About six weeks ago I watched my first 10 minutes of Masterchef. I had recently moved in with three girls and hence have rapidly had my horizons broadened in regards to the wretched depths that television can stoop to. Having said that, it seemed a bit silly to write off a show based entirely on the flimsy premise that I had no interest in the subject matter and hate every other example of the genre, so I guess it was only fair for me to give it a go.
The basic set up of the show is eerily similar to an episode of Spy vs Spy, with a few minor differences. Masterchef forgoes the awesome booby traps in favour of cooking food, and instead of the age old tale of black vs white the producers had gone for the more politically correct red vs blue. Also, now there were whole teams involved, rather than two lone saboteurs. The similarities are so obvious and numerous that I won’t insult your intelligence by listing them all.
In this instalment, the spy chefs were charged with cooking bread. An angry little man named George kicked off the show by breaking into the contestants’ apartment at exactly 11:33pm and waking them with the aid of an industrial strength flashlight. There is then a small montage of various contestants explaining that George just woke them up and that they are tired because they were sleeping and one of them claims that they are not even in a state to boil an egg, let alone do some mastercheffing which, frankly, is pretty fucking pitiful. I don’t really buy that they were all fast asleep at 11:33pm. Surely at least one of them stays up to watch South Park repeats or, considering the subject matter, masturbate over the soccer mums in late night Magic Bullet infomercials. Anyway, Furious George goes on to explain around the kitchen table that bakers keep late hours and that in order for fresh bread to be ready for customers in the morning then it needs to be cooked even earlier in said morning. One contestant has their mind explode and slumps dead into the fruit bowl, while the rest brush off the entrails and pile into a minivan.
Sane man and Masterchef host, Furious George
At the bakery, it becomes evident that Kumar, 61, is really looking forward to baking bread because he really enjoys it because he says so directly to the camera. Dani, 25, hypothesises on the importance of bread because cracking open a dinner roll is the first impression you get of a restaurant, not the service or the menu or the decor or the reputation or the Fevola pissing on the window or the overheard musings of the lone and sad looking couple sitting in the corner of an otherwise vacant premises bitching about the consistency of their creme brulee.
The owner of the bakery, Andrew, then turns up and the contestants applaud him like schoolchildren, while Furious George and some other guy get on their knees and fawn at his magnificence, drooling all over the floor in the desperate hope that they’ll be able to catch a glimpse of his reflection in the resulting lake of salivate despite their respectfully averted gaze. Andrew folds his arms like the culinary badass he is and introduces himself over the top of some equally badass rock music, going on to explain that his bakery is different to all the others because they like to make good bread. Also, their sourdough is naturally leavened, which as far as I know could be good or bad but judging by the pride in his voice it is probably good.
It becomes evident that the masterchefs are to bake bread for some restaurants in their teams. Some of the contestants tell the camera that they want to win, which seems reasonable if unnecessary. The arbitrarily chosen captain of the red team explains that if his team wins it will look good for him but if his team loses it will be bad for him and I begin to feel myself getting a bit lost, wondering if the rampant intellectualism on display means that much of this show’s content is whizzing right over the heads of some of the more casual viewers unschooled in the complexities of good being good and bad being bad.
Furious George asks Andrew about the things that could go wrong as the masterchefs begin their onerous task. First problem is the mixing of the dough. Dough is inherently sticky, claims Andrew boldly, and if it is not done correctly then whole species will be wiped out and the colonel’s 11 secret herbs and spices will be exposed as merely oregano and airplane glue. Andrew does not say this directly but it is heavily implied. The second possible hurdle was something else, I think baking, though I’ve just been told it might have been something called proofing. Having now watched it again on the Internet, I can confirm it was baking, and thank Christ for that as I don’t think Channel Ten can risk alienating too many more simpletons with all of these technical terms. “Wow!” exclaims Furious George. “There’s lots of processes, and it seems like every process has to be right, and time’s ticking.” Well, two processes George, but whatever. You’re just there to intimidate viewers to an extent that they’re too afraid to switch off, lest you break into their homes at night and force them to bake and deliver superfluous monologues at camerapoint.
Roars like Cthulhu
The guy that I previously described as some guy suddenly roars like Cthulhu, explaining that it is 1am as the camera pans to a clock to confirm his story, exclaiming that he is loving the fact that they are learning and that it “is all touch and feel” and that “you never know, we might get some great bread at the end of this. Time to move it!” He is just yelling this at no one, everyone’s baking and he’s screaming at the cameraman. Some lady seemingly unworthy of having her name displayed on screen declares that “baking bread is a total gamble. We’ve followed the recipe so it should turn out right, we’re not going to know until they come out of the oven.” Clearly cheffing is not for the faint of heart.
