It’s Hot. I Want My Car Back.

I say it every year, but this year I mean it: It’s too hot to live. Seriously, screw Philadelphia. I’m getting out of this insufferable furnace of a city and joining the closest nudist beach colony. Or maybe I’m going to the mall, to sleep at the Sharper Image.

Whatever the breezy destination, all that’s on my mind during the summer is escape. Of course, escape has gotten complicated. I am now two years into my carless existence, and every summer, I grapple once more with being stuck inside this hotbox metropolis. Unless I can get a ride, the Shore might as well be Florida. The Mega- and Bolt Busses are fine, but my urge to flee the city can’t be satisfied by a quick jaunt to equally godforsaken D.C. or New York.

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The Anatomy of a Celebrity Flameout

It was March 2012 when Lisa Jackson originally filed her lawsuit against Paula Deen‘s companies, naming Deen herself as a defendant and Deen’s brother Earl W. “Bubba” Hiers, and claiming Deen’s company created a hostile work environment saturated with sexual harassment and racism. It aimed mostly at Hiers, whose alleged work antics — showing pornography and spitting on Jackson, to name a couple — make Deen herself look downright grounded.

But the suit had plenty to say about Deen, too. It was here where Deen was originally accused of throwing around racial epithets and entertaining bizarre antebellum wedding fantasies, wherein black servers might “tap dance around.”

It was a damning allegation, but it took a full year before Deen — great American culture casserole that she was — flopped completely. Somehow, the lawsuit flew largely under the radar: A few major newspapers picked it up that spring, but after Deen avoided public comment through spokes-folks and attorneys, the news fizzled. Deen went back to the deep-fryers, and stayed quiet on the whole subject.

Until she didn’t. Until May 17, that fateful deposition day when she coughed up precisely the ludicrous celebrity soundbite the world needed to hear to bring the Deen empire down to just a few chicken strips. Once a trial brought Deen’s bigotry into the unforgiving public spotlight, the fallout was fast. Her agent, TV network and publisher slashed ties, and the public certainly made up its mind: She was as toxic as the trans fats she peddled.

Deen’s downfall hasn’t been unlike other celebrity downfalls we’ve witnessed recently. People we basically knew didn’t deserve our admiration, but tolerated because they hadn’t quite tipped the scales of douchery, yet. I keep thinking of Lance Armstrong, who was under federal investigation for doping for two years before his lies came into high-definition. And Michael Vick, who always seemed to be in trouble for one thing or another, but whose true character wasn’t completely condemned in the public eye until he pled guilty to dogfighting and, within moments, was stripped of his NFL jersey. Or even Chris Brown, who no one thought was a charmer, even before he admitted to beating the daylights out of his girlfriend.

In the steps celebrities take from fame, to shame, to recovery (because they always seem to recover, as Deen, I theorize, will too), the unfiltered confessional is the crucial second step. There’s a suspicion or an investigation, a “gotcha” moment that boils public outrage, and then, of course, an excruciating apology. In an era where our public figures’ lives are more transparent than ever, the celebrity apology has become a reflex. A ceremonial gesture that we culturally mandate but are never moved by. We insist they come forward with a “statement,” something to say for themselves, and then collectively fester in our disappointment or indifference when they do.

Armstrong’s Oprah interview was met with indignation; many thought it was more self-pity than apology. When Vick re-joined the NFL as a member of the Eagles a couple years ago, Philly Mag ran a piece about how his public remorse lacked enough authenticity for the public. A two-minute YouTube apology from Chris Brown would hardly cut it. Deen’s YouTube grovel was not graceful (nor sincere), but the point is that once a grave is dug, last-minute apologies don’t matter, anyway. All these public icons had left to do — and what Deen must do, now — is burrow underground for a while.

For some, this meant simply being knocked off their pedestals with lost sponsorships. For some, it meant good old-fashioned resignation (See: Spitzer, Eliot). For others, hard time. And when just enough time passed for them to tie their way back into the spotlight, even though no one had forgotten their crimes, they did so. And they weren’t run out of town. One blue-sky day, there was Martha Stewart in a K-Mart commercial. After a few days of griping and a couple of seasons, sports analysts were talking about the likelihood of Vick starting as quarterback with straight faces. Brown is still releasing pop hits like line drives. Armstrong himself is already tip-toeing his way back onto the cycling course.

