In 1993 Estelle Ellis, Seventeen magazine’s first promotion director, gave a speech at the Fashion Institute of Technology titled “What Is Fashion?” Ellis gave her answer. Fashion is a perpetual-motion machine expressed in four areas: “mode—the way we dress; manners—the way we express ourselves; mores—the way we live; and markets—the way we are defined demographically and psychologically.”
According to his official North Korean biography, Kim Jong Il initiated “an epochal change in the history of the modern opera” by introducing an offstage song called a pangchang—an innovation, claims the bio, “greater than the discovery of the heliocentric theory by Nicolaus Copernicus or the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus.”
“It is indeed impossible to imagine our own death,” Sigmund Freud wrote in 1915, “and whenever we attempt to do so, we can perceive that we are in fact still present as spectators. Hence the psychoanalytic school could venture on the assertion that, at bottom, no one believes in his own death, or to put the same thing another way, that, in the unconscious, every one of us is convinced of his own immortality.”
As editor of the New York Tribune, Horace Greeley once received a letter requesting an autograph of the late Edgar Allan Poe that Greeley might possess from his correspondence. Greeley replied, “I happen to have in my possession but one autograph of the late distinguished American poet Edgar A. Poe. It consists of an IOU, with my name on the back of it. It cost me just $51.50, and you can have it for half-price.”
Greek geographer Strabo wrote around 20 BC that, to deal with “a crowd of women” or “any promiscuous mob,” one cannot use reason but rather must exert control using myths and marvels. “For thunderbolt, aegis, trident, torches, snakes, thyrsus lances—arms of the gods—are myths,” he wrote. “The founders of states gave their sanction to these things as bugbears wherewith to scare the simpleminded.”
In the spring of 1914 the International Workers of the World formed the Unemployed Union. As a publicity stunt the group published fake extracts from first-century Roman press in The Masses magazine. One item carried the headline JESUS OF NAZARETH LEADS HOBO ARMY ON JERUSALEM. “Softhearted sympathy is misplaced,” it read, “as we are informed from reliable sources that the Judean rioters belong chiefly to the class of professional unemployed and habitual roustabouts.”
William Gladstone, prime minister of England four times between 1868 and 1894, walked the streets of London at night hoping to rescue prostitutes from their lives of vice. In 1848 he cofounded the Church Penitentiary Society Association for the Reclamation of Fallen Women; he would, it is said, offer streetwalkers a place to sleep, protection from their procurers, and a chance to give up their way of life.
In An Inquiry into the Effects of Ardent Spirits upon the Human Body and Mind, published in 1785, physician and Founding Father Benjamin Rush wrote that drunkenness, an “odious disease (for by that name it should be called),” appeared with, among other symptoms, “unusual garrulity…unusual silence…a disposition to quarrel…uncommon good humor and an insipid simpering or laugh…disclosure of their own or other people’s secrets…a rude disposition to tell those persons in company whom they know, their faults…certain extravagant acts which indicate a temporary fit of madness.”
Humpback whales, which have a sonic range of at least seven octaves, create songs between the length of a modern ballad and a symphony movement, possibly because their attention span is similar to that of humans. Their tunes also contain repeated refrains that form melodic rhymes, suggesting that, like humans, they use these as mnemonic devices.
When a former leader of the Tijuana cartel was shot in the back of the head by a man dressed in a clown costume, five hundred clowns from around Latin America joined together at the International Clown Meeting in Mexico City and staged a fifteen-minute laughathon “to demonstrate their opposition to the generalized violence that prevails in our country.”
“Pubic grooming has led to a severe depletion of crab-louse populations,” a medical entomologist with the company Insect Research & Development Ltd. said in an interview in January of this year. “Add to that other aspects of body-hair depilation, and you can see an environmental disaster in the making for this species.” More than 80 percent of college students in the U.S. remove all or part of their pubic hair.
Gustav Mahler set five poems from Friedrich Rückert’s Songs on the Death of Children to music between 1901 and 1904. In that time he and his wife, Alma, had two children, the eldest of whom died in 1907. About the compositions, Mahler later said, “I placed myself in the situation that a child of mine had died. When I really lost my daughter, I could not have written these songs anymore.” He died in 1911, Alma not until 1964—having twice remarried, to Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and then to author Franz Werfel.
At the age of four, Robert Graves, having said his evening prayers, asked his mother if she would leave him any money when she died. “If you left me as much as five pounds, I could buy a bicycle,” he reasoned. “Surely you’d rather have me, Robby,” his mother said. “But I could ride to your grave on it,” he replied.