So let’s do this! Friends vs. How I Met Your Mother. One day, I’ll learn.

Characters
Friends gave us Rachel Green, Monica and Ross Geller, Phoebe Buffay, Joey Tribbiani, and Chandler Bing. HIMYM introduced Ted Mosby, Lily Aldrin, Marshall Erikson, Robin Scherbatsky, Barney Stinson, and Tracy McConnell (she was one of the main cast characters during her brief stint on the show, so much so that her actress’s name was in the opening credits, so yes, she counts). Some of these characters share remarkable similarities to each other, at least in a few ways: Barney shares the fact that no one knows what he does with Chandler and his tendencies with women with Joey; Lily and Monica share some apparent neuroticism and spontaneity; Ross and Ted both have penchants for romanticism. Characters in both shows reach ridiculous low points – in Friends, Phoebe tried to keep one of the triplets, while Ted made Robin get rid of her dogs in HIMYM. Yet, for all the similarities, the characters all took different paths in their development. The characters on Friends developed and matured in a more subtle manner while the HIMYM gang was more up front about their changes of character. On the other hand, the differences between all the characters in the show were a lot more obvious on HIMYM. HIMYM also stereotyped less; Friends had its ditz, its romantic, its career person, and its man’s man. HIMYM frequently crossed these traits over from character to character; career woman Robin was also the show’s man’s man, for example – she loved guns, hockey, scotch, and cigars. Lily, Marshall, and Barney all shared the role of the ditz.
Winner
I prefer HIMYM. Issue one: Phoebe. I love her, and she’s one thing that could be counted on to rescue Friends when it was having trouble, but she’s a waste of space and seemed to be shoehorned in. HIMYM never felt like it was having any trouble trying to fit any characters in, even during the last season, when Tracy was added to the main cast outright. Issue two: The development arcs of Barney and Tracy showed what HIMYM was capable of at its best. Usually when a TV show runs long, all the characters start out as fully realized humans and, as the writers start to feel stretched for creativity, they start to fall back on some of the more unique quirks of the characters, flanderizing them until they’re nothing but quirks. Barney went the opposite route; he was a fully realized caricature through the first few seasons with a few glimmers of humanity; as he developed, he matured, and his better side came out as he decided to settle and form a relationship with his estranged father. (This is why I’m always amazed when critics bitch about HIMYM’s later seasons; did they really miss the old, borderline rapist Barney that much? His development made the whole series very satisfying.) And while we only had Tracy around in one season which didn’t span every episode, her development was so strong that the audience felt totally gypped by the finale. Issue three: The cast of Friends sometimes came across as so interchangeable that it could have melded together at certain times. Trying to tell them apart when they get angry or upset – which happens often enough – can be something of a chore. The characters on HIMYM never fell out of their personas and blended together to such an extent. Of course, that’s an issue with Friends, and not exactly a flaw…

Cast Chemistry
It’s very possible Friends and HIMYM were cast in two different and very distinct ways. The cast of HIMYM looks like the actors were all tested and chosen purely on the strength of their individual character portrayals before being rounded up and thrown at each other, and it turned out to work for the best. Friends seems to have been cast with character chemistry as the first thing in mind, like the actors were whittled down to a particular selection and then tested against each other. HIMYM cast the most talented actors it could find for its characters; Friends cast good actors who made each other look great. The difference definitely shows in the final products. Friends ended up casting six unknowns and making household names of not only Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler, and Ross, but also actors Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt Le Blanc, Matthew Perry, and David Schwimmer. The actors flew off each other like atomic particles and were so closely bonded when the cameras were off that the emotion they felt in the final episode was genuine. HIMYM can counter using the fact that its individual performances were better; Neil Patrick Harris and Cristin Milioti could both clearly act circles around every other cast member on either show, and the others were excellent as well. The particular traits of every character on HIMYM were also highlighted more, so all six actors had to perform an exceptional balancing act to see their characters were able to merge those traits into someone whole, and not just a mess of ideas the writers could flanderize at will. They all succeeded.
Winner
This one goes to Friends. While the cast of HIMYM did everything right, it wasn’t enough to stop the emergence of Barney Stinson as a breakout character. Although Barney eventually developed into a complete character, it’s still his early Bro Code and Playbook musings which dominate HIMYM popular lexicon. In the meantime, Alyson Hannigan’s name is still synonymous with Willow Rosenberg, her character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer; Neil Patrick Harris didn’t make anyone forget Doogie Howser; and Josh Radnor and Cobie Smulders are both still remembered purely as Ted and Robin. Jason Segel and Cristin Milioti are popular movie and Broadway commodities, respectively. The Friends cast, meanwhile, are still associated with each other, no matter how far away from the show they’ve gotten. No matter how successful Jennifer Aniston gets, when her name is brought up, she is still just another name among six particular TV actors.

