Thursday, February 14, 2013

Animal Celebrity is a Bitch

So, many of us were distracted from our workaday lives recently by the Westminster Kennel Club Dog show—what, you weren’t watching? (The winner was Banana Joe, the first ever affenpinscher to win this particular event—now he gets to retire in everyone’s favorite retirement spot, the Netherlands.) Of course, events like this one and the National Dog Show on Thanksgiving only make me think of one thing—Christopher Guest’s brilliant mockumentary Best in Show and Parker Posey’s amazing “Where is Busy Bee?” meltdown therein—but it did recently get me thinking of something else. Namely—the fact that man’s best friend is definitely not the hottest animal on the block, and it hasn’t been for some time.

These days it takes more than being a friendly, tail-wagging quadruped to be “trending” at the rate of other species. In fact, the pop culture popularity of dogs is probably below that of even monkeys. People who watch videos of dogs—or the dog show—seem quaint and old timey.

For those of you who aren’t aware of the latest species trending, this list should help you get back up to speed. Dogs may be cute, but they are just not that hip anymore. Dogs had the 90s: Budweiser’s Spuds Mackenzie, the Taco Bell Chihuahua, and the Saint Bernard Beethoven ruled the big and small screens. Now they, like bunnies (think Energizer or Cadbury’s), must scamper for attention (the puppy-party-favors of Bridesmaids were an notable and adorable exception).

7. Penguins & Meerkats—yesterday’s news

Hard to believe that just a couple of years ago, penguins and meerkats reigned supreme. Who would have thought their day in the sun would ever end? However, all good things must come to an end. With Happyfeet and March of the Penguins now just DVDs gathering dust, and Meerkat Manor a mere memory, those animals are on the downswing. Enjoy them while the youtube videos still exist!
Meerkats watch as fame & fortune leave them.

 6. Honeybadger—flash in the pan

Honeybadger don’t care….honeybadger is a badass!

5. Sea otters—just for Valentine’s Day?

A furry, graceful animal that holds hands with its friends? An instant winner. The jury is still out as to the market power of sea otters in the long run, but they are the perfect animal celebrity for the “yay I’m not a sad singelton” marketing campaign that is Valentine’s.

That looks says: "We know we're cute."

4. Pigs—on the rise

We thought we'd seen the end with the demise of Babe, but they're back! Who can resist Hamlet the pig making his way down the stairs towards his oatmeal? Or how about that somewhat creepy talking pig in the Geico commercial? Any way you slice it, pigs are on the rise and going quite literally into the skies. Pretty soon, these pigs will be bringing home the bacon, big time.

3. Hedgehogs—so cute I can barely breathe

OMG OMG OMG. Hedgehogs!!!! Cute and prickly and just oh-so-squishy! Lounging in my hand! Going for a swim! Gaaaah!

2. Sloths—hitting the big time

Sloths are smelly, slow and kind of scary—obviously a natural choice for fame and fortune. The Zach Galifinakis of the animal world, let’s say. But better-looking, because apparently, Bradley Cooper looks like one. Actress Kristin Bell is crazy for sloths. HuffPost announced today that a great last-minute Valentine’s gift would be a bucket of sloths. Sloths have even had their own SNL video. Obviously, sloths have arrived…get ‘em while they’re hot!...or still in the bucket!

This bucket's mine! Get your own!

 1. Cats—always in fashion

None of these animals, however, will ever attain the popularity of the Internet darling—cats. Cats sliding into boxes, cats making existential statements, cats playing the piano, or even people just singing about cats. We even love grumpy cats. A self-teaching computer programmed to analyze the internet was able to “learn” how to recognize consistently exactly one thing—cats. Internet cat videos have even been shown at exclusive cat video film festivals. Cats are simply the Chanel of the animal world—always stylish and always classy with a little bit of sassy. 

But all you dog-lovers out there, have no fear. Dogs are here to stay, too, even if they aren't lapping the limelight in quite the same way as cats or sloths. And here are some dog gifs for you too.

The Great Conjunction's very own grumpy cat.

Monday, February 4, 2013

New Year, New Rules: New Year's Resolutions, 2013 Edition

So, I’m a sucker for New Year’s Resolutions. As an academic, I usually make them twice a year—on January 1st, like “normal” people, and again on September 1st, with the beginning of the new academic year. The resolutions I make at the start of September often have to do with my academic achievements and work ethic; while these figure in my January resolutions, I try to add the “life improvements” resolutions to this list as well.

As usual, my list is ambitious, unrealistic and unoriginal: manage my time more effectively; be more courteous to others, especially as a listener; don’t let the little things upset me; eat more healthily; work out more consistently; be a more enthusiastic and engaged instructor; stop procrastinating; get back to writing fiction; read more books for fun. (Naturally I’m most excited by the last one on that list.)

But I can’t help myself. I like to reinvent and improve myself, even when I know that these goals are a constant struggle to maintain. But I also love making lists. I make to-do lists, grocery lists, book lists, move lists, lists of achievements, lists of failures, pro and con lists, and, as you are witnessing in this essay, lists of lists. I have a notepad for making lists and at the bottom it says, “Make a list—you’ll feel better.” If nothing else, making lists makes you feel in control, even if that’s a false sense of satisfaction.

I am also very meticulous about my lists. I joke that lists are where the Virgo in me really comes out. Not only do I like to make lots of lists, I organize my lists with categories and subcategories. I like to make my grocery lists in order of how the food is laid out in the grocery store that we go to every week. What—you don’t do that? For Christmas shopping this year, I created an Excel spreadsheet to make sure I had all the recipients and their gifts listed. I have no doubt this list will prove invaluable in ten months’ time.

But back to resolutions! Resolutions are a neat and orderly list of things I wish to achieve, however esoteric, abstract or concrete. The key to effective goal-setting is, of course, to make a second list that describes what you will do in your life to achieve these goals (I think I read that in a book or Good Housekeeping, which mysteriously keeps being sent to my house). For example, for my resolution of working out more consistently, I will promise myself to work out 4-5 times a week minimum, with roller derby twice a week, gym twice a week, and, once the weather gets nicer, running twice a week. In order to get fitter, I plan on using a fitness journal to mark my progress and make sure I’m upping the weight on the machines every month.

The problem with this method is once you get to the more abstract resolutions. For example—how do I break my bad habit of interrupting people and, in general, being a bad listener? How do I “manage my time better” (aside from making more lists)? How do I commit to “not letting the little things get to me” or “being a more enthusiastic instructor”? The only way to do that is to remind myself as often as possible about these things. My original idea was to write myself reminders of these goals in my day planner and on a sheet of paper by my bed—but then I put that off.

I suppose in the end it doesn’t matter if you break your resolutions, as long as you don’t break your resolve. I’m not a fan of self-help books, so I’ll leave the pep talk for someone else. As far as I’m concerned, I’ll keep making and re-making myself as often as I can—that’s one resolution I know I’ll keep. And when that fails, I’ll make a list…and I’ll feel better.

[Try not to notice that I already broke resolution #37, post to blog every week….]