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

Nov 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.

Hi everyone! A happy early Thanksgiving to you and yours, and best wishes for safe travels if you'll be hitting the road in the next few days. In the spirit of the season, I wrote about 12 of the actors I feel most most thankful for this 2017, and I'll be writing variations on the holiday theme for the rest of the week. In the meantime, I'm very much looking forward to spending the next hour with all of you (especially as a break from the dispiriting news that is our unfolding and overdue reckoning with sexual harassment, which will be an important part of my beat for quite some time to come). Let's get to it!

His movies are still brainy and fun. I enjoy all his films.

I love Kenneth Branagh, and I found myself surprisingly touched by his recent adaptation of "Murder on the Orient Express," not least because of the melancholy note he brought to his performance as Hercule Poirot. Branagh's done some truly inexplicable things in his career (I don't know if you've ever seen "Wild, Wild West," but I do not recommend it). But for the most part, I feel like I can count on anything he's involved in to be tasteful, deeply felt, and witty. That's worth a lot.

Is there a generally accepted bright line between activities such as flirting or slight passes, and sexual harassment or abuse? Is a kiss under the mistletoe over the holidays still OK if it's just a peck on the cheek (as opposed to a tongue thrust into an unwilling person's mouth)? I realize that no flirting in the workplace is the safest recourse, but sometimes human nature, yanno...

I know a lot of people who have met in the workplace or through their work and who have subsequently gone on to have great, successful relationships and marriages. So it's obviously the case that sometimes people meet and manage things successfully in professional environments. 

That said, I think there are any number of common sense guidelines that it's wise to employ in the workplace that can make these lines clear! I offer these with the caveat that I am not a HR professional, and that following these guidelines are probably not total protection against being accused of sexual harassment.

First, under no circumstances should you kiss someone who you're not already dating or married to while you're in a professional environment. And if you're out with a group of co-workers in a social setting, and it seems like it might be appropriate to kiss, hug or otherwise touch someone who you're not already dating or with whom you've not previously had a relationship that would allow for that, ask first and take any hesitance or no as an absolute final answer. I think it would be completely insane for any modern workplace to hang mistletoe during the holidays, and if your employers are unwise enough to do this, please do not take advantage of it under any circumstances.

Second, I don't think it's ever smart or appropriate for people to flirt with, make passes at, or ask out people who they supervise, or whose careers they could be seen as influencing. As Louis C.K. noted in his apology for sexually harassing a number of women, there are situations where a request "isn't a question. It's a predicament." If someone who you supervise seems to be flirting with you, don't take it as an invitation without substantial clarification. If someone who you supervise directly broaches the possibility of a romantic or sexual relationship, you should have a very clear discussion about what's going on, including possibly talking to HR and your own supervisor, if you want to pursue that relationship.

Third, avoid ambiguous situations where at all possible. If your office allows you to take substantial lunch breaks, have lunch with colleagues as an alternative to after-work drinking. If after-work socializing and drinking are a major part of your company's culture, set a clear number of drinks for yourself beforehand, never be the last person to leave, and leave alone rather than splitting cabs. 

I think these are sensible rules of thumb. If other folks have ideas for our original poster, let's hear them.

I’m the therapist in training from last week. I LOVED the most recent episode. While doing a great job with portraying Rebecca experiencing the ups and downs of getting an official diagnosis, I was impressed with how they handled her friends reactions. Everyone experiences grief and worry differently and was very appreciative of them showing off. Best of all for me, though, was Nathaniel exploring the inter generational impact trauma and mental illness can have. Bravo to Rachel Bloom and everyone on the team! I can’t think of any other show that has handled mental illness as adeptly as CEG. Are there any you can think of? Thanks as always for always answering so thoughtfully! Look forward to these chats every week.

I am so glad to hear your perspective on this, and I totally agree about Rebecca's friends; the ensemble cast on "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend" is doing a really incredible job this season. I would be curious to know what, if anything, you thought about "In Treatment," which has a very different framework. And personally, I like "The Sopranos," which people don't always think of as a show primarily about therapy, but which deals with many of the same issues as "Crazy Ex-Girlfriend," including how a patient's friends and family deal with the news that a person they know is having mental health distress and seeking care for it, what happens to that person when other people in their life seek therapy, and the ethics and emotional complexities of the therapist-patient relationship.

