Act Four Live: Pop culture with Alyssa Rosenberg (Dec. 11)

Dec 11, 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! Happy Monday! We kicked off a fun new year-end video series, the 12 Days of Culture, today. I hope you'll take a second to check it out. Plus, I wrote about the year in female rage, both on-screen and off, and I'm watching "The Crown" (and rewatching "The Force Awakens" before seeing "The Last Jedi" this afternoon). Tell me what you're up to! Let's get to it!

I took Crazy Rich Asians on my Thanksgiving trip to California and loved it. What a fun read! Looking forward to the movie.

Yay, I'm so glad you enjoyed it! It's so hard to execute that combination of fizzy romantic storytelling, a huge but reasonably well-developed cast, and a lot of sociological details, but Kevin Kwan really pulls it off. I both can and cannot believe that Hollywood actually considered making Rachel Chu white for the adaptation, but it sounds like everyone involved in the movie is really committed to the core of what's so appealing about the series, and to trusting the audience to want the story told exactly as Kwan originally told it.

You are right, of course, that most serial harassers come to believe that they will suffer no consequences for their immoral behavior. But Al Franken's anger seems to me to come from a different place. He was eager for an ethics investigation that he believed would exonerate him, but was forced out before he could have his (figurative) day in court. And he also appears angry that his alleged crimes are so much smaller than the admitted crimes of members of the other party (and for that matter his own party), and yet he is paying a higher price; he seems resentful, much like someone sentenced to 20 years for possession of 4 grams of crack resents someone sentenced to 18 months of house arrest for embezzling $2 million. I don't think he's in the same category of self-delusion that Weinstein and Toback and Spacey and Trump seem to fit. If Franken is the scapegoat for sexual harassment, and his sacrifice ends up cleansing the sins of the people, that's good for the people... but the scapegoat won't be happy about it.

I think that's probably right, though Franken could have chosen to stay; it's not as if a process had been initiated that would have ejected him from the Senate, just that his colleagues clearly didn't want to keep working with him. It's absolutely true that what Franken is accused of is less serious than the allegations against Weinstein, Toback, Spacey, etc. Which is not to say that what he's accused of doing isn't wrong; it just defines one end of a spectrum of behavior that we're collectively agreeing is unacceptable. 

At the end of the day, I think the standards for public servants should be very high. I've spent a lot of time thinking about the women who worked with Franken on legislation that was intended to combat sexual violence. What must it feel like to trust a man to help you deal with one of the most traumatic experiences of you life, only to find out that he's causing pain and embarrassment to other women? That's one of the main reasons I think Franken had to go: I just can't see him being as effective in the future, no matter what an ethics investigation revealed.

Considering his son is kind of well-known to modern audience, wonder if future seasons of "The Crown" will deal with deal Queen Elizabeth II and Pierre Elliott Trudeau. Trudeau the father kind of fell into being Canada's Prime Minister. He was rebellious upstart Justice Minister when the then PM of Canada Lester B. Pearson (he of the namesake Toronto airport) retired in 1965. The Liberal Party had a tradition that its leader switch between Anglophone to Francophone and all the bigger names in the party from Quebec declined so Trudeau the father got it. If "The Crown" is pro-monarchist, Pierre Elliott Trudeau shows what happens to those who take it on. He started removing "Royal" this or "Royal" that from Canadian buildings and intuitions and did a pirouette between the Queen to protest Royal protocol. He was known anti-monarchist yet it did him no favors in domestics politics. He realized that both the Queen is hardworking and wise, but also it wasn't worth taken monarchists and spend the rest of his time in office defending himself against attacks that he was anti-Queen. Plus the hoopla his estranged wife created by referring to Prince Charles as "my buddy" another forgotten gem.

This is a great question for me, and for all of my fellow lovers of "The Crown." I've been glad to see more of Dickie Mountbatten this season, since he and Edwina were kind of on my wish list, and I appreciate that the series doesn't disguise the fact that they had an open marriage (though I wish it didn't feel the need to be down on said marriage in a way that they weren't, necessarily). Given the importance Princess Diana will have for the endgame of the series, I'd like to see the show spend more time in general expanding our sense of the major noble families who circulated around Elizabeth, Philip, and later, their children. Folks like the Spencers and Fermoys were bound up in the Crown before Diana married Charles, and it would be good to have a clearer sense of that social milieu. But I'd be curious to hear your collective thoughts on the question.

Since a significant number of “powerful” men have lost their jobs for sexual misconduct, why has no action been taken to require Trump to pay a price as the others did or are politicians exempt?

