The slow march of "peak" color.

Today, the damp wind outside the Smart Set office has a not-so-summery edge. It’s got us all talking about fall food and fashions (soups and sweaters, respectively) and looking forward to October days with a little less rain and a little more sunshine. To best take advantage of those days, let Jesse Smith be your guide to a little-known branch of the autumn tourist industry.

Not everyone sees fall as so gloomy, or fall foliage viewing as so formless an activity — state tourism and environmental agencies, for instance. Where you see red and orange and yellow, they see green, and they’re all scrambling to grab as much as they can from what are affectionately known in New England as leaf peepers. It sounds like a pretty dog-eat-dog industry. •

Read It: Peepin’ Ain’t Easy by Jesse Smith



From Mad Men and White Collar to Dirty Jobs and Grey’s Anatomy, TV may tell us a lot about how we view our work — and, moreover, how we should. For some, it’s just a job, but for others, it’s a life calling. Maybe we can learn more about our professions by staying on the couch than we can by joining the workforce. (Aeon)

Ad blockers are gaining popularity, maybe because they can save mobile users more than just the headaches caused by strobe-like video ads. A new report by the New York Times shows that, depending on the ratio of advertising to content, blockers can shave seconds off loading times and cents off data bills for each page. (The New York Times)

There’s a constant battle to explain why the rising price of a college education seems to raise demand, defying the usual models. There’s a term for this — a Veblen good — and it’s got mostly to do with the price of prestige. (The Baffler)

Is it time for “he” and “she” to go the way of “Miss” and “Mrs.”? Sharon Bloyd-Peshkin argues that gender, like marital status, should not be brought up in journalistic stories unless pertinent. Here’s a historical and political case for the singular “they.” (In These Times)

Looking for something to read this weekend? Sink into some science. (Seed Magazine) •


Beets don't kale my vibe

If you’ve lately been thinking about becoming a vegetarian, today might be just the day to make the switch. It’s World Vegetarian Day! In case you need just a bit more reason to give up bacon and steak, we brought back Stefany Anne Golberg’s piece on brutal vegetarianism.

I offer an outline for an Eating Animals sequel entitled A 21st Century, Balls-out Decadent Explosion of Naughty Vegetarian Food Exploration Appealing to Degenerates, or for short VEGETABALLS. It will be written by an intrepid vegetable adventurer who wears a cabbage hat and lamé hotpants, a postmodern-molecular-gastronomist-Shackleton of beans who couldn’t care less about tradition and “the earth.” VEGETABALLS  is for a vegetarianism of chocolate, vodka, fries, and habanero sauce that shows how you can be a selfish drunk fat slob and still do your part to limit the unnecessary suffering of animals. •

Read It: A Modest Proposal by Stefany Anne Golberg

On the boys of YouTube


From top: Joey Graceffa and Tyler Oakley; Marcus Butler; Connor Franta.

One of the small corners of YouTube not dominated by cat videos belongs to the downright oddest and most dismaying cultural oddities of the 21st century: the YouTube boy-celebrity. They aren’t real celebrities; you’ve never heard of them, the entirety of their careers to date has begun, escalated, and flourished without touching your life in any way. But in their insular world, their experience mimics actual celebrity to an uncanny degree: these YouTube boy-celebrities have publicists, social media managers, endorsement deals, and copyrighted brands. They have flunkies whom they feel free to humiliate, overwork, and confront with screamed demands. They pack tens of thousands of hysterical fans into auditoriums for live events like VidCon and Summer in the City. They know how to hold microphones onstage in Dean Martin-old pro styles; they’re visibly terrified during manager-mandated mingles with their audiences; quite a few have been embroiled in sex scandals; they have, almost to an individual, at some point in the last four years yelled the stereotypical celebrity line, “Do you know who I am?”

We don’t know who they are, and their brand optimization management teams aren’t happy about that fact. The central problem with the kind of cross-branding those management teams yearn for derives from the typical YouTube boy-celebrity origin story: a cute, epicene young thing buys a bargain digital camera, sets it up in his bedroom, and proceeds to vamp for attention. They did nothing else but vamp; unlike all previous incarnations of the teen-boy heartthrob crush, these boys were offering only themselves, only these four-minute windows into their bedrooms. David Cassidy and his brother Shaun had to at least make a token effort to sing and act; likewise the Backstreet Boys or *NSYNC, who had serious professional dance coaches to learn those intricate floor shows. Even Justin Bieber (discovered on YouTube) made a pretense of having — or wanting to have — musical talent. Not so the YouTube boy-celebrity: with him, all pretense of purpose is stripped away, leaving only the hair, the eyes, the lips … what you see is quite literally the extent of what you get.
More… “Boy Toys”

Fashion and Logos in 2010


Shopping for Handbags

Ralph Lauren is dismounting the Polo Pony and handing over the reigns to new CEO Stefan Larsson. One of the United States’ largest fashion empires has grown over the past half century from a few ties being sold out of a drawer in the Empire State Building to a brand with a logo that can be recognized across the world. Take a look back at Paula Marantz Cohen’s piece on the meaning and breeding of iconic fashion logos like Lauren’s Polo Pony.