Every kid knows you should be looking for the Infinity+1 Stone.

Oh, dear. That is perhaps the silliest joke I have ever heard in this chat, and I very much appreciate it.

movie theater was Henry V. I was a 1L in NYC and there was a place on 57th (long closed that played it nearly my entire second semester). I would walk down through the upper west side (a little over three miles) after my last Friday class. Probably went eight or nine times. And Branagh was a treat as Leontes in Winter's Tale in London two years ago.

Not creepy at all. I've definitely seen "Henry V" at least that many times. That movie is fantastic. Branagh and Emma Thompson have such remarkable chemistry in that scene; his delivery of "take me, take a soldier; take a soldier, take a king," is tender and wonderful. It left an even bigger impression on me than his rendition of the St. Crispin's Day Speech. 

I know Allison Janney and Gal Gadot (only from the hype over Wonder Woman); and Arnie Hammer from Social Network but no one else on your list. Have no interest in comic book movies and don't have cable or Netflix. I'm grateful for Saoirse Ronan.

With respect, this is a bit of a lazy question. I described the work each actor was in, and why I appreciated their work in that work, in the piece I linked to. Other than Gadot and Thompson, none of them are in "comic book movies."

All that said, Saoirse Ronan is great!

the answer is "not while you are working in my group." Then you ask if the person wants to pursue a lateral transfer to another group and do what you can reasonably do to facilitate. Unless you are completely uninterested in which case you should probably say so and then assist with a lateral transfer if the person asks because he or she feels awkward after being rejected. Involve HR if necessary in your company or even if possible, but there is no such thing as keeping things separate when the supervisor-employee relationship still exists.

Thus my suggestion that the person being asked out talk to their own boss and HR first!

I would add to pay attention to the culture of a workplace when you start there. In previous office jobs, people were rather formal and shook hands. I had a boss who insisted on hugging me, even when I put out my hand, and it was clearly over the line. Now I'm at a hospital, and hugging is the norm. But some people aren't huggers, and that's okay, too.

 I think this is very wise! I might also note that in an otherwise formal workplace, there might be more emotional circumstances where a hug might be warranted -- like if someone loses a relative or announces their engagement. If you feel like a hug might be warranted in a situation where you've previously only shaken hands with someone, ask first! It never hurts to confirm your read on a situation before acting.

What do scammers get by posting fake reports. Lots of stories about David Cassidy being in the hospital and close to death and a few fake stories saying he already passed away. I have to admit, since hearing real stories saying that David Cassidy had been taken to the hospital did make the fake news seem more real compared with other fake news of celebrity deaths.

Honestly, traffic: I think a lot of the time, these reports are posted by sites that make their money from getting a lot of cheap clicks that drive their number of ad impressions. Appearing to be the first to break news of a celebrity's death drives an enormous amount of traffic, so it's a commercial play, even if a gross and dishonest one.

For politicians, what’s the line for cultural figures? Do you watch “Chinatown?” (I think Polanski belongs in jail, but I watch it every chance I get). Do you watch “The Birds?” (Ask Tippi Hedren about Hitchcock). Do you watch Woody Allen films?

Oh, I consume art by people who have views I find deplorable, or who have been accused of misconduct all of the time. In part, that's literally because it's part of my job as a critic: when the news breaks that Louis C.K. has been accused of sexual harassment, part of my job function is to go back and look at the art he made about sexual misconduct to see what I make of it now and whether that differs from what I made of it then. I watch Woody Allen movies when I'm interested in them, in part because it's fascinating to me that he still has such stature not merely because of the allegations against him, but because his work has been so lazy for so long. Art tells us about the world and the way artists see it; that doesn't change when a terrible person makes it. I'm interested in how people who do bad things see the world.

