Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (Nov. 13)

Nov 13, 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.

Hi everyone! How are your Mondays going? If you're in DC, and weathering this cold snap, I hope you curled up this weekend and maybe cooked something that warmed you up. Are you thinking about the holidays yet? Are you all going nuts from the current news cycle? Wherever you're at, I hope to be here for you today! Let's get to it!

You (I guess not so) recently interviewed Margaret Atwood as part of a promotional event for the Handmaid's Tale in conjunction with the Smithsonian. Your first question was something about how The Handmaid's Tale relates to Trump. So here's my question: Why? I understand asking the question because it's very topical and people who hadn't read any other interview that she'd given since he was elected were interested in the answer, but I'd just like to understand the reasoning behind making it the first question.

It's been a looong time since that interview, so it's honestly hard for me to remember what I was thinking when I put together that question flow. If I had to guess, it was because that was the dominant narrative that had very quickly coalesced around the show, and because the producers, Moss, etc. wanted to discuss it.

I also think that, frankly, the comparison wasn't sitting that easily with me -- if anything, Trump represents the kind of libertinism that precedes the social backlash that ultimately leads to the establishment of Gilead. So I was curious to see if the producers and stars wanted to embrace it. 

To the chatter from last week who enjoyed the book - don’t I get some credit? I brought it up. As far as the authors other books - I did not like Swan Thieves at all. Like, I’ve reread Historian twice, but there’s no way I’m rereading Swan. I didn’t realize her third book was out but the reviews look promising so I went ahead and ordered it. Hopefully it’s a return to form!

Let us know if it's good!

I recall vividly the shocking public scandal over the revelation of the marriage of rocker Jerry Lee Lewis and his first cousin's 13-year-old daughter, as I was only a few months younger than the bride (but decidedly still pre-pubescent). Lewis became a show biz pariah for years as a result, although I think in later decades he enjoyed his "bad-boy" image. LINK: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jerry_Lee_Lewis#Marriage_controversy

I want to be really careful about drawing broad generalizations, since I haven't carefully examined this issue either as a pop culture trope or as a matter of actual demographics. And it's worth noting that the United States has plenty of loopholes that allow for child marriage, even when the children in question are being married to substantially older adults.

That said, I wonder if maybe some of the trope comes from long-standing stereotypes of poor Southern and Appalachian white women as undereducated and getting married and pregnant at fairly young ages. In general, perhaps these stereotypes play into other stereotypes about sexually precocious teenage girls, adult men who just can't help themselves, and the idea that the latter have accomplished something if they manage to land the former. The idea that any man in his thirties could be proud of dating or marry a teenager is inexplicably repulsive to me.

Why did Mel Gibson get a chance at a comeback? Why are people still making movies with the title Daddy in 2017? Do you think the word daddy is creepy?

1) This is an excellent and disturbing question. I suspect it's because a lot of people have frankly forgotten Gibson's misdeeds, and so it's easier to cast him in something. I also think he was never completely exiled in the first place; he's continued to act intermittently, and to direct "Hacksaw Ridge," which was fairly well-received. The fact that Gibson *has* made a comeback, through, is a disturbing augury for what may come to pass in Hollywood: in ten years, is Harvey Weinstein going to be back with a new production shingle because the insane news cycle has obliterated our memories of the women who have accused him of assault and harassment? I hope not, but I truly don't know.

2) Beats me.

3) Honestly, I think it depends on context. I'm a 33 year old woman, so I don't refer to my father as "Daddy"; it would feel like a diminution of our relationship in a way that is not really accurate. I know "Daddy" can be used in sexual contexts, where it probably reads differently in intimate situations than it would in public out of context. 

When did movies start adding scenes after the end of the credits? I know the Marvel movies have been doing it for a few years. I guess the point is to get people to stay and see the movie credits. I don't usually read the reviews before going to a movie to know if there will be a scene. Usually, the only clue is seeing half the audience remaining in their seats. More often than not, the large soda has me wanting to run to the restroom instead of waiting through an endless number of names I don't know and could never read them all.

Let's discuss this in this week's newsletter, since the answer is actually really interesting!

As a therapist in training and someone who has struggled with her own demons I thought Friday’s episode was such a honest depiction of what it can feel like when you feel like you’re out of options. I was also really happy to see the end scene where the button turned from help to hope. Sometimes asking for help can truly be the turning point.

Thank you so much for sharing this perspective! I adore "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," but I am definitely not in any way an expert on mental health issues, and I've definitely been curious as to what professionals or professionals-in-training like you think about the series' treatment of mental health and mental health care. Among other things, I've always really enjoyed the way the series managed to communicate Dr. Akopian's frustrations with Rebecca without ever losing the thread on Rebecca's decision-making processes. Michael Hyatt is great, and I'm so glad the show was smart enough to case her in this role. Without spoiling anything, I'll be very curious to hear what you think of next week's episode.

