The Washington Post

Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (May 22)

May 22, 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! Two warnings, before we begin. First, my flight back to Washington was super-delayed last night, so I'm here with all of you on about four hours of sleep. I hope you'll forgive any muddlings or misspellings, and I promise to extend unto all of you equal charity. Second, I've only seen the first episode of the new "Twin Peaks" so far, so if that's something you'd like to discuss, let's please try to confine your questions to that episode, and label any "Twin Peaks" discussion as such in your subject line so readers who would like to avoid any mention of the series can do so.

Lawd, how many more stories do we need of "Poor Trump Voters" remorse? And yet....I click on them...Am I to blame?

I don't think you're to blame at all! Trump's election was a momentous and disconcerting event in American political history, and I tend to feel like it's reasonable to try to understand the decision-making of the people who helped bring that event about, and how they're feeling as their choice plays out. I don't necessarily feel like reporters or individuals are required to extend extraordinary sympathy to those voters, but sympathizing and understanding can be different things.

For what it's worth, for a column I am working on for tomorrow, I found a bunch of similar pieces from the Nixon era. (Not all of these links will be available without a New York Times or ProQuest subscription.)  The Washington Post went to Peoria to check in. The New York Times talked to voters in Warren, Michigan, one of whom glumly explained that "I thought Nixon was going to be the greatest thing since popcorn at the movies." They didn't necessarily come up with great insights, but these stories are proof that the effort's not new.

Did you watch Joanne ("Anna Bates") Froggatt on "Dark Angel" last night? High concept: What happens when a psychopath has to deal with her Dickensian life of poverty and the oppression of women? I'm not condoning her crimes, of course, but it's not impossible to understand the trigger for her first one.

I didn't! Was it good? I like Froggatt quite a bit, and I felt like Anna got stuck in a sort of constant loop of misery on "Downton Abbey," so I like the idea of her getting to do something new and sparky.

I find it difficult to mourn the death of the 51-year-old big game hunter who was crushed by an elephant. It's especially hard for me when I remember my vibrant college classmate Lee Lyon, who became a renowned wildlife videographer, and at age 29 was killed by an elephant while filming for research intended to help save elephants. LINK: (see tribute partway down page).

I don't know that you're necessarily supposed to mourn. I have no personal interest in trophy hunting, and it seems that the fees involved in this sort of hunting don't actually do much to further conservation. But if you're undertaking this sort of hunt, and like extreme mountain-climbers, I would hope that you have a reasonable sense of what the risks involved are, and have made some sort of peace with the idea that if you die while pursuing these activities, you'll do so while doing something you love. 

Would that tv show be so popular if she didn't give away all those gifts and money?

I'm not sure, though "Ellen" is hardly the only show to involve substantial giveaways; they were one of Oprah Winfrey's signatures. Who can forget her "You get a car!" moment from 2004. While these sorts of moments make for good television, they're probably more of an incentive to get into the studio audience than to watch the series day-to-day.

In your sleep-deprived state, did you forget to hit the "Post" button after typing a reply?

Nah, just got held up a few minutes because my editor, the wonderful Ruth Marcus, came around to check in on us and to introduce a new intern. I apologize for the delay!

Just curious if you saw the promo for CBC & Netflix's "Alias Grace" mini-series yet and if so your initial reaction?

I am very excited! This is one of my favorite Margaret Atwood  novels, and I love Sarah Polley, who is the producer! I know that Ted Bundy has inspired cinematic serial killers like Buffalo Bill and Patrick Bateman, but there hasn't been a great records of serial killer biopic don't have the best record (over generalizing, but more of a defense of fiction that reality might be as colorful and a bit dull even in psycho killer department). Also maybe you are a fan or at least a well-wisher, but I could take a pass on Zac Efron.

I'll be reasonably curious to see how this turns out. And I will admit that I'm probably more enthusiastic about Efron than a lot of folks on here; he seems to me like someone who could have an interestingly James Marsden-esque career path.

Perhaps I'm old-fashioned, but I (almost) always hope that books, TV shows, movies, plays, etc., will turn out to be good, or at least better than feared. Unfortunately, I get disappointed far too often. But I still think that's preferable to the schadenfreude some people display in hoping a new work will be bad. I just don't get it, do you?

