5 Surprisingly Dark Backstories To Everyday Things

Sometimes the origins of things are just a big ol' crap pile.
5 Surprisingly Dark Backstories To Everyday Things

Sometimes, sleepwalking through life, we might notice an everyday object as if for the very first time. We'll look at something we've always taken for granted and be suddenly struck by the question, "Why?" It's a jarring feeling, isn't it? Well, you can go back to sleep because there's usually a good, albeit depressing, reason for such things ...

Barber's Licenses Exist Because of Old-Timey Racism

Around 30% of American workers need a license to perform their jobs. Your doctor needs a license to perform your ass transplant surgery. Likewise, his lawyer will need a license when you sue for malpractice because the doctor used a baboon's ass. But have you ever wondered why barbers are licensed too? No, it's not because barbers and surgeons used to be one and the same. The real reason is a little more racist.

Before the Civil War, most barbers in the United States were Black, and most barbershops only served white customers. The conception that being a barber was a job for Black men only shifted in the 1890s, when a large wave of European immigrants started arriving at Ellis Island. They had been barbers in their own countries and saw the money that was being made grooming wealthy Americans. They just needed to push Black barbers out of the profession.

Africa Studio/Shutterstock

Dammit, American history; could the answer just once not be "Systemic racism?"

German barbers pressed politicians to pass laws governing who could perform the trade. To be a barber, you would now need a degree proving you knew about disease and anatomy. Keep in mind that this is around the same time medicine was being professionalized by the AMA, but doctors weren't expected to know the difference between a pompadour and burnsides – doctors and barbers had long been very different things. Needless to say, Black people weren't even admitted to barber college, and in states where the laws passed, Black barbers were soon catering to Black customers exclusively. The first Black barber college opened in 1934, but occupational requirements have only gotten more stringent since: before 2019, Arizona required 1,000 hours of training just to blow dry hair.

Redlining Policies Can Be Found On One's Monopoly Board

You may already be familiar with the shady origins of Monopoly. It was apparently ripped off from something called The Landlord's Game, patented by its inventor, Elizabeth Magie, way back in 1904. Magie's original aim was to demonstrate that accumulating private monopolies was a bad thing, and perhaps this explains why the game is so long and repetitive that even the player winning can't wait for it to end. None of this stopped a man named Charles Darrow from playing the game at a friend's house three decades later, loving it, and deciding to sell it as his own creation. Darrow became a millionaire when he sold "his" Monopoly to the Parker Brothers, and Magie was paid a mere $500 for her patent some time later. So that sucks. But there's more!

More beyond the fact that this game takes four hours and isn't fun, that is.

The game Darrow played was a variant of Magie's game that had become popular among Atlantic City's Quaker population in the 1930s (Magie was a Quaker herself). A realtor named Jesse Raiford is responsible for the place names, and prices that still appear on Monopoly sets today, and they reflect what Atlantic City real estate was like back then. Boardwalk – sans infant incubators – commands the highest price at $400, and nearby Park Place comes in second at $350. Green and yellow properties like Pennsylvania Avenue and Ventnor Avenue similarly represent some real-life wealthier neighborhoods at the time. And, guess what? None of these places were open to Black people.

The Atlantic City of the 1930s was a deeply segregated city. A.C. may have been home to some 10,000 Black citizens, but they weren't allowed to live anywhere players would want to land. Baltic Avenue and Mediterranean Avenue, the cheapest properties at $60 each, were both in Black neighborhoods. And that hotel you built on Pacific Avenue? Black people could work there, but no one could check them in. Of course, Atlantic City has changed a lot in the last 90 years. You won't find Illinois Avenue on Google Maps; it became Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd in 1988. The Monopoly board had its own cosmetic change, too: the color of the historically Black Baltic and Mediterranean Avenues was switched from dark purple to brown.

The NBA Logo Will Never Change Due to Money Issues

Of all the lousy things to happen in 2020, the untimely death of basketball great Kobe Bryant in January was one of the first. One year on from the tragedy, Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving is urging the NBA to change their logo to pay tribute to the late Bryant, widely considered one of the best to have ever played. More than 3 million people have signed a petition supporting the change, and while honoring Kobe might be controversial, it's not the first time a revamp has been suggested: GOAT/terrible person Michael Jordan is considered another worthy candidate. NBA sources, however, have resisted, saying it would be a mistake for the logo to represent any one player. The problem is it already does.

