Briefly Noted: Books, Television, Museums, and More

Foie gras fight, quality of life vs. efficiency, the phony war between punk and metal, The Secret Life of an American Teenager, and the Newseum


Foie Fight

Mark Caro, author of The Foie Gras Wars (Simon & Schuster), inadvertently kicked off a national debate about the much-derided delicacy with a 2006 story for the Chicago Tribune about an inter-chef squabble.

The famously temperamental chef Charlie Trotter had stopped serving the fatty duck livers, citing ethical qualms about the ducks' treatment. A rival chef called him a "hypocrite." Trotter threatened to eat his fellow culinarian's liver. Caro's initial story was delayed because Tribune editors didn't like the parallels between feeding the comatose Terri Schiavo through a tube and force-feeding ducks through a tube, which is how you make foie gras. A Chicago alderman read the article and pushed through a ban on the organ meat treat. That ban has since been repealed.

Chef Trotter—who supports drug legalization and calls animal rights activists "idiots"—opposed the ban even as he opposed the foodstuff. This colorful, sympathetic history suggests that Caro agrees.—Katherine Mangu-Ward

Power Pestering

The exhibition "Spark!" at the Charlottesville Community Design Center in Charlottesville, Virginia, is meant to prepare us for "a widespread switch to clean and renewable sources" by encouraging visitors to "address their own carbon footprint."

The exhibit consists of type-dense posters explaining things like how to get federal and state tax breaks for wrapping hot water heaters in snazzy silver-colored insulation or installing solar panels on your roof. The information isn't always accurate. The solar energy display, for example, misleadingly claims that "generating your own energy is a cushion against rising oil prices" and "minimizes our nation's dependence on foreign oil." Generating your own electricity (while taking advantage of tax breaks) could lower your electric bills, but it will not displace much oil, which mostly fuels automobiles.

We do need to understand more about our energy use, but there's more to that than exhortations to lower our quality of life in pursuit of efficiency.—Ronald Bailey

Punk/Metal Rules!

Despite its distracting academic jargon, Steve Waksman's This Ain't the Summer of Love: Conflict and Crossover in Heavy Metal and Punk (University of California Press) pinpoints an underappreciated truth: While elite critics have championed punk as the vanguard of pop cultural revolution, "the emergence of metal has never been treated as a historically significant event." Punk struck the intellectuals as properly conceptual and arty; metal just seemed like brutal noise for brutes.

Waksman, who teaches music and American studies at Smith College, retells the history of pop music from 1970 to the present. His topics range from the depth and richness of Motörhead's pioneering thrash to the genre- (and gender-) bending theatricality of Alice Cooper and David Lee Roth. The two quick-and-noisy musical arts communities, separated by the critics, have mingled and cross-pollinated on their own, helping to create today's dynamic and delightful world of self-chosen, mix-and-match subcultures and musical identities.—Damon W. Root

Secret Lives, Fictional Sex

ABC Family's hit Monday night series The Secret Life of an American Teenager offers salacious plots and characters not normally associated with Disney, the network's corporate owner. The show's protagonist is Amy Juergens, a 15-year-old girl knocked up during a single wild night at band camp. Since this is ABC Family, she keeps the baby after considering adoption and abortion.

Secret Life promises an inside look at how the younger generation lives. Following the conventions of a genre that pre-dates ancient Rome, it highlights adolescent sexual activity (there's much bed hopping from other characters) and angst over carnal desires both fulfilled and frustrated. But with fewer and fewer high schoolers having intercourse—between 1991 and 2005, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the proportion of 12th-graders reporting they had ever had sex dropped from 54 percent to 47 percent—Secret Life is less a description of reality than an anxiety-inducing fantasy for curious kids and worried parents alike.—Nick Gillespie

News That Stays News

Media critics have had some fun at the expense of the Newseum, the glimmering new 250,000-square foot edifice on D.C.'s Pennsylvania Avenue. It's true that the Freedom Forum–sponsored journalism museum—complete with a Wolfgang Puck restaurant and a 74-foot marble etching of the First Amendment—seems a bit ostentatious for an industry purportedly on its death bed.

But with all the pomp and vanity on display in Washington, it's good to spare some veneration for the First Amendment and the press's watchdog function. And the Newseum venerates well. It's hard to avoid a pleasing sense of nostalgia while watching old TV coverage of the last halfcentury's biggest stories as they were breaking. Another interactive display allows visitors to browse headlines dating back 500 years.

The Newseum imparts an appreciation for the media's historical role in a free society. Unfortunately, it's less convincing when it tries to persuade us that the journalism business has adapted to the information age.—Radley Balko