The Anthropocene Reviewed

Roman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars.

Roman Mars:
On this show, we tell stories about what we make and what it says about us as humans but we never rate those things on a five-star scale. The Anthropocene Reviewed is here to correct that oversight. I love this show. It’s by John Green. He’s the author of best-selling books like “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Turtles All the Way Down”. He also makes some of the best stuff on YouTube with his brother, Hank.

Roman Mars:
Today, we’re going to feature two of my favorite episodes of his new podcast that I think will be of particular interest to a 99pi listener. Plus, we’ll have an interview with John about a lot of things like sports and learning to love pop music as an adult. I think you’re really going to like it. After I got talking with John, I just felt good all day about life. It was great. But first, here’s an episode of “The Anthropocene Reviewed”.

John Green:
Hello and welcome to “The Anthropocene Reviewed”, a podcast where we review different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale. Today, I’ll be reviewing a 17,000-year-old painting and the Taco Bell breakfast menu.

John Green:
Let’s start with the painting. So if you’ve even been or had a child, you will likely already be familiar with hand stencils. They were the first figurative art made by both our kids somewhere between the ages two and three. My children spread the fingers of one hand out across a piece of paper and then, with the help of a parent, traced their five fingers. I remember my son’s face as he lifted his hand and looked absolutely shocked to see the shape of his hand still on the paper, a semi-permanent record of himself.

John Green:
I am extremely happy that my children are no longer three and yet to look at their little hands from those early artworks is to be inundated with a strange, soul-splitting joy. Those pictures remind me that they are not just growing up but also growing away from me, running toward their own lives. But, of course, that’s meaning I am applying to their hand stencils and that complicated relationship between art and its viewers is never more fraught than when we are looking deeply into the past.

John Green:
In September of 1940, an 18-year-old mechanic named Marcel Ravidat was walking his dog, Robot, in the countryside of Southwestern France when the dog disappeared down a hole. Robot eventually returned but the next day, Ravidat went to the spot with three friends to explore the hole. And after quite a bit of digging, they discovered a cave with walls covered with paintings, including over 900 paintings of animals, horses, stags, bison and also species that are now extinct, including a wooly rhinoceros. The paintings were astonishingly detailed and vivid with red, yellow and black paint made from pulverized mineral pigments that were usually blown through a narrow tube, possibly a hollowed bone, onto the walls of the cave. It would eventually be established that these artworks were at least 17,000 years old.

John Green:
Two of the boys who visited the cave that day were so profoundly moved by the art they saw, that they camped outside the cave to protect it for over a year. After WWII, the French government took over protection of the site and the cave was opened to the public in 1948. When Picasso saw the cave paintings on a visit that year, he reportedly said, “We have invented nothing.”

John Green:
There are many mysteries at Lascaux. Why, for instance, are there no paintings of reindeer which we know were the primary source of food for the Paleolithic humans who lived in that cave? Why were they so much more focused on painting animals than painting human forms? Why are certain areas of the cave filled with images, including pictures on the ceiling that required the building of scaffolding to create, while other areas have only a few paintings? And were the paintings spiritual? “Here are our sacred animals?” Or were they practical? “Here is a guide to some of the animals that might kill you.”

John Green:
Aside from the animals, there are nearly a thousand abstract signs and shapes we cannot interpret and also several negative hand stencils, as they are known by art historians. These are the paintings that most interest me. They were created by pressing one hand with fingers splayed against the wall of the cave and then blowing pigment, leaving the area around the hand painted. Similar hand stencils have been found in caves around the world from Indonesia to Spain to Australia to the Americas to Africa. We have found these memories of hands from 15 or 30 or even 40,000 years ago.

John Green:
These hand stencils remind us of how different life was in the distant past. Amputations, likely from frostbite, are common in Europe and so you often see negative hand stencils with three or four fingers. And life was short and difficult. As many as a quarter of women died in childbirth. Around 50% of children died before the age of five.

John Green:
But they also remind us that the humans of the past were as human as we are. Their hands indistinguishable from ours. These communities hunted and gathered and there were no large caloric surpluses so every healthy person would’ve had to contribute to the acquisition of food and water. And yet somehow, they still made time to create art, almost as if art isn’t optional for humans.

John Green:
We see all kinds of hands stenciled on cave walls, children and adults, but almost always the fingers are spread, like my kids’ hand stencils. I’m no Jungian, but it’s fascinating and a little strange that so many Paleolithic humans, who couldn’t possibly have had any contact with each other, created the same paintings the same way, paintings that we are still making. But then again, what the Lascaux art means to me is likely very different from what it meant to the people who made it.

John Green:
Some academics theorize that the hand stencils were part of hunting rituals. Then there’s always the possibility that the hand was just a convenient model situated at the end of the wrist. To me, though, the hand stencils at Lascaux say, “I was here.” They say, “You are not new.” And because they are negative prints surrounded by red pigment, they also look to me like something out of a horror movie, like ghostly hands reaching up from some bloody background. They remind me that, as Alice Walker wrote, all history is current.

John Green:
The Lascaux cave has been closed to the public for many years now. Too many contemporary humans breathing inside of it led to the growth of mold and lichens which has damaged some of the art. Just the act of look at something can ruin it, I guess. But tourists can still visit an imitation cave called Lascaux II in which the artwork has been meticulously recreated.

John Green:
Humans making fake cave art to save real cave art may feel like peak Anthropocene behavior but I have to confess that even though I am a jaded and cynical semi-professional reviewer of human activity, I actually find it overwhelmingly hopeful that four teenagers and a dog named Robot discovered a cave with 17,000-year-old hand prints, that the cave was so overwhelmingly beautiful that two of those teenagers devoted themselves to its protection, and that when we humans became a danger to that cave’s beauty, we agreed to stop going.

John Green:
Lascaux is there. You cannot visit. You can go to the fake cave we’ve built and see nearly identical hand stencils. But you will know this is not the thing itself but a shadow of it. This is a hand print but not a hand. This is a memory that you cannot return to. All of which makes the cave very much like the past it represents.

John Green:
I give the hand print stencils at Lascaux 4.5 stars.

John Green:
A few weeks ago, a listener to this podcast named Steven emailed me to ask if I would consider reviewing the Taco Bell breakfast menu. And that seemed like a good idea, albeit one that would require me to eat a fair bit at Taco Bell, which is a fast food restaurant chain with over 7,000 restaurants around the world that was founded by a Marine Corps veteran named Glen Bell.

John Green:
Glen did not start out as a taco guy. After serving in WWII, he returned to his native Southern California to seek his fortune in the burger business. He ran a restaurant in San Bernardino called Bell’s Drive-In in 1948. His business did okay but across the street, a family-owned Mexican restaurant called the Mitla Café was selling lots of tacos, including its famous hard-shell tacos.

John Green:
Bell would often eat at the Mitla Care and then go back to his hamburger stand and try to reverse engineer those popular tacos but he could never figure it out. So eventually, he became friends with the family that owned the Mitla and they showed him the recipe. Bell started making the tacos soon thereafter.

John Green:
Side note: The Mitla Café was the setting for an important moment in American history. In the early 1940s, public pools and other services were segregated in San Bernardino. Latinos couldn’t swim at the pool or sit in certain sections of movie theaters. Some businesses had “Whites Only” signs and many schools were segregated. In a series of meetings held at the Mitla Café, Latino church and civic leaders developed a plan to sue the city of San Bernardino and they won. In fact, the case, Lopez versus Seccombe, was cited by the Supreme Court in its famous Brown versus Board of Education decision that found segregated schools to be illegal.

John Green:
We’ll return to Taco Bell momentarily but one last note about the Mitla Café. It’s still open and today is run by the fourth generation of the family who founded it. I’ve eaten there actually and it will not surprise you to learn that their tacos are vastly, incalculably superior to Taco Bell tacos. But, of course, Taco Bell isn’t really in the business of being good; it aims to be good enough and consistent and inexpensive.

John Green:
Right. So, of course, the recipe for Taco Bell tacos was stolen by a white restaurant owner from a local center for Latino community and activism but the owners at the Mitla Café have never publicly expressed any resentment toward Bell. One member of the family, Irene Montano, magnanimously said of him, “He was a self-starter and he did push those tacos.” Indeed, after opening the first Taco Bell in Downey, California in 1962, new franchises of Taco Bell spread rapidly throughout the West Coast. Back then, the menu was extremely simple, tacos, tostadas, burritos, frijoles and chili burgers, and everything cost 19 cents, around a buck fifty in today’s money. People loved it.

John Green:
By 1967, there were 100 Taco Bells and there were 868 when Bell sold his company to PepsiCo in 1978 for 125 million dollars. Selling Taco Bell allowed Glen to pursue the true passion of his life, a quarter-scale model train adventure park called Bell Gardens. Bell was a lifelong model train enthusiast but the park, which had no rides that weren’t quarter-scale model trains, went bankrupt after a few years.

John Green:
I mention all of this because I think it’s important to understand that Glen Bell was not, like, passionate about Mexican food. He saw an opportunity in a marketplace and he filled it. I’m not trying to bash Taco Bell. I’ve had many enjoyable meals there in my younger and less nutrition-oriented days and per dollar spent, Taco Bell offers more caloric energy than almost any other restaurant. A Big Mac at McDonald’s delivers about 1.45 calories per penny spent. A Taco Bell Beefy Fritos Burrito offers an astonishing 4.26 calories per penny.

