The Surprising Reason ‘Pink Slime’ Meat Is Back

Beef to Tomato Send July 4 Food Cost to Record
Ground beef is portioned onto trays at a supermarket meat department, July 2, 2014. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

It has something to do with the weather

The attention was damning. In 2012, ABC News ran an 11-segment investigation on a low-cost meat product critics called “pink slime,” a moniker coined by a former USDA employee who argued the filler wasn’t really beef.

In an attempt to steer the public away from it, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver “recreated” it on his TV show by throwing beef scraps into a washing machine and dousing the results with ammonia. Soon, social media feeds were blanketed with photos supposedly of the product that made the meat look like soft-serve strawberry ice cream.

The backlash was intense. Though the USDA considers the product safe for human consumption, fast food giants like McDonald’s, Burger King and Taco Bell publicly renounced it and public schools around the country stopped serving it for lunch. By May 2012, Beef Products, Inc,, the South Dakota-based inventor of the product, was on the brink of collapse—closing three of its four plants and laying off 700 employees.

What a difference two years makes.

On Aug. 18, BPI reopened one of its shuttered plants. While production is nowhere near pre-freak-out levels, when the product BPI calls “lean finely textured beef” was estimated to be in 70% of the ground beef sold in the U.S., the company has been gradually regaining business. The reason is the same one that made finely textured beef successful in the first place: it’s cheap. And lower costs are particularly attractive to processors facing record high prices for ground beef. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the average price of ground beef in June was $3.88, up 14% from last year.

For that, you can thank the sustained drought that has gripped much of the American West and Great Plains, including cattle producing regions of Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska and Texas.

“The main issue is the drought,” says Dan Hale, an animal science professor at Texas A&M University. “A lot of the U.S., especially parts that raise cattle, have experienced a severe drought. And those animals are no longer available for producing calves that we can in turn generate for beef trimmings.”

In the summer of 2012, more than 50% of the country was considered in moderate or extreme drought. Those conditions forced ranchers to rush cows to slaughter, which led to fewer calves in the following years and lower head of cattle overall. Meanwhile, demand for beef kept rising, pushing prices higher along with it. With supply down, prices up and memories of the “pink slime” moment fading, the market for finely textured beef is growing again.

BPI makes its product by spinning discarded beef scraps in a centrifuge to separate the lean, edible trimmings and then treating the result with ammonium hydroxide meant to kill food-borne pathogens like E. coli. Processors blend it with other cuts as a cost-saving measure and the product can account for as much as 10% of the meat in a package of ground beef.

“If you can utilize more of the animal, that helps mitigate some of the low supply numbers,” says Lee Schulz, an agricultural economics professor at Iowa State University.

BPI remains embroiled in a a $1.2 billion defamation lawsuit against ABC News over the network’s coverage of its product. The company is now producing close to 1 million lbs. a week. of lean finely textured beef—down from nearly 5.5 million lbs in 2012. But BPI is optimistic that the worst days are behind it. The newly opened Kansas plant will work with global meat processor Tyson Foods, collecting its raw beef trimmings and shipping them to a BPI facility in Nebraska that will process the scraps into profit.

“BPI continues to experience growth and remains confident this growth will continue,” Craig Letch, BPI’s director of food quality and food safety, said in a statement. “This is certainly a step in the right direction.”

TIME Culture

Is It Really a ‘Wonderful Time’ to Be a Woman on TV?

NBC's "66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards" - Show
Actress Julianna Margulies accepts the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series award for 'The Good Wife' on stage during the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at the Nokia Theater on August 25, 2014. Mark Davis/NBC—NBC via Getty Images

Julianna Margulies' Emmys acceptance speech reminds us that women still have a long way to go on TV

When The Good Wife star Julianna Margulies received an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama last night, she gushed, “What a wonderful time for women on television!” Yes and no, Julianna. Yes and no.

On the one hand, the competition in Margulies’ category was fierce — and it didn’t even include the many talented ladies on Orange Is the New Black. And yet, a number of incidents during the rest of the awards show indicate that the TV industry — though it may be kinder to women than the film industry — still has a long way to go.

