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Deconstructing Cheeseburger Soup

June 2024
1min read

The Rituals of American Scholarship Are Applied to the Rituals of American Time-Wasting

Does reading this magazine’s “Buyable Past” column make you feel as if you’re in church? If so, you’ll love the two-volume Encyclopedia of Recreation and Leisure in America , edited by Gary S. Cross (Thomson Gale, 1,036 pages), which says under the heading “Collecting as a Response to Existential Angst” that “collecting fights against the sterility of appraising objects according to their use value and in so do-ing offers an approach to the sacred.” In another entry, the world’s leading scholar of tailgate banqueting traces the practice all the way back to the 1869 Rutgers-Princeton football game and solemnly records that in more recent times tailgaters have developed such eating options as “cheeseburger soup, regional breakfast burritos, [and] deep-fried turkeys” and such drinking options as “beer pong, ice-luge shots, and keg stands.” Elsewhere readers can learn the difference between amusement parks (which “challenge physical laws for affective rewards” and forge a “peer-group bond”) and theme parks (which “create imaginary places to produce a psycho-social engagement” and forge a “national communal ethic”). Beneath all the jargon, the encyclopedia contains much useful information about the history of such pastimes as comic-book reading, rock hounding, and hook-ups (“the term … covers a range of practices, from kissing to sexual intercourse”; by alphabetical coincidence the entry immediately follows “Home Movies” and “Honeymooning”). Reading the book straight through would be like eating nothing but oatmeal, but reference-book fans who can afford the hefty price will enjoy dipping in—at their leisure, of course.

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