If you’re like many Americans of late, you’re steering clear of large chain coffee shops in favor of smaller, independent spots where the barista can tell you the names of both the farm your coffee beans came from and the person who roasted them. As opposed to mass-production chain and retail coffee, “specialty coffee” is devoted to giving consumers a high-quality coffee “experience.”
Specialty-coffee folk pay attention to coffee at all levels: bean varietals and soils, correct roasting, flavor profiles and aromas, acidity, espresso dosage, and flawless service and presentation. In other words, they’re coffee snobs.
For a long time, Vietnamese food made me uncomfortable. It was brothy, weirdly fishy, and full of the gross animal parts that other people didn’t seem to want. It was too complicated.
I wanted the straightforward, prefabricated snacks that I saw on television: Bagel Bites, Pop-Tarts, chicken nuggets. When my grandmother babysat me, she would make tiny concessions, preparing rice bowls with chopped turkey cold cuts for me while everyone else got caramelized pork. I would make my own Bagel Bites by toasting a normal-size bagel and topping it with Chinese sausage and a dash of Sriracha. My favorite snack was a weird kind of fusion: a slice of nutrient-void Wonder Bread sprinkled with a few dashes of Maggi sauce, an ultraplain proto–banh mi that I came up with while rummaging through my grandmother’s pantry. In our food-centric family, I was the barbarian who demanded twisted simulacra of my grandmother’s masterpieces, perverted so far beyond the pungent, saucy originals that they looked like the national cuisine of a country that didn’t exist.
When I was 6 years old, my mother and I were robbed at gunpoint by two men looking for cash. One of them placed the gun at my head until she gave them her mink coat, which looked real but wasn’t, and the bus fare she had in her pocket. Because of that experience, I grew up associating random violence with the crack-addled neighborhoods of 1980s New York City. But the incident was the first thing that came to mind when, more than 20 years later, I started the application process for a concealed handgun license.
For decades, self-help literature and an obsession with wellness have captivated the imaginations of countless liberal Americans. Even now, as some of the hardest economic times in decades pinch our budgets, our spirits, we're told, can still be rich. Books, blogs, and articles saturated with fantastical wellness schemes for women seem to have multiplied, in fact, featuring journeys (existential or geographical) that offer the sacred for a hefty investment of time, money, or both. There's no end to the luxurious options a woman has these days—if she's willing to risk everything for enlightenment. And from Oprah Winfrey and Elizabeth Gilbert to everyday women siphoning their savings to downward dog in Bali, the enlightenment industry has taken on a decidedly feminine sheen.
Ivy doesn't look like most performers in mainstream pornography. Then again, the thousands of viewers who have logged on to watch her YouTube videos or look at her photo sets aren't seeking mainstream adult entertainment. While most porn stars and pinups show off their tits and ass, Ivy shows off her big belly, the body part fetishized in the niche genre of feeding porn.
From the pages of every mainstream women’s magazine—between the list of 43 things every confident woman knows and the six-week ab-blasting plan—the ads beckon. Conditioners enriched with vitamins vow to make each strand 10 times stronger. Undereye concealers containing white-tea antioxidants claim to combat the cellular damage that deepens those oh-so-unsightly dark circles. Pricey foundations promise to rejuvenate the face at the molecular level with the new Pro-Xylane compound, carefully extracted from Eastern European beech trees.
“When I started out, gaming was a geek thing,” says Sean (not his real name), a 38-year-old senior director of product development for a major electronic game publisher. “Now, it’s totally mainstream. It’s clear there’s money to be made.”
It’s not like there’s any nostalgia in his voice. With a six-figure salary and a generous bonus, Sean is one of those making the money. Electronic games—which encompass both computer games and console-based games—generated nearly $10 billion in revenue last year, thanks in part to top-selling titles like Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, Madden NFL 2005, ESPN NFL 2K5, and NBA Live 2005.
Given the fact that electronic games have their roots in geekdom, the sheer jock/thug appeal of the above-listed games is striking. You’d think that geek boys, having been a) persecuted by jocks and bullies and b) heavily involved in the production of electronic games, might take advantage of the latter to redress the former. But somewhere between Pong and Madden, those geeks began spending their days and nights creating universes in which testosterone rules, in the process reinforcing the gender roles that made their young lives hell.