Show a Little Respect for Milk, and Other News


On the Shelf

A Dairy Queen ad from the fifties.


  • The dairy is the locus of the sublime. Whatever it is you want from this world, whatever unnamable thing beyond the stratum of rational thought, you will find it in milk. Imagine water, but with more emotion—that’s milk. Beer for the soul—it’s milk! A liquid that’s also a medium and a metaphor—milk. Should you doubt its sway over human affairs, ask yourself this: If the land of milk and honey were merely the land of honey, would you still regard it as paradise? Embarking on what they call a “journey of lactic abstraction,” Melanie Jackson and Esther Leslie have written a penetrating meditation on all things milky in the new issue of Cabinet. The news isn’t all good; humans have not been good to milk of late. Part of it goes like this: “The McFlurry, Mr. Whippy, Dairy Queen Blizzard, Cheese String, Dreaming Cow, Laughing Cow, Skinny Cow, Happy Cow, Crusha, Marvel—these dairy icons perform health and the abuse of health; an array of high-calorie, high-fat, low-calorie, low-fat, high-sugar, sugar-free, highly processed glimmer, with techno-scientific, multicolor, hedonistic, and eroticized appeal. These are the products of aggressive marketing, of low-margin, highly complex modes of manufacture. Dairy turns airy in ice creams that swell up with nothingness injected … Milk’s propensity for animation, for shape-shifting and transformation, teams it commercially with a bestiary of cartoon avatars and a dazzling spectrum of synthetic colors. Milk is frozen into colorful crystals with personality for a teeming frozen-treats market whose products bear ever less tangible relations to milk. In this format, milk adopts any and every shape, that of superheroes or cartoon villains, baroque architectonics or body parts. The cow, used frequently as a metaphor for the passive, dumb, and exploited, is replaced by wily, smart-talking animals and apocryphal consumers of its milk—cats, rabbits, mice—leaving only a vestigial hint of the originating animality.”
  • Vauhini Vara has spent some quality time at spelling bees and wonders about the increasing prominence of Indian Americans as brilliant spellers: “For the past decade, Indian Americans have dominated the Scripps National Spelling Bee—among last year’s top ten were seven Indian spellers … Even the most well-meaning attempts to understand the dominance of Indian-American spellers can be reductive. Shalini Shankar, an anthropologist at Northwestern University who is writing a book about spelling culture, told me that people ask her all the time if there is something inherent in the Indian brain that makes it well suited to this sort of competition—maybe a spelling gene? It’s legitimate, of course, to wonder why kids of Indian origin keep conquering Scripps, despite making up a relatively small proportion of the population. When I put this question to Paige Kimble, the director of the Scripps National Spelling Bee, she said, ‘It seems to me that more and more South Asians have integrated, and as they do so, they do what immigrant populations do, and that is to work very hard to be successful in their new country. I think that’s absolutely the dynamic in place that impacts the Bee.’ ”

  • David OReilly—who dropped the apostrophe from his name, maybe to troll the spellers of the world—has made a new video game, Everything, that’s as inchoate as it sounds. Laura Parker writes, “There are no clear objectives, no rewards, no sense of progression. The only purpose, if it can be characterized as such, is to interact with and inhabit any object on the screen. In other words, anything you see, you can be. A rock. A cedar. A sun. How long you explore the game as any given object is entirely your choice. The purpose of Everything is so simple, so untethered to traditional gaming conventions, that it’s easy to worry about whether you’re playing it right. But the game encourages players to let go of those anxieties. ‘Don’t get discouraged,’ a towering cedar might say. ‘Everything here is to help you.’ ”
  • Tim Culvahouse studies Virginia Hanusik’s photos of New Orleans, which aim to divorce the city from the myths of abundance and excess that have settled around its tourism industry: “The New Orleans of popular imagination is loud and colorful, often crowded, in your face. Certainly Bourbon Street is, so Virginia Hanusik’s picture at sunrise is a minor revelation. The last bars have closed, at four or five, and all that’s left is the sour smell of oysters, vomit, and stale beer. Every so often, in the cool drift from an open door, there comes a sweet trace of dark liquors, breathed out from shadowed wood. Cigarette smokers splash disinfectant across the sidewalk and hose it into the gutter. Shops put out their garbage, a simmering potpourri. These smells are always there, but you notice them more in the early hours of the day, when the distractions are few, when the neon has been switched off and the bands have gone home, when almost everyone is somewhere else.”