Culture Feature

This Haunts Me: "Jen from Appleton" and the Epic Bath and Body Works Rant

Sometimes you've just got to get yourself that Winter Candy Apple and Iced Gingerbread.

I hope Jen from Appleton, Wisconsin is doing well these days.

As for Angela, the star of the best Bath & Body Works rant of all time (and there are surprisingly many on YouTube), I hope she's living a Winter Candy Apple-scented life to the fullest.

In 2012, the aspiring vlogger posted a rant about her dire mission to acquire two coveted candles from Bath & Body Works: Winter Candy Apple and Iced Gingerbread. The outstanding 11-minute video recounts her harrowing journey to the store in APPLETON, WISCONSIN (it's very important the store is called out for their heinous treatment of Angela).

After the video was discovered and spread across Tumblr, it was recognized as a cultural masterpiece of our time, a treatise on the frailty of the human condition and our undying perseverance to end our own suffering at any cost.

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Twelve years before Justin Bieber dropped his debut album, My World, and shook the tween universe with his side-swept bangs, there was Aaron Carter.

The younger brother of Backstreet Boy's heartthrob Nick Carter, Aaron was responsible for some of the most iconic hits of 2000, from "Aaron's Party (Come Get It)" and "That's How I Beat Shaq" to his overplayed cover of The Strangelove's "I Want Candy." Carter arguably "paved the way" for today's tween pop stars like Bieber to become cultural phenomenons.

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Culture News

Yeah, but Which Brand Has the Healthiest Chicken Sandwich?

Wendy's, Popeye's, Burger King...or Chick-fil-A?

Burger King's Ch'King sandwich

The #ChickenSandwichTwitter war of 2019 embodied some prime late-stage capitalism in action.

Social media accounts for a bunch of fast-food brands are trying to get you to buy their lousy chicken sandwiches by memeing at each other, and it's working. Their "cool" marketing bullshit is absolutely going to make you want a chicken sandwich.

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TV Features

This Haunts Me: Mariah Carey Taking a Bath on MTV's "Cribs"

It was 2002, and Mariah Carey wanted a bath. Now we'll never be clean.

Before TikTok, before Snapchat, and before YouTube, there was MTV in the early aughts: a lawless land of velour tracksuits and diamond grillz, tiny dogs and spray tans.

And then there was Mariah Carey, who had barely survived 2001 after channeling her lifeforce into the beloved film disaster Glitter, along with the critically panned soundtrack of the same name. And yet, Carey persisted–and took a bath in front of millions of viewers on MTV's Cribs.

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Culture Feature

BTS Makes Being a Korean-American Adoptee (a Little) Easier

On a typical day, I'm BTS-fatigued, but I can no longer feel annoyed with this Korean wave in American pop culture.

The 7-member K-pop band's latest single, "Butter," has broken world records this past week, and I still don't want to have kids.

For context, I mean I'd rather walk from my Brooklyn apartment to my midtown Manhattan office in my bare feet than be responsible for parenting a child. That being said, my aunt-game is incredible. My seven-year-old niece thinks I live in one of the fancy NYC skyscrapers she sees on TV, and my four-year-old niece thinks she's Wonder Woman. What's not to love?

The seven-year-old says she looks like me, which is pretty accurate. I mean, I have freckles and I'm taller. She has straight hair, and mine is wavy. But with our black hair, pale skin, and broad cheekbones we share a resemblance, despite not having a single strand of DNA in common.

Although my nieces are still working on the simple geography of their small suburb where I also grew up, I've mentioned that both their dad and I were born Somewhere Else called "Korea" (I can't wait to explain that their dad is, literally, my brother from another mother).

