Last week in my Media Criticism class, we studied Michael Curtin’s twenty-year old essay on “neo-networks.” The essay, “On Edge: Culture Industries in the Neo-Network Era,” argues that the US media industries in the 1990s had largely abandoned their mass-market approach to reaching audiences. Instead of producing and releasing something—a film, a musical recording, a television series—and hoping for a big hit, US media industries had largely turned to aggregating a varied collection of niche markets to retain or even expand their marketshare. He terms this “edge.”
By the 1990s, media industries were able to accomplish this through a nearly two-decade wave of media consolidation. A media company would acquire its competitors to release a variety of niche-market material, in addition to the mass-market hits that these same media companies for decades.1
A diversified film studio could distribute an independent film, in addition to a blockbuster or two. Fox did with its Fox Searchlight company.
A major record label that released a Top-40 record one day could, on another day, sign an underexposed musical act that likely released records through an independent label. DGC and Interscope Records released a fair amount of such music in the 1990s, under the umbrella of the Warner Music Group and Time-Warner. And a lot of the major labels had acquired boutique record labels to diversify their stable of artists.
In television, the cable TV networks that once threatened to undermine the entire commercial broadcast system were subsumed under many the companies that also owned broadcast TV networks.
If you can’t beat ‘em, acquire ‘em.
But despite the consolidation of ownership, the variety of media content that the media industries distributed had significantly expanded, particularly with niche genres2. The variety of records, films, and television programs was probably greater than ever before. You and I may have been watching or listening to something, but it’s likely not the same thing because there was so much out there to choose. This was a departure from the formula that media industries had used for decades. In fact, during the studio era of Hollywood, it was common for a movie studio to rely on an annual hit to sustain its financial health for the entire year. Hollywood studios had so effectively utilized this “block booking” system, forcing theater owners to take all of its films if it wanted to get the studio’s one big hit, that it was eventually declared illegal in the 1940s.
But by the 1990s, media industries had stopped doing that. Instead of going for one big hit, they were interested in getting a bunch of little hits. This approach, while seemingly inefficient, made a lot of sense and was copied in other industries. One example from a non-media industry is the Coca-Cola’s development of OK Soda in the early 1990s.
I had actually forgotten about OK Soda until I came across a reference to it in a Tedium essay about another failed-and-forgotten soft drink, Virgin Cola. OK Soda was an attempt to appeal to young people who were disillusioned with mass-market products and their attendant advertising. I was in high school in the early 1990s, and I can attest that it was downright unhip to drink plain Coke. Many of us who drank soda—which seemed like everyone at the time—drank something else: Mountain Dew, Mr. Pibb, Dr. Pepper, or Diet Pepsi.
From Coca-Cola’s perspective, this is a big problem. Consumers between 18 and 24 years of age are their most desirable segment of the soda-drinking market because, if for no other reason, if they drink Coca-Cola at that age, they’ll likely drink it until they die. Coca-Cola, and other large mass-market companies, likely saw the marketplace as consisting of two different groups:
Those who drink Coca-Cola.
Those who don’t.
Coca-Cola needed to capture this second group. In the 1980s, it had famously tried to shift its product to capture both of these groups. The result was New Coke (1985), and we all know what a catastrophe that was for Coca-Cola. But in the 1990s, the strategy to reach this second group had changed. Instead of changing its flagship project, Coca Cola would diversify its product line. It worked with the introduction Diet Coke (1982) and with the revival of Cherry Coke (1985), which was a drink that soda fountain “modders” had been selling since the 1950s. These products were sold alongside Coca-Cola Classic, not instead of it.
My only quibble with the video is that Flight describes the marketing as “postmodern,” which literally made me shudder. No serious scholar has uttered that term in almost twenty years and those that did have since disavowed ever, ever calling something “postmodern.” A more precise way to describe the product and the marketing would be to call it “self-referential.” The ads draw attention to the fact that they are ads trying to make you buy OK Soda, and OK Soda draws attention that it is just a soda—one that is just “OK.”
OK Soda seemed to have based its entire existence on being self-referential.
The cans were decidedly unconventional in their design. They looked like cylindrical comics in a variety of different designs. They didn’t sport a uniform design, although they still have some references to Coca Cola in their red-and-white colors and all featured “OK.” The taste is decidedly different than Coca Cola.