Down the line, doesn’t it seem likely that Deen will land a couple of small public appearances? Maybe even forge a new book deal? Pretty soon, we may be downloading her elaborate pastry recipes and simply shaking our heads at the memory of that time she said that idiotic racist thing. Eclair, anyone?

Of course, willing consumption doesn’t equal forgiveness. Armstrong’s breach of public trust will never be forgotten, even if he does impress us with more cycling performances or charitable endeavors; there are some people who won’t even turn on an Eagles game because of Vick’s presence. Chris Brown will always be a malignancy on the roster of pop icons. But still, we’re surprisingly good at compartmentalizing our consumption apart from our character judgment. Remember that time Martha Stewart went to prison? Yeah, me neither.

Paula Deen may never overcome her newfound reputation as a Southern gentile bigot. We may never find that in our hearts. But as for her chicken pot pie? Well, there might be room for that.

Wine, Women, and Hand-Wringing

When it comes to binge drinking, there’s always been a wide gender gap. In 2012, more than twice as many men reported going on booze benders as women did — about 24 percent of men compared with 11 percent of women. But steadily, year after year, U.S. women have been raising their glasses ever higher. In fact, women now account for the majority of wine purchased (and consumed) in the U.S. Between 1992 and 2012, Gallup found, the number of white women who said they drank regularly rose from 32 percent to 70 percent. Nonwhite women went from about 20 percent to 57 percent.

In response to this, in early 2013, the CDC released a report on women and binge drinking, stating that one in eight adult women now reported indulging in the behavior; it also outlined the unique risk factors women face when it comes to drinking. Mostly, unsurprisingly, we face the same health risks men do (high blood pressure and liver disease), but do face a special set of concerns. To wit: Women can’t drink as many fluid ounces of alcohol. They can’t drink while they’re pregnant. And, I quote: “Binge drinking can lead to unintended pregnancies.”

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America’s Most Wanted Zoo Animals

When Rusty the red panda took to the streets of D.C. on Monday, it captured the imagination — an adorable, real-life Paddington Bear enjoying his first taste of freedom in our nation’s capital. Of course, Rusty is just one part of a long legacy of rogue zoo animals — critters who have seized rare escape opportunities and headed for the hills, sometimes with tragic results. (And if you go back far enough, you’ll find some fantastic tales of escape — like a 1935 incident in which around 150 rhesus monkeys escaped a Long Island zoo.)

Here are 10 of the most recent famous getaways:

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The Five Huge Mistakes in Arrested Development’s New Season

I’m now just over halfway through watching Season 4 of Arrested Development — the much-anticipated Netflix treat we’ve been begging for since 2006, when the show first “ended.” So far, I’ve seen individual episodes receive more post-action analysis than an Eagles game, but I haven’t seen a collective evaluation of fan response to Arrested‘s latest iteration. Should we have been careful what we wished for? Or is this actually filling the void Seasons 1 through 3 left behind?

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OK, Yeah, Whatever, NSA Spies

I have been trying, diligently, to develop a strong reaction to the NSA controversies that rattled the Obama administration this week.

I’ve done so, in part, because we’d hardly absorbed the unsettling revelations about the NSA’s phone record collection and PRISM program before outrage about the lack of outrage crept into the blogosphere.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Daniel J. Solove wrote a treatise against what he called the “nothing to hide” argument: “Privacy is often threatened not by a single egregious act but by the slow accretion of a series of relatively minor acts …  Although society is more likely to respond to a major oil spill, gradual pollution by a multitude of actors often creates worse problems.” Read more »

12 Most Mind-Blowing Fast Food Menu Items

This week, the nation braces itself for the premiere of the Dunkin’ Donuts’ new Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich. The “savory and sweet breakfast treat” features bacon and fried eggs nestled between two halves of a glazed donut—a whimsical, boundary-pushing menu addition. I’m offering $5 and a roll of Tums to any officemate who’s willing to give it a go.

But in the realm of fast food monstrosities, Dunkin’ Donuts is hardly breaking new ground. Just yesterday, Foobooz reported on a disturbing (but apparently popular) “burger dog” from the Broadway Bar in Delco. In anticipation of the Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich, here are 12 of the most mind-blowing fast food monstrosities to ever hit value menus: Read more »

Frances Ha and the Death of the Manic Pixie Dream Girl

For the past couple months, I’ve told anyone I can get to listen to me about an essay by journalist Michelle Orange, called “The Dream (Girl) Is Over.” In it, Orange talks about the transformation of the pop culture feminine ideal, from Rita Hayworth and Marilyn Monroe through today’s myriad American Sweethearts.