John Green:
Also, I recently ate a Taco Bell Beefy Fritos Burrito under the guise of research for this review and for about five minutes after eating it, I felt almost euphoric. It was flavorful, an intoxicating mix of crunch and chewy and strangely sweet. The beef was stringy, the tortilla sub-optimal and I suspect I would be horrified by a thorough accounting of the environmental and socio-political costs of the Beefy Fritos Burrito but, still, for those five minutes, I felt pleasantly and entirely satiated. 10 minutes after that, of course, I began to feel extremely unwell but that might be down to my generally weak constitution rather than any fault of the food itself.

John Green:
All I’m saying is that Taco Bell is not, like, a mission-driven institution; it seeks to turn a profit. And that’s why I find it so fascinating that Taco Bell didn’t serve breakfast until 2012. Burger King served its first breakfast in 1979. McDonald’s introduced the Egg McMuffin way back in 1972. Maybe Taco Bell was late to breakfast because they didn’t want to recreate actual Mexican breakfast food which is excellent but bears very little resemblance to the hash browns and cinnamon-flavored donut holes that Taco Bell eventually released as part of their breakfast menu.

John Green:
All of which goes to show, again, that Taco Bell as a company is not and never has been interested in Mexican food except for what could be efficiently appropriated from it, which is why the taste profile of its breakfast menu more closely resembles that of Burger King than anything at the Mitla Café. I thought the donut holes were good but it’s hard to mess up fried dough. I found the Grilled Breakfast Burrito Fiesta Potato to be, like its name, a bit overcomplicated. The standout to me was the Breakfast Crunch Wrap which wraps hash browns, bacon, eggs and cheese into a grilled tortilla and that wasn’t bad. But mostly, my Taco Bell breakfast was what Taco Bell’s frantic and relentless marketing campaigns seem to fear the most: It was boring.

John Green:
I find it revealing that while there are Taco Bells in Romania and Australia and Brazil, you won’t find one in Mexico. They’ve tried twice, in 1992 and 2007, but both times, the restaurants faced the same fate as Glen Bell’s Railroad Adventure Land. You can add a vowel to the end of every menu item and you can make your catch phrase “Yo quiero Taco Bell!” but if you can’t sell your tacos in Mexico, they ain’t Mexican.

John Green:
I give the Taco Bell breakfast menu two stars.

Roman Mars:
And now, here’s my interview with the creator of “The Anthropocene Reviewed”, John Green.

Roman Mars:
When someone asks you what you do, what in the world do you say?

John Green:
I usually say that I work in educational videos so that they don’t ask more questions. But if I’m feeling a little more talkative, I usually say that I’m a writer and a YouTuber. But I guess now I’m also a podcaster so I don’t know what I do.

Roman Mars:
How do you describe “The Anthropocene Reviewed”?

John Green:
“The Anthropocene Reviewed” is a show where I look at different facets of the human-centered planet and then review them on a five-star scale. It started out as a bit. It started out as a joke I had with my brother because of Yelp and Amazon reviews and Goodreads, that everything now is reviewed on a five-star scale and everything gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down, a recommend or a don’t recommend and what if we applied that reviewing framework to, like, traffic cones? And that was the initial joke that I made with him. Or argyle socks. And Hank was like, “It’s good. It’s a funny bit.”

John Green:
And so I think he ended up making a video where he used the bit and then I ended up writing an essay about Diet Dr. Pepper and Canada geese. And at the end of writing those essays, I was like, “This isn’t very funny, and I kind of thought that it was going to be a funny thing, but I like it and it interests me.” And because I started out my career as a book reviewer, it felt kind of like going home to me in a way. Because even though it is obviously a little shticky to be reviewing, for instance, cholera on a five-star scale, there is something about the value-judgementing that’s inherent to reviewing that interests me.

Roman Mars:
Is it a healthy thing that we are reviewing everything on a five-star scale in the world?

John Green:
Yeah. I’d probably give it two stars. I definitely understand the urge to make simple, qualitative judgements about experiences but if you read one-star Yelp reviews or you read one-star Goodreads reviews, I think a lot of times there’s some missing of nuance, to put it generously. But also, if you read a lot of five-star Amazon review, there’s a lot of missing of nuance.

John Green:
Sometimes I’ll read reviews of my own books and I’ll be like, “We both know it’s not that good. I wish it were. I wish it were the book that you’re describing.” And I’m so grateful that the book ended up in the hands of a reader so generous that they were able to make the book much better than the one I wrote but I do feel like it kind of oversimplifies human experience and it also gives us this constant urge to review everything we do. Like now it’s difficult to have a meal and not think about it in the context of a recommend/don’t recommend spectrum. And I don’t know that I did that before the age of Yelp.

Roman Mars:
Right. So when I was talking to my producer and editor on the show, his name’s Chris Berube, we were talking about which stories to highlight of “The Anthropocene Reviewed”. I said, “I think I want to do two, “Cave Paintings and Taco Bell breakfast menu”, and “Pennies and Piggly Wiggly.” And he said, “Oh, so four.” And I was like, “No, no, no. Those are two.” So is that how you view them?

John Green:
Yeah. I try to pair them in ways that make sense to me. So, for instance, when I was writing about the cave paintings at Lascaux, I wanted to also write about the Taco Bell breakfast menu, in part, because it seems so different. It seems like a huge contrast. But also because I’m really fascinated by the way that people try to make an impact on the world or they try to leave a trace of themselves. And I was fascinated by the way that Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, tried to do that and by the way that the people who were painting the cave paintings at Lascaux tried to do that.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. I’m especially curious about “Hawaiian Pizza and Viral Meningitis”. What made you choose those two things?

John Green:
Well, some would argue that they’re both forms of suffering. I wrote the viral meningitis essay before I wrote the Hawaiian pizza essay. And at the end of the viral meningitis essay, I was thinking about how there are all these phenomena in human life that are really resistant to language. I think physical pain is the one that’s perhaps most dramatically resistant to language.

John Green:
But, for me, there’s also something about taste that’s resistant to language and one of the reasons we fight, I think, about Hawaiian pizza is because we almost cannot describe to each other how it tastes to us. And so I think some people say, “Well, Hawaiian pizza is amazing and you’re obviously wrong to hate it.” And then the people who hate it are like, “No, no, no, no, no. You don’t understand how this tastes to me.” And indeed, we don’t.

Roman Mars:
It’s funny to me. One of my pet peeves, with no basis whatsoever, so I know I’m not necessarily right, is I hate when people use foods words to describe other things. I hate it when somebody says that prose is delicious or something like that.

John Green:
Or sumptuous.

Roman Mars:
Oh God, it makes me want to die. So it goes the other way too, like you can’t use food words for other things; you can only use them only for food and there’s not enough of them.

John Green:
Yeah. Well, and even the food words that do exist, I don’t know what they mean to someone else. I don’t really know what sumptuous means. Anyone who says that Hawaiian pizza is delicious, my defintion of delicious doesn’t include Hawaiian pizza and so I’m already lost. I have no way in. And they can say, “Oh, it’s a wonderful mix of sweet and sour,” and I understand what sweet and sour taste like but that is not a wonderful mix of them to me. And so it’s that personalization of experience and then the urge to share experience. We all desperately want other people to hear us and to hear our stories and to know what our feelings feel like and they can’t.

Roman Mars:
The subject of your show is literally everything on earth kind of centered around when humans were the dominant species on earth.

John Green:
Yeah, kind of.

Roman Mars:
And how do you then choose things to talk about?

John Green:
I choose what to write about partly based on listener suggestions. So listeners can write in and a lot of times they have really interesting ideas or ideas about why something is interesting that I hadn’t thought about before. The Taco Bell breakfast menu is actually an example of that. I’d never thought about the Taco Bell breakfast menu until somebody wrote to ask me to review it and then I was like, “This isn’t that interesting and … ” But then I fell way down the Glen Bell rabbit hole and ended up reading Glen Bell’s self-published commissioned biography. And at the end of that, I was totally fascinated by why Taco Bell didn’t have a breakfast menu for so long.

John Green:
But I also have a running list of topics that I care about and I’m interested in and that I think I have a way in to, whether it’s a story I want to tell about my life or just a story I find really fascinating. The cave paintings at Lascaux, I learned about those, I think when I was in my 20s and I’ve just spent a lot of time thinking about them and reading about them and so I felt ready to write that review.

Roman Mars:
I mean, each of these reviews, it becomes a small memoir. Was that always your intention?

John Green:
Initially, my idea for the show was that I was going to be separate from the reviews. I would be like an authority on everything. I was going to be an authority on Canada geese and Diet Dr. Pepper and cave paintings and the Taco Bell breakfast menu. And who I was didn’t matter because I was the authority. And my wife read the first couple of essays and she said, “You know, I don’t buy you as an authoritative expert in the taste of Dr. Pepper. I just don’t think you’re a chemical engineer. I don’t think you’re a professional taster and I’m more interested in what your relationship is with this stuff.” And that’s when it became more memoiry.

John Green:
And I do write about myself and I do write really personal things about myself but I’m very careful to protect the parts of me that I need to protect, if that makes sense, because I wasn’t always careful about that and now I feel like I have to be.

John Green:
When I was younger, I wanted so badly to be known. I think what I wanted was to have people like me. For some reason, I wanted especially for people who didn’t know me well to like me. And it just seemed like that was such an incredibly desirable outcome to have strangers like you. When versions of that started to happen to me, I almost immediately recognized that what I thought it would give me was not what it was giving me because I never felt, and I still don’t feel, like strangers like me; I feel like they like a construction that is only tangentially related to me. I’m obsessed with this thing Keanu Reeves said once. He said… I love Keanu Reeves a lot… some day I might write a Keanu Reeves “Anthropocene Reviewed” review.

