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Funbag

The Cult Of The New Is Why Everything Feels So Old

2:47 PM EST on January 9, 2024

A new type of dryer is presented on the hair fashion show in London. About 1935. Photograph.
Imagno/Getty Images

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 water slides, short stories, Bluesky, and more.

Your letters:

Andy:

Many car commercials are bad, but two recent spots have haunted me for months. The first is a Hyundai ad showcasing a voice-activated power liftgate. The other is an Audi ad featuring touch-screen handwriting recognition. These are two of the dumbest features I have seen put into cars. I'm amazed these features were not only put into production, but that someone decided to feature these on TV. Which of these do you think is worse? And as a former ad guy, who's responsible for these marketing choices? 

I doubt it was the ad agency’s decision to showcase these features. That kinda shit is usually an order that comes directly from the client and then outlined in the agency’s creative brief. Most ads work this way. The client has something they want to highlight—a limited-time offer, a new color, 10 hot dogs per package instead of eight—and then they tell the agency to build an ad around it. Some agencies will push back, or their planning department will say, “Hey, we found that your customers would really like to hear about your bratwurst offerings instead,” but clients usually ignore all of that and reiterate their original demand. This goes double for car ads, because the automotive industry is a bizarre amalgam of conglomerates, franchise dealers, independent dealers, resellers, and Elon Musk. No one knows how any of it works.

But what everyone in that business does seem to know is that shiny objects bring in extra business. As with park assist, voice-activated liftgates and smart touchscreens are strictly showroom features. You put them in the latest model, and then you point them out on TV and in the showroom, and then you say to your customers, “Look at this cool new thing you can do with our car!” You’ll never use these features, but you’re suckered in by the idea of using them. This is because they look cool, and because the previous version of that car didn’t have them.

I tried to get this point into my Rebel Moon review a week ago, but it didn’t quite fit with the piece as a whole, so I’ll make it here. You and I live in a country where everyone has been trained to want the most up-to-date version of everything: phones, gaming consoles, cars, football stadiums, appliances, software, and (regrettably) art. If your phone is five years old, it’s a piece of shit. If your television is 10 years old, it must be a radio. If your HOUSE was built in 1950, you should tear it down and erect a dipshit McMansion in its place. So if you wanna know why Hollywood keeps making the same movies over and over again, it’s not merely because they’re out of ideas. It’s because it’s what people want. Sure, you’ve seen the Harry Potter movies. But are you happy having just the beta version of them? Don’t you want a NEW version, one that has more of the books in it, and comes with a free wand? You say you don’t, but that freshly remodeled kitchen of yours says otherwise.

Modern industry thrives on product demand, and you can only get people to buy new products if you can convince them to believe that old products are no longer sufficient. The easiest way to do that is with tweaks, like a new screensaver on your dashboard console. It’s not in any company’s interest to build something meant to last, nor anything that’s new in totality. You don’t get true innovation; you merely get a refreshed version of something that already exists. You can see why I had trouble working this point into an article about how shitty Rebel Moon was.

Kevin:

It's currently 9:13 a.m. on Thursday morning, January 4. While it's obviously impossible to know the answer, what is your guess of how many people around the world are, at this moment, watching the 1990 Steve Martin-Rick Moranis comedy My Blue Heaven?

At least one. That’s someone’s favorite movie, and who says that someone has to live in your time zone? It could be a Jokic Brother To Be Named Later, and he could be watching it right now at a house party in Fzrcicnik.

Now, allow me to regale you with a little Dad Factage. My Blue Heaven is comedy about a mobster (Steve Martin) who’s in witness protection and having trouble blending in, mostly because he doesn’t want to. This is of great concern to his handler (Rick Moranis), who’d like him to be more discreet. Now, they originally cast this movie with Moranis as the mob guy and Martin as the agent, but then the two actors decided to switch. I saw this movie in the theater and loved it, mostly because it was rated R and we snuck into it after buying tickets to some shitty PG movie. Every R movie is five percent better when you’re underage and you sneak into it. Multiply that by 400 when the movie in question is Basic Instinct.

Bill:

So I know that you've transitioned pretty much exclusively to Bluesky by now, for various justifiable reasons. I too have acquired a Bluesky invite, set my account up, and tried to follow as many of my favorite former Tweeters as possible (fuck off Elon, I'm calling it Twitter until you inevitably drive it to an early and undeserving grave). I'm struggling to transition over because so many of the folks I enjoy Twitter for are still not on Bluesky. How did you overcome the loss of a decade's worth of Twitter curating?

