austin_dern (austin_dern) wrote,

It's so new to me, what you do to me

[ Still on an abnormal schedule; report will come later. ]

If I may be permitted a bit of arrogant disdain -- an attitude I otherwise try to cut from my life since I keep realizing how much I don't know and how much I might understand or sympathize with if given the chance -- I would like it directed at the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest, and the general field of ``competitive eating''. About the best thing to have resulted from ``competitive eating'' is several of the most sickening Cheap Seats episodes, featuring people shoving gooey things into their faces, and that's not all that good. But it is a tradition, for whatever that's good for.

Nevertheless, as I am very well-tuned to hear curious human-interest pieces, I do hear about it and I've picked up the essentials of its history: the contest started on a Fourth of July a little before World War I as a couple of immigrants trying to prove their loyalty to the United States tried to see how many hot dogs they could stuff into their mouths, and they spent twelve minutes at it before they had enough, and that's been the traditional contest time ever since. So I was a tiny bit surprised to discover from a New York Times human interest article that almost everything about that story is wrong.

They dug up a 1918 program with notes for the contest, clearly outlining that it was a ten-contestant, ten-minute challenge. And a 1972 report said the contest was three and a half minutes long, and was held on Memorial Day. The 1973 report had it on the Fourth of July; and in 1974, it was again three and a half minutes. The 1981 report puts it at five minutes. In 1985, it was twelve minutes; in 1986 and 87, ten minutes; and in the 1990s was twelve minutes again. Why the jumps in timings, and dates? Nobody seems to have thought to ever ask.

Obviously this affects the validity of all-time gluttony records for the alleged champions for this thing. And equally probably someone would have kept track of things like traditional times and dates if people really cared about consistency in a little human-interest stories. But I am weirdly delighted that something like this could create traditions out of whole cloth that people are willing to think actually dates back a full lifespan. It's a testament to the human capacity to turn even anything into cultural, ah, icons, I suppose, or something.

Trivia: The average hot dog is 23 percent fat by weight. The average T-bone steak is 12 percent fat. Source: Radar, Hula Hoops, and Playful Pigs, Joe Schwarcz.

Currently Reading: Victorian America: Transformations in Everyday Life, 1876 - 1915, Thomas J Schlereth.


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