We live in a unique period of human history filled with exciting new social movements and artistic styles never seen before. Except of course we don't. That kind of thinking is exactly the sort of hubris I'd expect from a generation raised on plentiful pornography and 64-ounce Slurpees. Our ancestors were every bit as perverted, creative, and shallow as we are. Think we're living at the apex of civilization? Think again.
#6. Medieval Scotsmen Invented Rap Battles
Photos.com/PhotoObjects.net/Getty Images/Ryan McVay/Photodisc
I belong to a town that utilizes a strict freestyle-rap-based economy, which obviously makes rap a subject that I think about quite a bit. Why, just the other day, while I was rhyme bartering for a pair of sick pants, I started idly wondering about rap's origins. It's hard to get more modern than rap. That's been going on, what, 20 years? Thirty, if you count the rap battles that happened before Vanilla Ice got into the game. Which I don't.
God bless America, and hairlines so straight, they must have been Photoshopped.
In either case, rap is about as modern as the hilarious robot sidekick. You just can't imagine anything like it going on in days of yore.
But Really ...
Drunken medieval Scotsmen invented the rap battle.
"Bugger the constables."
They called it flyting, and the basic idea was to mock and deride your opponent in the crudest possible fashion ... while rhyming. So, yeah: rap. Only the insults these guys churned out were vile enough to make Eminem shit his entire mansion.
Speaking of shit, the first example of that word being used as a personal insult comes from "The Flyting of Dunbar and Kennedy." The record of a purported verbal duel in 1503, academics describe it as "just over 500 lines of filth." Dunbar and Kennedy (D-Money and K-Hole) exchanged insults like this:
Here's a hint: "Gluntoch" means "dirty knees," and "giltin hips" means "shitty arse." Dunbar's claiming that his rhymes hit Kennedy so hard, the other man shit right onto his own knees.
Translation: You think you're king, but your balls are showing.
The best kind of academics suspect that Scottish slave holders took their penchant for flyting to the New World, where it merged with existing African musical traditions and laid the groundwork for what would eventually become rap. So the next time you're pumping some Biggie, say a little "thank you" to Scotland for contributing something besides bagpipes to music history.
Quit while you're even, guys.
#5. Medical Marijuana and Medicinal Liquor
Stockbyte/Getty Images/George Doyle/Stockbyte/
Medical marijuana is right up there with eating mushrooms that grow on poop in the history of great intoxication innovations. It took from 1937 to 1996 for stoners to finally convince one state that marijuana had a use beyond making Mexicans look dangerously foreign. I've always imagined that the whole idea for medical marijuana came in a sudden spurt of enlightenment at the end of a bong hit.
"Oh shit, you guys -- what if this was medicine?"
But Really ...
Medical marijuana's real start came during Prohibition, America's first super successful attempt to ban a drug. As soon as Congress voted to solve our nation's gangster shortage, doctors hit upon the brilliant idea of writing prescriptions for alcohol. For about $40 in today's money (I paid $50 for my pot prescription), you'd get a little ticket like this:
Rex D. Davis Historical file, ATF Reference Library and Archive
Screw Willy Wonka, this is a golden ticket.
Your doctor's signature was good for one pint of whiskey or bourbon every 10 days. This is admittedly less awesome than medical marijuana prescriptions, which entitle the bearer to however much pot he can carry out of the dispensary. But it was better than sobriety. And it's nice to know that, in between arresting bootleggers and murdering American citizens with poisoned liquor, the government also granted licenses to distill whiskey for medical use.
The list of illnesses booze was supposed to treat seems real similar to the ones you'll see printed on the wall of a pot doctor's shop: everything from diabetes and cancer to lactation problems and "old age." Because fuck being 70 and not drunk. Ever wonder where the Great Gatsby's fortune came from? Drugstores. Jay Gatsby owned a chain of dispensaries. Booze money paid for Lana del Rey and all those fancy suits.
"Restless leg syndrome? Now that won't do."
If you want a picture of what today's mom-and-pop weederies might be like in the future, look no further than Walgreens. When Prohibition started, Charles Walgreen had 20 stores. By the time it ended, he had more than 500. It turns out being the only place to get shitfaced is a fuckacre more profitable than selling Band-Aids and overpriced groceries.
#4. Japan's Edo Period and Celebrity Culture
Jeff Kravitz / FilmMagic / Getty
The very fact that we have "celebrity culture" in America means that we're an advanced society. I don't mean that obsessing over celebrities makes us smart; I'm saying it means most of us live comfortably enough that we can afford to give a shit about things that aren't worth giving a shit about. It's a luxury of a mostly stable society that we have magazine racks, gossip blogs, and the ability to speculate as to which Olsen twin Kanye West's baby is fucking. We've knocked enough of the big national problems out that most of us can afford to chill. Back-breaking farm labor has given way to Kardashians and bearded duck-calling hillfolk.
These men are to subtlety what Russian roulette is to marksmanship.
Celebrity and fashion are both very old concepts. Deep down, we all know Mark Antony and Cleopatra were just two Abercrombie models who somehow wound up with an army. But only now can the common man afford to care about pretty outfits and firm jawlines. We've locked down cholera and syphilis and ushered in an era of unbridled hedonism that didn't exist in the world until just now.
But Really ...
Well, just now and 17th century Japan.
Sydney Morning Herald
Both time periods failed to fully appreciate Kanye West.
This is from Japan's infamous Edo period, and those two classy ladies are courtesans. They were super famous for being beautiful, wearing the right clothes, and sleeping with celebrities. Sound familiar?
Kevin Mazur / WireImage / Getty
For two magical centuries, the city of Edo experienced a massive influx of talented artists right alongside a massive surge of giving a shit about rich people. Like modern Americans, the people of Edo couldn't get enough pictures of celebrities at parties ...
... on dates with hookers ...
... and generally doing the exact opposite of "working for a goddamn living."
Rich people, always thinkin' about ponds.
For perhaps the first time in human history, art was available to the masses. And the masses celebrated that fact by giving all their fucks to pictures of gorgeous rich people. See? Reality TV and the paparazzi aren't signs that we've grown terribly shallow as a species. They're proof that we've been shallow for centuries.