At this point my attention was drawn by something else. I don’t recall what. Perhaps thoughts of self mutilation, or the necessity of shoe horns. I do not know, nor particularly care, though I am grateful to whatever thought it was, as I’m sure the reader is. I could write an essay on how terrible this show is and why it is unworthy of being on television and drawing millions of viewers and how much Furious George reminds me of my friend whose voice doesn’t echo. And maybe I will. Maybe me writing the essay will be be turned into a reality show that people can relate to because, like cooking, everyone has used a word processor at some point.
People can watch me banging away on my laptop, and I won’t even need to enter the diary chamber of secrets for my monologues because I have a webcam. Then there’ll be a competing show on a rival network about some other guy writing a thesis, then another channel will go one up again in the pissing contest by green lighting a show about four couples who need to renovate someone else’s poorly written thesis and correct all of the grammatical errors and spelling mistakes with a budget of $5000 and only one gigantic bed between them all, and one couple gets voted off each week though there are random celebrity wildcard couples that enter the compound for a weekend at a time just to shake things up by getting wasted and criticising sentence structure. But everyone still needs to do a nightly cooking challenge, because cooking fucking rules and just makes for compelling television.
The Sad Demise of Bolton Wanderers Football Club
It is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton Wanderers find themselves in
If you watched the English Premier League during the early 2000s, you would have been familiar with the plight of Bolton Wanderers. The long running club is now in absolute dire straits, bereft of resources, searching desperately for new owners as it staves away its seemingly inevitable end. It is truly a sad turn of events for a club that has been around for almost 150 years, once known as the plucky, never-die team of English football’s top flight.
The Greater Manchester club, gleefully nicknamed ‘The Trotters’, were always a group of ragtag underachievers who constantly overachieved. The club, under the tutelage of Big Sam Allardyce, spent several Premier League seasons languishing at the bottom end of the table staving off relegation before progressing to mid-table safety. It wasn’t that they were good, because, for the most part, they weren’t, but it was because they always found a gutsy way of surviving by sheer determination, miraculous last game results, and for finding the last remaining ounce of juice left in washed-up players looking for one last round of glory.
It’s the latter point perhaps, that endeared Bolton to fans who didn’t spend their weekends at the Reebok Stadium. Bolton was the home to many talents that found new life under Allardyce. Players that managed to thrill a mostly dull part of the footballing world with European flair and Nigerian spice. I have fond memories of the indomitable Jay-Jay Okocha and Youri Djorkaeff reminding fans of their class. Then there were the bruising, hard-hitting playing styles of Ivan Campo and Fernando Hierro- adding much-needed steel to that Bolton lineup. They complimented the steadfast if not boring quality that came with the ever-present Jussi Jääskeläinen and Kevin Davies. Atop them all sat Big Sam- who long before he became a joke in English football, was the no-frills, old-school English manager who took Bolton up from the old Division One to the Premier League. And during his run, he became known for being able to get Bolton out of trouble at the last minute, no matter how ugly the season had been. They made an FA Cup Semi Final and the Round of 16 of the UEFA Cup, somehow beating Atletico Madrid along the way.
Those days are sadly long gone as the club find itself languishing in the third tier of English football, once again ending the previous season relegated. Mired in financial disarray, the club has been in control of administrators since May, with its long-awaited takeover by new owners (whoever they may end up being) dragging on and on. The sad state of affairs has been punctuated by the club unable to pay its players and staff, canceled pre-season friendlies, and quite possibly the saddest team sheet in all the time I’ve been a fan of English football. As of this time, their official team page has but 7 players listed (no defenders), not even enough to field a full first team. If by the time you read this they’re able to pull their socks up and field a full team, it’ll be a miracle.
Their financial downward spiral hit breaking point in 2015 when the club found itself £172.9 million in debt. It only seemed to get worse from there. Unpaid taxes, transfer embargoes, manager changes, poor results, and most depressingly, non-playing staff having to use food bank donations to feed themselves (including donations from rival club Preston North End).
It really is hard to believe the dismal state Bolton find themselves in. I can’t imagine what it must be like for a true Wanderers fan to face the reality of their club in 2019. It’s not that the club has ever been successful (their last significant trophy was the 1958 FA Cup), but from the outside, their grit, their pluck, and their ability to seemingly escape the direst of circumstances made them endearing. They were the underdog team of has-beens, never-rans, forgotten souls, and Big Sam.
Now it seems their darkest days are closing in. Football fans surely would love for new owners to come in, reset the club, and start that long, arduous journey back into stability. But their new season hopes don’t even start on any positive note, with their financial failings they’ve already been docked 12 points before the start of the new season. Even with new owners, it will take a significant time to turn things around. The best they can hope for is to pull a Rangers and find themselves back on the up after 5 or so years… but the English Premier League is a far different beast to that of the Scottish Premier League, just ask Leeds United.
