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Funbag

Pop Culture Is Good For Your Children

1:49 PM EST on January 24, 2023

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Time for your weekly edition of the Defector Funbag. Got something on your mind? Email the Funbag. And buy Drew’s book, The Night The Lights Went Out, while you’re at it. Today, we're talking about punts, old vaccine cards, redheads, eating garbage, and more.

Your letters!

Thor:

When I was a kid, my parents wouldn’t let me listen to or purchase any CDs with a Parental Advisory sticker. On any genre or album. If it had the sticker, I couldn’t get the CD. This obviously did not stop me from listening, as my childhood was the height of Napster, Kazaa, Limewire etc., and I was happy to not spend $25 on a CD with two good songs. So I ask you, do you prevent your kids from listening to (re: streaming) any music? What’s your rubric for deciding on child appropriate music? What’s today’s equivalent to the dreaded Parental Advisory sticker? 

My wife and I have a Spotify Family account, which means that our kids get their own Spotify profiles and can do whatever the fuck they want with them. We’ve had this setup since the youngest was roughly six. There’s a toggle switch that filters out songs with the E (for “explicit”) tag on them, but I honestly can’t remember if we kept that on for our youngest or if we didn’t. I think it’s off because he’s the one who introduced me to “Stunnin’” by Curtis Waters, which features these lyrics:

Hey, good pussy sound like pasta
I got young dick, call the pastor
She give good brain, she a master
Little Einstein, bitch, I'ma blast off

If you think I shut down the 10-year-old’s account when I heard these lyrics, you would be incorrect. First of all, they’re not all that easy to parse when you listen. Second, dirty shit like that usually goes over a kid’s head anyway. Third, the song is good. And lastly, this is how kids learn. I grew up when the Parental Advisory sticker was invented by Tipper Gore, who apparently had nothing better to do with her time. So I’ve spent my whole life with American parents openly worrying about what pop culture will do to their children. Heavy metal caused kids to commit suicide. Video games did Columbine. Hip hop is why there’s crime. Not only is all of that horseshit, but not once do these self-appointed censors actually consider the idea that pop culture has something to teach them. It does. It’s art, and art is one the best teachers there is.

My parents didn’t care what I watched or listened to, which meant that everything I learned about sex came from art. Sometimes it freaked me out when I was a kid. If I heard the act of sex referenced earnestly in a song, or saw people doing it in a music video, it’d make me uncomfortable. I was uneasier with the “I Want Your Sex” video than even George Michael was. That’s because I was too young to comprehend it, and I had my own internal gauge that told me what was appropriate for me and what wasn’t. I didn’t need my mom hovering over me and screaming FILTH FLARN FILTH to get the gist. I went at my own pace, and then puberty hit and every video that had tits in it became a gift from God.

As you can imagine, not all of this art was perfect. 2 Live Crew hit at the exact right time for me and I cherished that tape even though the songs were dogshit. I’ll still advocate for the artistic value of hair metal (Def Leppard), but not all of it (Winger). And a lot of the movies I worshipped from that time—Revenge of the Nerds, etc.—have become embarrassingly outdated. But I’m still glad I got to take in all of influences instead of being a de facto pop culture Mennonite. You can’t learn in a vacuum, and you can’t learn everything from your parents. You need a phalanx of teachers, friends, coaches, artists, and outright strangers to be your early influences. I learned about sex from music. I learned about drug abuse from stand-up comedians, and what happened TO those stand-up comedians. I learned about safe gun use from Arnold Schwarzenegger. And look at me now. I’M AMERICA’S FAVORITE BLOGGER. Tell me those facts aren’t all related.

So I have no problem with my own kids going through a similar evolution. I don’t leave ALL of the parenting to screens and headphones, but I give pop culture a wide berth. When we took the kids to see John Mulaney live a month ago, the entire set was about his drug addiction and recovery. It beat any heart-to-heart on that subject that I, or some asshole speaking at school assembly, could have given them. All of this shit is education. Even when it shocks you or makes you uncomfortable, you’re gonna take something away from the exchange. That doesn’t mean I want my kids staring at Goatse 950 times a day, but I’m also smart enough to know they don’t wanna do that, either. I also make sure they don’t follow any of the racist Youtubers.

