Episode 008: Mimosas, The Simpsons, and Liam Neeson’s Bathingsuit Area

Kate and Josh won’t let a little thing like their state’s blue laws stop the fun! Join us for mimosas and a brisk discussion of why Ugg boots haven’t died yet, if The Simpsons has anything left to complain about, and whether Milton Berle or Liam Neeson were better able to satisfy Janice Dickinson! Also, there is some talk of Rumplestiltskin.

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SHOW NOTES

A bit more info on the Simpsons/Futurama crossover.
A Jezebel survey of history’s largest man-junk.
Rasputin’s (alleged) tap-and-die kit.
Janice Dickinson’s autobiography contains her thoughts on mineral water containers.
Your government tracks the most popular baby names by year. Creepy or cool?
Kate’s recommendation: Orange is the New Black
Josh’s recommendation: Training Rules

4 thoughts on “Episode 008: Mimosas, The Simpsons, and Liam Neeson’s Bathingsuit Area

  1. Birkenstocks are comfortable and provide great arch support. They are not a fashion statement! Also, you could make mimosas with a red sparkling wine and blood orange juice.

  2. Hey guys, great show as usual. The new mic sounds great. Already looking forward to next week’s show.

    In the meantime, though, the UGG question is weighing heavily on my mind, so without further ado, I bring you this week’s ‘Crazed Fan Won’t Just Let It Go’ comment, in which we explore the history and mystery of UGGs.

    This week’s unresolved ‘explain it to me’ segment left me unsatisfied. (A sentiment that Janice Dickinson does not, apparently, share.) In trying to rationalize the UGG phenomenon, I had always vaguely assumed that their origins–or at least the origins of their popularity–were tied to skiing, that quintessential wealthy, WASPy past-time, and that they traded on this association with upper-class leisure in their rise to ubiquitous status symbol. After spending the last hour of my life researching the history of sheepskin boots, (thanks, by the way) I’ve found that the truth is slightly (?) more interesting.

    Apparently ugg–alternatively ug or ugh (note the lowercase)–boots have been around in Australia since the early 20th century. The term, which several sources claim has always been shorthand for ‘ugly’, (a claim which rational observers find very reasonable) signifies any boot made with a sheephide exterior tanned to a fleece interior. Sheep farmers have long made the boots as a matter of both convenience and utility–and, it should be said, with a particular disregard for aesthetics. The boots became popular among pilots in the Second World War for their insulating properties; because of the breathability of sheephide, ug boots are purported to do a great job of maintaining body temperature, keeping feet warm in cold weather and cool in warm weather. Pilots called them fugs, short for, you guessed it, flying ugs. (Wait, what did you think the ‘f’ stood for?)

    As a result of their workwear associations, ug boots have a certain rural ‘bogan’ (read: redneck) connotation in Australia. Interestingly, the boots briefly became signifiers of youthful rebellion in the 1970s after theaters in Sydney banned them, along with ripped jeans. Around the same time, (and coincidentally, I’m sure) they became popular with Australian surfers, who would slip into them during beach breaks in either the summer or winter (breathability, remember).

    An American surfer brought the boots back to the United States and trademarked the term ‘ugh’ boots. (Seriously, ‘ugh’.) He later sold the rights to another surfer, Brian Smith, who began manufacturing and selling the shoes in Southern California. After modest success selling the boots, primarily to SoCal surfers, in 1995 Smith’s company and trademark were bought by Deckers Outdoor Corp, the owners of the Teva trademark. This is when the boots started to take off.

    The company marketed to high fashion as well as to surfers. The company bought ads in Vogue and gave free pairs to ambassadors of style. Pamela Anderson wore the boots on Baywatch (that was before she realized that sheephide and fleece come from, well, sheep). Rush Limbaugh was brought aboard as a spokesman. (I couldn’t make this up.) The tipping point, though, was when Oprah, that maven of middle- and upper-middle-class taste, included them on her list of ‘favorite things’ in 2000. (Fun reminder, that was 13 years ago.) Sales skyrocketed and stores couldn’t keep the shoes on their shelves. A la Tickle-Me Elmo, bidding wars and winner-take-UGG thunderdome-style bouts were the rule of the day. Helped by some savvy product placement in Sex and the City and its ilk, the brand was cemented in the collective style consciousness, and has stayed remarkably salient ever since.

    So there’s the history, but it doesn’t really explain why people wear these godawful things in public. Apparently in Australia, the boots are now primarily popular as slippers. (Confession time: I once had a pair of knockoff (ug) house slippers that were remarkably comfortable. I absentmindedly wore them at a party that my roommates and I were hosting and I have never felt clean since.)

    I think the Birkenstock analogy is a good one, because Birkenstocks became a fashion statement (sorry, Dana!) precisely because they are so unaesthetic. The reason that it’s easy for Birkenstocks to have so many cultural signifiers attached to them is that they are so incongruous with other footwear choices. You don’t mistake another shoe for a Birkenstock (unless it is an imitation of a Birkenstock). The corollary of this is that you don’t accidentally wear a Birkenstock, thinking that it is some other kind of shoe. If you wear a Birkenstock, it is because you intended to do so and intentionality is the first step in signifying anything.

    Likewise, if you’re wearing UGGs, you aren’t doing so by accident. The pricetag alone ensures that. (The fugliness does too.) And no one is going to think that you might not be wearing UGGs. This makes them prime status symbols. But unlike Birkenstocks, which signify that you might own a tent, UGGs don’t signify that you own a surfboard (or any sheep, for that matter). They signify that you have at least $180 in disposable income and watched Sex and the City. I don’t think UGGs are popular in spite of their aesthetic shortcomings, I think they’re popular because of their aesthetic shortcomings. Consciously or not, you have to have some kind of motivation to wear those as part of an outfit.

    And to be fair, I don’t doubt that UGGs are comfortable. But so are lots of other footwear options, ones that don’t look ridiculous. The comfort argument only holds water if the article of clothing isn’t a calculated style choice. Or at least, the argument holds significantly less water if the article of clothing happens to be on-trend.

    One thing that’s interesting to me is that UGGs have lost their workwear associations in the United States. In the recent resurgence of workwear fashion (selvedge denim, work boots, chambray, bandannas…) UGGs have no place. And no doubt UGG, with its rebranded leisure connotations, wouldn’t want its tawdry bogan shepherd past highlighted.

    Phew. Thanks for bearing with me through all that.

    If you just read all of that and thought to yourself “Self, I wish I could read more about sheepskin boots,” or if you just thought “Self, I’d like to see a creepy picture of sheep wearing pastel UGGs that their sheep brothers and sisters had to die for,” then here’s the Wall Street Journal article from which I took a lot of my facts:

    http://magazine.wsj.com/features/behind-the-brand/the-golden-fleece/tab/print/

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