Overdone Romance We Got Sick Of
In the first episode of Friends, we met Ross Geller, a very recent and heartbroken divorcee; and Rachel Green, a runaway bride. Right off the bat, from first to last, the show did everything it could to throw the two of them together. So the two of them took some pretty nasty trips in the ten years Friends lasted on the air before finally settling into their surefire happily ever after in the final episode. The drama between Ross and Rachel took such absurd turns that, at some point, you have to wonder if the writers were intentionally prying the two of them apart and teasing the audience just to prolong the romance. It devolved into soap opera territory. Everything moved right along for the two of them at first; they crushed on each other in the first season; were dating in the second; broken up in the third because Rachel decided she needed an indefinite alone period, in which Ross jumped another girl’s bones; and reconciling only to break up again in the fourth. It’s a reasonable trajectory, but it gets spoiled by the end of the fourth when Ross marries a rebound fling and says Rachel’s name at the wedding, and from there it just got absurd. HIMYM did a bold thing by introducing Ted to Robin in the pilot episode, only to clearly establish in the end that Robin isn’t The Mother. It helped free up the show to give a few romance storylines to Ted and Robin because, since it was established that Robin wasn’t The Mother, the show was able to try anything it wanted for awhile. Like Rachel and Ross, though, it devolved, and by the eighth season they were dredging up the idea of Ted still being in love with Robin, who had been established as Barney’s match for some time by then. Ted’s romantic past with Robin, in fact, hadn’t been any obstacle between him and Robin or Robin and Barney for a long time, but creators Carter Bays and Craig Thomas decided to shoehorn an ending they had written for Ted and Robin seven years before the show concluded.
Winner
You know what? I’m giving the edge here to HIMYM. I know I have every reason in the world to prefer Ross and Rachel; after all, Friends didn’t tell us well in advance that Ross and Rachel weren’t ultimately each other’s other halves. It didn’t make a big show of one of them completely letting go of the other one in the final season to show us once and for all that it wasn’t meant to be, over and out, only to renege. Friends didn’t kill one of the main characters, as if she was an inconvenience to the writers, just to make it happen! But what Friends did do that made Ross and Rachel inexcusable was turn their first breakup into a goddamned punchline! “We were on a break! We were on a break!” I’d like to show Ross Geller a fucking break! Besides, between their drunken Vegas wedding, their love child, and Rachel’s final decision to stay with Ross, it’s not like they were lacking for drama.