Obviously politicians aren't exempt! John Conyers, Trent Franks and Al Franken all resigned or announced their intentions to resign over sexual harassment allegations last week. That's a definitely sign of progress. But look, for public pressure to work, the person who is the target of that pressure either has to have a constituency who is disgusted by the alleged behavior, or has to be personally capable of feeling shame. It's not clear to me that President Trump or Roy Moore is capable of being cowed by either factor. It's disgraceful that the voting public didn't automatically treat both men as disqualified. That they haven't suggests something deeply troubling in American life, and a major challenge for the fight against sexual harassment and sexual assault to come.

Hi Alyssa, love the chat!! I just finished watching Miss Meadows (available on Prime) and I am just in a state of total confusion. It is the weirdest movie I've ever seen. I'd love to hear your thoughts if you've seen it. If you haven't, it's only 90 minutes (and worth it, just for oddity). It's some kind of mash-up of the Wilder play Our Town/Sound of Music/Kill Bill. I literally just finished and have no idea if my take away is good or bad, I just can't get off weird.

That sounds truly bizarre. I probably don't have time to watch it just for the jaw-drop factor, but it is always amazing to me what kind of tonal mashups people manage to turn into full productions.

When did you see it and when is your embargo over? And how minutes of progs are there in the movie?

I'm seeing it at 2:00PM this afternoon (thus why the chat is an hour early). The embargo lifts tomorrow at noon. I will probably not do a minute-by-minute porg tick-tock, but I promise to let you know if they're cute, annoying, or as Oscar Isaac keeps suggesting, delicious.

What do you find to be the most reliable predictors of the shelf-life of a pop-culture phenomenon? Some flame out in a matter of months (or even weeks), while a few endure and become part of the culture at large.

This is a terrific question. We'll take it as the subject of this week's newsletter.

Each year I compile twelve montages of the best photos of my travels (just finished!), then have calendars printed up as holiday gifts for family and friends.

That's such a cool ideas! Where did you travel this year?

I'm glad that Julia Louis-Dreyfuss wasn't nominated for a Golden Globe this year. She has been nominated and won so many times. It would have been gracious of her to ask to have her name removed from consideration after a couple of wins. That doesn't mean I don't like her or enjoy her acting, because I do. It's just nice to see someone else have a chance.

I always think that's a tricky calculation for actors, as well as their publicists and their networks. Pulling your name from contention can be interpreted as your judgement on the material you were given in a season (see Katherine Heigel and "Grey's Anatomy," though she was pretty specific about that), or it could be taken as a sign of arrogance about your achievements thus far. Your network might also want to promote you for reasons of their own--the number of nominations and awards networks get are a big deal to them--in which case you might not want to want to offend them. All I'm saying is that it's hard, but I also feel like the Golden Globes made the right decision.

Forgive me if you've already addressed this, as I haven't been able to read your chats the past few weeks. I want to say that I called my (Democratic) representatives before Thanksgiving and asked them to force Franken to resign, and I am happy to see that that has borne fruit. However -- I can't agree with the overall premise that this should be the case in all scenarios. My sister is completely dependent on Medicaid for the healthcare she needs to survive. Should there be accusations against another Democratic senator -- one with a Republican governor -- I cannot put the life of my sister aside. This isn't political calculus. It is literally life and death.

I totally understand your calculus, and I wouldn't ask you to act any differently. I understand that these are exceptionally hard choices for people, and as we work through a wrenching reckoning, we're all going to face different calculations. I hope your sister can stay covered and healthy.

Did you ever see the series that Lord Mountbatten did for TV in the 1970s (only a few years before the IRA blew him to smithereens on his yacht)? I wonder if it's available still.

I didn't! If it's "The World at War" you're talking about, it looks like you can buy DVDs and Blu-Rays of the series

In obituaries for recently deceased '60s British party girl Christine Keeler, I've seen no mention of what was apparently a widely-known secret at the time, namely that Prince Philip attended some of the parties (more like orgies) of that social set. Got anything further on that?

I think that's one of those shadowy questions of history that may not be clarified until Prince Philip dies, if then. Some of the folks who would be able to speak to that question are dead, and others are likely to remain discreet. "The Crown" seems to take the position that Philip was around for a fair amount of monkey business, and sometimes indulged, but that he was potentially more discerning than some of the people who surrounded him.

Will this become some sort of Rorschach test by which one can screen friends and lovers?

Depends on the circle of your potential friends and lovers, right? This strikes me as one of those things that is getting a lot of circulation, but in some fairly selective circles. It's probably not going to become a universal phenomenon.

My concern is that there will eventually be a backlash against women who speak out, which will undo some of the current progress.

I think that's probably a reasonable fear. No movement for social progress ever proceeds without backlashes, steps back and stumbles. I see no reason why this one should be any different.

