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It’s a very important technological development.
October 6, 2010 7:06 AM   Subscribe

Robert Thompson of Syracuse University has provided pop-culture expertise in 150 New York Times stories over two decades. Today's spaghetti-taco article makes Helene Stapinski the 78th reporter to interview Thompson.
posted by shakespeherian (26 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
What could be more unappealing?

Oh, the gray lady finds something unappealing. Quelle surprise.
posted by blucevalo at 7:11 AM on October 6, 2010


The linked blog ityelf cites Robert Thompson in its post about the NYT citing Robert Thompson. Clearly, the man gives good quote!
posted by chavenet at 7:12 AM on October 6, 2010


ityelf = itself.
posted by chavenet at 7:13 AM on October 6, 2010


I had Bob as a TA/instructor when I was an undergrad at Northwestern a bazillion years ago, and he was finishing up his Ph.D. when I returned to get my MA a couple of years later. Even then, his goal was to someday establish himself as the "go-to" guy for the media for anything related to pop culture. When I first started seeing his name appear here and there, I could tell that his evil scheme brilliant plan was developing well, and now, all these years later, it is clear that he controls the entire Tri-State Area has achieved that goal. Go Bob!
posted by briank at 7:16 AM on October 6, 2010 [6 favorites]


I want a spaghetti taco, that sounds good!
posted by ThePinkSuperhero at 7:19 AM on October 6, 2010


I made spaghetti tacos last month, because tortillas and leftover spaghetti were all I had left in my fridge. I'm 6'4 and live by myself, and have only heard of iCarly as a subject of derision by friends who have kids of impressionable age.

It's like having your flight canceled, getting a free night at a hotel in the middle of nowhere, and finding yourself ordering the safest item on the menu at the only restaurant that you can walk to.

It's not awful, but you never once are fooled into thinking that this is something I chose to eat.
posted by hanoixan at 7:20 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


It's sort of an evolution of the Skyline 5-way: spaghetti with chili, cheese, onions, beans ...

and TACO!

The problem would be that you'd want a lot of sauce/chili in the taco (as opposed to dry noodles), and that makes the result non-portable, which seems the entire point of the taco.
posted by mrgrimm at 7:26 AM on October 6, 2010


This just makes me think of Murray Siskind and his colleagues in White Noise.
posted by hydatius at 7:27 AM on October 6, 2010


his goal was to someday establish himself as the "go-to" guy for the media for anything related to pop culture.

Mission accomplished! From his Syracuse page:
Hundreds of radio and TV programs and publications have featured Professor Thompson's commentary, including: CBS's "60 Minutes", "48 Hours", "The Early Show" and "The Evening News with Dan Rather"; NBC's "Dateline", "Today" and "Later Today"; ABC's "20/20", "World News Tonight", and "Good Morning America"; PBS's "Newshour"; MSNBC's "Headlines & Legends", and "Playback"; CNN's "Newsstand"; CNBC's "Upfront Tonight with Geraldo Rivera"; Fox News Channel's "O'Reilly Factor"; NPR's "All Things Considered", "Morning Edition", "Talk of the Nation", "Fresh Air", "On the Media", and "Anthem"; The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Time, Newsweek Fortune, TV Guide, and Variety.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:27 AM on October 6, 2010


I go to Metafilter for my pop culture commentary.
posted by Faze at 7:47 AM on October 6, 2010 [1 favorite]


He really is the go-to guy though. He will always call you back, even on Sundays and holidays, and he always has the perfect quote - a mix of smarts and humor that most academics can't just wing. He's like a less irritating Larry Sabato.
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:48 AM on October 6, 2010


Also, I thought "78th reporter" seemed low. That blogger claims it's the "78th NYT reporter."
posted by CunningLinguist at 7:50 AM on October 6, 2010


Hot damn! Spaghetti tacos? YES PLEASE.
posted by allkindsoftime at 8:06 AM on October 6, 2010


Also, I thought "78th reporter" seemed low. That blogger claims it's the "78th NYT reporter."

Hrm, I guess I thought that was implicit in my wording. Alas!
posted by shakespeherian at 8:09 AM on October 6, 2010


I get my pop-culture commentary from Carbonated-Beverage Weekly.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:10 AM on October 6, 2010 [3 favorites]


I think I'll just have a cake sandwich.
posted by cmoj at 8:44 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


His career sounds like lots of fun. I'm jealous.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:49 AM on October 6, 2010


He really is the go-to guy though. He will always call you back, even on Sundays and holidays, and he always has the perfect quote - a mix of smarts and humor that most academics can't just wing.

