All right, I'll admit it - I live in Los Angeles, a place not exactly celebrated for its contributions to civilization.
Referring to Los Angeles, Woody Allen's character in Annie Hall said, "I don't want to live in a city where the only cultural advantage is you can make a right turn on a red light." Californians themselves are sometimes compared to a bowl of granola -- "what ain't fruits and nuts, is flakes."
And where New York City may seem to have a museum or art gallery on every street, we have mini-malls and convenience stores.
But, to be fair, even New York City has its own cultural wasteland -- 42nd Street, home to XXX-rated movie theaters, panhandlers and "massage" parlors.
Which got me thinking. Just as when we reminisce, we tend to recall the good and pleasurable things about a relationship or experience, and block out the bad, perhaps this also happens when we recall certain supposedly great cultures and civilizations.
Could it not then be true that even the greatest civilizations in history had aspects of their culture of which they were not proud, and at which other civilizations could have poked fun? Surely Southern Californians are not the only ones in history to be nominated for the Cultural Wasteland Hall Of Fame.
I decided to do some research, and what I found may shock and amaze you. At the very least, it will make you feel better about your own "cultural wasteland." You may have heard of some of these civilizations before. You will never think of them in the same manner again. Here, then, are the least known and least valuable contributions of history's greatest civilizations:
SUMERIANS 4,000 - 2,000 B.C.
Originated the habit of scratching an itch. Before this point, Sumerians would often be heard complaining, "Something's bothering me on my body, but I can't quite put my finger on what it is." The scratching was initially done with a jackal's backbone. As the jackal population thinned out, the finger became the scratching instrument of choice.
BABYLONIANS 2,000 - 323 B.C.
First written record of making fun of people. Wall murals have recently been unearthed, containing the clearly legible inscription, "Hey, look at that dufus over there." Columns from the same site contain satirical paintings of a man whose face bears an uncanny resemblance to Mad Magazine's Alfred E. Newman.
MINOANS 2500 - 1400 B.C.
Originated the concept of cutting in line. The first person to do so was Pliny The Uncaring, who shocked his fellow Minoans by boldly sneaking up to the front of a line of people waiting to draw lots for the lucky fifteen citizens allowed to participate in a stoning. Before Pliny's action, the most common exclamation about waiting in lines was, "This is so boring, but what else can we do?"
HITTITES 1700 - 1200 B.C.
First known use of inviting people you don't really care for to dinner, but feel you have to reciprocate, because they invited you. This was also the first known use of the term "payback." Nonetheless, at such dinners, it was customary to serve the family's lesser food items, such as snake jerky and canned goat meat.
PHOENICIANS 1500 - 146 B.C.
First use of the phrase, "Trust me." Also, first evidence of lawyers, politicians, and used chariot salesmen. Related phrases in use at the time included, "Would I lie to you?", "Is this the face of a liar?", "Hey, this is your own brother who's making you this promise," and "If I'm lying, may a bolt of lightning strike me dead right now... There, see?"
ASSYRIANS 1530 - 612 B.C.
Originators of the toothpick. Before the toothpick, food stuck between the teeth was extracted by trained parakeets, who became extremely skilled at the task, but never stopped resenting the work. The first toothpicks were crude and had tree bark still attached, which, though good for eliminating tartar, often carried small insects, which led to a dental condition known as Bug Mouth.
PELOPONNESIANS 1200 - 322 B.C.
First time-share vacation condo sales presentation. Before this point, several families would often arrive on vacation at the same place, by chance. Often fights would break out. It fell to Zamfir The Elder to originate a system in which each family would not only share the same place throughout the year, but would pay for the privilege of doing so.
CELTS 500 B.C. - 450 A.D.
First Slurpee. Although the 7-11 stores have become known for this product, the Celts first perfected the technique of smushing up some ice, then mixing it around in some colored syrup, sweetened far past the point of nausea.
Carried away by their success, the Celts went on to originate the first cotton candy, corn dog, and low-cal frozen yogurt. And to this day, Celtic ancestors have made annual pilgrimages to the famous statue of Hiram O'Shaughnessy, originator of the first candied apple.
ETRUSCANS 450 B.C. - 630 A.D.
First civilization to use the insult, "So does your mother." This phrase was known to have started countless wars. Before its use, antagonists had to use such lame incitements as, "I'm not that thrilled with the way you look," and "Have you guessed yet that I don't like you?" Etruscans were also responsible for the phrases, "Why don't you come over here and say that, bub?" "Oh, yeah? You and what army?" and "Hey, it takes one to know one."
OTTOMONS 1200 A.D. - 1600 A.D.
Yes, of course they invented that piece of furniture, but are far less known for another of our current products: that icky gel on canned hams. Ottomon women used the gel to tighten the lines around their eyes. It worked so well, that the women thought, hey, why not pack ham in it? Interesting fact about the ham gel: When left out overnight, and then cooked in a loaf pan for thirty minutes at 450 degrees, it turns out surprisingly to have a taste and texture not unlike chicken.