John Green:
But one time, Keanu Reeves, in an interview, said, “I’m Mickey Mouse. They don’t know who’s inside the suit.” And when my work started to become more publicly known, that’s how I felt. I didn’t really feel like people liked me; I felt like they liked Mickey Mouse. I was inside the suit. But I think the difference between Keanu Reeves and me is that Keanu Reeves knew who he was. He knew who was inside of the suit but I kind of didn’t.

Roman Mars:
Do you find that when you, because you listen to a lot of podcasts and I assume before that, listened to a lot of public radio and stuff, when you find a little tidbit of personal knowledge, like when Terry Gross reveals something little about herself, does it fill you with delight the way it fills me with delight?

John Green:
It does. It does, especially when Terry Gross does it because I’ve been listening to Terry Gross for like 25 years. So when Terry Gross shares even the smallest detail about her life, I am completely … I love it. It’s such a good feeling. I’m just like, “Oh, oh. Well, that makes sense.” That’s always what I think to myself.

Roman Mars:
She describes the piles of CDs … I’m like, “Oh my God. She has towers of CDs in her house.”

John Green:
“Oh, she has piles of CDs.” Yes. Now I can picture the entire home.

Roman Mars:
I mean, one of the things I’ve learned about you over time and one of things I think is fun is, and I don’t know if I would’ve anticipated this from reading your books and other things and from Vlogbrothers, but you love sports or certain sports.

John Green:
I love sports, yeah.

Roman Mars:
I mean, and because my growing-up experience was that the people who love sports were the people who hated me.

John Green:
Yeah. Same.

Roman Mars:
That these are not linked traits but you’ve decoupled them for me in these ways that I’ve found really profound. And so you talk about penalty shoot-outs or I know your love of AFC Wimbledon and then Indy 500, which it kind of floored me as subject, the fact that you love the Indianapolis 500. I think that you could assemble the parts of your character and I could construct a version of you that would hate the Indianapolis 500.

John Green:
Well, yeah. And a past me did hate the Indy 500. And a past me did hate sports. There’s a line in my first novel, Looking For Alaska, that’s something like “I hate sports and I hate people who play or support or participate in any way in the sports-industrial complex.” And that was taken right out of my high-school self. I would watch people care about sports and I would just think to myself, “This is actually the dumbest thing that you can do with what Mary Oliver called your one wild and precious life. This is the worst possible way for you to use your resources.” If I’ve learned anything in adulthood, it’s not to judge anyone else lest you become them. In the fullness of time, you will become all of the people that you claim to revile.

John Green:
I think what I love about sports is actually the same thing I love about going to church, which is not much to do with the ostensible topic at hand but instead the pleasure and joy that comes from a bunch of people who otherwise might not have a lot in common, orienting their love in the same direction. And I think there is a lot of value in that. And I think what I like about sports is the community aspect of it, which is why I enjoy the Indy 500 so much because it’s this huge gathering of all kinds of human beings. And the sport, to say that it’s secondary would be an overstatement. I mean, there’s no place in the Indianapolis 500 seating where you can see all of the Indianapolis 500. So it can’t possibly be about the sport because you literally can’t see the sport from inside the stadium. It has to be about something else. And I think what it’s about is tradition and shared experience and being in a community. I think, really, in the end, sports are about being together.

Roman Mars:
Mm-hmm. I found in my life, and I sense this in your life, is that you spent a good section of the beginning of your life being defined by the things you hated and then you…

John Green:
Yes.

Roman Mars:
… took a hard pivot, enjoying being defined more by the things you loved. Do you know…

John Green:
Yes.

Roman Mars:
… why and how that happened in both you and I?

John Green:
I do not know. When I was a teenager, if you’d asked me to say like 10 things about myself, I would’ve told you 10 things that I hated. I would’ve told you about what I was opposed to. I would’ve told you about what I thought was stupid and embarrassing and ridiculous about the human experience. I would’ve told you how deeply I reviled the Spice Girls who, by the way, made good pop music.

John Green:
And I think I got fed up with it. I got fed up with irony. I got fed up with sarcasm. I got fed up with this urge to create distance between myself and emotion. I wanted to be cool and I thought that to be cool was to be distant. And then I stopped wanting to be cool because to be cool is to be a form of cold. And I don’t want to be distant from emotional experience.

John Green:
I think the risk of that is that it may make you into a sentimentalist. It may make you into some sort of cheesy version of yourself. For me, if that’s the cost of having unironized emotional experiences, it’s worth the cost. It took me a long time to be okay with that urge within me. I just think that ironic detachment is the single most overrated characteristic in a human being. I like emotion. I like to feel things. I like to feel them intensely. And I like to be able to ask big questions without creating a lot of distance between myself and the questions.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. If you were to review other things in your life besides sports and the Spice Girls, what are some of the things that had the most change from one star or zero stars to five stars in your life?

John Green:
Oh, that’s interesting. Oh, I mean, the biggest one is marriage. I mean, my 17-year-old self thought that marriage was the stupidest institution that humans had ever conceived of. And I love being married. That guy was crazy. I really, really, really love being married. I think the institution of marriage has gotten a lot better since I was a kid. It’s gotten a lot more inclusive. It hasn’t gone all the way to where it needs to be throughout the world but I think that’s one.

John Green:
In general, pop music, I was very dismissive of pop music when I was younger and now, I listen to a lot of pop songs. You know that song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X?

Roman Mars:
It’s been mentioned a few times but I actually haven’t heard it but I’ve heard good things.

John Green:
I genuinely recommend that you listen to it. It’s a good song. Is it good enough to have my kids play it 40 or 50 times a day, every day? No. But it’s very good.

John Green:
I’ve also gone from one star to five stars on genre fiction like mystery novels, romance novels. I love a good romance novel. I used to think that, ” … they all end the same way and they’re so cheesy and they’re just wish-fulfillment.” Well, shut up. What’s wrong with wish-fulfillment? When did we become opposed to fulfilling wishes? I can go on, man. I mean, if anything, I’m probably now too critical of my high school self because that means that in the next 10 years, I’m going to become my high school self again so that I have to cease being critical toward him.

John Green:
The thing about my high school self, and I don’t know if you were like this, is that I was very dismissive of pop culture but I was also dismissive of large swaths of high culture that my hatred of them is just super embarrassing. The quintessential example from my life is that when I was a teenager, I hated “The Great Gatsby”. I wrote a paper that I still have, that I should destroy before I die, but I wrote a paper that I have still in which I called “The Great Gatsby” a bunch of rich Yankees with Yankee problems. I grew up in Alabama, for context. And the lack of understanding in that characterization of “The Great Gatsby” is a reminder that one-star Goodreads reviews are not necessarily reflective of the quality of a work.

John Green:
Also, I’m so glad that my high-school self did not have access to Twitter because if he had, I would still be living with that and people would be like, “This guy hates “The Great Gatsby”.” And … God, thank you for making me born in 1977.

Roman Mars:
When you see the things you make interacting with the world, and the image I have in my mind is Ant-Man reading “The Fault in Our Stars” in bed, crying, which was a moment of delight for me. But when you see your things that you make interacting with the culture of the world, how does it make you feel?

John Green:
When it’s things like Ant-Man reading “The Fault in Our Stars”, it’s just like a wonderful, delightful unexpected moment. And that one in particular was fun because I was with my son in the movie theater and he said out loud, “Dad, that’s your book.” I was like, “I know! I know!” And he was like, “Did you know that was going to happen?” And I was like, “No! How could I have known? It’s not like they called me to clear it.”

Roman Mars:
I would’ve thought they called you to clear it, actually.

John Green:
They didn’t. Or, at least if they did, they didn’t call me. They called someone else. But to be honest, it can get overwhelming. It can get a little scary somehow or yeah, I don’t know how to say it except for scary.

John Green:
I remember right when “The Fault in Our Stars” movie came out because it was, for a few weeks, fairly close to the center of U.S. pop culture. A) People were saying things about it that I thought were really kind of unfair in the way that we always are judging popular cultural phenomena. I’ve always felt like if something becomes very popular, there must be something at least a little bit wrong with it. It was weird and uncomfortable to be in that position.

John Green:
But also things like having a Saturday Night Live sketch or something made out of your work that parodies your work. In a way, it’s fun and I thought the sketch that they made was very funny but yeah, it was hard just not to feel really kind of overwhelmed by it and a little almost an urge to shut down. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I didn’t write a novel for like six years after that book came out.

Roman Mars:
I’ve been interviewed on TV just only a couple times, like a handful of times, and I’m never seen any of them. I just can’t. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know if I felt bad about it. I don’t want to know. I just don’t want to know.

John Green:
Yeah. It’s hard not to … I mean, obviously these are incredibly rarefied problems that I am extremely grateful to have. I definitely had a moment there where I could’ve chosen a path that I didn’t choose. Like we could’ve moved to L.A. or New York and gotten lots of work and there were lots of opportunities. And what I kind of chose to do was to come back here to Indianapolis and to work on making “Crash Course”, our educational video series, better and to work on the stuff that I wanted to work on. That it was both lower profile but also that I had more control over. Because I think part of what was so disorienting about that experience was losing some control over both my work and, on some level, over my self or at least the way that my self was being portrayed and imagined.

Roman Mars:
I’m really interested in you deciding to sort of pull back and do “Crash Course: and stuff instead of doing punch-up on some script or something. It’s not because you have disdain for those things; it’s just that-

John Green:
No, not at all.

Roman Mars:
It’s kind of like, “Well, I got my thing. My thing’s great.”

John Green:
Can I tell you my favorite joke? I’m sure you’ve heard this joke but you’ve never heard me do it.