The gag is that, to answer Thor’s question, the modern equivalent of that Parental Advisory sticker is some fuckhead Texas mom burning a copy of The Autobiography Of Malcolm X because it’s dangerously woke. That’s the shit that freaks out American parents now. Somehow Tipper was the saner one.

Evan:

Gentle punts, like around or inside the 50, are fun. So nice. 

So long as it’s not my team bailing on a fourth-and-short for that punt, I sincerely agree. Low-stakes punts are very soothing.

Now, a quick addendum to Evan’s sentiment: I went to an NFL game in person just over a week ago and for your sake, I left out of that story all of the differences I found between watching a game live and watching it on TV, because you presumably go to more live sporting events than I do. You already know that it’s cool to see the All-22 action unfold in real time. You already know that you’ll miss a lot of the small things that you wouldn’t with a TV broadcast. But I just wanted to note that watching PUNTS live, in person, is majestic. Punting looks easy on TV. In the stadium, it’s ninja shit. These men can kick the ball so, so far. I was breathless. At one point I said to no one in particular, “Our punter is so good,” without a hint of irony. Sell tickets to a punting exhibition (probably happening at the Pro Bowl next weekend) and I’d snatch them right up.

Todd:

How would you feel if every streaming service removed the Skip Intro option? I usually like watching them, but others act like I’m a monster if I don’t mash the button immediately.

I want the option. I need the intro for certain shows—Severance, Stranger Things, Mad Men, and The Sopranos come immediately to mind—to get extra hyped for the ensuing 50 minutes. But when the intro doesn’t give me that hype boost—The Wire and Succession, oddly enough—I hit that button as fast as I can. If HBO Max ever ditched that function, and I’m sure their new bosses there are considering it as some kind of cost-cutting measure, I’d be really fucking annoyed. I’d even do a tweet about it. That’d learn ‘em.

Chad:

Do I still need to carry my ‘rona vaccine card? Do you still carry yours? Is it still laminated?

I still keep mine in my wallet. It’s laminated, but it’s not up to date. I got the bivalent booster months ago, but was out of my OMG I Just Got Jabbed! phase by the time I got it, which meant I didn’t bother to triumphantly walk into a Staples and ask for a fresh copy-and-lamination job. No one’s asked to see my vax card in ages. I went to France last month and even THEY didn’t ask to see it. I think I’ve been asked to flash that card a grand total of three times since my first dose. At this point, the only reason I keep it in my wallet is out of lingering vaccine pride, and because I guess I’m still hoping that I walk into a random taco joint one day and they’ll ask me to brandish it. Oh you wanna know if I’m one of the good ones? BOOYAKASHA, here’s proof!

That’ll never happen. From a bureaucratic standpoint (at least outside of medical facilities), they consider the pandemic long over. I’m likely a year removed from bothering to test myself when I get a tickle in my throat. I’ll just be like, “Might be COVID, might not,” and then I’ll go eat a sandwich. Antivaxxers are still some of our worst shitheads, but I’m done keeping a mental headcount of who’s being responsible and who isn’t. I’d rather just go enjoy my life as best I can.

And I do enjoy it. Sometimes when I’m out and about, I remind myself you know, you weren’t able to do any of this shit two years ago. I remember the days when I was watching sports played in empty stadiums, and when my kids were stranded in e-school, and when my wife and I binge-watched Outer Banks just so that we had exterior locations to stare at while cloistered inside the house. It’s very nice to be able to live freely once more. Sure, someone might gun me down while I’m out there, but I’ll take my chances. That’s how grateful I am to be walking around malls again.

Mike:

I currently watch Entourage while I’m on the elliptical. Am I an asshole?

There’s no way to work out on elliptical without looking like an asshole, so you may as well go all the way with it. I took a CALL once while working out on mine and became so self-conscious about it that I had to end the call as quickly as I could. I didn’t wanna be a “does business while working out” guy. That’s Jack Dorsey shit.

