Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (Mar. 20)

Mar 20, 2017

When the credits come up at the movies, the pages in a book run out, or the last commercial rolls over the end of a television episode, the story might be over. But the discussion is just getting started. Here at Act Four, we’ll get together every week to talk about the best (and worst) in pop culture. We’ll also try to sort out why the stories we love mean so much to us, and what they mean for the rest of the world.

Greetings, everyone! I hope your Mondays are off to a good start, and for those of you sneaking this chat while Congressional hearings play in your background, that you're not feeling too bonkers. I visited Nashville for the first time this weekend, so I am awash in happy memories of hot chicken, the glories of Hatch Show Prints, and the beauties of Fort Negley. I wrote a little bit about the trip, which came together because two other women and I who had been friends online for years decided we wanted to meet in person. So if you want to talk about anything Nashville related, or about the internet and friendship, today is the day for it! Let's get to the queue.

I apologize that this is less of a question and more just something that's been bugging me lately. With the arrival of the new Beauty and the Beast, I've been thinking a lot about how blockbusters aimed at male audiences are received versus female ones. Perhaps this says more about my social media bubble than anything else, but no matter how successful movies like Twilight, Fifty Shades and now, the new Beauty and the Beast are, I still sense a certain dismissive attitude toward anything designed explicitly for female pleasure. Like, the appeal of violent power fantasies like Atomic Blonde seems to be generally understood, but saying that you enjoy romances often invites derision and/or concern.

No need to apologize! Your observations are always welcome here, and in fact, some of our most interesting conversations in this chat have come out of your collective observations!

On the specifics of your observation, you're not wrong! I do think that certain forms, like superhero and action movies, are assumed to be ones where writers and directors can do intellectually and artistically interesting work, where romances and romantic comedies have to work a lot harder to convince some critics and some audiences that worthy things can happen there. That said, I sometimes think that the defense of genres that are aimed at women run up against genuinely bad pieces of art: it can simultaneously be true that romance storytelling and erotic fiction are undervalued and that the "Fifty Shades" books are incredibly poorly-written. And of course, something like "Fifty Shades" may get held up as supposedly conclusive proof that fiction women love is garbage, while something like "Gone Girl," which has a lot of artistic merit and was adapted by a male director, David Fincher, is somehow stripped of its gender markers by virtue of its critical acclaim and commercial success. It feels like a trap, and it is. And I don't know of any great way out of it other than to champion terrific art that is aimed first at women, but that ought to resonate with everyone who loves good stories.

I got a ticket to the Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors exhibition for Wednesday at 12pm. I have an appointment late morning so I will arrive to the Hirshorn at 11:45a, the Hirshorn's website indicates to arrive at the designated entry time, is that the way is currently working? Im concerned to arrive too late to start the line, which I assume will be one.

I think you should be okay, though I would try to make sure you're there no later than 11:45. You'll be let in to the exhibit as a whole in a group, and then once you're inside, there are separate lines for the mirror rooms. The staff at the Hirshhorn are moving people through them fairly quickly, but you'll probably still end up having to wait for each one. The one piece of advice I'd offer you is to make sure you pay attention to the work on the walls, rather than focusing only on the mirror rooms. The rooms are one of the most dramatic parts of the installation, and definitely the most Instagram-worthy. But Kusama's paintings and collages are incredible, and I feel like they haven't gotten nearly enough attention in the social media frenzy around the show. Have a fantastic time, and please report back to us next week!


I'm here! Are things loading yet?

I was on the site for timed passes at literally 12:00:01 and couldn't get passes. What is the secret? Was asking for four my mistake? It wouldn't give me two either. I specified first available.

Honestly, I don't think there is a trick; I think there's just incredible demand for passes to the show, and they're getting snapped up quickly. I'm sorry about that; I'm both thrilled that so many DC museums and installations are so popular, and sorry that the demand means so many folks are having frustrating experiences trying to get into them.

Random question, but do you have a particular preference on watching things with or without subtitles (if they aren't an inherent part of the movie already)? On a related note, as someone who pretty much always turns subtitles on, why are English subtitles so often referred as being for the hard of hearing? It might be a minority but I can't imagine it's that small a minority that simply prefer movies and tv shows with them on.

It's interesting to hear your perspective, and I'd be curious to know if any other readers here share it.