Roman Mars:
Okay.

John Green:
So a moth walks into a podiatrist’s office. Do you know this joke?

Roman Mars:
I don’t. I don’t know it from that set-up.

John Green:
All right. Then you don’t know the joke.

Roman Mars:
Okay.

John Green:
A moth walks into a podiatrist’s office and the podiatrist says, “What seems to be the problem, moth?” And the moth says, ” … doc, if only there were one problem. I mean, my wife doesn’t love me anymore. It’s not just that she doesn’t love me, I don’t even remember a time when she did love me. My daughter has married a man whom I despise and who despises me. My son is a wretched failure. And, to be honest, when I look at him, all I see is a reflection of my own failures. I just don’t know how to go on, doc. I don’t know. I don’t know. You know?”

John Green:
And the podiatrist says, “Well, those seem like very serious problems, moth, but I’m a podiatrist. What brought you here today?” And the moths says, “Oh, the light was on.”

John Green:
I love that joke because the joke is that moths are stupid and they just go where the light is on but the other thing about the joke is that, almost all the time, humans also just go where the light is on. And so I really love moments where humans don’t go where the light is on. And I really try, in my own life, thinking hard about, “You know, am I doing this because I want to do it? Or am I doing this because the light is on?”

Roman Mars:
Yeah. So how would you rate our conversation on a five-star scale?

John Green:
I mean, from my side, 4.5 stars. But I’m more worried about how you would rate it. Now, I’m nervous.

Roman Mars:
I could be giddy in the moment but I’m thinking solid five stars. I don’t mean to be one of those Amazon reviews that you’re skeptical of. I really, truly enjoyed it.

John Green:
Oh, thanks. It’s been great to talk to you. oman Mars:
This is 99% Invisible. I’m Roman Mars. On this show, we tell stories about what we make and what it says about us as humans but we never rate those things on a five-star scale. The Anthropocene Reviewed is here to correct that oversight. I love this show. It’s by John Green. He’s the author of best-selling books like “The Fault in Our Stars” and “Turtles All the Way Down”. He also makes some of the best stuff on YouTube with his brother, Hank.

Roman Mars:
Today, we’re going to feature two of my favorite episodes of his new podcast that I think will be of particular interest to a 99pi listener. Plus, we’ll have an interview with John about a lot of things like sports and learning to love pop music as an adult. I think you’re really going to like it. After I got talking with John, I just felt good all day about life. It was great. But first, here’s an episode of “The Anthropocene Reviewed”.

John Green:
Hello and welcome to “The Anthropocene Reviewed”, a podcast where we review different facets of the human-centered planet on a five-star scale. Today, I’ll be reviewing a 17,000-year-old painting and the Taco Bell breakfast menu.

John Green:
Let’s start with the painting. So if you’ve even been or had a child, you will likely already be familiar with hand stencils. They were the first figurative art made by both our kids somewhere between the ages two and three. My children spread the fingers of one hand out across a piece of paper and then, with the help of a parent, traced their five fingers. I remember my son’s face as he lifted his hand and looked absolutely shocked to see the shape of his hand still on the paper, a semi-permanent record of himself.

John Green:
I am extremely happy that my children are no longer three and yet to look at their little hands from those early artworks is to be inundated with a strange, soul-splitting joy. Those pictures remind me that they are not just growing up but also growing away from me, running toward their own lives. But, of course, that’s meaning I am applying to their hand stencils and that complicated relationship between art and its viewers is never more fraught than when we are looking deeply into the past.

John Green:
In September of 1940, an 18-year-old mechanic named Marcel Ravidat was walking his dog, Robot, in the countryside of Southwestern France when the dog disappeared down a hole. Robot eventually returned but the next day, Ravidat went to the spot with three friends to explore the hole. And after quite a bit of digging, they discovered a cave with walls covered with paintings, including over 900 paintings of animals, horses, stags, bison and also species that are now extinct, including a wooly rhinoceros. The paintings were astonishingly detailed and vivid with red, yellow and black paint made from pulverized mineral pigments that were usually blown through a narrow tube, possibly a hollowed bone, onto the walls of the cave. It would eventually be established that these artworks were at least 17,000 years old.

John Green:
Two of the boys who visited the cave that day were so profoundly moved by the art they saw, that they camped outside the cave to protect it for over a year. After WWII, the French government took over protection of the site and the cave was opened to the public in 1948. When Picasso saw the cave paintings on a visit that year, he reportedly said, “We have invented nothing.”

John Green:
There are many mysteries at Lascaux. Why, for instance, are there no paintings of reindeer which we know were the primary source of food for the Paleolithic humans who lived in that cave? Why were they so much more focused on painting animals than painting human forms? Why are certain areas of the cave filled with images, including pictures on the ceiling that required the building of scaffolding to create, while other areas have only a few paintings? And were the paintings spiritual? “Here are our sacred animals?” Or were they practical? “Here is a guide to some of the animals that might kill you.”

John Green:
Aside from the animals, there are nearly a thousand abstract signs and shapes we cannot interpret and also several negative hand stencils, as they are known by art historians. These are the paintings that most interest me. They were created by pressing one hand with fingers splayed against the wall of the cave and then blowing pigment, leaving the area around the hand painted. Similar hand stencils have been found in caves around the world from Indonesia to Spain to Australia to the Americas to Africa. We have found these memories of hands from 15 or 30 or even 40,000 years ago.

John Green:
These hand stencils remind us of how different life was in the distant past. Amputations, likely from frostbite, are common in Europe and so you often see negative hand stencils with three or four fingers. And life was short and difficult. As many as a quarter of women died in childbirth. Around 50% of children died before the age of five.

John Green:
But they also remind us that the humans of the past were as human as we are. Their hands indistinguishable from ours. These communities hunted and gathered and there were no large caloric surpluses so every healthy person would’ve had to contribute to the acquisition of food and water. And yet somehow, they still made time to create art, almost as if art isn’t optional for humans.

John Green:
We see all kinds of hands stenciled on cave walls, children and adults, but almost always the fingers are spread, like my kids’ hand stencils. I’m no Jungian, but it’s fascinating and a little strange that so many Paleolithic humans, who couldn’t possibly have had any contact with each other, created the same paintings the same way, paintings that we are still making. But then again, what the Lascaux art means to me is likely very different from what it meant to the people who made it.

John Green:
Some academics theorize that the hand stencils were part of hunting rituals. Then there’s always the possibility that the hand was just a convenient model situated at the end of the wrist. To me, though, the hand stencils at Lascaux say, “I was here.” They say, “You are not new.” And because they are negative prints surrounded by red pigment, they also look to me like something out of a horror movie, like ghostly hands reaching up from some bloody background. They remind me that, as Alice Walker wrote, all history is current.

John Green:
The Lascaux cave has been closed to the public for many years now. Too many contemporary humans breathing inside of it led to the growth of mold and lichens which has damaged some of the art. Just the act of look at something can ruin it, I guess. But tourists can still visit an imitation cave called Lascaux II in which the artwork has been meticulously recreated.

John Green:
Humans making fake cave art to save real cave art may feel like peak Anthropocene behavior but I have to confess that even though I am a jaded and cynical semi-professional reviewer of human activity, I actually find it overwhelmingly hopeful that four teenagers and a dog named Robot discovered a cave with 17,000-year-old hand prints, that the cave was so overwhelmingly beautiful that two of those teenagers devoted themselves to its protection, and that when we humans became a danger to that cave’s beauty, we agreed to stop going.

John Green:
Lascaux is there. You cannot visit. You can go to the fake cave we’ve built and see nearly identical hand stencils. But you will know this is not the thing itself but a shadow of it. This is a hand print but not a hand. This is a memory that you cannot return to. All of which makes the cave very much like the past it represents.

John Green:
I give the hand print stencils at Lascaux 4.5 stars.

John Green:
A few weeks ago, a listener to this podcast named Steven emailed me to ask if I would consider reviewing the Taco Bell breakfast menu. And that seemed like a good idea, albeit one that would require me to eat a fair bit at Taco Bell, which is a fast food restaurant chain with over 7,000 restaurants around the world that was founded by a Marine Corps veteran named Glen Bell.

John Green:
Glen did not start out as a taco guy. After serving in WWII, he returned to his native Southern California to seek his fortune in the burger business. He ran a restaurant in San Bernardino called Bell’s Drive-In in 1948. His business did okay but across the street, a family-owned Mexican restaurant called the Mitla Café was selling lots of tacos, including its famous hard-shell tacos.

John Green:
Bell would often eat at the Mitla Care and then go back to his hamburger stand and try to reverse engineer those popular tacos but he could never figure it out. So eventually, he became friends with the family that owned the Mitla and they showed him the recipe. Bell started making the tacos soon thereafter.

John Green:
Side note: The Mitla Café was the setting for an important moment in American history. In the early 1940s, public pools and other services were segregated in San Bernardino. Latinos couldn’t swim at the pool or sit in certain sections of movie theaters. Some businesses had “Whites Only” signs and many schools were segregated. In a series of meetings held at the Mitla Café, Latino church and civic leaders developed a plan to sue the city of San Bernardino and they won. In fact, the case, Lopez versus Seccombe, was cited by the Supreme Court in its famous Brown versus Board of Education decision that found segregated schools to be illegal.

John Green:
We’ll return to Taco Bell momentarily but one last note about the Mitla Café. It’s still open and today is run by the fourth generation of the family who founded it. I’ve eaten there actually and it will not surprise you to learn that their tacos are vastly, incalculably superior to Taco Bell tacos. But, of course, Taco Bell isn’t really in the business of being good; it aims to be good enough and consistent and inexpensive.