I didn’t. Someone else on Bluesky, I believe it was Dave Weigel, said that he uses every social media app differently now, with Bluesky for general chat and Twitter as a janky news source. That’s how I use both apps, especially during football season. I get my NFL news from all the usual suspects over on Twitter. But when I want to be, you know, social, I use Bluesky. Maybe the Ian Rapoports of the world migrate to the latter eventually, but I’m no longer emotionally invested one way or the other. Elon Musk bought Twitter and renamed it X so that he could make it into the fabled “everything app.” The irony is that Twitter was, for me, much more of an everything app before he bought it. Now it’s less useful, even on a purely functional level. So I have to use one app for one thing and another app for another. I don’t mind. Probably for the best that there NOT be an everything app that rules the whole goddamn world.

I also fucked up by making a public Instagram account to replace my Twitter feed. Instagram is always better when you have a private account. I should’ve known better. But I didn’t, so I only post to my Instagram account once a month, if that. Usually a picture of my dog.

Joe:

One thing about Defector has really started to grate on me lately, and it's how you and most (maybe all) of the writers refer to your articles as "blogs.” What gives? Why do all the writers here keep calling pieces "blogs?" Am I being myopic? Are you guys just used to calling your pieces blogs from when the old website was one?

That’s a leftover group habit from former Deadspin editor Tom Scocca, who argued passionately that individual blog posts were, themselves, “blogs.” Not everyone agreed with him, but the entire Deadspin staff started calling them blogs anyway, either half-jokingly or not. I was always on the “no, they’re called posts” side of the argument, and more or less stayed there. In fact, when we started Defector, I said to the company Slack that we should call them posts and not blogs. Anyway, my request to call blog posts “posts” went ignored, and I got over it.

As for Scocca, he’s currently suffering through a still-undiagnosed health crisis that I wouldn’t wish on anyone, and I hope he gets better. He’s a brilliant man and we’re all better off when he at full strength, editing and writing blogs as he sees fit. The account of his autoimmune disorder linked in this paragraph will be the best thing I read all year.

PB:

I’m reading a book of short stories and I'm realizing that I always skim the table of contents to find the shortest story, and am definitely annoyed if there's nothing under 30 pages. Been doing it since I was a kid. Generally it's with an author I don't know, and what I'm looking for is to digest a whole story so I can figure out whether I want to read the whole book. Maybe I'm crazy, but I feel like this has to be common enough that I'm always boggled that the 12-pager is always like fourth to last or something, with the opener clocking in at 47+ or something. Why not just throw the best of the quickies up front cause that's what 60% of reader's are gonna hit first anyway, and save us the trouble of carrying the one as we do page number subtractions? These authors never make a mixtape before? What gives?

Most readers aren’t gonna give you a whole short story before they cut bait. You get a page, if that. You might only get a paragraph. So if you’re writing a short story anthology, the order of the stories won’t matter because the average adult reader will forgive a lengthy story if it’s compelling right out of the gate.

Like PB, I was also once very irritated by lengthy short stories. In high school, they’d assign us stories like “The Dead” and I’d be like, “Hey man, this isn’t short! This is the longest story in the whole goddamn book! FALSE ADVERTISING!” Did I care that “The Dead” is widely considered the greatest short story ever written, or that James Joyce would one day become one of my favorite authors? No and no. I just wanted less homework.

I still carry a bit of that aversion with me to this day. At times, reading still feels like work. I’m sure plenty of other people have this same problem, but your average book buyer does not. Those people like to read, so they’re not eye-banging the menu to make sure that every short story in Dubliners is five pages or less.

Mike:

I know you love a great guitar riff. So, if I made you name some favorite opening guitar riffs, ones that make you say fuck yes when you hear them, what’s on your list? For the sake of my question, let’s say you can name one a decade, beginning in 1950s.

I’m not gonna go by decade, because I’m not certain they even had guitars in the 1950s. Instead I’m gonna punt and give you a straight list.

  • “Snakes For The Divine” (High On Fire)
  • “…And Justice For All” (Metallica)
  • “Whole Lotta Rosie” (AC/DC)
  • “Such A Fool” (22-20s)
  •  “10 A.M. Automatic” (Black Keys)
  • “Thirty Dozen Roses” (Bob Mould)
  • “You Could Be Mine” (GNR)
  • “Hangar 18” (Megadeth)
  • “Kickstart My Heart” (Motley Crue)
  • “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar But I Feel Like A Millionaire” (QOTSA)
  • “Teenage Kicks” (Undertones)
  • “Hate To Say I Told You So” (Hives)

That last one, for my money, is the greatest guitar riff in history. Every time I hear it, I wanna jump through the ceiling.

