6 'Signs of the Time' That Are Older Than Your Grandparents
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.
Medieval Scotsmen Invented Rap Battles
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.
Medical Marijuana and Medicinal Liquor
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:
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.
Japan's Edo Period and Celebrity Culture
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.
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?
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.
Romans and Furries
No fetish is more closely tied to the Internet than furrydom. It's hard to imagine people in Don Draper's era dressing up like timber wolves and boning in the supply closet. I've done the research, purged my search history, and come up with 1983-84 as the accepted origin of the modern furry fetish. The people who study such things name comic conventions and role-playing games as the nebula that birthed the Internet's most terrible lust (not involving fecal matter or the Japanese).
"Your halfhearted stabs at perversion amuse me, gaijin."
But Really ...
The Internet isn't responsible for people dressing like animals and fucking. It's just made sharing that fetish easier for everyone who isn't Emperor Nero. According to Suetonius, Nero had a habit of covering himself with "the skin of some wild animal" and bursting out of a cage to attack the genitals of any men and women standing nearby.
The neckbeard: sign of the furry now and in days of yore.
If that were all, I'd write Nero off as a lone kook and stick this story on my upcoming list, "Five Powerful Men Who Dressed Like Wolves and Bit People's Crotches" (featuring Dick Cheney and Lorne Michaels). But a century or so later, during the life of Cassius Dio, we find another reference to the noble art of anthropomorphic boning: " ... an old man who had been consul was publicly sporting with a prostitute who imitated a leopard."
These 17 cryptic words are the only look we have inside furrydom's dank, uncomfortably moist foundation. You could argue that that rich old pervert was the only dude in Rome who wanted to bang someone dressed as a giant cat. But think about it: When have politicians ever been sexual pioneers? If Republicans are any guide, senators only learn about kinky sex by banning people from having it and then trying it later in the bathroom of a truck stop.
Is that ... a young Mitch McConnell?
So, furries, hold your head up high and take pride in your Roman roots. Then clean the semen out of that fur suit. It's starting to fester.
Medieval Gay Marriage
OK, so this one definitely can't exist outside the modern era. Thirty years ago, homosexuality was considered a mental disorder. A century ago, people got shot over it. Gay marriage is only just starting to gain traction now thanks to the tireless efforts of the cast of Modern Family.
Heroes, every one of them.
Since almost all opposition to gay marriage is based in religion, it's natural to assume that a stronger church has always meant more homophobia. But gay marriage actually got its start thanks to the Catholic Church. The current superpope's stance on homosexuality is less of a break from tradition and more of a blast from the past.
His stance on giant hats, however, is classic Catholicism.
But Really ...
One history professor at Yale has found at least 60 examples, dating from the eighth to 16th centuries, of the church bonding men together in a somewhat hairier version of holy matrimony. This "spiritual brotherhood" was meant to unite two men "not by nature but by faith and a holy spirit." For almost a thousand years, being a good Catholic meant accepting that sometimes two dudes are gonna bone.
In other words, the same Catholics who didn't see anything wrong with the Crusades were more enlightened about gay people than (at least) two out of three modern popes. It's a fact that's only shocking because we assume that our ancestors lived in a sepia-tinted Disney version of the past. Real medieval families were just as complicated and varied as the fake modern ones on TV. The French even had something called a "brotherment," which allowed two dudes to share property AND bodily fluids with the law's full support.
France's debate over gay marriage has not aged with dignity.
The First Tree Huggers
Tree-hugging environmentalists are a product of the sort of modern world where trees as a whole have something to fear. We could cut every last tree down by this time tomorrow and still have plenty of saws left to start on shrubbery. The environmental movement only exists now because our ancestors did their damnedest to pave over the natural world.
But Really ...
In 1485, the Bishnoi sect was founded around 29 principles that all boil down to "don't murder anything." Guru Maharaj Jambaji forbade his followers from chopping down green trees, killing animals, and generally doing anything that might make Captain Planet cry. There's a reason the Indian kid's power was "heart."
And it's the same reason Rajasthan's streets are 60 percent poop and 40 percent cow.
The Bishnoi kept on trucking for 300 years, cultivating acacia trees in peace and generally Al Goring their way through history. All that tireless environmentalism netted them one big-ass forest of healthy trees near the village of Kherjarji. Said forest lasted right up until a nearby king realized that he could use a few hundred trees to build his badass new house. Soldiers were dispatched to lumberjack those trees into a palace, and that's when things got ugly.
Screaming, "A chopped head is cheaper than a felled tree," hundreds of Bishnoi villagers charged to the defense of their bark-skinned brothers. They quite literally hugged their trees to stop the king's soldiers from cutting them down. This backfired, because men planning to fell a whole forest don't mind adding a few necks to their inbox. The soldiers beheaded the Bishnoi, one by one, until over 360 of them were dead.
Then they cut down the trees.
And Bishnoi Santa shed a single watery tear.
Oddly enough, that mass decapitation might have been the most successful protest in environmental history. The king felt so bad about murdering the Bishnoi that he declared their whole home a protected area, which it remains to this day. So there you go, activists: Only mass decapitation can protect our woodlands.