The long road back is never going to be easy. And for Bolton Wanderers, once a club that found its soul with players looking for one last spot of luck, may have run out of its own.
Divided We Fail: How Individualism is Holding the U.S. Back
The bootstrap mentality is about as American as apple pie. But it’s destroying our already frayed social net and education system. Can we resist our individualistic roots to mobilize and enact progressive policies?
To understand the swampy depths of American individualism is also to acknowledge that we have a serious inability to comprehend looming disaster. In fact, we’re uniquely terrible at it.
Loosely defined, American individualism is the idea that prosperity and growth is overwhelmingly the result of an individual’s hard work, cleverness, grit, and all that. (It’s both hilarious and fitting that one of our most reviled and economically disastrous presidents, Herbert Hoover, was the main architect behind the notion of American individualism.)
On one hand, this belief in individualism seems empowering. It tells us we are the captains of our own ships. It tells us we don’t have to be defined by our childhood traumas or underfunded school systems. It tells us that through scrappiness and ingenuity and discipline, we can rise above our circumstances and succeed, no matter what.
The inverse, of course, is that our failures are also ours alone to bear—with little regard for the systems and circumstances that cause some people to spend lifetimes catching up to where others were simply born.
American individualism explains so much of what we get wrong as a country, even in 2019. We downplay the systemic racism and violence of our police force through tunnel vision that tells us there are only a “few bad apples” rather than a flawed, oppressive police state. We’re unable to treat things like healthcare or housing as basic human rights, positing instead that those without access to food or shelter probably just haven’t “earned” it. And higher education—often treated as the great equalizer by meritocrats—is so expensive, it’s crippling our economy as a whole. Yet too many students are blaming themselves, and too many people are blaming students.
One is the Lousiest Number
These days, it’s hard to pick what to worry about more in the U.S. The list of societal threats certainly is long—climate change, the impending retirement crisis, the ongoing student debt crisis. These problems have been worsening for decades, and they’re all the result of failures at a systematic level.
The climate crisis was ramped up by decades of poorly regulated industries that pumped carbon emissions into the atmosphere. The retirement crisis that will likely come full force when Generation X starts leaving the workforce was set into motion by a shrinking pension system and the increasingly uncertain future of Social Security. And higher education became outrageously expensive over years of unchecked soaring tuition and fee increases.
But not everyone recognizes these mass-scale problems for what they are. Instead, too many people are blaming individual choices for giant societal failures. And these arguments are distracting us from collective solutions. Realistically, no one should be arguing that student loan forgiveness is a “half-baked” idea steeped in self-interest. Or that climate change can be reasonably combatted through laudable (yet mostly insignificant) individual actions like going vegetarian.
The numbers prove just how puny our individual actions really are against these larger-than-us problems. For example, even the most generous, self-massaged estimates put a single company like ExxonMobil’s annual carbon emissions in the range of well over 100 million CO2 equivalent metric tons. The average American, through even the most radical lifestyle changes and discipline, would likely only lower their annual emissions from about 20 metric tons to 8 metric tons. It would take millions and millions of people selling their cars and going vegan to equate to just one ExxonMobil. (Spoiler alert: There are way too many companies just like it.)
As Aaron Huertas of the Union of Concerned Scientists eloquently states: “We can’t ignore individual choice and responsibility; at the same time, we also have to recognize that our individual choices are constrained by corporate practices and government laws and regulations.”
A Way Out and Up
All is not lost, though. There is hope.
While the 2020 presidential pool for the Democrats may be a bit flooded, the makeup of the pool has revealed a trend: the ideas of sweeping economic relief and safety net programs are becoming more mainstream. If the Democratic party can just avoid spending its time strategizing against democratic socialism, we could enact policies that tackle these problems at the level they’re actually at.
Party insiders and centrists aside, it looks like voters are—even if just subtly and slowly—pressuring politicians to stop blaming individual choice for societal woes. The idea of multiple presidential candidates touting competing student loan relief programs would have seemed outrageous even a few election cycles ago—and now Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, and Julián Castro are all on board.
The point is, we’re getting there. And if we can fight against our very American instincts, we can realize—en masse—that our efforts to save our planet might be better spent organizing than remembering to recycle our empty salsa jars. We can take solace in knowing a liberal arts degree isn’t a personal failing that deserves financial punishment. We can accept that, as individuals, we may not be as powerful on our own as we thought, but we also may not be as much to blame for our struggles.
And then, we can mobilize.