After sitting through Frances Ha last night, Noah Baumbach’s new, 90-minute indie comedy about a wayward millennial’s quest for adulthood, I leafed Orange’s book back open, to her description of everybody’s favorite 21st century feminine archetype:

“All two-dimensional tics and self-conscious dysfunction, she is more formula than fantasy, more personality than persona… Having problems and being ‘funny’ [have become] leading dream-girl qualities.”

These women—dubbed the “Manic Pixie Dream Girls” a few years ago—have been populating our screens like ants with bangs for the past ten years: Zooey Deschanel may have perfected the form.  Some (including Orange) date the phenomenon back to Natalie Portman’s jabbering character in Garden State. A friend who watched the movie recently shuddered at the absurd moment where Portman declares that anytime she’s feeling unoriginal, she “does something no one’s ever done before,” flailing her arms around to demonstrate her impossibly unique personality.

Such characters rose in prominence as projections of male fantasies, perhaps, but the archetype exists on its own now: It’s taken on a life of its own.

Which brings us to Frances:

As Frances, played by Greta Gerwig, drags her feet through her post-graduate, New York quasi-existence, a deer-in-headlights expression constantly paralyzing her face, Baumbach positions this flitting, helplessly confused, foot-in-mouth character as (shudder) our new cinematic heroine. Like Orange suggests, this very well may be our new Marilyn.

Part of that has to do with the movie’s classic aesthetic: Black and white, with romantic montages of Manhattan and Paris. Watching it has the weight of watching a great cinematic romance, as though Humphrey Bogart will turn the corner at any moment. No leading man ever really enters center stage, but there are many scenes in Frances Ha that feel nearly as predictable. When Frances spins and dances down a street in Chinatown (an underdog moment reminiscent of both Rocky and Flashdance), it occurred to me that this story, wherein otherwise competent women are so far up in their heads that they lose their footing in reality completely, is its own genre now, as familiar as When Harry Met Sally, as predictable as the Evil Dead.

In fact, I’d say this post has some spoilers, but you’ve already seen most of the scenes in Frances Ha. Humiliation over a declined credit card at dinner (“I’m not a real person yet,” she tells her date as she rifles through her purse for cash); a dinner amongst “real” grown-ups where she’s so needlessly Tourettic you want to reach into the screen and grab the bottle of wine yourself; the resolution, where she finally takes the desk job, only to find that it doesn’t kill her and that the jig isn’t up quite yet.

I couldn’t be anything but bored and disappointed as I watched Frances try (too hard) to charm us with her unstoppable strangeness. With Frances Ha, it seems that this odious paradigm of young womanhood is here to stay. To cite Orange again, “as the aughts wore on, [I felt] a gorge of dread and mortification rise every time one of these painfully constricted specimens motormouthed across the screen. Her rate of replication seemed to suggest something dire about us.”

There is something about this depressing caricature that feels even more oppressive than the bombshells and sex kittens of cinematic yore. Frances describes herself as “undateable,” and she spends most of the movie barricading herself in oddness. It’s a theme we see every week in Girls and New Girl: Smart, lovely women incapable of relating to anyone around them (including, yes, men) because they’ve retreated so far into their own neuroses. And while I used to think this surplus of independent women swimming up the mainstream was refreshing, the more I watch them, the more I think that this new ideal is in some ways even less substantive, and even less empowering, than the ones that came before it.

To illustrate this point is the name “Frances Ha” itself, which is not the main character’s actual name, but in fact what appears above her new apartment’s doorbell at the end of the movie, because the slot for her name tag can’t fit her full name name. It is, like Frances herself, sort of cute, and sort of funny, but mostly just annoying in its incompleteness.

Seth Meyers Is Perfect for Late Night

My eyes lit up when I read that NBC was replacing Jimmy Fallon with Seth Meyers on the Late Night show. I only started watching Saturday Night Live in earnest (i.e., not only on YouTube) this past year, but immediately got hooked on “Weekend Update” and Seth’s twinkle-eyed delivery. Read more »

Best & Worst Prom Proposals

Prom season is upon us. A whiff of cologne carries on the warm spring breeze, and before you know it, photos of friends’ kids and younger siblings, draped in formalwear, are popping up on your newsfeed.

Prom is a generally nostalgic tradition, but like everything else in the lives of teenagers in 2013, it’s now a more complicated affair than it was during the Sixteen Candles era. Read more »

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