With that in mind, you’re already in the hole when you’re on that machine, so why not watch Entourage for it if that revs your engine? As long as you’re not at the gym and watching it without headphones on, I’m not gonna judge you. I gave the Entourage MOVIE a positive review, for fuck’s sake. I also watched the show back when everyone else did. It’s fast-paced and utterly devoid of tension. A perfect workout show. Maybe I should be like Mike here and put on Vinny and the gang while I’m getting’ in some cardio in the basement. HEY DRAMA! DREW’S DOIN’ THE FUCKIN’ WORKOUT!

Proud Redhead Who Wanted To Dye His Hair In Fifth Grade, Asshole:

When do all the redheads take offense and cancel everyone who uses the term "ginger" to describe people with red hair? One of your posts used that prerogative not once, but twice (Note: it doesn't bother me, but since everyone else wants to whine about shit, here I go). Did we choose to be redheads? No. When do us redheads get pissed off? We’re a resilient bunch. We have been absolutely bullied since fourth grade. But yet, we soldier on. We were born with red hair, so when do we decide to mount a Red 2 campaign? 

BRING IT, BUDDY. I’ll hold you down and play connect the dots with every freckle on your face! I watched an episode of South Park in 1998 that told me making fun of gingers was okay and that’s all I need to know! Redheads are for cheap jokes and detailed pornography searches, and you’re just gonna have to deal with it! I can’t have this Red Wave Of Wokeness deny me my stereotypes, or my right to cruelly eat red M&M’s in front of Julianne Moore’s face, and I’m willing to DIE to stop that wave.

Jeff:

The internet tells me you have multiple children. Please put on your serious journalist fedora and answer this objectively: which of them is most likely to become a nepo baby?

The youngest one. The oldest wants to be a psychologist and the middle one wants to be a professional soccer star. My connections, outside of the usual “It’s such a small world!” white person shit, are of virtually no help in either regard. But the youngest wants to be a writer/comedian/chef/graphic designer/anime artist. He’s the apple who stayed closest to the tree, so look out for him blogging for Defector eight years from now. It’ll be like Kyle Shanahan’s career arc, only adorable.

HALFTIME!

Barry:

In the January 10th Funbag, Mike ragged on Scott Caan (deserved) but he also took a shit on FOX shows. While he's not wrong, I would gladly be subjected to the FOX ads instead of CBS. Good god, that network is an abomination. Their NFL coverage is terrible to begin with, but the shows are particularly bad. Every drama looks and sounds like every other drama. Same with every comedy. It's like they use the same writer, director, and sound stage for all of it. It reminds me of the sight gag from The Simpsons where Duff, Duff Lite, and Duff Dry all come from the same pipe. Am I wrong? 

You’re not wrong. All of that uniformity is by design. CBS was arguably the first of the broadcast networks to recognize that a procedural formula show (the original CSI) could be replicated over and over and over again, as could any Chuck Lorre sitcom. So they shat out a bunch of acronym shows with the same sets, the same episode templates, and the same beats, and they have reaped a bazillion dollars.

That’s why every other network has tried to establish procedural franchises of their own: Multiple SVUs and Chicago Whatevers on NBC, 911s on Fox, offensively shitty Ryan Murphy/Shonda Rhimes shows on Netflix, etc. I can’t watch any network show now—even ones that don’t fit neatly into that established formula—because I recognize the beats instantly and they grate on me. Now Entourage? There’s a show that had SOUL. Real E-heads know what I’m talking about.

Curtis:

At what stage do Denver's back-to-back Super Bowl victories evoke nothing more than the dry ashes of yesterday’s BBQ? We’re trapped in some kind of zero draft pick/zero trade bait/zero-gas-left QB hell, from which we have no immediate future relief. Oh yeah, and those pesky Chiefs are still around. Do I just roll that stone on up the hill for the next few seasons? I’m 71, for the sake of all that used to be holy.

