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When I was growing up in suburban New Jersey in the 1960s, my parents would announce periodically that we would be going to go out to dinner. When the announcement was made, the evening was imbued with a festive air. We dressed up — I have a recollection of patent leather shoes and crinolines. Eating out was an occasion; it happened rarely and felt like an extravagance.

I don’t think my family was unique in this. Most people of that era — unless they worked in advertising — rarely ate out.

No longer. Now, everyone eats out all the time.
More… “The Eating Out Habit”

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features a half-hour conversation with a nationally known or emerging talent in the arts, culture, science, or business. She is author of five nonfiction books and six bestselling novels, including Jane Austen in Boca and Jane Austen in Scarsdale or Love, Death, and the SATs. Her essays and stories have appeared in The Yale ReviewThe American Scholar, The Times Literary Supplement, and other publications. Her latest novels are Suzanne Davis Gets a Life and her YA novel, Beatrice Bunson’s Guide to Romeo and Juliet.
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From social commentary to commodity, Janette Beckman’s career is in many ways a classic model of the popular memory of punk rock. As a young photographer who documented London’s youth cultures in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, she found success and opportunity earning commissions from magazines and record labels. Like Johnny Rotten and Joe Strummer, Beckman sold her creative labor, just as thousands of artists and musicians have done for generations. Whether or not punk “sold out” is an oddly recurring but nonetheless pointless question: it was embedded from the beginning in contemporary commercial culture — in the ideas, languages, icons, objects, exchanges, and processes of consumption. It was always about selling, in one way or another. More… “Clash or Credit”

Josh White is a doctoral student at University College London and researches, among other things, the history of punk in the US and UK. He is also a writer and journalist for The Times.
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More than forty years ago, on the eighth floor of an auditorium in Dayton’s department store in Minneapolis, the artist Red Grooms created a unique installation. He called it The Discount Store (1970). The work was commissioned by the Walker Art Center, which was still in the process of building its now-famous permanent home in Minneapolis. With great foresight, The Walker Center also commissioned a documentary film (by Al Kraning) on Grooms’ project. Watching the film gives some idea of what it must have been like to experience the artwork.

Grooms constructed The Discount Store after visiting a Target Discount store in Crystal, MN. He created huge, ten-foot tall wooden cut-out figures to represent the various costumers in the store. He painted the walls to look like aisles filled with an abundance of cheap goods — everything from toys, to soap, to guns (Target used to sell guns… More…

Many complaints have been written about the pancake-wrapped sausage on a stick, and its kid brother, the Pancake & Sausage Minis. There is, first of all, the look of them: a reviewer on the Impulsive Buy blog describes the minis as “tiny, diseased Russet potatoes.” And that’s just on the outside. When I look at the cut-in-half example on the front of the Minis’ packaging, I can’t help but think that I am looking at something dirty, like the poor Pancake & Sausage Mini forgot to close its curtains when changing at night and I happened to look up and catch the thing’s…well, sausage hanging out. Chow’s Supertaster describes the actual taste of the Pancakes & Sausage Minis as “solidly bad-bad,” noting that “[t]he mealy, greasy sausage is real enough, but the pancake coating is pretty fictional – it’s far more like breading than a soft, absorbent, fluffy breakfast delight.” Even… More…

 

 

How would you describe the smell and taste of a fresh white truffle? Meg and I asked each other this very question as we navigated the streets of Alba, lost on our way to Pio Cesare winery. We debated this because we were in possession of a tiny truffle that filled our tiny Lancia with its odor. And odor seems the right term — I definitely would not call it a fragrance or a scent. Like most people experiencing the white truffle firsthand, we’d been throwing out the usual descriptors: earthy, pungent, woody, rooty, garlicky, cheesy. We were also still laughing about the unfortunate description of its taste by food writer Corby Kummer, published in Gourmet some years ago: “It tasted of parts of the body I urgently wanted to know better.”

“It’s like a regular mushroom… More…

 

One day, out of the blue, my husband decided that we needed a new television. We had until then been a minimalist TV family. We had one small set on the third floor of the house that had an indistinct static-y picture from which the color capriciously came and went. It was the kind of set on which the opening ceremonies of the Olympics looked a lot like Mardi Gras.

But things were about to change, big time. First, my husband went off to Circuit City and didn’t return for several hours. When he finally arrived home, he had a “television consultant” in tow. Said consultant, provided courtesy of Circuit City, looked to be around 15 years old. He went with us up to the third floor, looked around, and announced that “it could work.”

“What could work?”… More…

 

The meringue of a woman, floating down an aisle lined with flowers in her signature colors. The groom in his tuxedo, waiting for her with tears in his eyes. The photographer, capturing those special moments to be treasured forever. From the engagement ring to the honeymoon, every nut and bolt used to construct that magical day comes with a hefty price tag. The American bride is being swindled, all in the name of “tradition.” But most of what we consider tradition is actually just marketing or a misunderstanding. Two recent books try to break through the fog that surrounds these rites and bring a dose of reality to the whole idea of living happily ever after.

According to reality television programming, it’s the bride that has gotten out of control. Watch the Bridezilla as she spends the equivalent… More…

 

In the earliest days of e-commerce, it didn’t matter if you were ordering from a little old lady on eBay or a venture-funded start-up like Amazon or Webvan: Every transaction was a crap shoot. You browsed virtual stores that didn’t even have the dubious glossy authority of a Victoria’s Secret catalog. You studied photos of vintage furniture, Oprah’s latest book club pick, meat. With a leap of faith, you clicked on the Order button and surrendered your mailing address and credit card number. There was no droning customer service representative to reassure you that the enterprise you were dealing with was at least legitimate enough to hire a roomful of disaffected high-school dropouts. There was no stamp to lick, or any other tangible evidence to suggest this transaction was truly taking place. Who knew buying pet food or… More…

It’s odd how prudish educated people become when the topic turns to consumerism. They’re fine with the raunchiest sex talk, but bring up product talk and they get all fussy and judgmental. We’ve seen some of this in the response to the new Sex and the City movie. All the high-brow types are appalled by the film’s consumerism, but you don’t hear a peep about the sex. As I see it, it’s the sex that’s vulgar and pedestrian and the buying that’s creative and inspiring. After watching the film, I wanted to renovate my wardrobe and redecorate my house.

Paula Marantz Cohen is Dean of the Pennoni Honors College and a Distinguished Professor of English at Drexel University. She is the host of  The Drexel InterView, a unit of the Pennoni Honors College. The Drexel InterView features… More…

 

 

Let’s get one thing straight: The International Contemporary Furniture Fair, which just finished its run at the Javitz Center in New York City, is nothing like the Philadelphia Home Show I wrote about earlier. For one thing, it’s not in Philadelphia, and for another, it’s not about the home, at least no home that I know.  Instead, it’s about furniture in the Platonic sense. Take a piece of furniture out of the context of all restrictive impediments, forget even about the fact that it’s supposed to be used, and you’ve got an ICFF piece of furniture.

Who are the furniture philosophers? Clipped-haired men in cinched jackets and Philip Johnson spectacles, and hollow-cheeked women in linen shifts with a resemblance to Cruella de Vil. These are the people with the creativity and chutzpah to produce asymmetric… More…