As they get older, we'll get around to words like "adopted," "naturalized citizenship," and the grosser ones like "model minority" and "yellow face." At some point, I'm sure "banana" will be revised, too: "Yellow on the outside, white on the inside."

banana asian Urban Dictionary

But for now, they certainly don't know where Korea is… And these days I still wonder who actually does. Growing up in a rural, predominantly white suburb in the '90s, everybody I met was like my nieces, in that they had no clue what or where Korea was. During standard education's requisite five minutes of covering Asian history, this map was agonizing. Truly, take a guess where Korea is, I dare you.

korea map

But in the last 20 years, it seems every aspect of childhood has changed. Kids want to grow up to be YouTube stars (did you know some 10-year-old named Ryan makes $30 million a year by reviewing toys and yelling a lot on his channel?). Toddlers can ask Alexa to play "Baby Shark" until you shut off the Internet, and every toy ad these days looks like a diversity pamphlet compared to what I grew up with (RIP the unbearable whiteness of '90s candy commercials).

But of all the cultural differences that demarcate my childhood from that of my nieces, the most obvious one is BTS.

korea map

Second confession: I strongly dislike pop music, and I clearly have a fraught relationship with my Korean roots, but those seven boys of BTS have changed the way my nieces will grow up more than any classroom lesson, children's book, or Barbie doll with vaguely Asian features.

It started around 2008, when Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube greatly aided the cultural phenomenon of Hallyu, or the Korean wave. Today it seems like Korea's eminence is everywhere, from Korean skincare products hailed as holy grails within the beauty industry to Korean dramas populating on Netflix.

In 2020, Awkwafina, a half-Korean, half-Chinese actress, became the first Asian-American to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Actress in a Motion Picture–Musical or Comedy. Boon Joon-ho's Parasite was lauded as one of the greatest films of recent years, becoming the first Korean film to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture in a Foreign Language.

This year, Chloé Zhao was the first woman of color and first Asian woman to win the Oscar for Best Director. In a time when hate crimes against Asian Americans are breaking different, deplorable records (and doubling in March 2021 alone),

And then there's BTS, a juggernaut of the K-pop industry that's continually made history with its unprecedented success among western audiences. Aside from topping charts and breaking records, like the longest-charting album on Billboard's World Album chart, the seven-member boy band even holds 20 Guinness World Records, including gaining one million TikTok followers within the shortest amount of time (three hours and 31 minutes), for having the YouTube video to receive the most views within 24 hours (with "Butter" breaking their previous world record with 108.2 million views), and they were the first K-pop act to have the No. 1 album on U.S. charts.

But as I'm distinctly not a fan of pop music, I kept wondering: Why?

They're young, attractive people who execute highly-choreographed dance moves while wearing carefully styled, trendy clothing – but that's what every K-pop act is trained to become, thanks to dictatorial record companies who control every aspect of their image and sound (not to mention working them tirelessly, and inhumanely, at times). I gladly wrote them off as the latest empty eye candy popped out by the algorithmic pop factory, which I hate for its inauthenticity and sheer soulless capitalism.

But then, whenever I've asked, all the reasons people have for loving BTS sound reasonable: They actually write their own music (which is a sad rarity in K-pop, and too much popular music, in general); they're very appreciative of their fans; they use their global platform to advocate for self-love and acceptance, including sharing their own experiences with anti-Asian hate and condemning all hate crimes, and even speaking before the U.N. to advocate for youths to accept themselves more freely. Their lyrics are, apparently, thoughtful commentaries on social issues, like materialism and competitive peer pressure.

While Psy's 2012 global hit "Gangnam Style" satirized materialism and superficiality within the affluent neighborhood of Gangnam (and gave us all a weird horse dance and a song that will be drunkenly played at weddings until we die), Vox speculated, "If it's possible to ascribe a tipping point to a 'wave' [of Hallyu] that seems to be endless, BTS might be it; it certainly seems that the all-boy group has gone as far as a South Korean band can go in terms of making inroads into American culture."

On a typical day, I'm BTS-fatigued, but the K-pop wave has made it easier to grow up Korean in America...which is more important than ever.

Why have anti-Asian hate crimes broken records this past year? Why has a pandemic made it so easy for Americans to Other Asian faces? How has the Model Minority Myth insidiously inserted itself into how Americans are taught to see Asians, and how has that same myth been crafted and used to divide Black and Asian communities?

Perhaps most importantly, how do you combat centuries of orientalism and the intentional ignorance that most Asians weren't even allowed to become citizens until after World War II?