There were two moments in particular that made me squirm during the broadcast: the first was when Modern Family’s Sofia Vergara was literally placed on a pedestal to distract from the obligatory boring speech by the chairman of the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences. Critics rightly reacted with outrage. To quote my colleague Sarah Begley: “Maybe it benefits women like Vergara to play along with jokes like this, but there’s no excuse for the Academy to engage in such a blatantly sexist trope. It does a disservice to Vergara’s skills as an actress and comedian to pretend — even in a self-conscious way — like she’s just a body. Sure, it was self-aware – but a self-aware wink doesn’t work like a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

Sofia Vergara, Bruce Rosenblum
Sofia Vergara, left, and Television Academy CEO Bruce Rosenblum speak on stage at the 66th Primetime Emmy Awards at the Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on Monday, Aug. 25, 2014, in Los Angeles. Vince Bucci—Invision/AP

And then there was Stephen Colbert’s acceptance speech. When he thanked his writers (who won last week for Writing in a Variety Series), he said, “I’m so proud of those guys — and one woman.” When the audience began to laugh, he shrugged and said, “Sorry for that, for some reason.” I want to give Colbert the benefit of the doubt: the network the Colbert Report is on, Comedy Central, has actually been working hard to promote funny women on its network as of late, including Amy Schumer and the ladies of Broad City. (Even Drunk History has been highlighting some little-known kick-ass women.) But his nonchalant joke does touch on the sad fact that the gender gap persists in the television industry: the Writers Guild of America published a report in June that showed women made up just 27% of all TV writers in 2012 and were paid 92 for every dollar earned by male writers.

And it’s not just writing where women are underrepresented: only 26% of the Emmy nominees this year were female. The problem was most acute among the prestige dramas, where the shows actually expected to have a chance at taking home the big prize this year — Breaking Bad and True Detective — didn’t have any women competing in the lead actress category. NPR writer Linda Holmes perhaps said it most succinctly when she tweeted last night:

The drama roles women are nominated for usually involve them being someone’s wife (Robin Wright in House of Cards, Julianna Margulies in The Good Wife, and Michelle Dockery in Downton Abbey) or mistress (Lizzy Caplan in Masters of Sex, Claire Danes in Homeland, Kerry Washington in Scandal). It may be a little unfair to boil down many of these empowered characters — lawyers, scientists and CIA operatives — to these categorizations: The Good Wife’s title is meant ironically after all. But “wife” or “girlfriend” continues to be an essential descriptor for these characters in a way that isn’t true of their male counterparts. As I wrote last year, all of TV’s strongest female characters seem to share one infuriating flaw: they excel at their jobs until they make some terrible decision because of a man. Their main struggle isn’t with duty or morality, as with the nuanced characters that earned Best Actor nominations: it’s about overcoming their hormones to make the right decision.

66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Press Room
Actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, winner of the Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series Award for Veep (Episode: “Crate”), poses in the press room during the 66th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards held at Nokia Theatre L.A. Live on August 25, 2014 in Los Angeles, California. Jason Merritt—Getty Images

It’s not all doom and gloom for women. In comedy, women like Veep’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Orange Is the New Black’s Taylor Schilling and even Lena Dunham (no matter what you think of Girls) are getting to play more interesting, complicated roles than were available for women just a few years ago. Those three shows don’t feel the need to shine the spotlight on the male characters, when it’s clear that the women are the true stars.

And older women are getting their moment on television, proving that turning 40 in Hollywood is no longer a death sentence. Actresses over 40 dominated the nominations, and that same age bracket won in all the major categories. (Julianna Margulies, Anna Gunn, Jessica Lange, Kathy Bates, Julia Louis-Dreyfus and Allison Janney took home the women’s acting awards).

Things are even looking up behind the camera. Last night, Moira Walley-Beckett won an Emmy for her Breaking Bad episode “Ozymandias,” which was arguably the best, most haunting hour of television in the last year. Walley-Beckett became the first solo woman to win the award in the Drama category since 1994 — all other women who have won since then co-wrote episodes with men. As I wrote earlier, the woman’s touch was just what the testosterone-fueled show needed to add a bit of heart at the end of the season: it raised the emotional stakes when Walter kidnapped his daughter from his wife, Skyler. Even as shows about anti-hero men like Breaking Bad, Mad Men and Dexter come to a close, a new crop of similar shows seem to be emerging: The Knick, Ray Donovan and House of Cards, to name a few. If we have to live in a world where almost all of the prestige dramas are about “Difficult Men,” shows where women usually play second fiddle, then let it be a world where a woman has an Emmy on her shelf for penning the best episode in that genre.