Unless I am watching a movie where the actors are speaking a language other than English, I never turn on subtitles. For me, they're a major visual distraction: they cut across the image that a director has composed, inevitably blocking off some part of it. And any moment I have to spend reading text is time I'm spending not absorbing the image. I can't imagine turning them on unless I absolutely have to; subtitles inevitably mean seeing a movie the way it wasn't actually meant to be seen. I'll accept that I'm seeing a compromised version of something if that's the only way for me to understand what's going on, but it would never be my first choice.

How likely do you think it is that the Congressional hearings starting today on Russian influence will enter popular culture the way that the Senate Watergate hearings did nearly 45 years ago?

That's a good question, and I think a great deal depends on two things. First, will the hearings have any concrete result? If they end up being a spectacle that has no particular impact on Trump's presidency, then I'm not sure they'll linger in the public imagination or inspire pop culture recreations. Second, is there a particularly compelling exchange that comes out of them, and that the hearings can be distilled down to in an iconic way? The Welch-McCarthy exchange during the Army-McCarthy hearings is that moment for that investigation. Ditto for Sen. Howard Baker's "What did the president know and when did he know it?" formulation during Watergate. I'm rewatching "Selena," which has its 20th anniversary tomorrow, so I'm probably not going to be the one who catches that moment. But like you, I'll be curious to see what the legacy of today is.

What did you see or do in Nashvegas, as the locals sometimes call it? I took your article on the trip more about connecting with internet connections in person (on a trip must have been difficult). Music, food, culture, etc. Athens of the South with the icon to show it.

Well, first, I was lucky that my friends and I just really connected the first time we met in person: it was really special to get to talk to them for three days straight. But we did really get around, thanks to Betsy, who lives in Nashville and seems to know everybody. We ate hot chicken at Hattie B's, and were lucky enough to get a behind-the-scenes tour at Third Man Records, and hit up the Country Music Hall of Fame (I could have stayed in the exhibit on Dylan, Johnny Cash and the Nashville Cats all day) and Hatch Show Prints (which, ditto), and got out to Fort Negley and had a fabulous dinner at Husk. And I may have gone a little crazy at United Apparel Liquidators yesterday morning. It was a fantastic trip; I really hope I can come back soon! 

I know you can get some approximation of hot chicken here or elsewhere, but as a regular consumer (not a food critic) how would you describe eating it in Nashville, where it has become a popular regional dish?

It was delicious. I decided to order a lone chicken tender at full volume, and a dark-meat portion at medium. The hottest setting was probably a little hot for me; my friends said that I got pale and clammy while eating it, and I believe them. My mouth definitely got completely numb. That said, at both heat levels, it was completely delicious. And I loved the simple experience of walking in to Hattie B's and basically feeling the air vibrate with spices. It's definitely worth eating the real thing.

It is the 4th or 5th time I have tried and I never got even close before. I had just had to reboot my computer, so things were as quick as they get. I kept an eye on my Microsoft clock and started refreshing at 11:59:53. I think it went through on the second refresh, so maybe a second or two before noon according to my computer (which could be a moment or so slower than the one at the Hirshhorn). I only asked for one, used the first available box and got the ticket for 3:30, so I wasn't first in line. I have to say that this method of distributing tickets is pretty unfair for people who don't manipulate a mouse as quickly as I do - for age or familiarity or disability reasons. I pointed this out to a deaf friend, and she said that people who honestly couldn't use the system efficiently could probably get help from the museum. I'm not sure if she is correct, but I pointed out that being willing to address specific concerns when they are raised is not the same as setting up a fair system in the first place. She agreed. By the way, the $50 museum memberships that let you skip the on-line process is full. They aren't selling them at all.

Thanks for this dispatch. I think you're probably right, but I also can't think of a better way for the museum to do it. 

In Portugal, American movies, TV series and even talk shows (for example, in the past, Oprah and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart) are aired on TV in the original English but with Portuguese subtitles. It's a great way to learn more of the Portuguese language.

That makes sense!

Subtitles in English are useful if the character is speaking a dialect nod easily intelligible to Americans (e.g., Scottish, Irish, Yorkshire, Welsh and Cornish, on various series on PBS over the decades).

Again, that makes sense to me.

I just read your column on the possible The Matrix revisiting. I agree with you about the baggage that the MRA "red pillers" have brought to the project. On the other side a lot of people now read the red pill/blue pill scene in the light of the Wachowskis' transitions as sign of trying to accept oneself as Trans before being able to articulate it. In that light the Wachowskis' Netflix series Sense8 can in part be read as reclaiming their interpretation by making the subtext text, having one of the leads be a trans lesbian, another a gay man and everyone happy to take part in psychic orgies regardless of the gender of their partners. The possibility of The Matrix being revisited makes me really wish more people had moved on with Wachowskis.

