Sunday, July 05, 2015

Podcast: 99% Invisible - part 3

Here are some more summaries of the 99% invisible podcasts I've been listening to (again, this is pretty much a cut and paste job from the 99% Invisible web-site). If you are into social history and learning more about the things we tend to overlook in everyday life, then 99% Invisible is the place to go:

Episode 169: Freud’s Couch (how the couch became a symbol of the profession)

  • Freud practised hypnosis and needed a couch to relax the patient because he wasn't particularly good at inducing the hynotic state. 
  • When a patient, Fanny Moser, “you’re very getting sleepy” and she would insist that, no, in fact,  she wasn’t. Instead, Fanny Moser wanted to talk. She wanted to tell him her stories. That’s when the light went on. Freud realized that if you just let patients talk and don’t say anything, they will let down their defenses, and the unconscious will be revealed. This is the moment when the pre-Freudian Freud becomes the Freudian Freud. The Freudian Freud’s new techniques and theories for therapy would come to be called “psychoanalysis,” and it would be embodied, in practice and popular culture, by a single piece of furniture: the couch.
  •  ...the couch took on such a central role in psychoanalytic practice that it started to mean good business for analytic couch manufacturers. Imperial Leather Furniture Company, in Queens New York, sold psychoanalytic couches like hot cakes, starting in the 1940s.
  • Couch became and still is a key cultural symbol of the profession, even though it is used far less in practice these days. 
Episode 137: Good Bread 
  • Me: This is a good example of how the sense of goodness/badness about food can come more from it's cultural history than its nutritional make-up.
  • The importance of bread is, shall we say, baked into language. Take for instance, the word “companion.” If we take the word back to its Latin roots, we get “cum,” which means  “with,” and “panis,” which is “bread.” A companion, therefore is someone you sit down and break bread with.
  • In the middle ages most people got about 80% of their daily calories from bread. Fast forward a millenium or so to the late 19th Century, people were still getting about 30% of their calories from bread. 
  • Bakeries of the early industrial age were dirty and often underground, usually with terrible working conditions. You never knew when the baker would cut costs by mixing the dough with sawdust or other horrible additives. Also, around the late 1800s and early 1900s, there was a lot of food-borne illness such as cholera and typhus. A lot of Americans were starting to fear their food.
  • People then started getting really interested in where their food came from—only back in the turn of the century, that meant avoiding locally baked bread. Factory bread, the thinking went, was made by clean hands in a modern, light-filled palace of industry. One could see that factory-made bread was clean and healthy, because it was spotless and white.
  • Technically speaking, white flour is whole wheat flour with the bran and the germ from the wheat kernel sifted out. Industrial bakers chose white bread as their flagship bread because for them, white meant purity and cleanliness and modernity.
  • This fear over the safety of bread, it turned out, actually wasn’t actually about bread at all. It was fear about immigration—about the supposedly diseased and dirty hands of southern and eastern European immigrants handling bread in neighborhood bakeries. For middle and upper class whites, xenophobia become inseparable from fears about bread safety.
  • Industrialisation and standardisation: It was complex to make uniformly. bread was one of the last major foods to be industrialized precisely because of how complex it is to make uniformly.They cut the time it took for the bread to rise by adding sugars and cranking up the temperature. They added emulsifiers to allow the dough’s water and fat to mix together better, giving white bread its height and a more even grain. (That also got rid of the holes.) Eventually vitamins were added, and white bread was sold to the public as a means of making hearty the young men who woulds serve in the war effort.
  • ...strangely, the Americans who were buying loaf upon loaf of this white bread didn’t actually like it. The Rockford study found many complaints against the texture of industrial white bread—and yet studies also showed that consumers would buy the lightest and fluffiest loaves available.
  • Then, white bread went through an identity crisis. Where once white bread was a feel-good symbol of progress, the term “white bread” began to get used as an epithet, meaning stuffy, conservative, square, and white-suburban.  One of the first documented instances of “white bread” being used as a pejorative adjective was by Richard Pryor, who stormed off the stage of the Aladdin Theatre in Las Vegas, allegedly saying that he was “absolutely done with this white bread humor.”