So yes, Julianna, there’s a lot to celebrate. But TV still has a long way to go: let’s not confuse “good” with “wonderful.”

TIME Culture

Sofia Vergara Blasts Critics Who Called Her Emmys Skit ‘Sexist’

She says they have "no sense of humor"

At the Emmys on Monday night, Sofia Vergara participated in what many critics called a sexist gag. The Modern Family actress posed on a slowly rotating pedestal — like the ones used to show off cars — that displayed her curves in full for the audience as president of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences Bruce Rosenblum gave a dull speech. He ended the bit by saying, “What truly matters is that we never forget that our success is based on always giving the viewer something compelling to watch.”

Critics condemned the sketch as sexist. “It does a disservice to Vergara’s skills as an actress and comedian to pretend — even in a self-conscious way — like she’s just a body,” Sarah Begley wrote in TIME. “Sure, it was self-aware – but a self-aware wink doesn’t work like a get-out-of-jail-free card.”

But Vergara defended the skit to Entertainment Weekly after the show. “I think its absolutely the opposite [of demeaning]. It means that somebody can be hot and also be funny and make fun of herself. I think it’s ridiculous that somebody started this—I know who she was—who has no sense of humor [and should] lighten up a little bit.”

Vergara didn’t say who she thought “started” the criticism. But it seems like critiques from fans, celebrities and writers hit Twitter immediately as the skit began:


TIME Food & Drink

The Science Behind Baking the Most Delicious Cookie Ever

Different types of chocolate chip cookies

Because, c’mon, we’re talking chocolate chip cookies here

This post originally appeared on Ozy.com.

You like soft and chewy. He likes thin and crispy. If only there were a chocolate chip cookie recipe that pleased everyone…

There is! And, no, it’s not Martha Stewart’s. It’s science.

We’ve taken our cues from a few spots: a bioengineering grad student named Kendra Nyberg, who co-taught a class at UCLA called Science and Food, and chef and cookbook author Tessa Arias, who writes about cookie science on her site, Handle the Heat.

There’s also an illuminating Ted Talk animation on cookie science. And if you really want to go nuts (or no nuts, your call), Serious Eats offers 21 painstakingly tested steps for the Perfect Cookie, including kneading times and chocolate prep techniques.

“Even though I can describe what I like,” says Nyberg, “I didn’t know the role of each ingredient in the texture and shape of cookies.” So she looked into it — as only a scientist can.

(MORE: His Grandfather Invented Doritos But Tim West Prefers Kale)

Here, relying on the experts’ help and based on the classic Nestle Toll House Chocolate Chip Cookie recipe, OZY presents no-fail tips for baking your perfect cookie. (You’re welcome.)

Ooey-gooey: Add 2 cups more flour.

A nice tan: Set the oven higher than 350 degrees (maybe 360). Caramelization, which gives cookies their nice brown tops, occurs above 356 degrees, says the Ted video.

Crispy with a soft center: Use 1/4 teaspoon baking powder and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda.

Chewy: Substitute bread flour for all-purpose flour.

(MORE: Food Waste – There’s (Finally) An App For That)

Just like store-bought: Trade the butter for shortening. Arias notes that this ups the texture but reduces some flavor; her suggestion is to use half butter and half shortening.

Thick (and less crispy): Freeze the batter for 30 to 60 minutes before baking. This solidifies the butter, which will spread less while baking.

Cakey: Use more baking soda because, according to Nyberg, it “releases carbon dioxide when heated, which makes cookies puff up.”

Butterscotch flavored: Use 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar (instead of the same amount of combined granulated sugar and light brown sugar).

Uniformity: If looks count, add one ounce corn syrup and one ounce granulated sugar.