I would broadly say that's my response as well; I generally try to come into new works in an optimistic fashion, with a few exceptions. If an artist of any sort has a clearly-articulated style or worldview that I know I don't care for, but is significant enough that I can't leave off addressing their work, I'll try hard to keep that in mind as I go. Similarly, if an artist has a track record of abusing or misusing their artistic collaborators, I'm not necessarily going to go into a new work rooting for them to be fantastic, though of course I'm willing to grapple with what it means that bad people can make great work, and I end up doing that all the time. 

But otherwise, I root for things to be good. Otherwise, it would be hard to constantly read new books, turn on new television shows, etc. You can't do this job without at least some hope.

increase or decrease when the current events of the day require so much attention? I realize that your job requires you to keep up the pace, but surely enthusiasm might wax and wane. I find myself struggling to keep up with anything on TV since I'm so often trying to catch up with newspapers (just the Post and NY Times, not going 100% junkie) and other hard news sources outside of work. I can keep a book going - though largely on the subway where I try to avoid total phone absorption. And I can keep up with live entertainment similar (maybe a bit less) to previous consumption levels just because the opportunities in the DC area are so fantastic. But sometimes even shows that I like seem like a slog when I've just read another long article about proposed budget intricacies. I'm hoping to pick up some serious (not really political, though it touches the edges of that) volunteer work in the fall. I'm assuming that taking actual responsibility for helping real people will be easy to prioritize. I may end up skipping the entire movie output of the summer. Even popcorn movies take up bandwidth. Pease note that I am facebook/twitter/instagram free, so this isn't coming from social media overload. Just the news.

Let's discuss in this week's newsletter! And thank you for your continuing commitment to The Washington Post even when things are exhausting.

I'm sorry I am going to miss it, but on principle I refuse to pay for HBO, SHO, Netflix, etc. We do subscribe to basic cable. Why can't we get Twin Peaks and Star Trek on something we don't have to pay an arm & a leg for?

I'm sorry, but I'm afraid you're going to find absolutely no sympathy for your complaints here.

Great content costs a lot of money to produce. I'm not sure what exactly "Twin Peaks: The Return" cost, but Lynch and Showtime went through extended negotiations to get to a budget Lynch was willing to work with. The budget for the sixth season of "Game of Thrones" was $100 million. To pay for "Game of Thrones" alone, HBO would have to sell 6,666,667 monthly HBO Now subscriptions at a cost of $15.  And that's not even taking into account the rest of the network's programming slate. I understand if you value the content that HBO or Showtime produces at a lower figure than they currently offer it. But you can't have these shows for next to nothing because they cost a great deal to produce. That's all there is to it.

I can remember greeting my new neighbor last summer and eventually learning that "Trump is the only one really looking out for Christians" which I said nothing. You live in D.C. so certainly there are partisans, but how "in the wild" (to borrow a phrase from last week's Live Chat) Trump supporters do you know? Just curious.

A bunch of my friends from high school in Massachusetts voted for Trump; a smaller number of them were ever truly enthusiastic about him at any point. 

My husband & I grew up in Johnstown, PA, which, incidentally, is the town Tom Cruise hoped to escape through football in All the Right Moves. We escaped and live here, but we have relatives who are still there. They were all thrilled that Donald Trump came to Johnstown to speak. And they are still in love with him--even his college-educated cousin and his wife. He cared. And we still think he cares. We saw it go downhill, and we hope maybe it will rise again.

Asking this in the spirit of true inquiry: what makes you think Trump sees places like Johnstown as a priority? What things has he done so far do you feel like will be of particular aid to your community?

Did you see this yet? "Sinkhole forms in front of Mar-a-Lago; metaphors pour in":

We live in times that aren't merely strange: they feel positively fictional. If I learned the Matrix was real today, I'd be less surprised by that revelation now than at any other point in my life since the movie was released.

Isn't this more likely to come back to bite them on the backside, when main-stream media research these phony leaks, then report that they were phony?

All I can tell you is that it seems to reflect a belief that mainstream journalists are very, very, very stupid. If your assumption is that journalists are too dumb to do actual reporting, then I suppose maybe it's worth a gamble. But since I don't think reporters at major organizations are stupid, and because I think our editors' protocols are generally pretty strong, this is not a strategy I see as wise or likely to pay major dividends. Also, now that it's been reported that this has happened, newsrooms everywhere are going to be on exceedingly high alert and are going to vet leaks extremely carefully. If the administration continues to try this, given that, it will be fairly extraordinary.