John Green:
Right. So, of course, the recipe for Taco Bell tacos was stolen by a white restaurant owner from a local center for Latino community and activism but the owners at the Mitla Café have never publicly expressed any resentment toward Bell. One member of the family, Irene Montano, magnanimously said of him, “He was a self-starter and he did push those tacos.” Indeed, after opening the first Taco Bell in Downey, California in 1962, new franchises of Taco Bell spread rapidly throughout the West Coast. Back then, the menu was extremely simple, tacos, tostadas, burritos, frijoles and chili burgers, and everything cost 19 cents, around a buck fifty in today’s money. People loved it.

John Green:
By 1967, there were 100 Taco Bells and there were 868 when Bell sold his company to PepsiCo in 1978 for 125 million dollars. Selling Taco Bell allowed Glen to pursue the true passion of his life, a quarter-scale model train adventure park called Bell Gardens. Bell was a lifelong model train enthusiast but the park, which had no rides that weren’t quarter-scale model trains, went bankrupt after a few years.

John Green:
I mention all of this because I think it’s important to understand that Glen Bell was not, like, passionate about Mexican food. He saw an opportunity in a marketplace and he filled it. I’m not trying to bash Taco Bell. I’ve had many enjoyable meals there in my younger and less nutrition-oriented days and per dollar spent, Taco Bell offers more caloric energy than almost any other restaurant. A Big Mac at McDonald’s delivers about 1.45 calories per penny spent. A Taco Bell Beefy Fritos Burrito offers an astonishing 4.26 calories per penny.

John Green:
Also, I recently ate a Taco Bell Beefy Fritos Burrito under the guise of research for this review and for about five minutes after eating it, I felt almost euphoric. It was flavorful, an intoxicating mix of crunch and chewy and strangely sweet. The beef was stringy, the tortilla sub-optimal and I suspect I would be horrified by a thorough accounting of the environmental and socio-political costs of the Beefy Fritos Burrito but, still, for those five minutes, I felt pleasantly and entirely satiated. 10 minutes after that, of course, I began to feel extremely unwell but that might be down to my generally weak constitution rather than any fault of the food itself.

John Green:
All I’m saying is that Taco Bell is not, like, a mission-driven institution; it seeks to turn a profit. And that’s why I find it so fascinating that Taco Bell didn’t serve breakfast until 2012. Burger King served its first breakfast in 1979. McDonald’s introduced the Egg McMuffin way back in 1972. Maybe Taco Bell was late to breakfast because they didn’t want to recreate actual Mexican breakfast food which is excellent but bears very little resemblance to the hash browns and cinnamon-flavored donut holes that Taco Bell eventually released as part of their breakfast menu.

John Green:
All of which goes to show, again, that Taco Bell as a company is not and never has been interested in Mexican food except for what could be efficiently appropriated from it, which is why the taste profile of its breakfast menu more closely resembles that of Burger King than anything at the Mitla Café. I thought the donut holes were good but it’s hard to mess up fried dough. I found the Grilled Breakfast Burrito Fiesta Potato to be, like its name, a bit overcomplicated. The standout to me was the Breakfast Crunch Wrap which wraps hash browns, bacon, eggs and cheese into a grilled tortilla and that wasn’t bad. But mostly, my Taco Bell breakfast was what Taco Bell’s frantic and relentless marketing campaigns seem to fear the most: It was boring.

John Green:
I find it revealing that while there are Taco Bells in Romania and Australia and Brazil, you won’t find one in Mexico. They’ve tried twice, in 1992 and 2007, but both times, the restaurants faced the same fate as Glen Bell’s Railroad Adventure Land. You can add a vowel to the end of every menu item and you can make your catch phrase “Yo quiero Taco Bell!” but if you can’t sell your tacos in Mexico, they ain’t Mexican.

John Green:
I give the Taco Bell breakfast menu two stars.

Roman Mars:
And now, here’s my interview with the creator of “The Anthropocene Reviewed”, John Green.

Roman Mars:
When someone asks you what you do, what in the world do you say?

John Green:
I usually say that I work in educational videos so that they don’t ask more questions. But if I’m feeling a little more talkative, I usually say that I’m a writer and a YouTuber. But I guess now I’m also a podcaster so I don’t know what I do.

Roman Mars:
How do you describe “The Anthropocene Reviewed”?

John Green:
“The Anthropocene Reviewed” is a show where I look at different facets of the human-centered planet and then review them on a five-star scale. It started out as a bit. It started out as a joke I had with my brother because of Yelp and Amazon reviews and Goodreads, that everything now is reviewed on a five-star scale and everything gets a thumbs up or a thumbs down, a recommend or a don’t recommend and what if we applied that reviewing framework to, like, traffic cones? And that was the initial joke that I made with him. Or argyle socks. And Hank was like, “It’s good. It’s a funny bit.”

John Green:
And so I think he ended up making a video where he used the bit and then I ended up writing an essay about Diet Dr. Pepper and Canada geese. And at the end of writing those essays, I was like, “This isn’t very funny, and I kind of thought that it was going to be a funny thing, but I like it and it interests me.” And because I started out my career as a book reviewer, it felt kind of like going home to me in a way. Because even though it is obviously a little shticky to be reviewing, for instance, cholera on a five-star scale, there is something about the value-judgementing that’s inherent to reviewing that interests me.

Roman Mars:
Is it a healthy thing that we are reviewing everything on a five-star scale in the world?

John Green:
Yeah. I’d probably give it two stars. I definitely understand the urge to make simple, qualitative judgements about experiences but if you read one-star Yelp reviews or you read one-star Goodreads reviews, I think a lot of times there’s some missing of nuance, to put it generously. But also, if you read a lot of five-star Amazon review, there’s a lot of missing of nuance.

John Green:
Sometimes I’ll read reviews of my own books and I’ll be like, “We both know it’s not that good. I wish it were. I wish it were the book that you’re describing.” And I’m so grateful that the book ended up in the hands of a reader so generous that they were able to make the book much better than the one I wrote but I do feel like it kind of oversimplifies human experience and it also gives us this constant urge to review everything we do. Like now it’s difficult to have a meal and not think about it in the context of a recommend/don’t recommend spectrum. And I don’t know that I did that before the age of Yelp.

Roman Mars:
Right. So when I was talking to my producer and editor on the show, his name’s Chris Berube, we were talking about which stories to highlight of “The Anthropocene Reviewed”. I said, “I think I want to do two, “Cave Paintings and Taco Bell breakfast menu”, and “Pennies and Piggly Wiggly.” And he said, “Oh, so four.” And I was like, “No, no, no. Those are two.” So is that how you view them?

John Green:
Yeah. I try to pair them in ways that make sense to me. So, for instance, when I was writing about the cave paintings at Lascaux, I wanted to also write about the Taco Bell breakfast menu, in part, because it seems so different. It seems like a huge contrast. But also because I’m really fascinated by the way that people try to make an impact on the world or they try to leave a trace of themselves. And I was fascinated by the way that Glen Bell, the founder of Taco Bell, tried to do that and by the way that the people who were painting the cave paintings at Lascaux tried to do that.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. I’m especially curious about “Hawaiian Pizza and Viral Meningitis”. What made you choose those two things?

John Green:
Well, some would argue that they’re both forms of suffering. I wrote the viral meningitis essay before I wrote the Hawaiian pizza essay. And at the end of the viral meningitis essay, I was thinking about how there are all these phenomena in human life that are really resistant to language. I think physical pain is the one that’s perhaps most dramatically resistant to language.

John Green:
But, for me, there’s also something about taste that’s resistant to language and one of the reasons we fight, I think, about Hawaiian pizza is because we almost cannot describe to each other how it tastes to us. And so I think some people say, “Well, Hawaiian pizza is amazing and you’re obviously wrong to hate it.” And then the people who hate it are like, “No, no, no, no, no. You don’t understand how this tastes to me.” And indeed, we don’t.

Roman Mars:
It’s funny to me. One of my pet peeves, with no basis whatsoever, so I know I’m not necessarily right, is I hate when people use foods words to describe other things. I hate it when somebody says that prose is delicious or something like that.

John Green:
Or sumptuous.

Roman Mars:
Oh God, it makes me want to die. So it goes the other way too, like you can’t use food words for other things; you can only use them only for food and there’s not enough of them.

John Green:
Yeah. Well, and even the food words that do exist, I don’t know what they mean to someone else. I don’t really know what sumptuous means. Anyone who says that Hawaiian pizza is delicious, my defintion of delicious doesn’t include Hawaiian pizza and so I’m already lost. I have no way in. And they can say, “Oh, it’s a wonderful mix of sweet and sour,” and I understand what sweet and sour taste like but that is not a wonderful mix of them to me. And so it’s that personalization of experience and then the urge to share experience. We all desperately want other people to hear us and to hear our stories and to know what our feelings feel like and they can’t.

Roman Mars:
The subject of your show is literally everything on earth kind of centered around when humans were the dominant species on earth.

John Green:
Yeah, kind of.

Roman Mars:
And how do you then choose things to talk about?

John Green:
I choose what to write about partly based on listener suggestions. So listeners can write in and a lot of times they have really interesting ideas or ideas about why something is interesting that I hadn’t thought about before. The Taco Bell breakfast menu is actually an example of that. I’d never thought about the Taco Bell breakfast menu until somebody wrote to ask me to review it and then I was like, “This isn’t that interesting and … ” But then I fell way down the Glen Bell rabbit hole and ended up reading Glen Bell’s self-published commissioned biography. And at the end of that, I was totally fascinated by why Taco Bell didn’t have a breakfast menu for so long.

