The extended, marathon-length news cycle of a U.S. presidential election does very strange things to the press. At different points in the cycle, things are going to get very weird. The primary season is particularly fraught, what with strange events like the Iowa State Fair and Rep. Jim Clyburn’s “World Famous” Fish Fry. By the time the general election starts to reach its climax, the press and general public are both exhausted, frayed, and generally a little deranged. This is known as the Nate Silver Zone, or perhaps the Election Needle Zone, or on MSNBC the Map Guy Hour. It is where we all start to lose it.
For example, yesterday the New York Times published this: “Quiz: Can You Tell a ‘Trump’ Fridge From a ‘Biden’ Fridge?”
If you were to read this headline in a vacuum, you would be forgiven for thinking that “Fridge” is an obscure political term that you do not know. But no. It means fridge. The New York Times devoted a certain amount of its admittedly gargantuan resources toward conducting a survey of U.S. residents where they were asked who they were voting for and also to take a picture of the inside of their fridge.
Those pictures are then used in a QUIZ to see if you can guess who they’re voting for. It is making me feel like I’m losing it. How is this real???
For the purposes of this blog it’s probably easiest if you just click through the quiz and spend some time with it. Some are easy: the Monster energy drink clearly indicates that this is a Trump fridge.
You will also see this one, a personal horror story.
As you can see by the previous tweet, another storyline I am obsessed with in this quiz is the prevalence of milk. Many, many of the fridges involved have SO MUCH MILK. There was one fridge that I saw but did not screenshot and now can’t find again that just had like, six full gallons of milk in it. And then cartons of milk as well. If you’re clicking through and find the Milk Fridge, please post it in the comments below. Help me find the Milk Fridge.
The milk could be a weird Nazi thing, or it could be that this entire story is cleverly designed sponsored content by Big Dairy. I don’t know! There are no answers here!
As I clicked through endless, often-filthy fridges of America, I began to come around. This blog is good, I thought. There are levels here. At first, it looks as though this is some extremely weird classist garbage: dirty fridges full of Wal-Mart groceries are supposed to be clear indicators of Trump support, clean fridges with vegetables and Whole Foods products signify support for Biden. I thought we were doomed to repeat the Michigan militia guy’s shitty front yard discourse all over again. But continue to click. There are Trump supporters who drink Kefir, and coconut water, and all kinds of weird stuff generally coded as liberal, even, gasp, soy milk. There are some extremely weird and depressing Biden fridges.
Sure, the stereotypes are there. But the more I clicked, the more I came around to the blog. I was interrogating my initial assumptions. I was trying to look deeper and find more subtle clues as to someone’s political leanings. And ultimately I was failing — the harder I tried, the worse I scored. You can judge a fridge by its contents, but judging its owner is more difficult. There are probably conclusions to be drawn about the relationships between fridge contents and income levels, about poverty and need, but as we learned in 2016, those things don’t strike along party lines. Trump rode to victory that year on a wave of suburban white support while also animating a previously disenfranchised class of the white working class. What does that mean about their choice of mayo or Cool Whip? I have no idea!! It doesn’t matter!
Overall, the entire experience is absurd. But I think ultimately that’s a good thing. The NYT should feel free to do more weird, absurdist stuff like this. What did I learn from the FridgeQuiz? Almost nothing, except that sometimes a person is not defined politically by the fact that they keep a gigantic lump of uncovered red meat in their fridge. What interests me more, at this point, is understanding exactly how and why this story got reported and made. Whose idea was this? What was that pitch meeting like? Who was the editor that signed off on this? These are things that as a reporter I could potentially find out, and perhaps still will, but for now I can’t stop clicking the fridges. Maybe in the end that was the only goal: to momentarily divert people with an exercise so pointless and absurd that they realize, in the end, whatever’s in your fridge will eventually just be shit. Who knows! This blog is over now. Go click on a fridge.