More. Just, more: Chilling the dough for at least 24 hours before baking deepens all the flavors, Arias found.

(MORE: Table for One? This Question Will Never Terrify You Again.)

TIME Culture

Mary Poppins Was the Original Disney Feminist

Chim Chiminey
Dick Van Dyke as Bert, Julie Andrews as Mary Poppins, Karen Dotrice as Jane Banks and Matthew Garber as Michael Banks in the Disney musical 'Mary Poppins.' Silver Screen Collection—Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Fifty years after Julie Andrews starred as that practically perfect nanny, the character is still a role model for young women

Like all Disney movies, Mary Poppins is full of whimsy and adventure, good guys and, if not bad guys, at least shades-of-grey guys.

And as we celebrate the film today, on its fiftieth anniversary, let’s not forget its feminist perspective.

At the center of it all is Mary Poppins, a no-nonsense nanny who gets the nursery cleaned and the medicine down. Yes, she works in a feminine profession, but with her impeccable negotiation skills, she’s an inspiration to the modern childcare economy—the average worker made only $19,510 per year in 2012. She’s gentle with the children, but firm enough to subvert the stereotype of woman as nurturer-and-nothing-else. She’s a balanced female character, full of good manners and grace but also judgmental about others’ laughter styles, and she’s a master of reverse psychology. She seems to have a gentleman friend in Bert, the chimney sweep and street artist played by Dick Van Dyke, but they are not exclusive, as he hints in “Jolly Holiday,” and she certainly doesn’t take him into consideration when it’s time to pack up and move on to her next gig. Plus, she’s magic!

Psychoanalysis of the liberated Ms. Poppins aside, the movie had a strong message for its 1964 audiences. That year, Title VII of the Civil Rights Act banned employment discrimination on the basis of sex; Roe v. Wade was still nine years away. Watching Mrs. Banks, played by the incomparable Glynis Johns, parade through the movie’s London townhouse singing about women’s suffrage was a reminder to American audiences that there was still a long way to go. “We’re clearly soldiers in petticoats,” she sings in the first song of the movie. “And dauntless crusaders for women’s votes…Our daughters’ daughters will adore us, and they’ll sing in grateful chorus, ‘Well done, Sister Suffragette!”

If Mrs. Banks is the voice of progress, her husband Mr. Banks is the voice of tradition. A straight-laced banker, he expresses his own worldview in the movie’s second song, “The Life I Lead:”

It’s grand to be an Englishman in 1910

King Edward’s on the throne, it’s the age of men

I’m the lord of my castle, the sovereign, the liege

I treat my subjects, servants, children, wife, with a firm but gentle hand—noblesse oblige

This patriarchal perspective can’t stand up to the organized mayhem Ms. Poppins brings into his home. Young Michael Banks wants to buy birdseed from the bird woman his nanny has told him about, but his father wants him to invest his tuppence in the bank. The boy tries to get his money bank, confusing other customers and causing a run on the bank—a sign of social upheaval if ever there was one! All this challenge to the status quo (plus his newfound unemployment) causes Mr. Banks to reconsider his narrow stance on power and order. In a reprise of his earlier melody, he sings:

My world was calm, well ordered, exemplary

Then came this person with chaos in her wake

And now my life’s ambitions go, with one fell blow

It’s quite a bitter pill to take

With a little help from Bert, who’s well-versed in reverse psychology himself, Mr. Banks puts the pieces of his repressive puzzle together—or rather, pulls them apart—and ends the movie enlightened and unburdened, finally bonding with his children as they fly a kite together. Ms. Poppins takes flight herself, on to the next household that needs saving from authoritarian ideology.

Well done, indeed, Sister Suffragette. Elsa of Arendelle has nothing on you.

TIME Culture

Lena Dunham’s New Book Takes You Inside Her Therapy Sessions

Variety And Women In Film Annual Pre-Emmy Celebration
Actress Lena Dunham arrives at Variety And Women In Film Annual Pre-Emmy Celebration at Gracias Madre on August 23, 2014 in West Hollywood, California. (Photo by Jon Kopaloff/FilmMagic) Jon Kopaloff—FilmMagic

The New Yorker excerpted Dunham's upcoming book

The New Yorker premiered the first excerpt from Lena Dunham’s upcoming memoir, Not That Kind of Girl, on Monday. Fans of the Girls creator and star knew before that she had struggled with mental health problems: her character’s O.C.D. on the show is based on her own personal experiences. But it looks like Dunham’s new book will give readers their first insight into the details of her therapy sessions.