Agreed, except for the smarts part. Thompson's "commentary" has always seemed more like some academic version of Colbert's truthiness. Smartiness or something - sounds intelligent and insightful as long as you don't think about it for long.

I mean, I don't fault him for chasing his dream, even if Biggest Media Whore in American Academia seems like kind of a strange dream to me. The thing is, there's a hollowness to commentary when you do it at this volume. Even a clever fellow like Thompson eventually turns into The McProfessor, slapping together overprocessed phrases for whoever's at the drive thru.

On the subject of spaghetti tacos, for example, we get this:
“This combination seems to be an inevitability, sort of like chocolate and peanut butter running into each other on that Reese’s commercial,” he said. “The amazement should be only that it took ‘iCarly’ to bring it into our melting pot of a culture.”

“Spaghetti tacos has made it possible to eat spaghetti in your car,” he said. “It’s a very important technological development. You don’t even need a plate.”
Throwback reference + stock phrase (is there anything you can't explain away as just another bemusing result of our melting pot of a culture?) + wry stab at sociological context = good quote. Reads smooth and clean and makes deadline with ease, but it's pretty flavourless. Empty media calories.
posted by gompa at 8:51 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I've long enjoyed his random comments in stories, ever since I started noticing his name, popping up all over the place... kinda come to think of him as the reporter's equivalent of the Wilhelm Scream. Which, I'm sure he could elaborate on...
posted by ph00dz at 9:14 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


growing up, i used to make spaghetti sandwiches out of buttered white bread and leftover sauce-coated spaghetti. this just seems like a natural evolution of an already amazing meal.
posted by kerning at 10:32 AM on October 6, 2010


Reads smooth and clean and makes deadline with ease, but it's pretty flavourless.

Dude, it's a story about spaghetti tacos. What greater depth are you looking for?
posted by CunningLinguist at 10:41 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


Dude, it's a story about spaghetti tacos. What greater depth are you looking for?

Well, yes, but 1) Thompson's just as offhandedly glib about stuff like The Wire and The Simpsons; and 2) a shallow, meaningless pop artefact can sometimes be as revealing about its life and times as some fantastic operatic HBO crime opus or something.

May as well repost something I just passed along by MeMail . . .

Any given shred of pop detritus - spaghetti tacos, Two & A Half Men, whatever - might be empty, but examining it for its meaning and using it as a lens through which to view the society of its time is as rich and informative a subject as studying the speeches of presidents or the campaigns of battlefield generals or anything else.

I should declare my bias. I wrote this book. Now, you could argue The Simpsons is intrinsically more worthy of serious examination than, you know, spaghetti tacos, and I might agree with you. But that's not the point. The point is that anything with broad popularity - even for a fleeting moment - can and often does say something quite significant about the people who find it resonant (or repellent or even a mere passing fancy).

One of my favourite examples of this is Dave Marsh's book Louie, Louie, which I think is among the half dozen best and most revelatory books ever written on the origin and meaning of rock & roll. Its subject is primarily the song "Louie, Louie" - as dumb a pop song as any ever produced - but it uses the very dumbness of the song and its easily copied ubiquity to explain how rock went from a loosely connected and undefined smattering of regional music trends into a big fat global phenomenon.

I think where Thompson gets under my skin just a little is in that his glibness reinforces the notion that pop culture's a mostly empty subject barely worthy of serious examination. Which is something I obviously strongly disagree with. Yes, I know, I'm beanplating spaghetti tacos. So it goes.
posted by gompa at 11:03 AM on October 6, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm not going to fight you on this, but yes, I think a newspaper article on spaghetti tacos is absolutely the best place for a glib quote. But you've written a serious book on pop culture and I'm a reporter who is often desperate on deadline for a zippy quote about something silly, so of course we are going to disagree on this.
posted by CunningLinguist at 11:19 AM on October 6, 2010




Goddam it, gompa, now I want to read your damn book and I have no damn time.

No thanks on the spaghetti tacos. That shit looks wrong.
posted by everichon at 11:36 AM on October 6, 2010


I took a philosophy course from Felicia Ackerman at Brown University. She was wonderfully frumpy, and carried her course work in a Pan-Am bag. That was decades ago, and at some point I realized that she had her Letters To The Editor printed in some section or other of the NY Times almost every day. I don't know if she's still at it.
posted by StickyCarpet at 4:29 PM on October 6, 2010


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