Catching up on The Deuce and generally enjoying it but isn't it disappointing that it perpetuates the "woman journalist has to sleep with/have a romance with a source" trope. Especially from David Simon who has such experience with and respect for the actual journalistic process and profession.

Honestly, Sandra and Chris's relationship didn't bother me for a couple of reasons. First, I think "The Deuce" captured how complicated that kind of dynamic could be: the characters had genuine chemistry that got tangled up in both of their decision-making. Sandra was energized by meeting someone who cared about the larger issues in the same way that she did, and Chris, who was frustrated by the larger state of his department, was excited by the opportunity to do something about it. That's the sort of situation that can genuinely draw people together. Second, that emotional complexity undermined the heart of the trope, which is that the female journalist is cynically using sex to get information she shouldn't have access to otherwise, or that she isn't a good enough reporter to find out herself. Sandra holds out for a long time, she tries to keep her boundaries clear, and she talks Chris into giving her information without sleeping with him. When they do get together, the thing that breaks them up is their inability to take their mutual goal over the finish line. The story is the thing keeping their relationship going, not the other way around. All of which is a long way of saying that I think there can be an exception to every stereotype and David Simon and George Pelecanos are good at being the exception that proves the rule.

They ate it up with a long spoon, but I thought it was more same old, same old. Do you know how Thor got out of the pit after Hulk fell on him the last time? I didn't get the transition to Hulk's room. I read Odin was originally to be a homeless guy wandering around NYC, but the moved it to Norway. I'll miss Mjölnir and Thor's eye. I guess the next movie will be about a refugee crisis.

So, theoretically Marvel is moving into a new phase of its storytelling, and it hasn't yet greenlit another Thor movie (just as there aren't plans for another Iron Man stand-alone movie in the works.) That said, while it would be good if a subsequent "Thor" movie dealt with the Asgardian refugee crisis, Marvel doesn't have an amazing track record of following up on the implications of its movies. I thought the political veneers on "Thor: Ragnarok" were pretty flimsy.

Can I just say d***it??? I have been a huge fan of his for years. I loved his TV show, am loving better things (and they'd better not cancel Pamela Adlon!), loved his standup, and was literally just telling someone last week to check him out because he's a genius. And now when I think back to what he "joked" about as part of his act...that's why it was so effective. He was telling the truth, not joking. I've always known the best humor can be at least partially rooted in truth, but geez. It makes me wonder though if his banishment will be permanent. I mean Mel "Sugar Tits" Gibson's movie just opened last weekend.

I totally agree with you. As I wrote last week, I think we have a self-protective tendency to assume that when a man makes good, insightful work about sexual assault and harassment that the storytelling comes from a place of empathy, not from the direct knowledge that comes from harassing or assaulting women. It's queasy to think that predators and perpetrators can tell us something true about sex and power, but of course they can: they know how they make their victims feel.

I think it's okay to mourn the old version of your love for Louis C.K.'s work; I certainly do. But I think you're smart to move on to a new phase here. There's no triage to be done here; there's no art that makes this behavior somehow worth it in some weird algorithm.

One of my favorite books of all time, so I was predisposed to like the movie, and I largely did. I have to say I found the need to give Poirot a backstory (his exhaustion, his amour Katherine) annoying. It did not add anything to the character and slowed down the story.

I agree on his lost love, though not on his exhaustion. I thought the movie really got something interesting out of the idea that Poirot can't tolerate the moral disorder that crime represents to the extent that he can't stop working. It heightens the moral ambiguity of the conclusion in a nice way.

Sorry if posted about it already and I missed it. Probably in the minority than "Handmaid's Tale." Wasn't perfect and production was very-Canadian public broadcasting. What did you think?

I honestly haven't had a chance to watch it yet! Too tied up writing about sexual harassment (and then contemplating casting myself into the sea in despair).

Murder on the Orient Express while zonked out on pain meds (after minor surgery)? I'm going to need an excuse to get myself up and moving a day or two after it is over and there is a theater really close to my apartment.

Not at all. "Murder on the Orient Express" ends with very clear explication, so even if you've missed clues along the way, everything will be explained in a way that makes it really clear. 

That said, take care of yourself! I had some dental surgery in the summer of 2016, and was much more affected than I thought I would be. So pace yourself, and good luck with your recovery.

Ever since the Weinstein story broke, like a lot of other people, I've spent a lot of time lately wrestling with what this current conversation about misogyny in the entertainment industry (and really society at large) means. I find it interesting that the main step that studios and people in the industry have taken so far in response to allegations has been to cut ties with the accused, by firing them, canceling shows/movies they've worked on, or scrubbing their name from their work. While I don't necessarily disagree with these moves, as they seem mostly necessary if only from a PR standpoint, I'm skeptical of it as a meaningful long-term solution or as an indicator that they're interested in genuine change. It also makes me uneasy that, in the case of Louis C.K. for example, the decision to cancel shows cost other people jobs just because of his awful behavior. The quote "We're a puritan nation blaming all our problems on a handful of bad apples" from Mindhunter keeps coming back to me. So, broad question, but what do you think real change would look like? How can the industry fix its structural/cultural problems without disrupting the careers and lives of everyone in it, or might we have to just accept that there will be some unintended consequences for individuals other than the actual perpetrators, if that makes sense?