If probably didn't have any impact on the results, but just passing this along since it made me smile. I know the "celeb endorses Politician X" stuff is nothing new and with all due respect to Scott Baio and Antonio Sabato, Jr. probably does make a difference. But last October the day before the polls opened in municipal elections in Saskatoon (pop. 246,376), Charlie Clark, the progressive mayoral candidate who was polling in third or second, got an out of nowhere endorse from Zach Galifianakis. It was a bit of shocker and the next day Charlie Clark suprising beat the incumbent "low taxes and a bit of a Bible thumper" mayor. It toke a while to get the exact connection between since it wasn't a simple one (Galifianakis's wife is the niece of Mayor Clark's stepmom). Still I enjoyed it.

I imagine that having a local connection made this a much-effective endorsement than it might have been otherwise.

Ok, so I'll stipulate up front that I am old (54) but I have always been a technology early adopter and user. So with that out there I want to ask if you think as a society we are all becoming too absorbed in our technology, specifically in our phones. I read on my daily subway rides and I cannot imagine losing out on that time. But when I look around the car at my fellow riders they are all bent over their phones and I am fairly certain that most of them are not reading books. Mainly they seem to be obsessively checking various social media outlets (Facebook, Instagram, etc.). It is scary to watch them pull the screen down and release again and again, especially when we come in to a station and have a signal. I understand using social media, I do it myself, but this constant need to refresh and see if anything is new looks off to me. They look a lot like the automatons you see playing slots at casinos. I saw a line in a Frazz back on Sunday the 14th that was perfect, a character says his dad refers to our phones as "dopamine pumps." Do you see a danger in this or is it just the new normal? I worry that people are so tied to getting feedback that there is little time for meditation or thought any more.

I don't want to speak to this globally, since I am not a sociologist or a behaviorist, and I haven't studied this question in a way that would allow me to answer as an expert. That said, thinking about my own behavior, I have made some efforts to try to detach myself from my phone, and to try not to indulge in constant refreshing unless I have a particular need to do so, like I've dropped a big story and i want to see how people are reacting, or I've been alerted by a colleague or another outlet that some sort of major news development is imminent. If a significant event is unfolding, it's not necessarily insane to want to see how it develops! But if you're refreshing mindlessly because it's a compulsion or a tic, then it does seem to me to be a problem.

If I'm taking public transportation in to work, I'll often read the news on my phone, but if I'm walking, which I try to do fairly frequently, I tend to use that time in the morning to read a book. This probably makes me a pretty funny sight, but it definitely means I get more reading time in a given day. I've also tried to stop checking any social media services once I get into bed at night, and to only read books, rather than news articles. 

Also, I totally understand if all of you find this hilarious, but I started going to yoga classes after the election, and I'm up to four or five classes a week. I've found that to be incredibly helpful, in that it's a period of time each day where my brain is occupied by very different questions than anything to do with the news or my personal social media feeds.

Zach Galifianakis has no local connection to Saskatoon. His wife is from Vancouver and Charlie Clark was born and raised in a small town in BC before moving to Saskatoon as an adult.

I thought you said he was related to someone involved in the race? Like I said, I'm zonked!

He seems to have been replaced with some Aussie woman. How am I supposed to have my man crush now?

There are so many wonderful sources of man crushes! I suspect you'll find someone worthy.

Well - Re: Efron - he may as well try to stretch. Otherwise, he's probably stuck making two more frat-boy comedies before trying commercial VO work until he's old enough to play the bumbling dad on some sitcom. Re: Froggatt /Dark Angel. It was interesting. I can't say it was great, but she did get to try out not being a saint. That being said, there isn't necessarily that much difference acting-wise between stoic saintliness and stoic psychopathy... strangely enough.

Huh, that's an interesting observation. Readers, what are the best things you've read or seen about psychopathy?

That's always seemed selfish. It's not like the guy who stood in front of the moving tank at Tiananmen Square, the anti-war demonstrators at Kent State, or even the peaceful protesters at the Turkish Embassy, where political principle was involved.

I have mixed feelings about this; you might consider reading some of the New Yorker coverage of mountaineer Ueli Steck, who recently died on a climb. If you feel genuinely drawn to and gifted at something difficult and dangerous, it may be selfish to pursue it, but the people in your life may also be reconciled to that pursuit.

Okay, folks, I've got to go dig into newspaper coverage from 1974. I hope you all have wonderful Mondays, and we'll reconvene on June 5, after a break for Memorial Day.

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