HALFTIME!

Neil:

Come on old ad guy, it's been proven: car advertising is to assure car buyers that they made the right decision. No one denies this!

You’re right, you’re right. Those ads work on me the same way. Whenever I see my Hyundai in an ad, my brain goes THAT’S MY CAR and I get very excited. It’s not unlike if I saw one of my children on television, really.

Brian:

I'm 43 and decided to make some New Year's resolutions for the first time in my life. One of them is to try and not just search the Internet when I have a question about something non-vital. It has really made me realize how much absolutely useless shit occupies my time. Such dumb minutiae. But, asking actual human beings questions is great. It makes me think harder about some stuff and talk to people more. It's been an interesting few days.

Yeah, I’d rather ask a person a question than ask Google. You can get a quick answer from Google, but then you’ve killed the conversation. “Oh wow, that WAS Martin Scorsese’s mom playing Tommy’s mom in Goodfellas!” It’s tempting to settle any argument or get confirmation of a random fact by whipping out your phone, but then you’re skipping over the value of an interaction that’s only superficially pointless. You and everyone else at the dinner table are having a fun argument, or you’re digging through your collective memory to remember a Guy, or you’re doing mental math. All of that is good for your brain, plus it gives you and your friends something to talk about. You’re wasting time, but you’re doing it together. Plus, you never know what turn the conversation will take as you’re stumbling around for answers. Phones disrupt the conversation process, which means that there are probably a lot of people out there who no longer know how to have one.

That goes for me, too. It’s easier to stare at my phone than, say, talk to my wife. So I end up doing the former far too often, which causes less marital strife than it does marital drift. Also, I only recently discovered that my excessive screen time exacerbated some of my worst anxious tics, namely going to the bathroom over and over again. So I’ve made a point lately of keeping my phone out of the mix. If I’m watching a movie or a football game, I’m ONLY doing that. I put my phone out of arm’s reach so that I’m not tempted. If I want to take a nap, I leave the phone on the other side of the room and read a bit to settle my mind beforehand. When I write, I no longer keep my phone in my pocket (though I still take breaks to play Immaculate Grid, Yazy, and other games). And I no longer take my phone into the bathroom. This is all very basic shit, but I had worked my phone usage into everything I did, so I was never doing anything free of distraction. I have to retrain my mind to focus on what it’s supposed to be focusing on, and so far it’s worked pretty well.

As for resolutions, I have passed through the veil and no longer consider them to be meaningless. You wanna set a goal for the new year? Go for it. I’m still carrying an extra 10 pounds on me from when I couldn’t exercise for an entire month post-stent surgery. I cut down my daily calorie budget to get that weight off, and I’m still in the 220s. Total bullshit. An injustice if there ever was one. But I refuse to be beaten. You hear me, God? I’m getting this weight off and making my way back to Sexytown, and there ain’t shit you can do about it!

(Wife brings home some dark chocolate almond butter cups from Trader Joe’s)

Dammit.

Jonathan:

I love water slides. I'm 36 and still get excited if I see a hotel that has one in their pool. I'll take my kids to a water park over a normal theme park if I have the option. The problem with most water slides is that they're too short. I'm always left wanting a few more twists and turns before I plunge into the pool at the end. But how long would be too long? Would a 15-minute long water slide be fun? If not, what would be the first thing to annoy you?

When I was young, my parents took me and my siblings to Hawaii, where we stayed at a luxe resort that had its own water slides. Even better, the slides acted as thruways, carrying you from one very large pool area to a different one. Lines were scant, so you could frolic around and ride any slide you wanted, anytime you wanted. They weren’t long slides, but they were long enough, and they were free of plastic seams that rake your thighs and love handles. In the ensuing decades, I have yet to encounter another pool/water park setup this ideal. If I were a billionaire, I would find the blueprint for this resort and have my contractor rebuild it as my private oasis.

Because like Jonathan, I love water slides. My only beef with most water slides is that they end at all, which means I’ll have to get out of the pool, climb 500 stairs back to the top, and then wait in line for an hour for another spin. The longer the slide, the less I have to deal with all of that attendant horseshit. So as far as I’m concerned, no public water slide can be too long. Make the ride an hour long and I’d be happy as a clam, or some other contented mollusk. I might throw up after half an hour or so, but water parks are rife with sewage anyway. We went to one in Virginia that shut down at 2:00 p.m. because a kid took a dump in the wave pool. Nothing I ain’t seen before.