A quick fact-check to start: Louis C.K.'s show, "Louie," is on long-term hiatus with no definite plans for another season, which means that the people who worked on previous seasons of the show are not currently drawing paychecks from him that they'll now lose because FX isn't comfortable producing the show anymore. So I'd be a little less concerned about collateral damage in that case.

Second, I agree! Firing and blacklisting abusive criminals is absolutely a necessary first step, but if it's the last step, this moment will have been a failure. I'm encouraged by the news that some networks are in the process of doing larger audits of their workplace culture and trying to figure out how abusive people went underdetected for so long. Hopefully, these investigations, which take time, will help identify both best and worst practices so studios and networks can take more concrete steps. I also think it's encouraging to note that some Hollywood unions are intent on tackling these issues, which could become the focus of future contract negotiations. 

But man, these are hard questions. I've covered personnel management and HR in the past, but I don't know that I have all the answers here; ultimately, we're going to need a combination of policies that make it harder to offend, policies that deliver much more swift and decisive punishment for offenders, and a truly profound cultural shift such that there are fewer men who think it's okay to, among other things, take out their genitalia in front of people who don't want to see it, or to kiss women without their permission. I think a big challenge is that so many people feel like this behavior is already just so baffling that it's hard to see how people could feel otherwise, and thus to figure out how to stop them.

Sooo good. I was reluctant to try it because I felt burned out on shows about serial killers. But this one drew me in pretty much from the start. From a technical standpoint, it does a superb job of creating and maintaining tension, especially through the cinematography and score. I loved how the first episode introduces Holden, first with the negotiation scene and then by showing his empty apartment. It tells us who he is with no exposition. Then, on the narrative side, I was pleasantly surprised by how smartly the show handled issues of misogyny and psychology. Without excusing or forgiving the perpetrators, it expressed interest in how cultural factors - institutionalized sexism, society's repressive views of sex, fear of mental illness or madness - might play into the crimes. Also, the conversation in the premiere about the social turmoil of the '70s was interesting, especially since I'm slowly making my way through The Vietnam War. Anyway, I'm sure you talk about this stuff in your write-up of the show (I haven't gotten around to reading it yet, but I look forward to it!). While I'm not sure where season 2 would go, I'm just glad that I decided to take a chance and watch it (just having Anna Torv back on my TV screen would've been worth it). There's something very satisfying about going into a movie or show with low expectations and being completely blown away. When was the last time that happened to you?

I actually think "Mindhunter" was probably it for me, too! I knew it was David Fincher, who I love, but the way Netflix treated it was so bizarre, it was sort of off my radar and I assumed something must be wrong with it. But I ended up loving it for the reasons you describe here.

did you get to hear the first twenty minutes of todays wtf yet? if so, i'm wondering if you have any thoughts. I really loved your discussion of Louis' misogyny and awfulness informing his work. I had been having similar thoughts, and don't really know what to do with them! Like, our discussion around many issues more generally is richer than it would be if Louie the tv show did not exist, i think, and I don't really know what to do with that.

I didn't, but I'm heading over right now to listen to it.

And yeah, I don't know what to do with it either. I would never in a million years say that somehow it was worth it for women to get sexually harassed in order for "Louie" to exist. In general, I think when we get caught up in that logic of trying to do this sort of moral math, we're missing the point that there are other options: Louis C.K. is not the only man who can make insightful work about sex and power; Harvey Weinstein is not the only man who could greenlight roles for older actresses; Bill Clinton is not the only man who could appoint women to Cabinet positions. I also don't think those insights disappear given what we know about their genesis. I just think we have to sit with the idea that sometimes important ideas do come from dark places.

I was “born and raised” in Midwest—moved to Macon, Georgia when was 33 and moved again when was 38. Yes, there did seem to be many young (under 24 or so) girls who were already married and many unmarried girls with kids but certainly not everyone. Yes, people I worked with really did call their father “Daddy.” I was married but was still often addressed as Miss (My first name) just as Daisy was in the movie. The South is different than Midwest or my beloved State of Texas but all people want to be comfortable, valued, respected and loved. Signed— Three States Girl

Thanks for sharing this! Obviously an important note.

Any word on the buzz for this? I really want the DC films to succeed, so we have an alternative to the candy coated Marvel stuff.

I'm seeing it tomorrow, so I'll let you know when I can! I really don't have much sense yet, though, in part because so much of the movie was shot after Zack Snyder had to bow out after his daughter's death.

Okay, folks, I have to sign off for the day. I hope that all of you are handling this very unrelenting news cycle okay, and that as we head into the holidays, you can find some space to find time with people you love. Take care of yourselves on here, okay?

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