Ralph Lauren, the seeming epitome of the English country gentleman, was originally Ralph Lifshitz from the Bronx, who started his empire with a necktie store in 1970. Lauren went on to devise the Polo Pony logo (more to the point than the Izod crocodile) and to exploit the idea of graded merchandise more brazenly than anyone had before. He separated his goods into strata: purple at the top (appointment only), with black and blue labels, then Polo and Rugby, and finally, Ralph Lauren Sport bringing up the rear. •

Read It: Lo’ and Behold by Paula Marantz Cohen



Edward Snowden joined Twitter yesterday (as @Snowden, of course). He followed the NSA, had a conversation with Neil deGrasse Tyson, and accumulated almost over 1 million followers in less than 24 hours. Check out our Storify summary of his first interactions.

Some writers require a soundtrack to their work. Music may propel words onto the page or shape what’s written. For other writers, music and writing simply don’t mix — only silence will do. Read Jacob Lambert’s perspective on music as muse. (The Millions)

Have you been reading Oliver Sacks’ The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat? Or been having trouble remembering the new person in the office? It turns out that humans’ ability to recognize faces is highly developed — and highly heritable. (New Scientist) •

The History of American Coffee in 2013


In classic steampunk style

Happy National Coffee Day! If you haven’t had your coffee yet, it’s time to grab some (check out these places for a free cup) and sit down to read the Smart Set. To pair with your espresso: An article about the Italian origins of Starbucks and why there are none in Italy.

The invention of Mr. Coffee in the 1970s was an enormous leap for American coffee drinkers: Before then, most coffee was boiled in percolators at home or prepared inexpensively in industrial-scale drips to be consumed at diners. The result was mostly terrible — there’s a reason that coffee ruined by wives and secretaries was a running gag in midcentury sitcoms. •

Read It: Counter Culture by Sara Davis

Makeup on The Good Wife



It is commonly agreed that, since the debut of The Sopranos in 1999, television has gotten really good. There is now a lot of well-written, absorbing, idiosyncratic stuff to watch, and I have, helped by my insomnia, watched a lot of it.

I am a particular fan of sustained narrative series like Boardwalk Empire, Mad Men, The Wire, and House of Cards, and am looking forward to Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. It’s nice to know that shows whose run is well underway or even long over are still available for us insomniacs on-demand or on Netflix.

But of all the long-form narrative series out there, I am most taken by the CBS series, The Good Wife (about to begin its seventh season on October 4th), though it is, by all counts, seemingly the most conventional. As a network show, it lacks the taboo-breaking characteristics of cable; if you squint, it could be a standardized legal drama. But The Good Wife is fascinating because of its female characters — not so much in their predicaments as in their appearance.
More… “Painting an Inch Thick”


Presenting today's news

In the news this weekend: Space is awesome. From the Super Blood Moon to water on Mars, there’s plenty going on up there. But the possibility for life on the red planet was no surprise to Ridley Scott, director of The Martian, an upcoming movie about a stranded astronaut. (The Guardian)

In the era of political correctness, universities with curricula that discuss potentially traumatic subjects walk the line between conducting open, intellectual debates and mentally scarring students with difficult pasts. When it comes to tough subjects, some advocate for the use of trigger warnings, while others condemn them as a barrier to intellectual freedom. (The Chronicle of Higher Education)

Readers can get very attached to the words on the page — books can become our friends, family, and lovers. Die-hard Jane Austen or Dan Brown fans may remember their first encounters with a twinkle in their eye, but do the authors do the same? Six writers reminisce over their first novels and decide if that young romance was really true love. (The Millions) •


Shame, shame!

The Pope is in the house. As the Smart Set closes its doors for his visit to our fair city, we leave you with beers, dogs, and traffic schedules all influenced by the Holy Father’s visit, along with a history of the less pope-ular Vicars of Jesus Christ.

Fellow priests put one of the first popes, Sixtus III (432-40), on trial for seducing a nun. He was acquitted after quoting from Christ in his defense: “Let you who are without sin cast the first stone.” In the centuries to follow, political skullduggery and a corrupt election process thrust one improbable candidate after another into the position as god-fearing believers looked on in impotent horror. In fact, so many Vicars of Christ have been denounced as the “Worst Pope Ever” that we have to settle for a Top Ten list. •

Read It: Vatican Hall of Shame by Tony Perrottet