Candice Bergen did that after winning several Emmys for her sit-com "Murphy Brown."

Yeah, I know it's not unprecedented, but in this moment when the networks are very competitive about this stuff, especially networks like HBO, it may have been more complicated than a matter of personal choice.

I cannot get my head around the fact that Matt Lauer interviewed Bill O'Reilly on the latter's sexual harassment history and didn't for one second think his own predatory behavior was unacceptable and wouldn't come out. The hubris of these men is staggering.

I know! It's really, truly nuts to me. As I wrote last week, I feel like the #MeToo moment has helped us recognize some universal truths, among them that sexual harassment is extremely prevalent in many industries. But it's also exposed that some people think and behave in ways that are just truly incomprehensible to others. I don't know how that gulf can necessarily be spanned.

I've read a couple of articles detailing emerging "concerns" regarding how "liberal" Silicon Valley corporations are and that they cannot be "trusted" to figure out how to make the internet, and social media in particular, a better experience for all. This sounds awfully what I heard twenty or thirty years ago regarding the "liberal" media. Frankly, after years of trolling, rape and death threats, doxxing, Russian misinformation and disinformation -- essentially a free-for-all with some pretty dire consequences -- it's definitely time to take a hard look at how to clean this up. The last thing we need is red herrings like "PC" and "liberal bias" being thrown around. But, maybe I'm paranoid. From where you sit, what is the way ahead? How does this discussion play into sexual harassment and broader cultural/political trends?

Oh, boy, this is a big question, not least because there are a couple of powerful crosscurrents at work here. There are decisions that social media companies make that feel political in the partisan sense -- who gets verified on Twitter, for example, or which news stories are marked as disputed on Facebook. But there are also a big range of questions about how tech companies monitor and use our personal data, whether it's Facebook looking at the posts we write and then delete before posting, or Netflix joking about people who were watching a silly holiday movie on Twitter. These issues aren't necessarily partisan, but they are obviously hugely consequential. And both sets of them need to be addressed in clear, comprehensible and consistent ways.

One difference, I would say, is that there's at least as much skepticism and concern about social media and the influence of the tech industry on the left as there is on the right. I think those concerns tend to be inflected differently, but they're definitely there. It's also the case that tech and social media are on the rise in a way that the traditional media have not been in recent years: the power dynamics between consumers and the companies in question are just extremely different. So to me, it's very much a toss-up how this all shakes out.

As a Canadian, what I would be most interested to see in the Crown is not really the relation with Pierre Elliott Trudeau, but rather the reactions of the Queen and the Royal Family to the nationalist riots in Quebec, what was called le samedi de la matraque, when she was doing a royal visit in 1964. This was quite a dramatic event that she witnessed herself and she never came back to Quebec afterwards in fear of new protests...

Oooh, that's a fascinating suggestion. Any further reading you'd recommend?

No love for Wind River in the Golden Globes nominations. I thought it was an amazing movie and am sad it may go the "Hell or High Water" route from last year. But really, none of the movies on the list (several of which are barely out) have really grabbed me, except maybe "Get Out." Was it a weak year for movies, or am I forgetting great stuff?

I, too, am bummed by the relatively soft response to "Wind River," which I thought was very strong (with the exception of the flashback sequence, which struck me as a mistake, though I do love Jon Bernthal). That said, what I'm trying to focus on with "Wind River" is the fact that it probably made at least some money, which means that Taylor Sheridan, who directed "Wind River," and wrote "Hell or High Water," will probably get to keep on making movies. In particular, I hope that he'll finally get to make a movie that has Gil Birmingham, who he obviously likes a lot, in a starring role instead of just as a supporting character. Birmingham was just magnificent in "Wind River," though less showy than, say, Frances McDormand in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." He's a treasure.

It's "The Life and Times of Lord Mountbatten." LINK: This is not to be confused with the docudrama starring Nicol Williamson and Janet Suzman as Dickie and Edwina.

Ah, roger! Thanks for letting us know.

It seems that as soon as December starts, people start looking back at the best or most newsworthy events of the year. I usually want to still look forward to Christmas and wait until the last week of the year to look back on the year. What do you think?

I generally try to space stuff out throughout the month, since I do think there's a sense that December is a month for wrapping-up and reflection. But I think you're absolutely right that the year isn't over until it's over. And in a year like 2017, those of us in media have to be careful with our predictions and analyses, lest another wild news cycle turn everything upside down!

Okay, folks, I gotta hustle my bustle to the movie theater to catch "The Last Jedi." I look forward to a bunch of "Star Wars" talk here next Monday. Shall we go a little long, since this will be our last chat of 2017? I'll set the chat for two hours. See you then!

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