OK, but you DID watch them win three titles in your lifetime, with one of them coming just seven years ago. You got what you needed from the Broncos, even as they’ve spent the past few years eating paste in the back of the classroom. You will die with that monkey off your shoulder, so I can only be so sympathetic. Your plight isn’t the same as Cowboys fans trying to milk some pity out of me, but it’s not that different either. Some football teams have fallow periods. Some teams have fallow histories. I’m more sympathetic to the latter, which is why I’m a Bengals fan for the rest of these playoffs.

You have the right to be annoyed at the Broncos, of course. Being a sports fan means spending 80 percent of your life annoyed at something. If I were a Broncos fan right now, I’d want Russell Wilson cremated alive. Then I’d remember those three Lombardis and say to myself, “OK, I guess it’s not so bad.” Then I’d go full big-picture mode and remember how lucky I am to have a healthy family, and good food, and lovely sunrises. And then, two minutes later, I’d go right back to being like GEORGE PATON NEEDS TO BE FIRED AND DEPORTED. I yearn for such a life.

Matt:

How many life changing inventions/innovations died on the vine because some Shark Tank producer didn’t find the entrepreneur TV worthy?

Zero. It's not just the producers who are shallow assholes. Same as with any other reality show, every potential contestant in the Shark Tank casting pool applied because they wanna be on television, and nothing past that. None of them are the next Steve Jobs. None of them have the desire, or the cognitive ability, to invent an app that cures cancer. If Shark Tank rejects them, they already have applications in to 56 other, unrelated reality shows anyway. Reality show contestants are their own gig economy. Whenever I buy a product that was featured on Shark Tank, and somehow I’ve actually done this, I feel like an idiot.

Yusuke:

Say there’s a Station Eleven-level apocalyptic event and food production stops completely, which do you resort to first: foraging in your neighborhood or eating pet food (doesn’t really matter what kind of pet as long as it’s not intended for human consumption and you have enough for your human family and pets)?

Both at the same time. I’m a suburban animal to my core. When the power goes out for 20 minutes here, I have a nervous breakdown. So if Armageddon arrives I will be an absolute fucking coward. I’ll sell out close friends to make a buck. I’ll trample innocent children to get on the last steamship out of town. And yes, I’ll eat other people’s garbage. I’ve eaten out of my own garbage already, and I used to eat uneaten leftovers that came into the kitchen when I was a teenage waiter. Not a line I’m afraid to cross. Especially when I’m desperate, and it takes NOTHING to make me desperate.

As for the dog food, I’m tempted NOW to try it. I can’t smell, so I’m not warded off by the odor of processed beef testicles in a can. Carter’s wet dog food looks like pate. Studies show it TASTES like pate. And I love pate. I could eat pate by the brick. So really, I’m denying myself an affordable pleasure when I give that food to Carter and not to myself. The kibble he can have forever. I won’t fuck with that. But the good wet stuff? That comes with me when my son and I walk along The Road.

Kevin:

Like you, I fantasize about being my favorite team's coach or GM and leading them to victory. But when I hold shower press conferences, I find that I'm too worried about causing the team unnecessary distractions that I end up giving fairly boring responses. So what about you: When you're cosplaying as your team's coach or GM in your fantasies, what kind of personality do you have with the imagined media in your head? Do you play it straight-up, or do you let loose? 

I’m way too buttoned up. I play it as if I’m the actual coach and can’t let the press have too much. I don’t go the full Bulworth and tell them OUR DEFENSE IS SHIT AND I WANT NEW PLAYERS. The funny thing is that my team’s last coach did exactly that, and I didn’t like it. The art of PR is living rent-free in my head! OUT OUT DAMNED SPOT! I don’t even fantasize about coaching my team to a Super Bowl win. I take it one game at a time, for no fucking reason at all. I used to be cooler, I swear.

Jonathan:

The friend of my kid sleeps over. We get a text after the friend arrives from their parent, inviting us to drop off the kid at the parent’s band’s Saturday morning coffee shop gig. Am I being invited to go see this band, or is this just telling me where to drop off the kid? For context, I have never received communication from this couple other than about our kids’ friendship. 