Resonance With Times
For being a voice sitcom sparked from the grunge era, Friends certainly packed a lot of shining optimism. I’m not saying everything was always wonderful for the characters on the show. Hell, Phoebe sang “Smelly Cat,” which could have fit right into the Lilith Fair lineup. The characters, however, seemed to develop that great Hollywood character habit of failing upward. Setbacks never seemed to affect them very much, and usually they quickly landed on their feet. Friends also came off geared toward a mainstream audience; right in the first season, Phoebe has a quick fling with a physicist who is a little uncomfortable with the idea of romance and spontaneity. It was the typical trope of the time: Nerds are to be ridiculed. In addition, while Friends did deal with homosexuality, it treated homosexuality like an odd character tick; something which was bad at the time, and absolutely inexcusable now. In HIMYM, setbacks were really that; they properly set the characters back. Although it’s treated like an idealistic fairy tale, there is a very dark vein streaming through the world of HIMYM, and the characters regularly end up in compromised positions, frequently embarrassed and humiliated while trying to make the best of what just happened to them. Lily leaving Marshall to pursue her dream of being an artist is one example; Robin’s anchor job on early AM TV is another; and Ted trying to start his own architectural firm is a third. There is also the geek factor; HIMYM actually has TV’s best attitude toward geeks. Marshall, Ted, and Barney are all huge Star Wars freaks, and Barney even has life-size Stormtrooper armor in his apartment; they love to play laser tag; they’re frequently seen playing video games; and they enjoy an annual event called Robots vs. Wrestlers.
Winner
HIMYM. Although Friends featured cell phones and laptops long before they were in vogue, and it did improve its view on gays – even showing a wedding between a gay couple long before the current gay rights movement – it still set out to give viewers a look at normal, mainstream people with socially acceptable interests. It perceived outsiders as geeks or thugs in a negative way. Setbacks on Friends barely made any lasting dents in the characters. On HIMYM, setbacks were real stingers, and the characters were frequently seen doing things they wouldn’t ordinarily do in mentally broken states. HIMYM also had the more accurate take on geeks – their geek interests, while prominent, aren’t caricatures, and they don’t define the characters. Rather, geek interests and tendencies are treated as side interests of the main characters, who are able to keep their geek lives and professional lives separate.

Emotional Impact
In any good TV show, we need to be able to sympathize with the characters; otherwise, when we laugh, we’re laughing at them instead of with them. Therefore, it helps to have great ways of projecting times and scenes of deep emotions. Friends axed one of the most insufferable tropes that came to define sitcoms in the previous decade – the Full House music, which replaced real emotion with gagging melodrama. Otherwise, emotion was conveyed by the actors and the script, both of which did fine jobs, and music which was performed by professional musicians. Occasionally, the camera would zoom in very slowly on the troubled character or the character would be isolated. HIMYM, being a more surreal show than Friends, would frequently use surrealism to convey a sense of sadness. It was also privy to using its stilted structure to do the same, allowing it to move back and forth between conversations about the character and the affected character. The portrayals of the characters and the music was frequently a big help as well. Friends, however, conveyed its emotion in a straightforward fashion while HIMYM usually had a joke or two waiting to be used to lighten the mood a little bit.
Winner
HIMYM. The trouble with trying to provide emotional heft strictly through the affected characters is that it’s like describing the symptoms. Sure, you can sympathize, but there’s no real relation unless you’ve personally been there yourself. HIMYM’s surrealism is more than a quirk; it’s an effective way to paint a very exacting picture of what the characters are experiencing. In one episode, for example, Robin learns she’s barren and can never have kids. Instead of simply saying it, the episode cuts to a pair of kids in a living room which are ostensibly Robin’s as Robin narrates to them. Then they fade away as the room is replaced by snowy Central Park and the sofa is replaced by a park bench which Robin is sitting in, drinking a carton of eggnog, contemplating what she just learned. One later episode of season eight, “The Time Travelers,” so brilliantly captures the true essence of Ted’s loneliness that I have trouble watching it: Ted, Barney, Robin, Marshall, and Lily meet in MacLaren’s for a night or Robots vs. Wrestlers Legends. Ted is busy the following day and unsure whether or not to go, and debates the pros and cons of going with Barney as well as future versions of themselves. This might sound odd, but it’s a sort of surreal vision the show has come to be known for. Marshall and Robin get into a fight about who named a drink served by the bar. Soon, Coat Check Girl – a guest character from one of HIMYM’s first episodes – walks in. Ted recognizes her and starts to wander over to talk to her, but is stopped by two future versions of Coat Check Girl. Both warn him that a relationship with her would be doomed, and he gets distracted long enough for the real Coat Check Girl to leave. Finally, he returns to Barney and says he’s out for the night, and in an understated and very eloquent monologue, Barney tells Ted the cocktail incident is a five-year-old memory and the rest of the night was a product of his imagination, and Ted was debating whether to go alone the entire night. Ted leaves, and Narrator Ted imagines his past self running to The Mother’s apartment and delivering Ted’s now-famous “45 days” monologue to the unseen Mother. The effect is heightened later; of note, “The Time Travelers” is the final episode which involves any interactions with the unseen form of The Mother. Four episodes later, after years of teases, the conceptual Mother ceased to exist, and the actual Mother was finally revealed. Although the reveal was simple – even anticlimactic – it worked because of the sense we received for Ted’s sadness over the course of the season and the fact that the story’s endgame was now in sight. Ted himself wasn’t aware of it yet, but the audience knew he would be meeting his perfect girl within – in the show’s time – just a couple more days.