“The germophobia morphs into hypochondria morphs into sexual anxiety morphs into the pain and angst that accompany entry into middle school,” Dunham writes. She unpacks her many problems in various therapist’ offices, at school, with her parents and even in hushed tones over the phone with a therapist when lying next to a boy in bed.

Dunham invites us, once again, to psychoanalyze her work. Whether it’s in print of on TV, she tempts audiences to judge her and moves defiantly forward when we do. I suppose she’s trying to teach us all a lesson.

[The New Yorker]

TIME Opinion

9 Feminist Takeaways From the VMAs

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Roaming Show
Singer Beyonce performs onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. Kevin Winter—Getty Images

Men provided mostly forgettable moments

Feminism Doesn’t Mean ‘Man-Hater’

In fact, what it actually means is: the belief that all genders should be equal to each other politically, economically and socially. Thank you, Beyoncé.

Female Breadwinners Are Amazing

A Tumblr blogger put it best: “If Jay Z can support Beyonce’s stance on feminism and not feel threatened by it and cheer on her work with their daughter in his arms then ya’ll motherf*****s ain’t got no excuses.” Amen.

Gender Parity: It’s Possible!

The ladies took home 10 of 16 of the awards, or a whopping 63%.

You Can Use Fashion to Declare Your Independence

Katy Perry and RiFF RAFF dressed as early 00s power couple Britney Spears and Justin Timberlake on the red carpet. Even though it was a couple’s costume, Perry basically used the jean-clad rapper as a prop to state her independence while playing with rumors about her dating life.

Women Can Support Each Other

It was notable to hear Lorde introduce Taylor Swift as her “friend;” for Demi Lovato to tweet that she loves Nicki Minaj; to see female artists collaborating rather than tearing each other down.

Ladies Are Multifaceted, Get Over It

Yep, they can call themselves feminists and do it in a bodysuit.

Embrace the Female Badass

The best presenters of the night were Laverne Cox, Taylor Schilling and Uzo Aduba from Orange Is the New Black, who compared the competitive world of the VMAs to the all women’s prison on their show.

Women Can Rock Out, Too

While announcing the award for Best Rock Video, presenter Trey Songz said — in an eye-roll moment— that “even a lady [was] in the mix.” Well that lady was Lorde, and she was the first woman to ever win in that category. Besides, it’s not like Trey Songz was nominated for anything.

Being a Mom is Empowering

Beyoncé’s tribute to her adorable daughter brought the diva — and likely the entire audience — to tears. Count motherhood among Beyoncé’s many achievements. Women, having it all: check!

TIME Culture

Finding My So-Called Queer Identity in My So-Called Life

Claire Danes, A.J. Langer and Wilson Cruz film the "Betrayal" episode of "My So-Called Life." ABC Photo Archives—ABC via Getty Images

The TV landscape for LGBTQ characters has shifted dramatically since the groundbreaking show first aired 20 years ago

When I was 8, my favorite thing to do after school was to visit the set of My So-Called Life. My mom, who created the show, had to be there all the time, so I’d visit her on days when a babysitter could drive me or when my dad was shooting scenes as Angela’s grandfather. I’d play behind the scenery, do my homework in the unused fake school hallway, and plunder the craft service snack table. I loved reading the scripts and watching rough cuts of the episodes. A lot of what I saw went over my head, but I could totally identify with Angela’s intense crush on Jordan Catalano. I was already boy crazy, pining after classmates, camp counselors, my friend’s older brother and the bowl-cutted hunks of Tiger Beat.

So it was no surprise that I swooned over Wilson Cruz, who played gay teenager Rickie on MSCL. I was in awe of all the actors—even 14-year-old Claire Danes seemed impossibly grownup to me—but felt especially thrilled when warm, funny, magnetic Wilson would chat with me between scenes. “I’m gonna marry him!” I confided in my mom one day. She smiled. “That’s so sweet, honey, but you know, Wilson is gay.”