Don’t overthink it. Just drop the kid off and get the fuck out of there. Even if the other parent is trying to subtly invite you to their gig, you don’t have to take that bait. Heed the rude lesson that De La Soul is teaching up above and treat other people’s coffeeshop gigs and demo tapes like the poison that they are. I should do a better job talking to other parents. When I come back home after taking the 14-year-old to a soccer game, my wife will ask me, “Did you talk to the other dads?” and my answer is always no plus “I was busy with a thing.” But even with that in mind, agreeing to listen to another parent play Dylan covers on a Saturday morning at a Caribou Coffee is something that even our most extroverted Karens would never agree to.

While we’re on the subject…

Brandon:

I’m 30ish YO dad, and as such I go to the playground more often than most people I know. I don’t have as many friends as I used to, for many reasons, and so I enjoy talking with other dads at the park. A couple weeks ago, I get into a conversation with a dad, part ways back to our respective kids and wives, but it seems he wants to keep the conversation going. I figure hey! Might be a great opportunity to make a friend. Drew, I was wrong. Motherf*cker was trying to convince me to join him in a crypto MSM! I don’t regret putting myself out there, but is there an easier way of doing this?

Outside of becoming a Defector subscriber and making buds for life in the comment section, no. No, it turns out that making friends as an adult is just as hard as making them when you were young, only that work is 600 percent less appealing. When you’re a kid, making friends is the single most important thing in your existence. When you’re my age, it’s somewhere below paying the bills and Eh shit I gotta replace that ratty HDMI cable. The game doesn’t change, but you do.

Adam:

I have the entirety of all music's historical catalogue at my disposal with Spotify, YouTube music, etc, and I just stare at my phone screen unsure where to even start. It's like I forgot what I like beyond like, three artists and eight albums. I used to have taste, man! I used to be able to pair music to the moment like a sommelier picking wine at a restaurant. I am almost missing the days of the giant CD binder which held THE CHOICES and I had to pick from them and do the best I can. What happened? Is this a thing? 

That’s the tyranny of choice. You have so many options that you get overwhelmed and immediately retreat to the safest, most predictable choices on hand. My Spotify Wrapped has featured the same songs in the top 50 for like five years now. I could chalk that up to being pickier in old age, but the truth is that I don’t wanna put the work in to finding new shit.

That sounds ridiculous when that “work” involves touching a screen. Spotify even tries to HELP me find what I like (although it’s almost always wrong). It doesn’t matter. Deprived of physical record stores and physical CDs/tapes/records that I can touch and marvel at, finding new music feels less like a fun shopping trip and more like filling out a government form. There are 50 million songs that pay tribute to the radio, to jukeboxes, and to DJs. There are none that do the same for, like, Tidal. It’s because, with streaming music, the moment of discovery happens when you’re staring at a phone, and not when you’re riding in a convertible or high on molly at a club. There’s no memory in the work, which blunts the impact of whatever new music you find.

Now, does that mean I hope that streaming music ends and that we all go back to looking for music at a local Sam Goody? No. Fuck that shit. Progress demands certain sacrifices. Also you guys introduced me to Electric Callboy this season and that was more than enough to tide me over for a while.

Email of the week!

Kristopher:

This just happened. I was walking to the kitchenette to toss my post-lunch detritus when I passed a friendly acquaintance in the shared workspace I use. I had my earbuds in, but since this is the first time we'd seen each other since the start of the new year, I started removing one of the earbuds to have some nice chit chat. He read my cues and slowed down. But my fingers were greasy from my lunch and the earbud fell against my chest, where I pinned it against myself with my free arm. I was looking down at the folds of my hoodie to locate the earbud when the acquaintance asked how I was. I mumbled something back along the lines of ...'my earbud...' He then gave me a sporting fistbump against the back of my free hand, which was pinned against my chest (I was still looking down at such an extreme angle my jaw had recessed into my neck), and I said 'see you!' Bear in mind we will continue to be working about 15 feet away from one another in an open plan office for the next four hours.

Nailed it!

You did. You saved the earbud, and that’s what matters.

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