Opening Theme
Friends opens with one of the greatest opening themes of all time: “I’ll be There for You” by The Rembrandts. The song is a definite by-product of the 90’s, and it has the rough, unvarnished edges of the traditional grunge sound. It’s a pretty downcast song, too, describing a lot of bad, serious situations before launching into its memorable hook, which promises that, no matter what happens, they’ll always be there for you. It’s one of those theme songs that transcended its opening theme status and became a heavily rotated radio hit. HIMYM opens with an iconic “ba, ba ba ba ba” going along with its title card, but what most people don’t know is that’s the very tail end of a legitimate song called “Hey Beautiful” by The Solids, a band the show’s creators play in. Like the Friends theme, the song is a definite product of the times in a musical sense. The lyrics don’t make nearly as much sense – I’m surmising the second verse is about the song’s narrator trying to gather the courage to talk to a girl he spotted and thinks is beautiful, but the phrasing is a little random and haphazard. It’s a great song, though, and it’s one of the few millennial rock songs which, while it relies on the slow-driving, smoothly-laid harmony and melodramatic vocals, still lets the background music massage the scene instead of dominating the song and destroying rock music for a decade to come. Also, while the synthesizer is used throughout, it’s used in a minimalist fashion.
Winner
Friends. The HIMYM theme was an early version of a trend that’s setting rock music back decades. The Friends theme is a great song, and its message about optimism and togetherness through even the toughest of times is more resonant now than it was when Friends was the show to watch. Also, “Hey Beautiful” isn’t the most technically sound song, either. Even with better lyrics, its time signature changes are less than subtle. Face it, there’s a reason you didn’t know “Hey Beautiful” was a full song until you read this.

Format And Structure
Although every story has a beginning, middle, and end, Friends and HIMYM both got around to showing their beginnings, middles, and ends in different ways. Both of them also used heavily serialized formats. Friends took its cues from most every sitcom that came before it, which means it tells its stories in a straightforward, linear fashion. While this makes the typical episode of Friends easy to follow, it also makes it a bit more difficult to jump in the middle of an episode. Since the show is serialized, a big secret revealed in an episode with series-changing ramifications could easily be missed. When Friends performs flashbacks, it does them smoothly, skillfully weaving them into the main structure of the show. HIMYM uses a flashback as the very plot of the show. It’s prone to jumping and stilting around a lot more; a frequent device seen on HIMYM is to place the audience into the middle of a scene and then go back and explain how the characters came to that point. HIMYM tells stories in a much more freewheeling manner. It will use surrealism, roshamen viewpoints, intercutting, and flashbacks and flashforwards in order to get the point across. Both shows demand your attention, but HIMYM will go out of its way to make sure it has it. HIMYM also based its entire existence on a large story arc, which demanded bold risks from the creators when it worked and ended up sticking around for awhile. Some of those risks were good and allowed the show to keep revealing hidden depths to its characters; some were bad and allowed them to prolong the show (Ted and Robin, ahem).
Winner
HIMYM. The format keeps finding different ways of telling stories to emphasize small moments which impacted The Narrator’s life. Not only is it an effective way to keep interest in a story, it frees up the writers to splice other scenes into the narrative, make concurrent callbacks, and even reformat the entire show, which is what happened in the final season. Furthermore, the ultimate story arc allowed the creators to gradually reveal the show’s big secrets about how Ted met The Mother. Think about it: What did we know about Ted meeting The Mother in the pilot? They met at a wedding. That was it. After the first season finale had Marshall and Lily break up, most of the the subsequent season finales peeled back more big secrets about the wedding and the meeting. At the end of season two, Ted and Robin broke up, which we knew would happen, since Robin was established in the pilot as not being The Mother. In the season three finale, Ted proposes to Stella, but she isn’t The Mother. Season four, Ted tells his kids that The Mother was in an economics class he taught by accident. In season six, it started really heating up; the groom, long believed to be an offhand friend of Ted’s like Punchy or Ranjit, was shown to be Barney. In season seven, it was the bride’s turn to be shown onscreen; it was Robin. The season eight finale gave us our first glimpse of Tracy McConnell. And the series finale the next season, well, I’ll be nice and just pretend it never happened.

