Today in Tedium: We’re near the start of the new year, and, as a result, I’m closing in on the third anniversary of launching this crazy newsletter. New Year’s Day is kind of an important day for me personally, as it’s the day that I’ve launched two of my projects, including this one. So I’d like to spend this time reflecting back a little bit … and looking forward. I write about a lot of obscurities and a lot of unusual histories with Tedium, but sometimes, it’s good to ponder the here and now in the framing of this newsletter. Today’s Tedium thinks a bit on what we learned in 2017 and what to expect in 2018. — Ernie @ Tedium
*Editor's note: To recap, here’s what we wrote ahead of prior years—2017, 2016, and 2015. Also: A quick thank-you to Digg, which listed me as one of their top authors in 2017 in their quite-detailed year-end piece.*
Activist witches, El Chapo and the magic of animal menopause. They’re all found on Topic. Explore Topic.com: Visual stories for curious people.
Today's issue is sponsored by Topic. (See yourself here?)
The only calendar worth having in 2018: Here at Tedium, we’re noted critics of wall calendars. But for some reason we cannot find a good reason to hate on this Justin Trudeau calendar, which gives the Canadian prime minister the Tiger Beat treatment. I mean, certainly it’s no wall calendar dedicated to Grace Hopper (it doesn’t exist, but it should), but considering the year we’ve just had, we’ll just have to make do.
Five signs 2018 will be better than 2017
- On top of corduroy, the beret is starting to become a trendy fashion item. Which means that we’re one step closer to life looking like a giant Wes Anderson film.
- A company called Energeous just got FCC approval to launch a technology that allows for wireless charging of objects more than three feet away. Translation: We’ll hopefully be using fewer wires starting in 2018.
- Shopping malls, struggling to attract customers, are taking advantage of the situation to add brewpubs, pop-up stores, karaoke booths, and waiting lounges for Ubers. In other words, going to the mall is going to suck less next year.
- In Oregon, you will be able to get married by a secular organization “that occupies a place in the lives of the organization’s members parallel to that filled by a church or particular religious authority,” rather than by a minister. Which means getting married is about to become a lot less awkward for some people.
- We not only ended 2017 with a biopic of The Room, it was an amazing movie and might actually earn James Franco an Oscar in 2018. Side note: Tommy Wiseau owns a building in San Francisco with a giant pair of concrete jeans located on the front. Behind it: a poster of The Room. Here’s the proof.
“It’s a positive step in the law to include now a consideration for the well-being of the animal. Most pet owners think of their dogs as being something more than a piece of property. They think of them as a member of their family.”
— Jeffrey Knipmeyer, a partner at the law firm of Nottage and Ward, discussing Illinois’ new state law, which redefines the way that the state treats pets in custody cases. Previously, companion animals were treated as similar to property. Now, they’ll be seen in a way similar to that of offspring—which means that that joint custody for Fido will soon be a thing.
The state of our Tedium in 2018 is best defined by the David Dao incident
To get serious for a moment, I’d like to state something that might seem obvious, but should still be said: In 2017, our daily tedium didn’t feel quite so tedious.
Instead, it felt like seeing a car crash in mid-collision, one where you might have felt helpless to do anything but turn away … or keep looking. One where the bandages of normalcy were ripped off, no warning, and the public was put in a position where it simply had to react. That sword, of course, was double-edged: It forced a lot of important conversations into the public sphere, but also put us in a situation where we felt like the definition of acceptability was being stretched.
And the person in the middle of one such storm was David Dao, a Kentucky doctor who was very publicly mistreated at the hands of airport police at the request of United Airlines. He was dragged on the ground of the aircraft. His nose, bloodied. His lowest moment, on the internet and on the front page, for everyone to stare at.
And for what? Simply: United screwed up, overbooked its flight, and failed to save any seats for its air crew, needed in Kentucky the next day. Dao did nothing to deserve his fate other than the fact that he was taking up resources United wanted for itself. So, United took those resources, despite Dao attempting to stand his ground.
Sure, United eventually apologized. A few times, even, after failing to do it right the first couple of times. And Dao got a settlement. But the story was a mess, and one that I don’t think we’ve taken a step back to reflect upon.
This year has been full of stories like David Dao’s very public mistreatment at the hands of a poorly-optimized corporate machine. Unbelievably, what happened to Dao seems almost mundane compared to some of the other, far worse, things that happened this year.
But that’s exactly the problem in this case. It feels mundane—part of the fabric of 2017. And there’s no reason it ever should.