I may be a lone weirdo out here, but I really loved "Cloud Atlas," and wish that movie had attracted more of a following. It's got a lot in common with "Sense8," in terms of the multiple timelines and different tones, and a sense of communion across identities and timelines. I really look forward to the day when someone does for the Wachowskis what Matt Zoller Seitz did with Oliver Stone and produces a really terrific retrospective in collaboration with them. Their work is obviously open to interpretation and reinterpretation, and though I don't think that the artist gets to determine how their art is read, I will be curious to see them reflect on their oeuvre.

One side benefit of subtitles is that they really force you to pay rapt attention to a movie... there's no looking away to glance at your phone, etc.

Certainly that's true for foreign-language movies!

Took my daughters to see Logan last weekend. I haven't really followed the X-Men franchise, but really enjoyed this movie. Dafne Keen is very good, and it struck me that child roles is one of the hardest thing to do in movies... The Phantom Menace is a perfect example of when it doesn't go well.

How old are your daughters? My husband and I were debating when a kid might be ready to see that movie, and it definitely seems like it depends on the kid. I am exceptionally sensitive to stabbing violence, so that would probably change my estimation, though I also think that "Logan" is emotionally upsetting enough that you would want a kid to be able to handle that, as well.

And yes, casting children well is so important. I think television shows have done an exceptionally good job with this lately: "Game of Thrones," "The Americans" and "Mad Men" all benefited hugely from casting children who grew tremendously as actors during their tenures on the show. I haven't read the definitive great piece on how to cast child actors, but I would love to if someone knows of a good one.

What's the place you didn't get to go that would bring you back to town? And I envy that you spent a weekend with Betsy -- what a neat person.

I would have loved to see a show at the Ryman Auditorium, and to actually go to a performance at Third Man. And there is at least a week's worth of eating I'd like to do in town.

I use to be a purist about subtitles. Then it came en vogue for directors and actors to present performances with rapid speaking, low volume speaking, slurred speaking, and mumbling. I turn them on all the time now on shows from 'Victoria' and 'The Crown' to 'Empire' and 'Insecure'. When intelligible pronunciation comes back in style for dramatic performance, I will turn the CC off.

I'm not sure I agree that this is a distinct performance style. But if subtitles mean you watch stuff you might not otherwise, then I'm all in favor of them!

This third season of "American Crime" is heart-rending, and I suspect likely to become more so. The conversation scene last night between Sandra Oh and Regina King's characters was some of the best acting I've seen.

I'm excited to get caught up on this, once I get current on "Legion," which I will be as of this week. 

So I think you agreed on a Live Chat to finally the Trump-iest of movies, "American Psycho" last Halloween. Did it ever happened? If not, try another pitch for it. Your peers such as Emily Nussbaum for New York Magazine and Willa Paskin for Slate compared Reese Witherspoon's role as Madeleine Mackenzie on HBO's "Big Little Lies" to her role of Tracy Flick in "Elections," but Tracy Flick isn't the "Queen Bee"-type (she's kind of friendless and noted that she isn't from as affluent a background as Madeleine) and more power hungry than a social climber. The character in Reese Witherspoon's filmography that matches more up (to me at least) in her role of Evelyn Williams in "American Psycho." Reese Witherspoon in promoting "Big Little Lies" noted much folks forget she's in "American Psycho" which is too bad since granted it's only a few scenes and I'd wish more Evelyn since it's a pretty comic performance, but you can see Evelyn syncing up with Madeleine more easily than Tracy Flick although safe bet others might disagree. Anyhow just for you to enjoy "Big Little Lies" on another level, might like to check out "American Psycho" if you haven't already.

I still haven't gotten to it, and I still intend to. But I'm going to take your note this week as an opportunity to write an edition of the newsletter that explains a little bit more about how I try to triage old things I haven't watched and new ones that I have.

Okay, folks, I have to rock and roll; I have so much writing to do this week. But thanks for all of your insight into the subtitles question, and all your great thoughts and queries as usual. Good luck with Kusama tickets, and when I see you back here next Monday, hopefully we'll have some successes to report!

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Alyssa Rosenberg
Alyssa Rosenberg blogs about pop culture for The Washington Post's Opinions section.
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