Running Gags
Every good sitcom has its share of in-jokes which, despite being an eternal theme in the series canon, can be easily picked up and appreciated by newcomers. Friends and HIMYM are no exceptions. In fact, they even share very similar running gags: One is that Barney and Chandler both work mystery jobs which no one else on their shows knows. It works better for HIMYM, though, because Chandler eventually gets promoted while Barney – who seemingly drags in endless oceans of money for nothing – reveals that his “eh, please” response to everyone else’s job inquiries is really an acronym for Provide Legal Exculpation And Sign Everything. Basically, if his corporation is ever caught in one of its more unseemly activities, Barney is the one set up to take their fall. Another is they each had a character with a musical career. Friends gave us Phoebe, who sang some of the darkest, weirdest folk songs you will ever hear with an earnestly upbeat attitude. HIMYM had Robin, a former teenage pop star in her native Canada named Robin Sparkles who had one minor hit and was so embarrassed about it that she told outrageous lies to her friends to try to hide it. They both had catchphrase-spewing ladies’ men as main characters – Joey and Barney. Beyond those, Friends introduced us to Ugly Naked Guy, a nudist from a neighboring building. HIMYM had The Bro Code and The Playbook. There was Fat Monica on Friends, and HIMYM had Lily’s odd sexual fetishes. These lists aren’t even close to exhaustive.
Winner
This should be even, but I’m giving the edge to HIMYM for a few reasons. First of all, Phoebe’s songs are only written to highlight her ditziness, and sitcom ditzes are a dime a dozen. Robin’s singing career gave her backstory an interesting twist, and her reluctance to ever talk about it added a dimension to her character. Second, Ugly Naked Guy was originally a hidden character who was there strictly for laughs. At some point, though, Friends decided it had to break that rule and give Ugly Naked Guy screen time. There’s a sacred law of sitcoms which have hidden characters there strictly for laughs that says you never, ever show the character. Never, because it would ruin the mental projection of the character the audience built for itself. It’s why all the Maris jokes from Frasier worked so well – they never showed Maris, and we were given unlimited depth to project how awful she was. Third, Friends turned “We were on a break!” into a catchphrase for Ross. It’s with that one Friends torpedoed any chance of winning a battle of running gags.

Friends just got its ass handed to it. Yes, Friends was great when it was good; upon my repeat viewings, it holds up much better than I expected it to. It was one of the major cultural voices of its generation, but that doesn’t change the fact that it’s still a Cheers knockoff which became popular because it came along at the right time. How I Met Your Mother was something that came flying out of the blue, combining the surrealism of Scrubs, flying hijinks of Malcolm in the Middle, and yes, the emotional gravitas of Friends itself with a groundbreaking story structure. Friends was a product of its time. How I Met Your Mother turned out to be well ahead of it.