The current logo is the work of Alan Siegel, who was given the task of designing something that resembled his MLB logo as closely as possible, and he based the silhouette on a single photo of Laker Jerry West. Now, if you're not a hoops fan, you might not have heard of Jerry West before, but in 1969, when the emblem was commissioned, West was the reigning NBA Finals MVP. Which makes it all the more strange that no one told West he was the basis for the logo until 2010 and that the NBA refuses to admit it to this day.

Wen Roberts, NBA

We're guessing they also insist the logo is in yellow and green and won't hear a word otherwise.

West, for his part, supports the NBA changing it, saying he doesn't like the attention. Even TMZ has bothered him about the logo before, so we completely understand. But it's not so simple. The NBA has been using an unlicensed representation of West for over 50 years, and if they had to pay the Bryant estate to use his image instead – which they surely would – that would leave them wide open to claims from West asking for the same.

The Rules Governing Film Credits Betray A History of Bitter Dispute

The credits roll on the latest blockbuster, and you need something to do while you wait for the post-credits scene, so you decide to pass the time by actually reading the credits. Hey, why not? A single name is listed after "Directed by." Nothing strange about that. Then "Screenplay by" and two names separated by an ampersand. Sure. Then you come to "Story by," and there are four names. The first two are familiar: you just read all about how they wrote the screenplay, and there's that ampersand again. But after their names is the word "and." Then two more names, separated by a second ampersand. Is there some important distinction between "and" and "&"? And what's the difference between "story" and "screenplay" anyway?

Quickly: An ampersand means two writers worked together, as a "writing team," and an "and" means they did not. The writer(s) credited with the screenplay were responsible, at least in large part, for the individual scenes and dialogue that formed the script. The writer(s) given "story" credit, on the other hand, made some other significant contribution to the movie's idea and basic narrative, character development, and so on. The same writer(s) are responsible for both the story and screenplay; they will be credited with "Written by" instead. Usually, no more than two people can be counted as a writing team, and no more than two writers or writing teams can be credited for either story or screenplay (or both).


We're guessing it took a lot of ampersands to come up with this standard.

The Writers Guild of America, the union that most Hollywood screenwriters belong to, sets the rules for who gets what credit; the rules are pretty complicated, and they take them very seriously. They have to. Credits determine not just, well, credit, but also how the film's residuals are carved up. And when there's a dispute, things can get ugly. For example, Terry Gilliam's adaptation of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was originally credited to the first two writers who worked on the script. Gilliam claimed he and a co-writer threw out the original script and started from scratch. But because the script was based on a book – and because, as director, Gilliam needed to clear a higher standard to receive credit – the WGA disagreed. Eventually, all four writers were given screen credit. Gilliam, unsatisfied, resigned from the union and burnt his WGA card.

The Third Amendment Was Actually Weirdly, Horrifyingly Necessary

United States Constitution's Third Amendment reads, in full, "No Soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the Owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law." And, unlike the Second Amendment, the misplaced commas don't make the meaning any less clear: whether the U.S. is at war or not, civilians are under no obligation to let soldiers stay in their homes. Considering it took us another 10 amendments to abolish slavery and 16 to give women the right to vote, you'd be forgiven for wondering if quartering wasn't just some hobbyhorse of James Madison's that the other congressmen got tired of debating. But you'd be wrong.

Quartering was actually a hot issue in the lead-up to the Revolutionary War. Jefferson mentions it in the Declaration of Independence, and it even appears on the citizenship test today as one of three acceptable answers to "Why did the colonists fight the British?" (Right next to "Taxation without representation," and "Don't step on me.") It all began with the French and Indian War (1754–1763) when tens of thousands of British soldiers were sent to the colonies. The English Bill of Rights of 1689 already prohibited soldiers from making the public provide free room and board, but these rights didn't extend to the New World. Somehow the use of force was only necessary once over those nine years, but when the war ended and Britain decided to keep a standing army in the 13 colonies just in case, a lot of Americans were pissed.


"This the last time he throws that damn coat in the white laundry.  Where's my musket?"

Instead of being reasonable and extending to its subjects a right Britons had already had for over 75 years, the British Parliament doubled down by passing the Quartering Act in 1765, making explicit every American's duty to house soldiers and pay for the privilege. Things got pretty tense pretty quickly, especially in Boston. Fights between soldiers and colonists became more and more common, until one day in 1770, the British fired into a crowd, killing five people. British Parliament doubled down again after the Boston Tea Party with yet another Quartering Act, and Britain would finally find a use for their standing army the next year.

Top image: Urbanbuzz/Shutterstock

Scroll down for the next article
Forgot Password?