OK Soda reportedly tasted like “suicide mix.” That jibes with my memory of the product at the time. Coca-Cola was doing with OK Soda in the 1990s what it did with Cherry Coke in the 1980s: acknowledged an inside joke and an open secret. With OK Soda’s formulation, OK Soda had officially endorsed the unofficial practice of mixing fountain sodas. Almost everyone I knew was “making” suicide mix at the time, but none of the soft drink companies—or even our own parents—knew that we were doing so. Or so we thought.
And yes, of course, there’s those ads. They were certainly different. I’d even go so far as to say that they were funny because they were so absurd, and they appeared smart because they were self-referential. But they weren’t “postmodern.”
In retrospect, the 1990s was a glorious decade. It was the first decade that we stopped worrying about nuclear war and the last decade where the music was good. The 1990s was also when the media industries got really good at targeting us with a variety of things to watch and listen—and drink. But as Michael Curtin argues in the beginning of his essay, this niche marketing created a situation where “the fire on [the] common hearth appears to be burning low.” The Internet was on the horizon and, as he concludes, “the changing technologies of communication…promise to subdivide the national audience and splinter the body politic.”3 We all know how that has turned out.
When it comes to whiskey, there’s a common misconception that bourbon must come from Kentucky in order to be called bourbon. But that’s not true. Bourbon whiskey is basically American whiskey, with a few other conditions:
it must be made in the United States of America
the mash bill must contain at least 51% corn
it must be aged at least two years in a newly charred oak barrel
it must be distilled to less than 160 proof and bottled at more than 80 proof
The last two decades has seen a rise in the status and the demand of bourbon whiskey, which may have caught a few distilleries by surprise.
Bourbon whiskey’s close but spicier cousin is rye whiskey, and it too has enjoyed a renaissance over the last two decades. To both capitalize on its resurgence and to differentiate it from other rye whiskies, distillers in New York State have banded together and devised the label “Empire Rye.”
its mash bill must contain at least 75% New York State–grown rye
It must be aged at least two years in a newly charred oak barrel
It must be distilled to no more than 160 proof
It must be put in a barrel at no more than 115 proof
As luck would have it and by designation of the New York State Assembly, this week—between October 16 and 22—is New York Rye Week. Eight distilleries throughout the state, including three from Brooklyn, will be introducing their own versions of Empire Rye whiskey for sale on Saturday, October 21, at the New York Distilling Company in Williamsburg. There are a bunch of other events as well, including a pig roast and a walk-around tasting.
The great thing about distilling now is that it has been around long enough so that we can get properly aged rye whiskey, not just the harsh “unoaked” moonshine that a new distillery was forced to offer while their whiskey aged.
Implied in this story is that craft beer bubble, which I have discussed earlier on this site, may finally be bursting:
After years of strong gains, American craft brewers are now bracing for a shakeout. Shipments are falling for many independent brewers stuck in the middle between local niche brands and competitors that were bought by heavyweights such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and Molson Coors.
Earlier this winter, I wrote that we’re experiencing a golden age of craft beers in the United States and that some day, this golden age—as all others must—will end. But the decline reported in this article does not portend the end of the current craft beer golden age.
Craft beers are kind of like coffee in that there are three tiers, if not necessarily three waves as there is with coffee. The tiers of craft breweries are:
The big, legacy players that emerged during the “micro brewing” era, such as Sam Adams and Sierra Nevada that have national distribution. They have been around long enough to have a place at just about every taproom in the US and are well-position to stave off acquisition.
The newer breweries that have either been acquired by a big conglomerate, such as Ballast Point, Lagunitas, and Goose Island, or those that are still independent but around in many regions throughout the country. Some examples of the latter include Dogfish Head, Brooklyn, and New Belgium.
The local nanobreweries that emerged since the end of the last decade—coincidentally around the same time as the last financial crisis—remain available only at the brewery’s taproom and at a few bars and grocery stores in their home region. These are also the breweries that release cans to much celebration. There are too many examples to name, but it seems that just about every town in America has an Irish pub, a Chinese takeout restaurant, and a brewery of this sort. The quality of their beer can vary greatly.