I understood what that meant. My parents, who had many gay friends, had explained it to me in a simplified way. I’d known the character of Rickie was gay, but it hadn’t occurred to me that Wilson might be too. (I decided I could still fantasize about our wedding anyway.)

Many people fear exposing kids to the idea of sexual orientation or gender identity when they’re “too young”—though those very kids may already know they’re attracted to people of the same sex or that their gender doesn’t match what they were assigned. But my parents didn’t think twice about broaching the subject or letting me watch MSCL. Rickie’s storylines on the show opened my eyes to something I was beginning to see more and more at elementary school: homophobia. I became a tiny advocate, chastising friends when they used “That’s so gay!” as an insult. But I didn’t yet realize that I was queer too.

When I unexpectedly fell for a girl in high school, I was thrown for a loop. By that time, I could appreciate more of the nuances of MSCL, like the fluidity of Rickie’s sexual and gender expression. He starts out identifying as bi before eventually coming out as gay; he wears makeup but experiments with a traditionally masculine look on Halloween; he tries using both the girls’ and the boys’ bathroom at school but doesn’t quite fit in either. These details felt authentic to me as a teenage queer in flux, trying on different labels to find what felt right. It reassured me to know not everyone’s journey began with “I always knew.”

But as much as I related to Rickie, his story was very different from mine. In a particularly emotional episode, he is beaten and forced out of his home on Christmas. That storyline was inspired by aspects of Wilson’s real experience as a teenager. As I struggled to define my sexuality, the one thing I never had to worry about was how my parents would react. By talking with me at a young age and allowing me access to LGBTQ stories, they’d shown me I could count on their unconditional acceptance when I’d need it most. I feel incredibly lucky, and sometimes guilty, for having a painless coming-out experience when so many face abuse or rejection from their families, as Wilson did. Even subtler forms of disapproval, like parents who insist “It’s just a phase,” have had deep psychological impact on friends of mine. I cannot imagine how isolating it must be to have to hide who you are from those closest to you. Yet it’s a commonplace reality for LGBTQ youth—a group with disproportionately high rates of homelessness and suicide.

That’s why characters like Rickie matter so much. They can be a lifeline for viewers who may not be able to talk to anyone about what they’re going through. And they can help change minds by humanizing those who are different. It’s inspiring to see how much the TV landscape has shifted in the 20 years since MSCL first aired. Rickie helped pave the way for LGBTQ characters on Glee, Orange Is the New Black, Degrassi, The Fosters and many more shows. And Wilson Cruz (who was eventually able to reconcile with his father) is helping shape that landscape as an actor and national spokesperson for GLAAD. It gives me hope that we’ll continue to break ground, bringing even more diverse stories to the screen and moving toward a culture where more kids can feel as safe coming out as I did.

Savannah Dooley is a screenwriter best known for her work on ABC Family’s Huge.

TIME Opinion

This Year’s VMAs Were All About Empowered Women

2014 MTV Video Music Awards - Show
Honoree Beyonce performs onstage during the 2014 MTV Video Music Awards at The Forum on August 24, 2014 in Inglewood, California. Michael Buckner—Getty Images

Beyoncé, Nicki, T-Swift and Iggy get feminist on MTV

From Nicki Minaj’s defiant twerking to Taylor Swift’s sly role-reversal to Beyoncé singing with the word “FEMINIST” emblazoned behind her, empowered women stole the spotlight at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards. Not only were their performances the best (sorry, Usher), but their message was clear:

We’re taking over. And we’re not sorry.

Here’s the breakdown:

Nicki Minaj

When Nicki Minaj’s “Anaconda” video dropped last week, bloggers couldn’t help but notice that not a single man appeared in the video—except for Drake at the very end. (And let’s be fair: His mere presence is justified by her pleasure in teasing him.) Minaj has always done what she wants whenever she wants without any consideration for anyone, let alone the opposite gender. The same is true in this video—all that glorious twerking in the jungle isn’t for the sake of a man but for Minaj herself. And even when Minaj does proceed to give Drake a lap dance at the end of the video, it’s all on her terms. When he finally tries to reach out to touch her bottom, she slaps his hand and struts away, leaving him miserable with his head in his hands.

