Producer Phil Spector + Songwriter Harry Nilsson = The Modern Folk Quartet’s “This Could Be the Night” (1965). Easily the best unreleased sleigh-bell-enhanced paean to repressed teenage sexuality of all time. Nilsson demo here. For an added dash of genius: Brian Wilson’s cover version.
Imitation, as they say, is the sincerest form of flattery. Which is why the most revealing part of a recent Wednesday rendezvous with the Kogi Korean taco truck, L.A.’s latest culinary obsession, wasn’t the flash mob of 200 hungry Angelenos that began to materialize outside the Golden Gopher bar at 9:00 p.m., lured largely by a recent post on Kogi’s Twitter feed announcing that one of its two roving vehicles was on the way. Nor was it the hour-long wait everyone was willing to endure for griddled tortillas filled with short ribs and sesame-chili salsa roja. Or the staggering 400 pounds of meat that Kogi would dispense by evening’s end. Or even the credentials of Kogi chef Roy Choi, a La Bernardin alum and Culinary Institute of America valedictorian—the reasons, in short, that the three-month-old Kogi has garnered so much fawning coverage (BBC, New York Times) and become one of America’s buzziest restaurants. Instead, the day’s defining image was a group of Korean businessmen examining the underbelly of a kimchi-covered “Kogi Dog.” Their goal, according to Choi: to clone his creation. “At every stop, it’ll be, like, hundreds of young people,” he said, “and 12 middle-aged copycats in suits and ties asking where I buy my cabbage.”
It’s no wonder. Taco trucks, of course, are nothing new. Neither are upscale vehicles serving fancier fare to hip foodies. But thanks to the unprecedented speed and scale of its success—crowds often exceed 600 people—Kogi has already transcended its roots as a gourmet gastromobile and emerged, through a combination of cuisine, context, attitude and Internet alchemy, as something far more interesting: America’s first viral restaurant. As Pulitzer Prize-winning L.A. Weekly critic Jonathan Gold recently put it, “not since Pinkberry has anything captured the local imagination as quickly”; even the contestants on Top Chef: Season 5 are devotees. In many ways, Kogi’s rapid rise reflects the same cultural moment that produced Barack Obama; youthful, urban, multiethnic, wired and communal, both brands resonate with a grassroots generation that distrusts top-down messaging and prefers to learn from peers, often online. The question now is whether L.A.’s Twitter-fueled Korean taco truck is merely a fad (more like, say, Howard Dean)—or, as the Kogi copycats are hoping, a model for the future of fast food.
Kanye West is a tough act to follow—unless you’re a middle-aged couple slow dancing to tuba music. It’s unlikely that anyone watching last month’s Youth Inaugural Ball on TV noticed much difference between how the crowd of millennials welcomed the Louis Vuitton Don and how they reacted, a few minutes later, when Barack and Michelle Obama took the stage. But if you were actually in the audience—like me, and my eardrums—the change was impossible to ignore. The young people screamed. The young people sighed. Several young people even began to weep. “I hope my husband looks at me like that someday,” said one girl. When the song stopped, Obama leaned into the mike. “That’s what’s called ‘old school’,” he cracked. The new-school crowd responded like a bunch of banshees.
At the time, I attributed the scene to inauguration-induced hysteria. But since Jan. 20, a dozen peers have confirmed that what I witnessed in Washington wasn’t a fluke. “Yeah,” a friend admitted. “I’m totally obsessed with the two of them together.” Which got me thinking: have the president and his wife become for 20-somethings what the stars of “Twilight” are for tweens—the swooniest couple around? And if so, what does that say about us?
My hunch is that millennials are going gaga over Barack and Michelle because they want to be Barack and Michelle. It’s not that other generations can’t admire the Obamas’ bond; their marriage—a union of self-sufficient equals—embodies the post-’60s ideal. But unlike their elders, most millennials have yet to experience marriage firsthand, and what they’ve experienced by proxy hasn’t been particularly encouraging: a 50 percent divorce rate, a steep rise in single parenthood, a culture captivated by cheap celebrity hookups. Even America’s most visible household hasn’t offered much hope, veering from ’50s-era submissiveness (the Reagans) to boomer dysfunction (the Clintons). But now the Obamas—two independent individuals who also appear to be (surprise!) in love—have filled the void. For young people who have rejected the tired “wife in the kitchen” template but resolved not to follow their parents to divorce court, it’s a relief to see that the sort of marriage they soon hope to have—equal and devoted—can actually exist.
Last week on Design Observer, Dmitri Siegel wrote about the urban proliferation of canvas tote bags. He muses on many of the most popular versions found on city streets, ranging from my least favorite “I am not a plastic bag” to the cloyingly self-referential “Jacobs by Marc Jacobs for Marc by …”, which I admit I found pretty cute, especially as it came from the current designer at Louis Vuitton (marque of the most notorious x × y collaborations).
Ultimately, Siegel questions the canvas tote’s underlying gesture towards sustainability and does a cursory statistical analysis. According to his coarse calculations, a tote must be used 400 times to equal a plastic bag in terms of the cost of its production; a plastic bag uses “40 percent less energy, generates 80 percent less solid waste, produces 70 percent fewer atmospheric emissions, and releases up to 94 percent fewer waterborne wastes” than a paper bag, etc. And the reusability argument for these tote bags also commands general implications for objects of its type. For an example, consider the number of tote bags that can be found in an average household (or—more dramatically—a Park Slope household) and how much relative use they get. He concludes:
It is unclear that a consumable can counteract the effects of consumption. The designs that make each bag unique contribute to an over-abundance of things that are essentially identical and the constant stream of newness discourages reuse.
Which means that my indifference to these supposedly virtuous canvas carry-alls has actually made me “greener” than the environmentalistas who proudly lug them around town. Delightful.