The article’s discussion about the decline in craft beer sales seem to be concentrated in the second tier I named above. Those big names in craft beer have fallen out of favor, either because they were acquired by a conglomerate and have lost their “street cred” or because their beers have lost their edge compared to what the newer, more experimental nanobreweries are producing today.
Personally, I am certainly more interested in trying out new offerings by breweries that might seem more experimental. To return to my comparison of the coffee market, I’m more attracted to what a local coffee shop or well-known roaster has to offer than what I can get at a Starbucks or Peet’s location.
The decline in the overall craft beer market is certainly significant, but it is entirely plausible to attribute that decline to people switching from Sierra Nevada and Goose Island to something that they got at their local brewery’s taproom. In short, it might still be a great time to be a locally oriented craft brewer, just make sure you don’t get too big or don’t stick with the same offerings forever.
It also might help if you consistently make good beer, too.
I never got to go to Cassette in Greenpoint before they abruptly closed. However, since then Purslane Catering took it over as an extended “pop-up” featuring Threes Brewing, and it’s a lot more convenient for me to go there than to trek to Threes’s brewery in Gowanus.
Teacher Appreciation Day: $35 margarita pitchers, Fridays from 5 to 7 PM
Take a Chance: Roll a Die, What You Hit is What You Pay, Sundays from 5 to 8 PM
What struck me, aside from the $35 margarita pitcher because I know of a similarly classy joint that offers them for $20 at all times, is that, with the right roll of the dice, you can buy a draft beer for as little as $1. (Their drafts are usually around $7 but can sometimes cost more.) But I wasn’t sure if they meant one die or two? What’s the difference between “die” and “dice”? It’s one of those things that I thought I understood, but now that beer is at stake, I really need to know the difference.
I did a little—and I mean, very little—research, and here’s what I found:
die is always singular. It’s as simple as that.
dice is the plural of “die,” but today, we usually use this term to refer to either one, two, or more die. In fact, it is so common that we don’t use the term “die” to refer to a single die anymore. We use “dice.”
It’s nice to know that they are referring to a single die (or dice) and even use the always-singular “die” for the sake of this “Take a Chance” contest. I would hate to pay $12 for a beer because of an unlucky dice toss.
We’re all familiar with the old cartoons or old movies where a character slips on a banana peel and comes crashing down to the ground. But has anyone you know actually slipped on a banana peel and fallen? Probably not.
But it turns out that banana peels were in fact dangerous, especially in the large cities of the East Coast at the turn of the twentieth century. Annie Correal, writing for the New York Times, profiles the secret life of the city banana and notes how their popularity over a hundred years ago also made them dangerous.
They were so plentiful that in some cities, peels became a hazard. Yes, seriously. People fell and were injured. At least one man actually died from slipping on a banana peel. A headline in The New York Times in 1896 declared a “War on the Banana Skin.”
The 1896 article recounts how, Theodore Roosevelt, then-president of the city’s police department, “explained the bad habits of the banana skin, dwelling particularly on its tendency to toss people into the air and bring them down with terrific force on the hard pavement.” Roosevelt charged the police precinct supervisors to crack down on fruit and vegetable dealers from dumping “banana peels, apple and potato skins, and similar articles” on the lower eastside streets where many markets were prevalent.
Slipping on a banana peel was so common at these markets that it must have made an impression on Jewish immigrants who populated Manhattan’s Lower East Side. According to Correal, “the notion of slipping on a banana peel made its way into American culture, [Dan] Koeppel said, thanks to Yiddish theater, Vaudeville and, eventually, silent films.”1 From there, it was just a matter of time that it became a common trope in TV programs since then.
I knew I hated bananas for a reason.
The above link to Amazon is an affiliate links. Shopping through that links will kick back a referral fee to me. Thanks for your support!
When Citi Field and Yankee Stadium 2.0 opened in 2009, there were inevitable and exhaustive comparisons between the two. The consensus was, at least among my friends, that the Mets park was much better than what the Yankees had built in that it felt more like a baseball stadium. It seemed that the Yankees didn’t build a baseball stadium as much as they openend an airport shopping mall with a baseball field in the middle of it, peppering it with a few hot dog stands. Also, Citi Field had better food offerings: a pair of Danny Meyer food stands, a beer garden, and vegetarian options.
