colloquialism

Something Completely Different

Shizuo Heiwajima wanders Ikebukuro. (Detail of frame from Durarara!! episode 7, "Bad-Ass Dude".)

“Have to face it, I’m finally an addict; the smell of popcorn and worn plush lingers for weeks.”

Margaret Atwood

Here’s a change of pace:

No matter where you go, the movie theaters tend to smell the same: like popcorn, and the butter-like stuff they put on the popcorn, and that stale odor of recycled air-conditioned air.

Also fear, and sadness, and joy. These feelings aren’t scents, per se, in that you don’t take a whiff of air and consciously think, “Man, it smells scary in here.” But in a study published earlier this week in the journal Nature, a team of researchers found that the air in movie theaters tends to take on unique chemical signatures based on how the audience reacts to what’s happening on the screen. A horror film, for instance, will have a different chemical imprint than a comedy, which will leave a different mark than a tearjerker.

The report from Cari Romm for Science of Us actually sets a number of thoughts in motion, including a weirdly recursive context in which yes, actually people do now have ideas of something smelling scary, and as the colloquialism sets roots in American culture the idea will eventually concretize or crystallize long enough to be noted, and then set right back to shifting and changing and growing and evolving. It’s not quite the same as the decade-old debate whether sour apple or lime tastes like green, though even then the question illustrates contextual challenges. To wit, the straightforward answer: I’m middle-aged; the sour-apple thing is “new” by comparison, so “lime” is what tastes like “green”. A more honest answer: Marijuana. A more cultural-contextually useful answer: I’m sure as a middle-aged lifer in cedar and hemlock country, green means something different to me than it would a young’n barely as tall as the wheat that is all he can see for miles in any direction.

Smells, of course, are more interesting, but translating the relevant trivia about memory into something useful seems a challenging return on investment especially according to a daunting prospect against success.

Nor should we wonder why Atwood comes to mind.

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Image note: Shizuo Heiwajima wanders Ikebukuro. (Detail of frame from Durarara!! episode 7, “Bad-Ass Dude”.)

Atwood, Margaret. “You Take My Hand And”. 1971.

Romm, Cari. “Movie Theaters Smell Like People’s Feelings”. Science of Us. 13 May 2016.

The Electric Jonestown Clusterbumble

This was inevitable:

You’ve probably heard the expression, “He drank the Kool-Aid.”

Kool Aid Man wrecks everything ... again.Arianna Huffington once used it to describe supporters of George W. Bush’s economic policies. Bill O’Reilly said it of his critics (“the Kool-Aid people,” he told listeners, “are going nuts”). In 2012, Forbes called it a top annoying cliché used by business leaders.

There’s a problem with this flip word play though: That expression was born of a nightmare.

Thirty-seven years ago today, 918 people died in Jonestown, a Guyana jungle settlement, and at a nearby airstrip. Some of us knew the victims. I grew up with one of them, Maria Katsaris.

(Richardson)

Alright, then, you heard the man.

And in truth, his reason is no worse than any other, even for those of us who found the phrase offensive for its blithe lack of distinction. That is to say, drinking electric Kool-Aid is a variation on the theme, and much more useful than the Jonestown variation, but from the outset it has been subject to a certain sort of (ahem!) “affirmative action” whereby a conserative drinks the Kool-Aid by believing in a tinfoil wingnut conspiracy theory, but a liberal believes the Kool-Aid by disagreeing with conservatives. At some point, conservatives need to just come right out and demand reasonable accommodation under the ADA.

Yet this is how far we’ve come.

And who knows, perhaps before all this is over, Republicans will fulfill the Jonestown version, too. You know, “Second Amendment solutions”, and all.

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Richardson, James D. “The phrase ‘drank the Kool-Aid’ is completely offensive. We should stop saying it immediately.” The Washington Post. 18 November 2014.

Waldman, Paul. “The real problem with Joni Ernst’s quote about guns and the government”. The Washington Post. 23 October 2014.