My apologies for answering that question two ways. The point is that if a slide is EXCLUSIVE, it can be a 120-second ride and I’ll be happy. If it’s open to the greater public, I need it to run from New York to Los Angeles.

Catherine:

Why the heck can’t kids’ sports leagues get their schedules together? I’m baffled that, in a world with a million free online scheduling tools, shared calendar apps, webforms, messaging tools, and the like, I’m still getting notified less than a day in advance of the day, time, and place where my kid needs to be for practice. I’m not talking about rescheduling rained-out games or for emergencies. Every season, it’s been like trying to learn the itinerary of undercover CIA agents just to get basic information for the practice and game schedules.

This is because, in any given municipality, there are 50,000 youth league teams and only 5,000 fields available for them to practice on. Some of these fields are public, which means that coaches and administrators have to get permission from the county to use the field. Some of these fields are private, which means that coaches and administrators have to get permission from the owner. In either case, this permission is always subject it revocation at a moment’s notice. If there’s shitty weather, or a conflict with another team, or surprise graduation ceremony, your kid’s team gets the bump and then the coaches and admins—who often have to work real jobs during the day—have to find a substitute as quickly as they can.

My son has played youth soccer long enough now that I can discern which leagues are switching schedules around purely because they’re at the mercy of field owners, and which ones genuinely don’t have their shit together. And a lot of these leagues fit into the latter category. Their fucking apps don’t even work. But either way, I still end up having to drive here and there and everywhere, every day of the week. I often don’t know where practice is until I get in the car, and I’m long past being annoyed by it. I just go where I’m pointed, then I drive back home and enjoy a decaf. Because these leagues will never have set schedules unless I run them myself, and I’m too smart to ever want that job.

Mike:

What percent of regular dudes think they could hang with Caitlin Clark in a game of one-on-one?

Call it 25 percent. Those same guys are also all $5,000 down on FanDuel right now.

Peter:

Isn’t having a teenager like having a crappy roommate? I’m having flashbacks to when I lived with three guys right out of college. I have to hide food that I want to eat in the fridge. I’ll come down to late night destroyed kitchens. There are clothes strewn everywhere. My mantra these days is, “You will miss her next year, you will miss her next year.”

Oh wow, it really is. My oldest is always complaining that there’s nothing to eat in the hosue, and my wife and I are like, “Girl, we just went to the store. Why don’t YOU take your sorry ass to the store if you’re so goddamn hungry?” Then she makes a fart face, goes up to her room, and shuts the door. Then she comes back down and asks for a cat. That’s a roommate, all right.

TJ:

I'm currently in grad school (thanks for the subscription btw!) getting my PhD in history from the Harvard of the borderlands that is UTEP. Recently, I finished up coursework and moved back to Kansas and began to adjunct at a little religious private school to supplement my PhD stipend and get a bit closer to a livable wage. Every MWF, I drive a hair over an hour and 75ish miles each way. Is this ethical in our world, with climate change? I am currently living at my elderly father's house to help him out as he has had some health struggles. The area the school is in does not have any honest affordable housing. Where do we draw the line? Am I obligated to buy a hybrid, or move some classes online, or do I just have to ignore that and just accept I'm still contributing to Earth's inevitable heat death despite the reasons?

You have to accept it. You’re a victim of circumstance here. We all are, in a way. This country doesn’t have a first class mass transit infrastructure, so most working Americans have little choice but to commute by car, or by airplane for longer trips. You can feel bad about it, as every good registered Democrat does. But feeling bad won’t make a difference, nor will rearranging your life to reduce your personal carbon footprint. BIG OIL will still burn through the rest of the Earth’s crust anyway. Wow, that was kinda depressing. Here’s a picture of Carter to cleanse your palate.

Email of the week!

Michael:

I have a cousin (call him Vinny) who is a big, obnoxious Cowboys fan. His sister's husband (idk, Mark?) is an Eagles fan. Mark has two boys, and ever since they were young, Vinny has been pushing them on the Cowboys (getting them memorabilia, talking up the Cowboys on Sundays). Now they're both Cowboys fans, and they mock their dad constantly for being an Eagles fan. Is this acceptable on Vinny's part? What’s Mark's play? Tell him to cut the crap? Get into an arms race with him on winning over the kids? Obviously this is nothing compared to real, actual problems that people have, but I've always felt a little bad for Mark, especially now that his kids are approaching teen years and have really latched onto their uncle's team.

Oh he should murder Vinny in cold blood. No jury would convict.

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