Although both stadiums were built almost exactly where the old parks stood, the two parks were built as centerpieces of urban redevelopment in the South Bronx and at Willets Point in Queens.
The Yankees opened a Hard Rock Cafe that is open year-round, even when the Yankees aren’t playing. I don’t know a single person that would plan a trip to go there.
At Citi Field, however, there will be a much more compelling reason to schlep to Willets Point during the baseball offseason. Danish brewery Mikkeller is coming to Citi Field:
Mikkeller announced that it’s expanding, and will open its first East Coast Brewery this fall at Citi Field in Flushing, Queens. The forthcoming brewery “Mikkeller Brewing NYC” will be in a non-ticketed part of the stadium, and remain open year-round.
I think the Mets outdid the Yankees here, again. Mikkeller has a sterling reputation among beer nerds with their breweries in Copenhagen, Denmark and in San Diego, California and with two bars—also in California—in San Francisco and Los Angeles. This will be their first foothold in the US East Coast. And although the food options are “safe,” trafficking in established household names of contemporary cuisine, namely David Chang’s fried chicken and Pat LaFrieda’s burgers, it sure beats eating whatever passes for food at a Hard Rock Cafe these days.
Mikkeller NYC is due to open this fall, presumably shortly after the Mets have been eliminated from qualifying for the postseason.
Readers and personal acquaintances know that I’ve generally been supportive of the craft beer movement that has exploded over the years. After all, craft breweries provide an ideal destination after a long bike ride.
One of the more puzzling aspects of this movement is the obsession with cans. Many craft breweries have been canning beer for a while now, and while I certainly appreciate that this allows breweries to offer their beers beyond their own taprooms and a few nearby bars, there’s a bothersome subculture that has emerged to buy cases-upon-cases of these cans to trade them with other beer aficionados. This was on display yesterday at LIC Beer Project, in Long Island City.
The brewery released cans of their Pile of Crowns IPA on a rainy Saturday, beginning at noon, and by one account, they sold out within a half hour.
Although I wasn’t set on buying cans, I was disappointed to find out they were out of Pile of Crowns IPA. Except they weren’t out of this beer at all! They were serving it on tap, for on-premises consumption and for take-home growler fills. You bet that I got a pint.
The taproom at LIC Beer Project has draft beers, even after they sell out of cans.
Having savored the tasty, fruity, juicy beer, I wondered about the hype behind the craft beer cans. No doubt, the can artwork is one of my favorite aspects of these cans. Because they print on a wrap-around label, rather than on the can itself, the artwork adorning the can is more akin to a poster or an album cover than the bland labels or printed cans we’ve seen forever.
I really like the artwork on these cans, as you can see in this ad for the Pile of Crowns IPA can release at LIC Beer Project.
However, these can releases and the euphoria surrounding them seem to be a way of introducing scarcity to the craft beer movement. Buying a can of craft beer is getting a precious object that you can trade like a valuable commodity. It reminds of those subcultures that buy and trade sneakers, limited-edition 180-gram vinyl records, or, going back to my youth, baseball cards. While there’s nothing precious about having someone spill some beer into your glass or growler, there’s an authenticity to that exchange. In essence, you’re buying the beer for the beer, as if you’re buying a record for the music or the baseball card because you’re a fan of the player. Being a collector is not necessarily the same as being a fanatic.
The NY Today morning newsletter, published each weekday by the New York Times, is filled with stories that of interest to readers in the local area. There are bulletins on local events, stories that connect to local history, and some profiles of area people in newsworthy situations, in addition the weather forecast and updated on local mass transit conditions. Yesterday, they published a guide on how to ease a hangover.
The advice they got from a local nutritionist and wellness manager runs counter to various commonsense remedies. When we crave food to soak up the alcohol, our bodies are really asking for carbohydrates to raise our blood sugar. When we go in search of a bacon-egg-and-cheese sandwich, it’s not the grease that is helping us recover but the salt that we’ve lost since taking the first drink. And, to get rid of that debilitating headache, drinking electrolytes, such as those founds in coconut water and energy drinks, should help. And as we’ve all figured out, your best friend when you’re hungover is water.