John Green:
But I also have a running list of topics that I care about and I’m interested in and that I think I have a way in to, whether it’s a story I want to tell about my life or just a story I find really fascinating. The cave paintings at Lascaux, I learned about those, I think when I was in my 20s and I’ve just spent a lot of time thinking about them and reading about them and so I felt ready to write that review.

Roman Mars:
I mean, each of these reviews, it becomes a small memoir. Was that always your intention?

John Green:
Initially, my idea for the show was that I was going to be separate from the reviews. I would be like an authority on everything. I was going to be an authority on Canada geese and Diet Dr. Pepper and cave paintings and the Taco Bell breakfast menu. And who I was didn’t matter because I was the authority. And my wife read the first couple of essays and she said, “You know, I don’t buy you as an authoritative expert in the taste of Dr. Pepper. I just don’t think you’re a chemical engineer. I don’t think you’re a professional taster and I’m more interested in what your relationship is with this stuff.” And that’s when it became more memoiry.

John Green:
And I do write about myself and I do write really personal things about myself but I’m very careful to protect the parts of me that I need to protect, if that makes sense, because I wasn’t always careful about that and now I feel like I have to be.

John Green:
When I was younger, I wanted so badly to be known. I think what I wanted was to have people like me. For some reason, I wanted especially for people who didn’t know me well to like me. And it just seemed like that was such an incredibly desirable outcome to have strangers like you. When versions of that started to happen to me, I almost immediately recognized that what I thought it would give me was not what it was giving me because I never felt, and I still don’t feel, like strangers like me; I feel like they like a construction that is only tangentially related to me. I’m obsessed with this thing Keanu Reeves said once. He said… I love Keanu Reeves a lot… some day I might write a Keanu Reeves “Anthropocene Reviewed” review.

John Green:
But one time, Keanu Reeves, in an interview, said, “I’m Mickey Mouse. They don’t know who’s inside the suit.” And when my work started to become more publicly known, that’s how I felt. I didn’t really feel like people liked me; I felt like they liked Mickey Mouse. I was inside the suit. But I think the difference between Keanu Reeves and me is that Keanu Reeves knew who he was. He knew who was inside of the suit but I kind of didn’t.

Roman Mars:
Do you find that when you, because you listen to a lot of podcasts and I assume before that, listened to a lot of public radio and stuff, when you find a little tidbit of personal knowledge, like when Terry Gross reveals something little about herself, does it fill you with delight the way it fills me with delight?

John Green:
It does. It does, especially when Terry Gross does it because I’ve been listening to Terry Gross for like 25 years. So when Terry Gross shares even the smallest detail about her life, I am completely … I love it. It’s such a good feeling. I’m just like, “Oh, oh. Well, that makes sense.” That’s always what I think to myself.

Roman Mars:
She describes the piles of CDs … I’m like, “Oh my God. She has towers of CDs in her house.”

John Green:
“Oh, she has piles of CDs.” Yes. Now I can picture the entire home.

Roman Mars:
I mean, one of the things I’ve learned about you over time and one of things I think is fun is, and I don’t know if I would’ve anticipated this from reading your books and other things and from Vlogbrothers, but you love sports or certain sports.

John Green:
I love sports, yeah.

Roman Mars:
I mean, and because my growing-up experience was that the people who love sports were the people who hated me.

John Green:
Yeah. Same.

Roman Mars:
That these are not linked traits but you’ve decoupled them for me in these ways that I’ve found really profound. And so you talk about penalty shoot-outs or I know your love of AFC Wimbledon and then Indy 500, which it kind of floored me as subject, the fact that you love the Indianapolis 500. I think that you could assemble the parts of your character and I could construct a version of you that would hate the Indianapolis 500.

John Green:
Well, yeah. And a past me did hate the Indy 500. And a past me did hate sports. There’s a line in my first novel, Looking For Alaska, that’s something like “I hate sports and I hate people who play or support or participate in any way in the sports-industrial complex.” And that was taken right out of my high-school self. I would watch people care about sports and I would just think to myself, “This is actually the dumbest thing that you can do with what Mary Oliver called your one wild and precious life. This is the worst possible way for you to use your resources.” If I’ve learned anything in adulthood, it’s not to judge anyone else lest you become them. In the fullness of time, you will become all of the people that you claim to revile.

John Green:
I think what I love about sports is actually the same thing I love about going to church, which is not much to do with the ostensible topic at hand but instead the pleasure and joy that comes from a bunch of people who otherwise might not have a lot in common, orienting their love in the same direction. And I think there is a lot of value in that. And I think what I like about sports is the community aspect of it, which is why I enjoy the Indy 500 so much because it’s this huge gathering of all kinds of human beings. And the sport, to say that it’s secondary would be an overstatement. I mean, there’s no place in the Indianapolis 500 seating where you can see all of the Indianapolis 500. So it can’t possibly be about the sport because you literally can’t see the sport from inside the stadium. It has to be about something else. And I think what it’s about is tradition and shared experience and being in a community. I think, really, in the end, sports are about being together.

Roman Mars:
Mm-hmm. I found in my life, and I sense this in your life, is that you spent a good section of the beginning of your life being defined by the things you hated and then you…

John Green:
Yes.

Roman Mars:
… took a hard pivot, enjoying being defined more by the things you loved. Do you know…

John Green:
Yes.

Roman Mars:
… why and how that happened in both you and I?

John Green:
I do not know. When I was a teenager, if you’d asked me to say like 10 things about myself, I would’ve told you 10 things that I hated. I would’ve told you about what I was opposed to. I would’ve told you about what I thought was stupid and embarrassing and ridiculous about the human experience. I would’ve told you how deeply I reviled the Spice Girls who, by the way, made good pop music.

John Green:
And I think I got fed up with it. I got fed up with irony. I got fed up with sarcasm. I got fed up with this urge to create distance between myself and emotion. I wanted to be cool and I thought that to be cool was to be distant. And then I stopped wanting to be cool because to be cool is to be a form of cold. And I don’t want to be distant from emotional experience.

John Green:
I think the risk of that is that it may make you into a sentimentalist. It may make you into some sort of cheesy version of yourself. For me, if that’s the cost of having unironized emotional experiences, it’s worth the cost. It took me a long time to be okay with that urge within me. I just think that ironic detachment is the single most overrated characteristic in a human being. I like emotion. I like to feel things. I like to feel them intensely. And I like to be able to ask big questions without creating a lot of distance between myself and the questions.

Roman Mars:
Yeah. If you were to review other things in your life besides sports and the Spice Girls, what are some of the things that had the most change from one star or zero stars to five stars in your life?

John Green:
Oh, that’s interesting. Oh, I mean, the biggest one is marriage. I mean, my 17-year-old self thought that marriage was the stupidest institution that humans had ever conceived of. And I love being married. That guy was crazy. I really, really, really love being married. I think the institution of marriage has gotten a lot better since I was a kid. It’s gotten a lot more inclusive. It hasn’t gone all the way to where it needs to be throughout the world but I think that’s one.

John Green:
In general, pop music, I was very dismissive of pop music when I was younger and now, I listen to a lot of pop songs. You know that song “Old Town Road” by Lil Nas X?

Roman Mars:
It’s been mentioned a few times but I actually haven’t heard it but I’ve heard good things.

John Green:
I genuinely recommend that you listen to it. It’s a good song. Is it good enough to have my kids play it 40 or 50 times a day, every day? No. But it’s very good.

John Green:
I’ve also gone from one star to five stars on genre fiction like mystery novels, romance novels. I love a good romance novel. I used to think that, ” … they all end the same way and they’re so cheesy and they’re just wish-fulfillment.” Well, shut up. What’s wrong with wish-fulfillment? When did we become opposed to fulfilling wishes? I can go on, man. I mean, if anything, I’m probably now too critical of my high school self because that means that in the next 10 years, I’m going to become my high school self again so that I have to cease being critical toward him.

John Green:
The thing about my high school self, and I don’t know if you were like this, is that I was very dismissive of pop culture but I was also dismissive of large swaths of high culture that my hatred of them is just super embarrassing. The quintessential example from my life is that when I was a teenager, I hated “The Great Gatsby”. I wrote a paper that I still have, that I should destroy before I die, but I wrote a paper that I have still in which I called “The Great Gatsby” a bunch of rich Yankees with Yankee problems. I grew up in Alabama, for context. And the lack of understanding in that characterization of “The Great Gatsby” is a reminder that one-star Goodreads reviews are not necessarily reflective of the quality of a work.

John Green:
Also, I’m so glad that my high-school self did not have access to Twitter because if he had, I would still be living with that and people would be like, “This guy hates “The Great Gatsby”.” And … God, thank you for making me born in 1977.

Roman Mars:
When you see the things you make interacting with the world, and the image I have in my mind is Ant-Man reading “The Fault in Our Stars” in bed, crying, which was a moment of delight for me. But when you see your things that you make interacting with the culture of the world, how does it make you feel?

John Green:
When it’s things like Ant-Man reading “The Fault in Our Stars”, it’s just like a wonderful, delightful unexpected moment. And that one in particular was fun because I was with my son in the movie theater and he said out loud, “Dad, that’s your book.” I was like, “I know! I know!” And he was like, “Did you know that was going to happen?” And I was like, “No! How could I have known? It’s not like they called me to clear it.”

Roman Mars:
I would’ve thought they called you to clear it, actually.

John Green:
They didn’t. Or, at least if they did, they didn’t call me. They called someone else. But to be honest, it can get overwhelming. It can get a little scary somehow or yeah, I don’t know how to say it except for scary.