  • From around that point forward, countercultural movements began to use white bread as an emblem of the establishment, of the silent majority, of Richard Nixon’s America.
  • But then, by the 1980s and 90s, the meaning starts to bifurcate: “white bread” also starts to represent poor white people who make supposedly irresponsible decisions about their diet.
Episode 125: Duplitecture (copying)
  • The best knock-offs in the world are in China. There are plenty of fake designer handbags and Rolexes but China’s knock-offs go way beyond fashion. There are knock-off Apple stores that look so much like the real thing, some employees believe they are working in real Apple stores.  And then there are entire knock-off cities. There are Venices with complete canals and replicas of the Doge’s Palace. A Paris with an Eiffel Tower and an Arc de Triomphe. In the suburbs of any Chinese city, there are endless examples of “duplitecture.”
  • Duplitecture developments are functioning communities where Chinese families are raising their children and living their lives.
  • In premodern China, imperial rulers used copycat buildings to show off their authority, making replicas of landmarks in cities they had conquered, or importing flora and fauna to recreate foreign landscapes within their own domain.
  • In keeping with that tradition, one of the most copied buildings in China is the very seat of western power itself: the White House. The architect who built the White House based his design on The Leinster House in Dublin, which is now the seat of the Irish parliament. The Leinster House, in turn, contains strong elements of Greek and Roman architecture.
  • Some of the greatest hits of American architecture are copies of the greatest hits of ancient Roman architecture, which are now all being copied by the Chinese. China has proven quite successful at turning imitation into innovation in other sectors. China’s iPhone knockoffs had some features that you couldn’t find on Apple’s phone, like removable battery and multiple sim cards, all for a lower price. It’s easy to scoff at a fake Venice, but copying, as a practice, is totally underrated. Mindful iteration is often how good things become great things.
Episode 119: Feet of Engineering (high heels)
  • ..high heeled shoes were originally worn by men. As early as the tenth century, many horseback riding cultures wore heels on their boots and on their shoes, because heels help you stay in the stirrups (which is why cowboy boots have heels).
  • The Persian cavalry, wore inch-high heels, and the trend spread to Europe. Since they showed that the wearer owned and maintained horses, high heels became associated with upper class practice.
  • Eventually, upper class women began wearing heels, and then heels become a form of upper- and middle-class dress throughout the 17th century.
  • At the time, high-heeled shoes were not a signifier of gender. When Louis XIV wore heels, he was  dressing like the pillar of normative aristocratic masculinity he was.
  • Then heels started to get gendered in their designs. Men’s heels grew broad and sturdy and women’s became tapered and decorative. Finally, in the 18th Century, men deemed them impractical, and the high heel become firmly established as a lady’s shoe.
  • When the French Revolution mounted in 1789, the aristocracy and their frivolous styles went out of vogue. Heels, deemed the epitome of female irrationality and superficiality went out of fashion for a very, very long time.
  • Pornography embraced high, thin heels long before fashion did, because heels work great when you’re just posing for a few minutes. The pinups  in men’s barracks during World War II almost always had high heels on them, and when the war ended and the men returned, the stiletto was invented, which brought fashion into alignment with erotica.
Episode 98: Six Stories (elevators)
  • ... elevators were dangerous. Ropes would snap, and then anything getting raised or lowered would plummet to the ground. Fall one story and you break your leg–fall two stories you break your neck. And this fear of falling kept building heights low. People only wanted to ascend as high as they could walk. The tallest buildings at the time were churches and lighthouses–buildings made up primarily of empty space.
  • And then came Elisha Otis. He invented the elevator brake. He gave demonstrations where he would stand on a platform elevated three stories in the air, and have his son cut the rope with sword. The Otis Elevator Company received a patent for the elevator brake in 1913. Buildings haven’t been the same since.
  • The Otis sons went around the world promoting the idea of tall buildings. They helped to turn the idea of rooms on the top floors of hotels are being more prestigous than the ground floor rooms.
  • Wikipedia: 'Statistically, Otis is the world's most popular transportation company. It is estimated that the equivalent of the world's population travel in Otis elevators, escalators and moving walkways every three days'

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