Girl Meets World and the Trouble with Nostalgia Culture

Girl Meets World and the Trouble with Nostalgia Culture

Forget all the complaints about the nuked refrigerator, the monkey vine jeep chase, Mutt Williams, and the aliens, because those are all arbitrary complaints which have the same general base anyway. Here’s the real reason you hated Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull: You grew up. Kingdom of the Crystal Skull was then made, marketed, and presented to the grown-up you, so you were incapable of applying your nostalgia goggles to it. Therefore, you saw right through the presentation and got a big load of the fact that the Indiana Jones series is, objectively, comically ridiculous. Unfortunately, you’re still not capable of watching Raiders of the Lost Ark, Temple of Doom, and Last Crusade through anything but your nostalgia goggles – or maybe unwilling – so you’re still blind to how silly those movies all are. You walked into Kingdom of the Crystal Skull thinking you still had the same mindset you did as a kid, watching Indy beat up those Nazis and Thuggies for the first time ever, and were expecting to be blown similarly away, but it didn’t happen because you’re a lot more critical in your old age. Meanwhile, you saw a movie in which absolutely nothing you complained about couldn’t also be applied to every other movie in the series.

On June 27, we saw the premiere of the Disney Channel show Girl Meets World. Girl Meets World is the very direct sequel to one of the most beloved family sitcoms of the 90’s, Boy Meets World. By that, I mean Girl Meets World focuses on Riley Matthews, the daughter of Cory and Topanga Matthews, two of the characters from the original series who met the world. Both Ben Savage and Danielle Fishel are reprising their original roles in Girl Meets World. The show’s writers, though, have backed themselves into a weird corner. The audience that still reveres Boy Meets World is now all grown up, and Girl Meets World was picked up by the Disney Channel. Judging from strictly the pilot episode of Girl Meets World, the show is now trying very, very hard to attract the nostalgic demographic of people who grew up watching its predecessor while trying to make everything acceptable to the childrens’ gatekeepers with the Almighty Mouse. Disney’s censors haven’t loosened up their clamps any. I caught the pilot of Girl Meets World myself, and while it delighted me to a point, it still felt pretty stilted. Although I’m in my 30’s, I’m no stranger to the sitcoms there; they remind me a little bit of the old Nickelodeon sitcoms I loved. I’ve taken a particular liking to Liv and Maddie, a show about twins, and Austin and Ally, a show about a duo of musicians. So I have a good idea of exactly what gets done in Disney Channel sitcoms. Strictly in that context, I was happy enough with Girl Meets World to be curious about how it develops. It’s a Disney Channel sitcom, after all, and it did everything that was asked and expected of a good Disney Channel sitcom. But if the writers don’t get the show settled in, well, let’s just say it will not end well.

We’ve been hearing so many rumors about Girl Meets World for so long that we’ve built up a very steep set of expectations, which we then went and compared to a television ancestor that ran for seven years. During the time, Boy Meets World also happened to take on a sort of exulted status. Among people of my generation, Boy Meets World is remembered with (rightful) fondness as the arguable best of a bad genre of TV show. It never talked down to its audience, and main character Cory Matthews was a fine everykid who succeeded in conveying many of the real concerns and issues faced by kids his age. The senior show, though, is also being seen through its own nostalgia lens, and that built up its own reputation to a level which it probably doesn’t deserve. What a lot of fond remembrances of Boy Meets World online tend to do is gloss over the show’s worse aspects – even the normally insightful AV Club ended up blowing its review, which is really saying something. I followed Boy Meets World through its first three seasons or so, but dropped out after being put off after the sudden shift to a dramatic format and the show’s inability to find any stability. Years later, I caught almost every other episode in reruns, and it’s amazing how many people overlook the fact that Boy Meets World switched identities more often than Mystique. Despite only running seven years, Boy Meets World underwent so many different retoolings, you would have to use both fingers and toes to count them all. Boy Meets World also got to be pretty heavy-handed in its Aesop impersonations. The show had many strong points, but its strengths rarely all surfaced at the same time, and so it just wasn’t that good.