John Green:
I remember right when “The Fault in Our Stars” movie came out because it was, for a few weeks, fairly close to the center of U.S. pop culture. A) People were saying things about it that I thought were really kind of unfair in the way that we always are judging popular cultural phenomena. I’ve always felt like if something becomes very popular, there must be something at least a little bit wrong with it. It was weird and uncomfortable to be in that position.

John Green:
But also things like having a Saturday Night Live sketch or something made out of your work that parodies your work. In a way, it’s fun and I thought the sketch that they made was very funny but yeah, it was hard just not to feel really kind of overwhelmed by it and a little almost an urge to shut down. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that I didn’t write a novel for like six years after that book came out.

Roman Mars:
I’ve been interviewed on TV just only a couple times, like a handful of times, and I’m never seen any of them. I just can’t. I don’t want to know. I don’t want to know if I felt bad about it. I don’t want to know. I just don’t want to know.

John Green:
Yeah. It’s hard not to … I mean, obviously these are incredibly rarefied problems that I am extremely grateful to have. I definitely had a moment there where I could’ve chosen a path that I didn’t choose. Like we could’ve moved to L.A. or New York and gotten lots of work and there were lots of opportunities. And what I kind of chose to do was to come back here to Indianapolis and to work on making “Crash Course”, our educational video series, better and to work on the stuff that I wanted to work on. That it was both lower profile but also that I had more control over. Because I think part of what was so disorienting about that experience was losing some control over both my work and, on some level, over my self or at least the way that my self was being portrayed and imagined.

Roman Mars:
I’m really interested in you deciding to sort of pull back and do “Crash Course: and stuff instead of doing punch-up on some script or something. It’s not because you have disdain for those things; it’s just that-

John Green:
No, not at all.

Roman Mars:
It’s kind of like, “Well, I got my thing. My thing’s great.”

John Green:
Can I tell you my favorite joke? I’m sure you’ve heard this joke but you’ve never heard me do it.

Roman Mars:
Okay.

John Green:
So a moth walks into a podiatrist’s office. Do you know this joke?

Roman Mars:
I don’t. I don’t know it from that set-up.

John Green:
All right. Then you don’t know the joke.

Roman Mars:
Okay.

John Green:
A moth walks into a podiatrist’s office and the podiatrist says, “What seems to be the problem, moth?” And the moth says, ” … doc, if only there were one problem. I mean, my wife doesn’t love me anymore. It’s not just that she doesn’t love me, I don’t even remember a time when she did love me. My daughter has married a man whom I despise and who despises me. My son is a wretched failure. And, to be honest, when I look at him, all I see is a reflection of my own failures. I just don’t know how to go on, doc. I don’t know. I don’t know. You know?”

John Green:
And the podiatrist says, “Well, those seem like very serious problems, moth, but I’m a podiatrist. What brought you here today?” And the moths says, “Oh, the light was on.”

John Green:
I love that joke because the joke is that moths are stupid and they just go where the light is on but the other thing about the joke is that, almost all the time, humans also just go where the light is on. And so I really love moments where humans don’t go where the light is on. And I really try, in my own life, thinking hard about, “You know, am I doing this because I want to do it? Or am I doing this because the light is on?”

Roman Mars:
Yeah. So how would you rate our conversation on a five-star scale?

John Green:
I mean, from my side, 4.5 stars. But I’m more worried about how you would rate it. Now, I’m nervous.

Roman Mars:
I could be giddy in the moment but I’m thinking solid five stars. I don’t mean to be one of those Amazon reviews that you’re skeptical of. I really, truly enjoyed it.

John Green:
Oh, thanks. It’s been great to talk to you.

Roman Mars:
After the break, John Green reviews the Piggly Wiggly and he just lays into the penny. Honestly, it’s the angriest I’ve ever heard him. More “Anthropocene Reviewed” after this.

John Green:
Let’s begin with the American penny, which is worth 1/100th of a U.S. dollar and is almost as old as the nation itself—the first U.S. penny was minted in 1793. It was made of copper, weighed about half an ounce, and was the size of a contemporary one-dollar coin—which come to think of it is a useless comparison, since nobody uses one-dollar coins, even though their adoption would save the United States hundreds of millions of dollars per year. But we’re not here to review the two-star one-dollar bill; we’re here to review the penny, which since 1909 has featured the profiled face of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln. The penny was actually the first U.S. money to be stamped with a President’s face. Many of the U.S.’s founders, including George Washington, felt it would be too monarchical to mint coins featuring U.S. leaders. In fact, the U.S. Mint Act of 1792 explicitly stated that one side of copper coins should state the denomination and the other side should have an “impression emblematic of liberty.”

John Green:
Today’s pennies weigh about a fifth of what the 18th century ones did, and while they’re still coated in copper, pennies are now over 97% zinc, which is cheaper than copper. But even so, every one-cent coin minted in the United States costs 1.82 cents to create. Last year, the U.S. Mint lost 69 million dollars minting pennies.

John Green:
That would be annoying but forgivable if pennies served a purpose in our economy, but they don’t. Money is supposed to facilitate the exchange of goods and services, which pennies manifestly fail to do. You can’t use them in vending machines or parking meters, and if you attempt to use them to purchase goods or services, you’ll often be met with resistance and for good reason; I mean, it requires over two pounds of pennies—or around a kilogram—to purchase a single gallon of gasoline.

John Green:
And yet, every year, the U.S. Mint makes more pennies than all other coins combined, not because we use them so often to buy things, but because we don’t use them. We store them in jars, or leaves them in the terrifying netherworld of our cars’ center consoles. And we throw them away by the million, because pennies do not work as currency.

John Green:
Now there are many arguments in favor of the continued production of the penny. I just don’t find any of them convincing. Some argue, for instance, that in a penniless world prices might go up, and that these price increases would disproportionately affect the poor, who are more likely to use cash in transactions.

John Green:
But in fact, eliminating the penny would not increase prices—we know this because many nations have already retired their penny-equivalents without any problems, from the Netherlands to New Zealand. We would simply begin rounding prices to the nearest 10th of a dollar instead of the nearest 100th of a dollar—assuming had the common sense to also eliminate our five-cent coins, each of which costs 6.2 cents to mint.

John Green:
If anything, this system would benefit those who use cash, because they would spend the same amount of money but no longer have to deal with pennies, which are so easy to receive as change and so difficult to spend. People often resort to cashing out their small-denomination coins via coin-counting machines like Coinstar, which charge an astonishing 12% fee for the privilege of turning your pennies and nickels into money you can actually spend.

John Green:
Other defenses of the penny—that it honors Lincoln, or that it somehow limits inflation—are just absurd. None of the countries that have eliminated one cent coins has seen a corresponding rise in inflation, and why would Abraham Lincoln want to be the face of a coin that is worth negative sixty-nine million dollars per year? The whole thing is ridiculous.

John Green:
But then, righteous indignation at the ongoing existence of the penny is also ridiculous. Sixty-nine million dollars represents a tiny fraction of the U.S. federal budget—like, we spend about 68 million dollars on the military per hour. We have much bigger problems than the penny—the United States is one of the only nations that has seen life expectancy decline in the past two years, despite the fact that we spend more on healthcare than any other country. Our massive economic inequality is inhibiting economic growth and limiting opportunity. Our political systems are far too profoundly influenced by moneyed interests. And eliminating the penny will fix none of that.

John Green:
But our failure to bid farewell to the penny seems to me indicative of a larger political failure: We cannot accomplish simple and obvious things, because there is nothing to be gained politically by accomplishing them. Almost all of our political discourse is focused on issues that can score points and energize supporters. Should this Supreme Court nominee be approved is an issue that can drive donations. Should the penny be eliminated is…not, in part because it’s not very important, and in part because it’s not very divisive.

John Green:
There is of course nothing surprising about the fact that Congress can’t find the political will to eliminate pennies—I mean, if Congress were drowning, it would struggle to pass the Throw Congress Something That Floats Act. The U.S. political system is complex by design—change is supposed to be difficult to enact. But I’m not convinced it should be this difficult.

John Green:
In 1857, the United States was only a few years away from a Civil War. I know 160 years ago seems ancient history, but consider this: Two of the grandfathers of my grandfathers fought in that war, on opposite sides. I know history can feel settled, but we—the results of history—are anything but settled. So right. It’s 1857. Political divisions over slavery are such that a year earlier, an abolitionist senator named Charles Sumner had been beaten with a cane nearly to death in the chamber of the United States senate by a pro-slavery congressman named Preston Brooks, who by the way would go on to be re-elected by his constituents. And yet, even then, as the house divided against itself was learning that it could not stand, the United States Congress passed the Coinage Act of 1857 into law. Among other things, the act eliminated the half-penny, which had become too small a monetary sum to be worth minting. At the time, the half-penny was worth about 12 cents in today’s money.

John Green:
To me, the ongoing existence of the penny symbolizes not only our inability to find common ground, but also our inability to acknowledge the places where common ground already exists. In fact, I think the only vaguely convincing case one can make for the penny is that as a nation, we all share it. No matter where you’re from, or what news outlets you rely upon, no matter your age or race or gender, we can all agree that the continued minting of the American penny is an absolute abomination. Maybe it’s worth sixty nine million dollars a year to have something that we can all dislike together. And anyway, there is something kind of American about putting our best President on our worst coin. I give the penny one and a half stars.