But conspicuously missing from these remedies is coffee. At no point does caffeine appear to help, other than curbing the headache you get from caffeine withdrawal, a sure sign that you’re an addict.
As you know, grinding your coffee right before you brew is critical for doing Good Coffee right. In fact, the common wisdom holds that the most expensive part of your coffee brewing setup should be your grinder.
Your coffee maker determines how fine or coarse your coffee grounds should be. Usually, directions for grinding your coffee have vague descriptions. One such description, “it should be fine as kosher salt,” frustrates me because kosher salt varies in fineness. Believe me, I’ve checked.
According to the video, I’ve been grinding my beans too fine for my Chemex (or what they call a “Large Pourover”). Usually, time is short in the morning, and I just bloom for half a minute and then slowly pour the rest of the carefully measured water. Their method says it should take about four to five minutes, while my method results in something closer to three and a half minutes. I wonder whether that is because I don’t “pour and pause” like I probably should. That’s the only way I can account for my brew time being so much shorter than theirs.
And if you need a grinder, here are five that I’ve owned or have wanted to own:
When I first saw the can, I didn’t correctly identify the producers. I didn’t think “Other Half Third Anniversary.” I thought “Threes,” as in Threes Brewing, another brewery located in nearby Gowanus, Brooklyn.
The case of mistaken identity is notable because, about a year ago, Threes Brewing was engaged in a dispute over their name with another brewery in southern New Jersey, named Three 3s. Brooklyn’s Threes even took their case to their Instagram followers, asking whether they should pursue legal action against Jersey’s Three 3s.
I chimed in and thought that the different names and wordmarks—as well as their very different sense of graphic design—were enough to distinguish one brewery from another. Also, the two don’t seem to compete in each other’s markets. Threes is primarily in Brooklyn, and Three 3s is in Hammonton, about halfway between Philadelphia and Atlantic City. But my initial confusion with Other Half’s Third Anniversary commemorative can suggests, at least to me, that there’s so much beer out there that it’s almost impossible to not inadvertently release that might run afoul of someone else’s creation or intellectual property.
As the late Umberto Eco wrote, “books always speak of other books, and every story tells a story that has already been told.”
The purpose of a trademark is to prevent a consumer from confusing one product with another and to protect the reputation of the company that holds the legal right to that trademark. Again, I don’t see anyone reasonably confusing one brewery with another, as with Threes and Three 3s. Furthermore, I certainly don’t think that the fine folks at Threes Brewing would ask Other Half to cease and desist: it’s not a neighborly thing to do, and no one owns a trademark on the number three.
In any case, potential trademark clashes such as these are a sign that the craft beer industry is in really good shape. There’s a lot of beer being brewed right now and some day we’ll look back at this period as a golden age of craft beer. We can drink a lot of different beers, and we have no hope of ever drinking the same beer twice. This is a good problem to have.
But alas, the history of every Golden Age ends in one of two ways: with a spectacular crash or slow withering decline. Either way, Golden Ages don’t last forever, and the craft beer industry will be no exception. I can’t tell exactly why the Golden Age of Craft Beer will end, but here are some theories:
People’s taste will change and they will stop drinking beer.
There will be too many breweries, and the beer-drinking public will settle in to their choices. The others will die.
Breweries begin to merge and consolidation will take hold of yet another industry.
There will be a hops crisis like the one in 2008. Never forget!
Teetotaling Trump will sign some executive order that will ban all beer that is not the same color of his skin. At least Schofferhofer will remain on the market.
All of this is to say that we should enjoy this period before all we have to drink is something from Goose Island and Ballast Point.
I’ll let you know what I think about that can of Other Half 3rd Anniversary IPA as soon as I get to enjoy one.
Home | TripMode | Your mobile data savior.2017/03/01 MacSparky suggested this to help you save data transfer when tethering. Looks reasonable for those of us considering switching to an unlimited plan with tethering.
The Jobs Americans Do - NYTimes.com2017/02/24 An enlightening set of portrayals of nine job Americans do now. An old college chum, Eric Steuer, penned on of the portraits in the series.
Support this Site
The following links include a referral code that supply me with a small commission, based on your transactions with these sites. Please follow these links to help support this site. Thanks!