Perhaps it starts with a cultural phenomenon. One look at Twitter reminds me that online discourse about #Kpop constitutes over 6 billion tweets on the platform in a given year. Also, other celebrities love them. While appearing at the Golden Globe Awards last year, Bong Joon-ho was asked, "How does it feel...for your country to be leading the way in creativity and vision?" He responded, "I think Korea produces a lot of great artists because we're very emotionally dynamic people" and cited BTS as particularly influential artists that he appreciates.

I can't un-know any of these things, for which I'm very grateful. Looking back, in between the all white kids in the commercials for my favorite toys and the all white kids on my favorite TV shows, and the all white kids I grew up beside, I remember SukChin Pak. Anyone who remembers back when MTVNews had integrity (and actually won awards occasionally) will also remember Pak, the Korean-American news correspondent.

Years later, I looked her up and found that she was born in South Korea and her family moved to America when she was five. She's the only Korean individual (aside from my adoptive brother) I ever remember seeing until I was 18 and ran away to the Big Bad Apple.

Now my nieces have me, and I may be the first Korean female they've ever seen, but I am certainly not the only one. At six and two years old, they both know how to use an iPad better than I did when I received my first iPod Touch at sixteen. They Google, they YouTube, and watch TV (the universal babysitter, thanks very much), and the type of media they see today is vastly different than what I had 20 years ago.

And sure, while it's lightyears ahead in terms of inclusivity, there's still a demoralizing lack of Asian American representation in American media at large. But the aftershock of Korean-inclusive content after Hallyu, after BTS, is everywhere. In the last 10 years, Korean faces have become a part of America's cultural landscape. My aversion to K-pop most likely has to do with a lot of internalized baggage and cognitive dissonance that inevitably develops when you were Korean-American back in the wilderness of "What's Korea?" and conversations beginning with, "So are you Chinese or Japanese?"

It's cool that the "West" has figured out that Koreans are cool, but among all the new, strange, and complex words I'll be introducing to my nieces as they grew up, "BTS" isn't going to be one of them because they'll already know (hell, they probably already do). And that word's become a gateway to explain a lot of concepts that can otherwise be mystifying and alienating.

Their classmates aren't going to ask them what Korea is as if it's an invalid blank space on a map that's not attached to any culture, and they won't spend their formative years figuring out their identities in a giant game of One of These Things Is Not Like the Other. Because they'll have me, cultural icons who've shown the world how cool people like us are, and the otherworldly glowing skin of RM, Suga, J-Hope, Jin, Jimin, Jungkook, and V. (Plus, my oldest niece just discovered BLACKPINK...The revolution has begun...).

This article was originally published in Feb. 2020 and updated in May 2021.

Culture Feature

Scandal Scrapbook: When Ted Bundy Stans Feuded with Charles Manson Stans on Twitter

In online post-irony media, empathy gets lost in our nihilism, and we mock the idea of a moral world — by stanning serial killers.

When you think of Ted Bundy, don't you think of Chad Michael Murray?

"Ted Bundy" was trending once again thanks to the announcement of yet another tasteless movie based on true crime from director Daniel Farrands (The Haunting of Sharon Tate, The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson). Murray, the House of Wax and Cinderella Story star, will play Ted Bundy in the upcoming film, titled American Boogeyman..

Scheduled for theatrical release on August 16, the film is "set in a gritty and decadent 1970s America" following "the elusive and charming killer and the manhunt that brought him to justice involving the detective and the FBI rookie who coined the phrase 'serial killer.'"

People on Twitter were predictably mad, condemning the media's obsessive coverage of Ted Bundy. If the discourse about serial killers being glamorized seemed familiar, it's because we've pretty much recycled the same exploitative true crime content for years. For instance, remember when #TedBundy stans were feuding with #CharlesManson stans about which mad man was the most outstanding serial killer?

Hop into our time machine back to 2019 to ask the unthinkable: Have we as a society made...progress? Do we still fall prey to irony poisoning and give our outrage to online trolls? Do we finally take murder, like, seriously?

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