That said, this is all easier for me because I don't have to pay for almost any of the art I consume, at least not personally, so I don't generally worry about giving my money to people who might, say, be using it to sue their accusers for defamation. I've written extensively in the past about how to offset the money that goes to artists who are accused of doing despicable things (or who believe things that you believe do harm to others). And there are artists, like R. Kelly, who I would never feel comfortable giving any money under any circumstances, given that I believe that any penny that goes to him facilitates his ability to run an abusive sex cult.

Seconding what Alyssa said here. No kissing co-workers. Presence of foliage in a doorway does not change the rule. Just because you know the person you want to kiss generally does kiss people of your gender, does not mean that he or she wants to kiss YOU. So imagine someone you really don't want to kiss or be kissed by (wrong gender, physically repulsive, rotten teeth, whatever makes you not want to kiss someone) and imagine if the presence of mistletoe changes your attitude to being kissed by that person? No? Then you have your answer. Always assume that someone you know only as a co-worker doesn't want to kiss you. And never assume that everyone being a little drunk changes that attitude even if it means they are less likely to object during the exact moment it is happening.

Seconded all around.

My stomach dropped when the news about Franken came out and rumors of subsequent offenses make it worse but...are these guys just out? I believe some people supported Bill Clinton because it was a choice between an offender who would advocate mostly for their principals as opposed to offenders who would work against their values. I'm not sure that's the wrong calculation to make given the lineup of "holy warriors" working to drag women and men back to the dark ages.

I think it is worth seriously considering the downstream costs of tolerating sexual harassment by people who vote the right way or support the right policies. I think tolerating Bill Clinton's sexual behavior probably made it a lot harder for Democrats to credibly bury Donald Trump in the 2016 election, and the costs to the country and to our culture seem likely to be very high. 

I also think it's worth taking a bit to see whether this is all there is to the allegations against Al Franken. If there are two women who have come forward with allegations against him, the past two months suggest that more are likely to come forward. Just speaking for myself, I'm not comfortable declaring for sure that this is all that's happened. I would like to know if more women are going to come forward.

That said, I do think we're overdue for a serious conversation about the circumstances in which a person ought to lose their job, what kind of recompense people who have been accused of various wrongs ought to be asked to do, and who should judge their penance. 

I find him really problematic. MANHATTAN is one of my all-time favorite movies but the Mariel Hemingway business was odd even then, impossible to imagine it being filmed in a "mainstream" movie today. I don't remember much comment at the time of its release, though.

It's SO troubling. But that's precisely one of the reasons I hope people still engage with it today. "Manhattan" is a useful barometer of what our culture used to tolerate, and not even that long ago!

In my experience, every harasser was told the rules. They were either just ignored because they felt it didn't apply to them, or they thought being "persistent" was the way to eventually wear her down, or they thought it was funny. You can't fix these. You can only protect yourself, document everything, and hope people believe you and they get sent away.

I think this is often the case; I just figured it was worth treating the chatter here as if they were sincere, as I try to treat pretty much all inquiries to this chat!

I loved it! I'm trained in counseling and for the most part thought it showed some of the real ups and downs of the treatment process. Did get a little silly towards the end.

Fair enough!

Before I first started asking 'would you like a hug?', it felt like that would be very very awkward. Having done it for a while now, it turns out that this is much much less awkward than just going for the hug in ways that I never would have predicted before I made the change. Asking feels awkward before you do it, but great afterwards! Just touching may feel right at the time, but can end up feeling pretty uncomfortable.

I really appreciate this perspective! As someone who has been on the other end of this, I can say that it occasionally feels a little odd to be asked, but actually really nice to be able to give an enthusiastic yes!

I find it hard to watch Mel Gibson as an actor, and I really liked a lot of his earlier work. It's easier for me to watch something he's not in, like Hacksaw Ridge, which was OK (but not great, in my opinion).

I think that's a position that a lot of us are going to find ourselves in, and it's probably wise for us to accustom ourselves to it. Whether we decide that means we want to step away entirely or to keep engaging and sitting with that discomfort is up to us; there are plenty of respectable decisions to make here!

We appear to have run out of questions, and I'm going to sneak out a minute early since I just found out I have to do a TV hit. But Happy Thanksgiving, once again, and next Monday, I'll be happy to do some personalized pop culture holiday gift recommendations if y'all are in the mood.

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