My generation probably isn’t the first to be obsessed with childhood nostalgia, but with mass communication and the internet, we’re probably the first generation that can put forth a reasonable effort to keep its childhood alive. Let’s be honest: We brought all the reboots, remakes, and rereleases on ourselves. It’s one of those great laws of economics: If you demand it, they will produce. Well, we started saying someone should begin rebooting all those stored memories of childhood pop culture, and now here we are. We’re seeing mass translations like never before, and in some cases, it’s pretty difficult to argue those in the nostalgia industry aren’t doing their jobs. Everything getting made is getting made by people our own age, trying to pitch the wares at the kids we’re having, and somehow we think we’ve earned the right to be upset at remakes of things we loved as kids when they’re being released for kids with a different understanding what a kickass cartoon is. On the off chance something is released to the adults, it’s inevitably going to be set in a more adult context. There’s the contradiction: Either get let down by a version marketed to kids because the quality of the original wasn’t quite as good as we thought, or get let down by a version marketed at adults because it lacks the sense of fun and amusement. There’s not much of an in-between here.

The pilot episode of Girl Meets World turned out odd because it nailed the contradiction of the nostalgia industry. It’s trying actively to have it both ways. Cory is being set up to be in the role that Feeny played for him in Boy Meets World, the influential teacher, except in this case he’s the father of the main character instead of the neighbor. Main characters Riley and Maya are clearly avatars of Cory and Shawn. Lucas is bland, but he seems set on a path which will make him Riley’s own Topanga. Auggie is coming off a lot like Morgan. Topanga herself may end up an avatar of Cory’s mother. The show even has an imitation of Minkus with Farkle, who – if the previews of future episodes are to be believed – is incidentally the son of Stuart Minkus himself. Feeny had a touching cameo in the pilot, and other rumored cameos are down the line (including a scene with the original Minkus, seen right in the series trailer). This was all clearly set to nab the nostalgia demographic, which was pining to see more of one of the most beloved TV couplings of the 90’s. According to the data released by the Girl Meets World website, some 1.6 million people in the 30-plus demographic tuned in to play catch-up.

For Girl Meets World to find any real footing, though, both the show’s creators and those 1.6 million people who watched the pilot are going to have to come to grips with the reality that this show isn’t about Cory and Topanga and the trials of their marriage and child-rearing. Despite the nostalgia trip, it’s meant to introduce the children of those 1.6 million people to a relatable character of their own who meets world on her own terms, and the pilot wasted no time or dialogue establishing that. Seriously, I could have made a drinking game out of how many times I heard references about Riley meeting the world.

The only things Girl Meets World could possibly be are two things which will be violently rejected by the Millennial watchers of the original Boy Meets World. If the show tried to revolve around Cory and Topanga and their lives as a married couple, we would reject it outright because the dynamic of the original show everyone still loves and reveres would be ruined. Yeah, everyone was all “aww!” when the couple finally made their overdue trip to the altar, but since they’re married and parents now, their concerns about their lives are a lot different, and I don’t think any Boy Meets World fan would want to spend a half hour a week watching them fight over finances, parenting methods, and the rank of the Philadelphia Phillies on Cory’s priorities list. Thus, everybody hates it. The other direction is to make it revolve around Cory and Topanga’s kids, which isn’t quite as simple as it sounds. One of the appeals of Boy Meets World was that it never talked down at its audience, and that was because the characters were all relatable enough to be effective. Kids, though, aren’t going to understand problems in the adult world, so we can’t very well expect Riley and Auggie to pick up that slack themselves and become vessels for adult ideas. Think of how absurd that would be. While the kids are kids, there are certain problems and issues which tend to have limited cultural relevance, and so we can’t expect them to spew our old kiddie problems from our childhoods right back at us again. They’re going to be presented as children for the kids we’re having and raising ourselves, so it’s pretty stupid to think we’re going to have any real emotional stake in Girl Meets World the same way we did with its ancestor.

I’m hoping the best for Girl Meets World. As for all the adults who have any stakes in it, I leave you with the advice that Girl Meets World will work best if you’re able to recognize it for what it is: Not yours.