Her VMAs performance was similar: all her backup dancers were female. And while she didn’t get the chance to utter some of the more choice lines from “Anaconda,” her dancing alone gives us the sense that Minaj could not care less what any man thinks.

View the full performance here.

Taylor Swift

Taylor Swift, who recently declared herself a feminist, eschewed tradition in her “Shake It Off” performance. In an interesting role reversal, all of Swift’s backup dancers were men while women sang backup and played instruments. It’s not a completely original move: many divas have been carried onstage by an entourage of men before. But when Swift was given the option to jump off a platform into the arms of the guys below her, she decided to walk down the stairs herself instead. The move was a nod to her clumsiness, but T-Swift was also sending the message that she doesn’t need to depend on a man to catch her either.

View the full performance here.

Iggy Azalea & Rita Ora

For those who haven’t seen the music video for “Black Widow,” it’s a re-imagining of Kill Bill, one of the most iconic female empowerment flicks ever made. (And reminiscent of when Lady Gaga and Beyoncé teamed up for the “Telephone” music video, referencing Kill Bill as well as Thelma & Louise). The song has similar themes of women-on-man vengeance, and the music video—along with the VMAs performance—celebrates girl power in a way rarely seen in pop culture. Heck, maybe Iggy Azalea should play Spider-Woman on the big screen.

View the full performance here.



I’ve written before about how Beyoncé’s latest album, “Beyoncé,” is basically a lesson in modern feminism. That continued to be true Sunday night during her finale performance when she sang the anthems that women across the world have had on repeat since the surprise album drop in December. These are songs that remind women not to obsess about looks and perfection (“Flawless”), sexual pleasure ought to be a two-way street (“Blow”) and pleasing your man isn’t an anti-feminist endeavor (“Partition”).

But the peak came during “Flawless,” which began with the recording of Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s call to feminism (which is also featured in the album). Her words flashed in bold letters behind the singer: “We teach girls that they cannot be sexual beings in the way that boys are. We teach girls to shrink themselves, to make themselves smaller. We say to girls, you can have ambition but not too much. Aim to be successful, but not too successful otherwise you will threaten the man.”

The word “feminist” then flashed on the screen and lingered long enough for Beyonce’s silhouette to pull into the frame—and for her to be photographed with the words behind her a few thousand times.

Think about that: feminist sat written in huge letters on a screen behind the most popular pop star in the world on an awards show whose main demographic is tweens and teens. The 2013 VMAs may have been the year of performances that gave us pause for all of the wrong reasons, but this year’s VMAs were something completely different.


Not Too Cool For School: Tufts Offers Class on Hipsters

Getty Images

Grab your trucker cap and pop open a Pabst Blue Ribbon. A new class on hipsters will teach you everything you need to know to become one. (Actual hipsters need not enroll.)

College is fraught with all kinds of anxiety, not the least of which is social. Now Tufts University in Massachusetts has found a way to combine fear of failing your classes with fear of not being cool in a single, one-credit course called “Demystifying the Hipster.”

Taught by professor Jackie O’Dell, the class will examine everything from film and fashion to art and literature in order to decipher just what makes a hipster a hipster. “Students will become critics and sociologists of today’s hipster culture as they explore how hipster identity reflects larger cultural anxiety,” according to the course description.

While hipsterdom may seem like a modern-day phenomenon (or affliction, depending on your perspective), the term itself has been around since the early 1900s. Long associated with Harlem jazz culture, hipsters were also known as “hepcats” through the 1940s. Jazz singer Cab Calloway’s Jive Dictionary, published in 1939, defines “hip” as “wise, sophisticated, anyone with boots on.” Even Norman Mailer weighed in on the matter with his 1957 essay, “The White Negro: Superficial Reflections on the Hipster,” which is required reading for the Tufts course.

But since trying to be cool automatically disqualifies you from actually being cool, we suspect all this diligent dissection of the topic won’t turn “A” students into hipsters. At best, they’ll just be groupies. And there’s nothing hip about that.

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