John Green:
In 1920, my maternal grandmother’s father was working at a grocery store in a tiny town in western Tennessee. Like all U.S. grocery stores at the beginning of the 20th century, this one was full-service: You walked in with a list of items you needed, and then the grocer—perhaps my great-grandfather—would gather those items. They’d weigh the flour or corn meal or butter or tomatoes, wrap everything up for you, and then charge it to your account. You’d either wait for the clerk to finish your shopping, or for a small fee, have your order delivered to your house later in the day. Like almost all grocery stores at the time, my great grandfather’s store also allowed customers to purchase food on credit, which the customer would then, usually, pay back over time.

John Green:
That store was supposed to be my great-grandfather’s ticket out of poverty, but it didn’t work out that way. Instead, the store closed, thanks in part to the self-service grocery store revolution launched by Clarence Saunders. Saunders was the self-educated child of impoverished sharecroppers. He eventually found his way to the grocery business in Memphis, Tennessee. He was 35 when he developed the concept for a grocery store that would have no clerks or counters but instead a labyrinth of aisles that customers would walk themselves, choosing their own food and placing it in their own shopping baskets.

John Green:
Prices at Saunders’ self-service grocery would be lower, because his stores would employ fewer clerks and also because he would not offer customers credit but instead expect immediate payment. The prices would also be clear and transparent—for the first time, every item in a grocery store would be marked with a price so customers would no longer fear being shortchanged by unscrupulous grocers. Saunders called his grocery store Piggly Wiggly.

John Green:
Why? Nobody knows. When asked where the name came from, Saunders once answered that it arrived “from out of chaos and in direct contact with an individual’s mind,” which gives you a sense of the kind of guy he was. But usually when he was asked why anyone would call a grocery store Piggly Wiggly, he would answer, “So people will ask that very question.”

John Green:
The first Piggly Wiggly opened in Memphis in 1916. It was so successful that the second Piggly Wiggly opened three weeks later. Two months after that, another opened—Saunders insisted on calling it “Piggly Wiggly The Third” to lend his stores the “royal dignity they are due.” He soon began attaching a catchphrase to his storefront signs: “Piggly Wiggly: All Around the World.” Of course, at the time, the stores were barely all around Memphis, but Saunders’ business did grow phenomenally quickly: Within a year, there were 353 Piggly Wigglys around the United States.

John Green:
In newspaper advertisements, Saunders wrote of his self-service concept in nearly messianic terms. “One day Memphis shall be proud of Piggly Wiggly,” one ad read. “And it shall be said by all men that the Piggly Wigglies shall multiply and replenish the Earth with more and cleaner things to eat.” Another time he wrote, “The mighty pulse of the throbbing today makes new things out of old and new things where was nothing before.” Basically, Saunders spoke of Piggly Wiggly as today’s Silicon Valley executives talk of their companies—we’re not just making money here. We are replenishing the Earth.

John Green:
Piggly Wiggly and the self-service grocery stores that followed didlower prices, which meant there was more to eat. They also changed the kinds of foods that were readily available—to save costs and limit spoilage, Piggly Wiggly stocked less fresh produce than traditional grocery stores. Prepackaged, processed foods became more popular and less expensive, which altered American diets.

John Green:
Brand recognition also became extremely important, because food companies had to appeal directly to shoppers, which led to the growth of consumer-oriented food advertising on radio and in newspapers, a phenomenon that Saunders understood better than almost anyone—during the late 19teens and early 20s, Piggly Wiggly was the single largest newspaper advertiser in the United States.

John Green:
Of course, lower prices and fewer clerks also meant many people losing their jobs, including my great-grandfather. There’s nothing new about our fear that automation and increased efficiency will deprive humans of work. In one newspaper advertisement, Saunders imagined a woman torn between her long-time relationship with her friendly grocer and the low, low prices of Piggly Wiggly.

John Green:
The story concluded with Saunders appealing to a tradition even older than the full-service grocer, with his protagonist saying, “Now away back many years, there had been a Dutch grandmother of mine who had been thrifty. The spirit of that old grandmother asserted itself just then within me and said, ‘Business is business and charity and alms are another.’” Whereupon our shopper saw the light and converted to Piggly Wiggly.

John Green:
By 1922, there were over 1,000 Piggly Wiggly stores around the U.S. and shares in the company were listed on the New York Stock Exchange. Saunders was building a 36,000 square foot mansion in Memphis and had endowed the school now known as Rhodes College. But the good times would not last: After a few Piggly Wiggly stores in the northeast failed, investors began shorting the stock—betting that its price would fall. Saunders responded by trying to buy up all the available shares of Piggly Wiggly using borrowed money, but the gambit failed spectacularly, and Saunders lost control of Piggly Wiggly and went bankrupt.

John Green:
His vitriol at Wall Street shortsellers presaged contemporary corporate titans just as his reliance on big advertising and hyper-efficiency did. Saunders was by many accounts a bully—verbally abusive, cruel, and profoundly convinced of his own genius. After losing control of the company, he wrote, “They have it all, everything I built, the greatest stores of their kind in the world, but they didn’t get the man that was father to the idea. They have the body of Piggly Wiggly but they didn’t get the soul.” Saunders quickly developed a new concept for a grocery store—this one would have aisles and self-service but also clerks in the meat department and the bakery—basically, a contemporary supermarket. In under a year, he was ready to open, but the new owners of Piggly Wiggly took him to court, arguing that the use of the Clarence Saunders name in relation to a new grocery store would violate Piggly Wiggly’s trademarks and patents.

John Green:
In response, Saunders defiantly named his new grocery store The Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Store, perhaps the only business name worse than Piggly Wiggly. And yet, it succeeded tremendously, and Saunders made a second fortune as Sole Owner stores spread throughout the South.

John Green:
He went on to invest in a professional football team in Memphis, which he named The Clarence Saunders Sole Owner of My Name Tigers. Really. They played the Green Bay Packers and the Chicago Bears in front of huge crowds in Memphis and they were invited to join the NFL, but Saunders declined. Because he didn’t want to share revenue, or send his team to away games. He promised to build a stadium for the Tigers that would seat over 30,000 people. “The stadium,” he wrote, “will have skull and crossbones for my enemies who I have slain.”

John Green:
But within a few years, the Sole Owner stores were crushed by the Depression, the football team was out of business, and he was broke again.

John Green:
Meanwhile, the soulless body of Piggly Wiggly was faring quite well without Saunders—by the supermarket chain’s height in 1932, there were over 2,500 Piggly Wigglys in the United States. Even today, there are over 600, mostly in the South, although like many grocery stores, they are struggling under pressure from the likes of Wal-Mart and Dollar General, which can undercut traditional grocery stores on price partly by providing even less fresh food and fewer clerks than today’s Piggly Wigglys do. These days, Piggly Wiggly ads tend to focus on tradition, and the human touch. One North Alabama Piggly Wiggly TV spot from 1999 included this line, “At Piggly Wiggly, it’s all about friends serving friends,” a call to the kind of human-to-human relationships that Saunders ridiculed in that Dutch grandmother ad. The mighty pulse of the throbbing today does make new things out of old—but it also makes old things out of new.

John Green:
Today, food prices are lower relative to average wage than they’ve ever been in the United States, but our diets are often poor—the average American ingests more sugar and sodium than they should, largely because of processed, prepackaged foods.

John Green:
As for Clarence Saunders, he spent decades after his second bankruptcy trying to launch a new concept called the Keedoozle, a totally automated store that looked like a massive bank of vending machines and involved purchasing food with almost no human-to-human interaction. He was also one of the first business people to spend private money on newspaper advertising for political candidates—running ads, including virulently racist ones, for his preferred gubernatorial candidates.

John Green:
Saunders grew more vitriolic and unpredictable as he aged. He could never get the keedoozle to work—the machinery broke down constantly, and people found the shopping experience slow and clunky. He eventually entered a sanitarium that treated people with anxiety and depression. The mansion Saunders built with his first fortune became the Pink Palace Museum, Memphis’s science and history museum. The estate he built with his second fortune became Lichterman Nature Center. In 1936, the journalist Ernie Pyle said, “If Saunders lives long enough, Memphis will become the most beautiful city in the world just with the things Saunders built and lost.”

John Green:
But Saunders never made a third fortune. He died at the Wallace Sanitarium in 1953, at the age of 72. One obituary opined, “Some men achieve lasting fame through success, others achieve it through failure.” Saunders was a huckster. He committed securities fraud. He helped usher in an era of food that fills without nourishing. He was also a genius ahead of his time who understood the power of branding and efficiency. But mostly, when I think of Piggly Wiggly, I think of it swallowing up the small-town grocery stores only to be swallowed itself by the likes of Wal-Mart, which will in turn be swallowed by the likes of Amazon. Joyce called Ireland the sow that eats her farrow, but Ireland has nothing on American capitalism. I give Piggly Wiggly two and a half stars.

Credits

Production

Anthropocene Reviewed is hosted by John Green; This episode was edited for 99% Invisible by Chris Berube

Comments (4)

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  1. Kirk

    Two things struck me about this piece: the comments about Sports and Fame (Keanu). Being a nerd, it stunned my geek friends in high school, who had known me for years, when they suddenly discovered that I was a football player, one saying “You’re a jock?!?” To me, sports and intellectual curiosity have never been diametrically opposed worlds.

    On fame (ending in a reference to Keanu) Green may want to take some time to delve into the lyrics of Peart: “I can’t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.” [http://popdose.com/popdose-at-kirkus-reviews-neil-peart-cant-pretend-a-stranger-is-a-long-awaited-friend/]

  2. Solid 5 stars for sure. Somehow that conversation provided a few existential pokes in the gut that I did not see coming!

  3. JHall

    Shouldn’t John Green give the 👣 footprint rating on the Anthropocene⁉️ And will he do the interrobang⁉️

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