The Dao incident happened eight months ago, but it feels like something we collectively lived through two decades ago. It’s been that kind of year, one where the news cycle simply did not let up in its drudgery, and by having this story fall so far back on the scale of journalistic importance—considering what it says about us as human beings is so hard to miss—suggests that what happened to Dao is something we should be used to.
Dao, who never asked for this, not only got injured, but saw his dirty laundry get pulled up in the press as a result of the uproar. And while he got a settlement from the deal and the security officers who manhandled him got fired, his name will forever be associated with this terrible situation.
One meme that’s cropped up this year, in reference to our current president and mostly from progressive circles, is the phrase “this is not normal.” For better or worse depending on who's keeping score, Donald Trump is not what we've come to expect from our political system, and whether that's good or bad is a debate for another day—and another newsletter.
But "this is not normal” certainly seems like something to be discussed in the framing of the David Dao incident. We have to be reminded that our sense of normalcy shouldn't be quite so flexible.
Dao’s situation hasn’t completely fallen into the realm of the mundane quite yet, but that fateful United Airlines flight got perilously close. Certainly, it doesn’t read like any of my stories of tedium this year—tales of obscure phenomena like disc rot and the organization of area codes, old software like Paint Shop Pro and Eudora, failed companies like Wang Laboratories and Pets.com, or examples of faded glory like Hydrox cookies. But somehow, it got too close for comfort.
The dragging of another human being—a paying customer, even—down the narrow passageway of an airplane, at the behest of a corporation, threatened to become normal this year, to become tedious. And that, to me, feels wrong.
Perhaps, in that context, it’s fitting this week that we bookended this year with another incident, also involving a plane, that’s best described as objectively tedious: A passenger realized he or she was on the wrong flight four hours into an 11-hour flight—a moment of absurdity softened by the fact that good-humored supermodel Chrissy Teigen was on the flight. The plane, operated by ANA, was supposed to be heading to Tokyo.
In a reversal of the Dao incident, the needs of the individual came before the more than 100 people on the flight, as well as the organization proper. The plane turned around, likely annoying everyone on it, but (for better or worse) serving the needs of the individual over the much larger crowd. The passenger, of course, was supposed to be on a United flight.
May 2018 be full of little moments of absurdity like Chrissy Teigen’s flight to nowhere. May the cries of “this is not normal” give way to something that feels a little more normal.
As a culture, we did a lot of good work this year on the self-analysis front, but we need an opportunity to relax a little.
We need to be able to digest our chaos.
Recently, I’ve been trying to gather up the pieces of the site I left behind to build Tedium. My little dream, which I won’t have ready in time for New Year’s, is to build an archive for ShortFormBlog, that gives the site a home in all its various forms over the years.
I want to put it on a static site and give it a design that allows people to look through it and search its archives, but allows the past to be the past. (This is proving harder than I’d like; on Tumblr alone, I have more than 20,000 posts to sort, and close to 80,000 tags. And I haven’t even started on WordPress, which is another solid two years of content. If you have any suggestions as to how to manage this trick, shoot me an email.)
The thing about this it that I know that nearly everything I’ve written on that site is completely outdated. It predates the rise of Donald Trump’s political career, perhaps the most notable trend of the last 36 months. It’s firmly an Obama-era endeavor. It launched three weeks before George W. Bush left office. It shut down about a month before the results of the 2014 election set the stage for the 2016 election.
I still occasionally get requests to bring it back. I don’t think I will. I miss that time, the excitement of that era, but I also feel like it’s a product of a certain period—a period whose time has come and gone. (On the plus side, it’ll never be a target of an op-ed about its utter uselessness in the modern day.)
So why save it? I think the big thing for me is the importance of archival. Throughout 2017, I’ve emphasized the importance of archival content from a cultural and editorial standpoint in my pieces. (I even donated a month of my Patreon earnings to the Internet Archive.) My pieces are made stronger by the existence of archived content. I guess it’s only fair that I do the same with my own writing, right?
In 2018, I hope that you, too, get a chance to do a little self-reflection on how you ended up in the place that you are at this very second. That’s the driving factor behind this newsletter that I write and the unusual stories that I cover. It's something people need to do more.
By the way, I made jalapeno poppers this week. (As you may or may not know, I always reference that specific post at the end of these year-end pieces.) Shockingly, my fingers didn’t explode into a 48-hour period of agony, despite the fact I didn’t wear gloves.
May your new year offer a small moment of luck just like that.